The most spectacular scuba diving in Thailand is found off the west coast of the country in the Similan Islands and surrounding waters. A marine nature park, the Similans comprise nine stunning islands with fine, white powdery sands and clear waters that dazzle even the most seasoned divers and snorkellers.
Accommodation is very basic on the islands, with just a few government-run bungalows and tents. The best way to see the islands and to dive the Similans is to take a live-aboard dive trip from Phuket, Thap Lamu or Khao Lak. Examples are Similan Pro Dive and Liquid Adventures in Khao Lak (an hour north of Phuket Airport) or Similan Diving Safaris and Sea Dragon Dive Centre. Those who don’t want to dive can still go on a live-aboard trip, usually at a discounted rate, and enjoy some snorkelling.
There are also many shops on Phuket and in Khao Lak that offer day trips to the Similan Islands on speedboats. While these are much less comfortable than live-aboard trips, they are good for those with limited time, or those not so interested in diving.
Scuba divers will be pleased to find good dive sites where they can dive up to the recreational limit of 40m, with some plunging much lower. There is a huge assortment of marine life, ranging from mantas to ghost pipefish, and sharks. Whale sharks are sometimes seen in the Similans as well, although much less often than in the past.
The Similan Islands have a bit of an exclusive character to them. If you can manage to find your way there you’ll find unspoilt islands, most with no-one living on them, and a gratifying lack of the kind of mass packages that attract hordes of people. A bit of forward planning and roughing it may be necessary to enjoy these islands, unless you are prepared to sign up for a live-aboard excursion.