The Similan island’s aren’t serviced by loads of boats, preserving their beauty
Thailand has long been considered one of the world’s premier diving destinations thanks to its fun and friendly culture, top-class underwater scene and amazingly low dive prices. At the pinnacle of the Thai diving realm is the idyllic and remote Similan island group. This archipelago of nine granite islands is blessed with white powdery beaches, quirky boulders strewn along its shores and caps of tropical forest to add an additional dimension to the five-star diving sites below the surface.
The distance of the Similans from the Thai mainland, along with its designation as a national marine park, has helped preserve the pristine beauty of the place. The distinctive granite boulders which litter the beaches along the islands’ western coasts continue underwater, creating the unique seascapes that makes the Similans so memorable.
Rounding things out are sandy beaches along the eastern shores which gently slope about 40 metres under the surface and are covered in colourful, healthy coral gardens. Crystal-clear water ensures some of the best visibility on the planet during the winter dry season.
There are several ways to get to the Similans from Phuket, but without question the most convenient and enjoyable means is to splash out on a live-aboard diving cruise. Several companies operating from Phuket have the boats and experience to offer visitors a truly special way to explore the beauty of the Similans, both above and below the surface.
A ferry does run, in addition to private trips
Scuba Cat, located at Patong Beach, has been around for 10 years and is widely considered one of the top dive companies in the region. Expatriate dive instructors and up-to-date boats and gear make them a good choice for either live-aboards or dive training. Another reputable firm at Patong Beach is Fantasea Divers. Iif you want more of an educational experience, check out Dive Master’s EcoDive 2000 in Chalong, as they specialise in marine biology during their live-aboard trips.
If the time commitment or cost of a live-aboard isn’t what you have in mind, then you can always arrange a daytrip through one of the dozens of dive shops in Phuket or Khao Lak. The Similans are around 100kms north of Phuket, so it’s no quick jaunt. Most trips to the Similans are organised from Khao Lak, which is the nearest beach town to Thap Lamu Pier, where all the boats depart.
Thap Lamu Pier is 10kms south of Khao Lak and 60kms north of Phuket’s airport. There are always plenty of boats waiting at the pier to take visitors who don’t plan to dive to the Similans, so you can easily arrange your own trip if you just want to see the islands. The beaches, swimming and snorkelling on the Similans is well worth the effort, so don’t feel like scuba diving is the only scene out there. In fact, just as many people visit the Similans to hang out as to go diving.
Public buses leave from Phuket Town’s bus terminal heading to Khao Lak several times each day. You can get off at the Thap Lamu Pier junction if you want to arrange your own transport. Phuket International Airport is another easy way to jump right into the mix if you’re arriving from afar. At the airport, you can hire a taxi to take you right to Thap Lamu Pier or Khao Lak, which is about 60kms away. Khao Lak is the best place to arrange your excursion or dive to the Similans.
Private tourist boats depart from Thap Lamu Pier to the main dock on island number 4 once a day. The 70km boat journey takes around 4 hours and leaves at 08:30 every morning for a roundtrip price of about 2,000 baht. Boats return once a day from the Similans at 13:00 and 15:00. Smaller longtail boats ferry passengers between the nine islands, but all transport centres around island number 4. Boat service from the mainland to the Similans shuts down during May to November’s rainy season because the seas become too rough.
The Similans have a warm tropical climate year-round, but the high season is from November to April, when nearly every day is sunny and the seas are calm and clear. This is the time to visit, especially from February to April, which is considered the prime diving season. Finding a dive operator or available boat from May to October can be tricky.