The Similan Islands are an archipelago of 11 islands in the Andaman Sea 70 kilometres off the coast of southern Thailand’s Phang Nga Province; the Similan Islands are a top destination for diving, snorkelling, hiking, and relaxing at the beach. Established as the Mu Ko Similan National Park in 1982, the Similan Islands measure 140 square kilometres and are located 85 kilometres northwest of Phuket. This is an excellent place for travellers who like to dive and explore remote areas full of wildlife.
Clear, shallow blue waters, rock formations, coral reefs, and marine life surround the islands, which have been ranked one of the top ten dive destinations in the world by the National Geographic Society. Diving at the Similan Islands will allow you to see manta rays, whale sharks, massive boulders, and much more.
Initially, there were 9 islands in the national park, and the word Similan means 9. In 1998, two more islands were added to the park. Each island has been given a number and a name.
The Similan Islands:
- Island 1: Ko Huyong, also known as Ko Hu Yong
- Island 2: Ko Payang, also known as Ko Pa Yang
- Island 3: Ko Payan, also known as Ko Pa Yan
- Island 4: Ko Miang, also known as Ko Meang. (Department of National Parks HQ is here)
- Island 5: Ko Ha
- Island 6: Ko Payu, also known as Ko Pa Yu
- Island 7: Ko Hin Pousar
- Island 8: Ko Similan
- Island 9: Ko Ba-ngu, also known as Ko Bayu
- Island 10: Ko Bon, also known as Ko Talu
- Island 11: Ko Tachai
Wildlife and Conservation
Officially protected and free of private development, the Similan Islands are home to rare and endangered species of birds and marine animals. Diverse species, including the Nicobar pigeon, mangrove monitor lizards, flying foxes, tropical singing birds, reptiles, sharks, barracudas, triggerfish, and parrot fish, can be found on Koh Similan, the largest of the islands.
Surrounding the island of Koh Similan are rock formations and coral reefs shaped like deer, leaves, brains, and mushrooms. With ideal conditions for coral growth, 200 species of hard coral have been identified. The most significant number of reef fish in Thai waters can be found on the islands.
The Thai government restricts access to most Similan Islands and beaches to protect wildlife. Sport fishing and commercial fishing are prohibited. Tourists are prohibited from Ko Huyong, Island No. 1, which has the longest and widest beach, to protect turtle egg hatching and conserve the coral reef. National park rangers operate a small station to care for the endangered green sea turtle.
Getting to the Similan Islands
The islands are accessible from Tab Lamu Port, south of Khal Lak in Phang Nga Province. It takes about 3 hours to get there on a slow boat and about 70 minutes on a speedboat. Boats depart from Tab Lamu daily from mid-October until mid-May.
If you are travelling from Bangkok, the quickest way to get to the Similan Islands is by flying from Bangkok to Phuket and taking a boat from there to the Islands. If you plan a day trip to the Similan islands, you should get an early start to accommodate several hours of travel time.
The least expensive way to get to the Similan Islands is by bus and boat. You can take a night bus to Ranong or Khao Lak and catch a boat to the Similan Islands from there. However, this will take at least 12 hours. Perhaps the best option, especially for divers, is to travel on a live-a-board boat. You can book a trip on a live-a-board boat through a sail charter agency.
Which Islands to Visit
Only a few islands are open to the public, so if you have time, you might want to stop at all of them. Here are some of the highlights of each island to help you determine which ones to visit.
The largest and the main island, Koh Similan or Island no. 9, has the most visitors. This island has a lot to offer, with great dive and snorkel sites, nature trails, rock formations, beaches, wildlife, and the tallest mountain.
You should be sure to check out Donald Duck Bay, where you will see this famous and oddly shaped rock, the huge boulders on the western and southern shores, the white coral-sandy beaches, and the jungle where ironwood and gum trees, jack fruit, rattan, bamboo, and dense bushes grow. The jungle is home to monkeys, squirrels, bats, lizards, birds, and more.
The island provides diving opportunities for divers of all abilities. With an average water depth of 25 meters, divers will spot boulders, sea fans, plume worms, and corals. There are nature trails on the west side and from Nguang Chang Bay to Horseshoe Bay for hiking. One trail leads to Donald Duck Rock, and another takes you to two beaches. At the island’s northern tip are the rock formations of Sail Rock.
If you want to stay overnight in Koh Similan, there is an outdoor campsite with tents for rent. The tents are set back from the main beach. You will also find a visitors’ centre and a restaurant on the island.
Reachable by boat or sail charter, Koh Miang is where you will find the Park headquarters, two beaches, and Hideaway Bay, a vast haven during storms and high waves.
The local coast guard, medical rescue, a first aid centre, and a small Navy station are found at Honeymoon Beach. The main beach, on the island’s north side, has white sand in the centre and rocks on both ends. A dirt path leads to a small beach where you can snorkel or hike on nature paths.
Located at the northernmost tip of the Similan National Park, between Surin Islands and the central archipelago, this is one of the two new islands to be added to the park. It is 54 kilometres from Baan Nam Khem Pier and known for its white sand, clear water, and pristine diving for all levels.
It has shallow bays that are good for training, while the rougher east coast offers chances for spotting leopard sharks and manta rays. In the south, you will find “The Pinnacle,” one of the best diving sites in Thailand, where you can see whale sharks, leopard sharks, napoleon wrasse, barracudas, and more.
Open for tourism from November through April, Koh Tachai can be reached by sailboat or speedboat. In addition to diving and snorkelling, it offers overnight camping, a small restaurant, hiking on nature trails, and an ancient rainforest.
The island’s 800-meter beach faces east and is shaded by the rainforest. A guide can lead you on a hiking trail and teach you about the island and its wildlife. A small jungle trail leads from the beach to the island’s western side, where you will see rocks and beautiful views.
Originally named Koh Bua after a unique Lotus flower that used to grow there before the tsunami of 2004, the island was renamed after one of the first fishermen to come there after the tsunami. The fastest way to get to Koh Tachai is from Koh Phra Thong, Baan Nam Khem Pier, Khao Lak, or Phuket. Day trips can be booked, making a great trip for kids of all ages.
Koh Bon, also known as Talu or Island no. 11, is the other one of the latest additions and is found at the far northwest of the park, one hour from the main island. A small island with stretches of white sandy beaches and multiple dive sites, it is excellent for advanced divers who can expect to see manta rays, underwater stone pinnacles, shark species, corals, moray eels, and more. With no accommodations on the island, it is only for day trips. Koh Bon is best to visit in April or May.
The Similan Islands created millions of years ago from hot magma that found its way through the Earth’s crust. At 5000 years old, the coral reefs are the oldest in Thailand. The National Park was established in 1982. The 2004 tsunami did not substantially harm the islands.
Made from granite boulders formed by lava 64 million years ago, glaciers and waves moulded the cracked granite blocks into shapes and rock formations. In the interior of the large islands, the rocks take the form of steep mountains. Piles of stones lying in heaps can be seen at Sailing Boat Rock on Koh Similan. Similar accumulations of rocks spill beneath the sea’s surface and can be seen on dives.
The western parts of the islands are steep and rocky, dropping directly into the ocean, while on the east side, they slope gradually, forming stunning beaches ideal for snorkelling.
The climate of the Similan Islands is warm and tropical. Winters are cooler and dry, lasting from November to February. Summers are hot and dry and last from mid-February through May. During monsoon season, the islands succumb to storms, winds, rain, and waves from May to October. The National Park is closed during monsoon season due to dangerous conditions and to protect fragile ecosystems. No visitor boats are allowed access during this time. The best time to visit is between February and April when the winds and waters are calm.
What to Do While You are There
The most popular attraction on the Similan Islands is SCUBA diving. The rich marine life, underwater landscape, bottom topography, coral walls, boulders, sea fans, barrel sponges, and caves make this one of the ten most interesting dive areas in the world.
With water temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius, you can dive without wearing a wet suit. Multiple dive centres and courses are available during the diving season, which lasts from October to May.
You will have 25 dive sites to choose from in the Similians. Some of the most notable are East of Eden, a long swim through lined with colourful coral and marine life; Deep Six, featuring deep boulders and archways; and Anita’s Reef, with gentle currents, sheet corals, star corals, sea fans, glass fish, bluefin trevally, eels, and shrimp.
Richelieu Rock is a horse-shoe-shaped site with huge pinnacles surrounded by jutting rocks. This sizeable underwater granite pinnacle rises from a depth of 40 meters. It contains soft corals, barrel sponges, anemones, whale sharks, and giant sea fans.
Elephant Rock, the most famous dive site, is named for its large rock resembling an elephant head. At Christmas Point, a series of underwater pinnacles, divers can see coral gardens and tunnels formed by large rock formations and boulders. Fish and corals can be seen in all shapes, sizes, and colours.
Fantasy Reef features enormous rocks, some as large as houses, and large numbers of fish, including the exotic clown triggerfish. At Andaman Reef, reef fish, shoals of barracudas, giant trevally, coral heads, moray eels, and lionfish can be seen.
Snorkelling, yachting, boat tours, sailing charter tours, cruises, and day boat trips are popular activities. Hiking on nature trails, bird watching, or simply sunbathing and relaxing at the beach are other great ways to spend time on the islands.
Safety and Travel Tips
You should be prepared for remoteness when you go to the Similan Islands. There are no roads, motorbikes, banks, or ATMs, and just a few small shops with necessities. There is cell phone service on the islands, but no wifi.
To keep yourself from getting sunburned or dehydrated, it is essential to wear sunscreen, drink a lot, and eat well. Be careful to avoid touching marine life, bring decent shoes for hiking, and be sure to have travel insurance. The visitors’ centre on Ko Miang has life jackets and storage lockers for rent.
Where to Stay
Because the islands are protected, the facilities are pretty basic. It is only possible to stay on three of the eleven islands. No hotels are on the islands, so you must choose between a bungalow or a campsite. On Koh Miang, you can stay in an air-conditioned cabin or at a camp, while on Koh Similan and Koh Tachai, you can stay in a tent at a campsite and connect with nature. The tents accommodate 2-3 people.
There are three different types of bungalows in Koh Miang. Chomviews are spacious with air conditioning, while Hu Yong and Pa Yang are less expensive and simple. There are only 35 bungalows on the island, so if you want to stay in one, you should be sure to book ahead.
You might also opt to stay in a hotel, resort in Phang Nga and take a day trip to the Similan Islands. It is possible to visit multiple islands in one day trip. This is a good option when accommodations on the islands are booked.
Finally, consider booking a live-a-board tour from Khao Lak. Live-a-board trips are great for divers who want to explore the area’s reefs and underwater plateaus more intensely. Tours on live-a-board boats last 4-5 days and are the best way to explore multiple islands and diving spots. Advanced diving courses and snorkelling are also available on these boat trips.
The trips on good-sized boats depart from the mainland harbours or Phuket island, visit multiple diving spots, islands, and landmarks, rent out diving equipment, provide meals and cabins for sleeping, and allow you to help the sailing team. Some companies that offer live-a-board tours include Wicked Diving, Khao Lak Scuba adventures, Sunrise Divers, Seadragon Dive Center, and West Coast Divers. These are popular, so be sure to book well in advance.
Where to Eat
Both Koh Similan and Koh Miang have restaurants open daily at meal times and serve beer. The restaurant on Koh Miang is next to the park office and serves simple Thai food. Coffee stands can be found on the island and are open throughout the day. There are two visitor information centres on Koh Similan and Koh Miang. There is no nightlife or bars on the island. This is a place for tranquillity and relaxation rather than for partying.
Q: What is the best time to visit the Similan Islands?
The best time to visit the Similan Islands is during the dry season, which runs from mid-October to mid-May. The weather is generally calm and sunny during this time, making it ideal for snorkelling, diving, and other water activities.
Q: How do I get to the Similan Islands?
To reach the Similan Islands, take a speedboat or liveaboard boat from the mainland, typically from Khao Lak, Phuket, or other nearby coastal towns. The boat ride usually takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the point of departure and sea conditions.
Q: Is there an entrance fee for the Similan Islands National Park?
Yes, there is an entrance fee for the Similan Islands National Park. For Thai nationals, the fee is 80 THB for adults and 40 THB for children. The fee for foreign adults is 500 THB and 300 THB for foreign children. There may also be additional fees for diving and other activities within the park.
Q: Can I stay on the Similan Islands overnight?
Overnight stays are permitted on some islands, such as Koh Miang (Island 4). Limited bungalows and camping facilities are available, which can be booked through the national park’s website or a local tour agency. Be aware that accommodations may fill up quickly during the peak season.
Q: Are there any restaurants or shops on the islands?
There are limited food and drink options on the islands, with basic restaurants and small shops available on some islands like Koh Miang. It is advisable to bring snacks, water, and other essential items with you when visiting the Similan Islands.
Q: What activities can I enjoy on the Similan Islands?
Popular activities on the Similan Islands include snorkelling, scuba diving, swimming, bird watching, and hiking. The islands are known for their diverse marine life, pristine coral reefs, and beautiful white-sand beaches.
Q: Are the Similan Islands suitable for beginners and non-divers?
Yes, the Similan Islands offer a range of snorkelling and diving spots for beginners and non-divers. There are shallow reefs with calm waters perfect for snorkelling, and several diving operators offer beginner diving courses.
Q:Is it safe to visit the Similan Islands?
The Similan Islands are generally safe to visit, but it is essential to follow safety guidelines, especially while engaging in water activities. During the monsoon season (mid-May to mid-October), the islands are often closed due to rough sea conditions, and it is not advisable to visit during this time.
Q: Do I need a permit for diving or snorkelling in the Similan Islands?
While you do not need a specific permit for diving or snorkelling in the Similan Islands, you must pay the national park entrance fee. Additionally, some diving operators may require proof of diving certification for specific dive sites.
Q: What should I bring to the Similan Islands?
When visiting the Similan Islands, bring sun protection (hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen), comfortable clothing, swimwear, snorkelling or diving equipment (if not renting), insect repellent, a reusable water bottle, snacks, and a waterproof bag for your belongings.
If you are looking for fantastic diving experiences, a visit to the Similan Islands will be well worth the effort. Although getting there is a little challenging and requires some advanced planning, these granite islands have an exciting and unique world of beauty and adventure. Whether you are a serious diver or a beginner, visiting the Similan islands will be an incredible experience.