The Similan Islands are an archipelago of 11 islands in the Andaman Sea 70 kilometers 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 the island of Phuket. This is a great place for travellers who like to dive and explore remote places 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 give you the chance to see manta rays, whale sharks, massive boulders, and much more.
Initially there were 9 islands in the national park, and the word Similan actually means 9. In 1998, two more islands were added to the park. Each island has been given a number and a name.
- 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, trigger fish, 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 that are shaped like deer, leaves, brains, and mushrooms. With ideal conditions for coral growth, 200 species of hard coral have been identified. The greatest number of reef fish in Thai waters can be found on the islands.
In order to protect the wildlife, the Thai government restricts access to most of the Similan Islands and beaches. Sport fishing and commercial fishing are prohibited. Tourists are prohibited from Ko Huyong, Island No. 1, which has longest and widest beach, to protect turtle egg hatching and conserve the coral reef. National park rangers operate a small station there to take care of 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. Boats depart from Tab Lamu daily from mid-October until mid-May. It takes about 3 hours to get there on a slow boat and about 70 minutes on a speedboat.
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 are planning a day trip to the Similan islands, you should get an early start in order to accommodated 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 from there, catch a boat to the Similan Islands. 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 small number of the 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 of the islands to help you determine which ones to visit.
The largest and the main island, Koh Similan or Island no. 9 has the most visitors. With great dive and snorkel sites, nature trails, rock formations, beaches, wildlife, and the tallest mountain, this island has a lot to offer.
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. For hiking, there are nature trails on the west side and from Nguang Chang Bay to Horseshoe Bay. One trail leads to the Donald Duck Rock and another takes you to two beaches. At the northern tip of the island are the rock formations of Sail Rock.
If you would like to stay overnight on 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 huge bay that is a safe 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 north side of the island, 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 main 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 rain forest.
The island’s 800 meter beach faces east and is shaded by the rain forest. A small jungle trail leads from the beach to the western side of the island, where you will see rocks and beautiful views. A guide can lead you on a hiking trail and teach you about the island and its wildlife.
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, and it makes a great trip for kids of all ages.
Koh Bon, also known as Talu or Island no. 11, is the other one of latest additions and is found at the far north west of the park, one hour from the main island. A small island with stretches of white sandy beaches and multiple dive sites, it is great for advanced divers who can expect to see manta rays, underwater stone pinnacles, shark species, corals, morey eels, and more. Koh Bon is best to visit in April or May. With no accommodations on the island, it is only for day trips
The Similan Islands were created millions of years ago from hot magna 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 blocks of granite into shapes and rock formations. In the interior of the large islands, the rocks take the shape of steep mountains. Piles of stones lying in heaps can be seen at Sailing Boat Rock on Koh Similan. Similar piles of rocks spill beneath the surface of the sea 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 that are 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, from May to October, the islands succumb to storms, winds, rain, and waves. The National Park is closed during monsoon season due to dangerous conditions and in order to protect the fragile ecosystems. No visitor boats are allowed access during this time. The best time to visit is between February and April, when the winds are calm and the waters are clear.
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. There are multiple dive centres and courses 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, blue fin trevally, eels, and shrimp.
Richelieu Rock is a horse-shoe shaped site with huge pinnacles surrounded by jutting rocks. It is full of soft corals, barrel sponges, anemones, whale sharks, and large sea fans. This large underwater granite pinnacle rises from a depth of 40 meters.
Elephant Rock, the most famous dive site, is named for its large rock that looks like an elephant head. Fish and corals in all shapes, sizes, and colours can be seen there. At Christmas Point, a series of underwater pinnacles, divers can see coral gardens and tunnels formed by large rock formations and boulders.
Fantasy Reef features enormous rocks, some as large as houses, and large numbers of fish including the exotic clown trigger fish. At Andaman Reef, reef fish, shoals of barracudas, giant trevally, coral heads, moray eels, and lion fish can be seen.
Snorkelling, yachting, boat tours, sailing charter tours, cruises, and day boat trips are also popular activities. Hiking on nature trails, bird watching, or simply sunbathing and relaxing at the beach are other great ways to spend your time on the islands.
Safety and Travel Tips
When you go to the Similan Islands, you should be prepared for remoteness. There are no roads, motorbikes, banks, or ATMs, and just a few small shops with basic 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, to drink a lot, and to eat well. Be careful to avoid touching marine life, to 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 quite basic. It is only possible to stay on three of the eleven islands. There are no hotels on the islands, so you will have to choose between a bungalow or a campsite. On Koh Miang, you can stay in an air-conditioned bungalow or at a campsite, 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 on 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. This is a good option when accommodations on the islands are booked. It is possible to visit multiple islands in one day trip.
Finally, you might want to consider booking a live-a-board tour from Khao lak. Tours on live-a-board boats, which last 4-5 days, are the best way to explore multiple islands and diving spots. Live-a-board trips are great for divers who want to explore the areas reefs and underwater plateaus more intensely. Advanced diving courses and snorkelling are also available on these boat trips.
Some of the companies that offer live-a-board tours include Wicked Diving, Khwo Lak Scuba adventures, Sunrise Divers, Seadragon Dive Center, and West Coast Divers. The trips on reasonable sized boats depart from the mainland harbours or from 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 sail team. These are popular, so be sure to book well in advance.
Where to Eat
Both Koh Similian and Koh Miang have restaurants that are open every day at meal times and that 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 relaxing rather than for partying.
If you are looking for amazing 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 a world of beauty and adventure to offer that is exciting and unique. Whether you are a serious diver or a beginner, a visit to the Similan islands will be an incredible experience.