Great visibility, huge marine diversity of fish life and corals, big drop-offs, swim-throughs, whale sharks, manta rays, remote dive sites, underwater formations, and dive sites in good condition.
All these make the Similan Islands the most popular dive destination in Thailand for dive enthusiasts in the know. Add to that the wide range of trip durations, and combinations of dive destinations and itineraries available, and you've got a dream dive selection to choose from.
But just what options are available to you, the diver, for a visit to this famous location? In this article we explore the different choices you have and the factors to consider when planning a trip to scuba dive the Similan Islands.
You can visit and dive the Similan Islands by taking one of 3 different types of dive trips available:
There are many cruise itineraries for you to choose from, and an even greater number of boats! Phuket liveaboards are arguably the classic and some say best way to dive the Similans, but for this feature, we will take a look at the less well-known alternatives to dive the Similans, pros, cons, warts and all.
If an overnight experience is what you seek, you are limited to only visiting the Similan Islands, with the exception of 2 operators that also incorporate Koh Bon into this itinerary. You have the choice of sleeping either on the Similans Islands or on a Phuket liveaboard boat.
Similan Island No. 4 and Island No. 8 both have basic national park accommodation facilities. You can choose between safari-style tents or shared bungalow cabin beds. There are a handful of operators offering the overnight service, sleeping on the Similan Islands, everyday during the high season. A speedboat operator service will take you for 3 dives daily, then drop you on the islands for the night.
There is also a restaurant on the islands where you can buy cheap Thai meals and breakfast. They will collect you from the Islands in the morning, take you diving and return you to the islands, for as many days as you wish. This means you can extend your stay as long as you want. You can choose either 2 or 3 dives per day, and even dive Koh Bon if you so desire.
This option is great if you're looking to get away from it all and just relax in nature. There is no compressor on board the boat, so there is no noise pollution either. There is also a regular dive boat operator that runs an overnight trip staying on the Similan Islands. You can complete 6 dives over 2 days, and stay in the shared bungalow cabin beds.
The Similan National Park camps and this dive option are open from November until April.
There are also operators offering the overnight service, sleeping on Similan liveaboards moored at the islands, everyday in the high season. Operators will transfer you by speedboat to their liveaboard boat. You will go diving on the liveaboard boat around the Similan Islands. You can dive again the next day, as you join their regular Similan diving day trip service. Again, you can extend your stay as long as you want, and you can do between 2 to 4 dives per day.
Accommodation facilities can either be air-conditioned or fan-cooled, with some en-suite facilities. Please be aware though, that several of these operators offer rooms that can at best be described as basic and noisy. One diver described the accommodation on his trip as like "entering The Black Hole of Calcutta".
Prices range from US$ 90 to US$ 125 per person per day, including national marine park fees, but excluding diving equipment.
If you're looking to dive at the cheapest prices, have limited time available, or are unsure of your availability until short notice, this is the option for you. You can use these services to dive from November until May. Departure Point:
Khao Lak - Khao Lak Beach or Tab Lamu Pier in Phang Nga Province - boat journey takes about ½ hours, and operators arrange minibus transfers for their guests from hotels in Phuket.
Speed boats, high speed catamarans and standard day trip dive boats based on the mainland, are all offering daily dive trips.
The high speed boats obviously get you to the islands faster, but this benefit can be outweighed if the seas are rough and it turns into a bumpy crossing. The catamarans, with their capacious holds, can also make for some pretty crowded diving, along with its associated impact on the environment.
Prices range from US$ 80 to US$ 130 per person per day, including national marine park fees, but excluding diving equipment.
You can dive from day trip boats all year round, and it's a good option if you want to return to the mainland every day, or are short on time. Departure Points are Phuket or Khao Lak:
Phuket - Chalong Bay - the boat journey takes about 3 hours. This operator offers you a 2 dive day to the Similan Islands only, and also to Hin Daeng - Hin Muang.
Phang Nga - Khao Lak Beach or Tab Lamu Pier - the boat journey takes between 1 and 3 hours, and some operators arrange minibus transfers for their guests from hotels in Phuket. You can choose either 2 or 3 dives per day, and even dive Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, or Richelieu Rock if you so desire.
Khura Buri - the boat journey takes about 4 hours. This option offers a 2 dive day to Richelieu Rock only.
It really is down to you. Once you've decided your budget, when you'd like to go, the length of time you'd like to stay, the dive destinations to visit, the accommodation you'd like, the maximum number of divers to join you, the level of boat safety, and any other features you'd like, then you're in a position to make a decision.
With so many options available to dive the Similans these days, and if you book in advance, there will always be something available to meet your desires.
Sheldon Hey runs Dive The World Thailand, a Phuket-based agency that handles bookings for major dive operators in the Phuket area. He can be reached at. This article was also published in Fins Magazine November 2002.