Image courtesy of Tourism Thailand, used with permission
The diving scene on Thailand’s west coast can be quite intimidating for newbie divers, but experienced ones appreciate the challenging currents and depths in these waters. The Similan Islands are the perfect object lesson in the rewards that come with a little added difficulty.
The Similan Islands are made up of nine landmasses and smaller rock outcroppings within a 13,000-hectare national park reserve located about 100 kilometres northwest of Phuket. Every island offers its own underwater surprise nearby, from Ko Similan’s unspoiled corals and curiously-shaped rock formations to Ko Bangu’s deep gorges swarming with an endless variety of fish.
The variety of environments encapsulated within easy swimming or cruising distance – giant boulders, heart-stopping drop-offs, narrow passages, multicoloured coral gardens and more – have earned Similan almost universal recognition as one of the world’s top ten diving sites.
The animal life in this undersea world boggles belief – over 500 species of coral (both hard and soft), smaller denizens like frogfish, nudibranch and ghost pipefish, and large creatures like guitar rays, whale sharks, hawksbill turtles and leopard sharks.
Diving conditions at the Similan Islands remain ideal year-round, with mild currents at all but the most exposed dive sites, water temperatures hovering between 26 to 28C, and visibility between 20 to 30 metres. As the Similans are only accessible by boat, arriving during the monsoon season between May and October can be dangerous – thus the local diving season is limited between October and May.
Four-day liveaboard tours can be booked at Khao Lak or Phuket, but shorter overnight trips and day trips are also available.