The Similan Islands
In 1999, I came to Thailand as a PADI Dive Instructor looking for work and thinking of spending a year here, maybe 2 years if the diving was good. Certainly no thoughts of staying for ever or getting married or raising a family. No, first and foremost, I wanted to dive the Similan Islands. I'd already been teaching scuba diving for a year and had this romantic notion of working on a liveaboard dive boat, cruising the islands, diving every day and getting paid for it too!
It took a couple of months before I got to the Similans, first doing some local diving and teaching courses and even joining a dive boat in Burma for a couple of weeks. There was not that much freelance work and I did think of leaving for greener pastures when finally that first Similan trip was offered. 4 days on a liveaboard, 14 dives. Yes! Now, the local dive sites around Phuket and Phi Phi are good, there's lots of variety, masses of marine life, but... these sites do lack crystal clear waters. I had come from the Caribbean, where 40 meter visibility was normal. I still recall that first moment of the first dive in the amazing Similan Islands - clear water, a frenzy of fishlife, white sand... I say again YES!
From that very first dive I knew this was the place to be - the Similan Islands, Thailand and Phuket. The variety of dive sites is amazing - there are beautiful reefs, pinnacles and many sites which feature huge granite boulders with swimthroughs and soft coral gardens. Most liveaboard dive trips also head further north to Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock, which is surely my favourite dive site. After about 1000 dives in the area, I've seen everything from tiny ghost pipefish, frogfish and the rare seamoth up to manta rays and a few whalesharks too.
The Similan Island chain is about 40 miles west of Khao Lak, or 60 miles NW of Phuket (depending where you measure from, as the islands stretch 14 miles north to south). There are are 9 islands, which do have real names such as Koh Miang, Koh Similan, but they are normally referred to by number. Islands 5 and 6 are little more than piles of rocks. Island 4 is the national park HQ and has 2 beaches at Princess Bay and Honeymoon Bay. You can walk between the two in less than 10 minutes. On Island 4 you can stay in tents or some basic bungalows, some of which have aircon. There's also a small restaurant, but no dive operation. All diving ops are based at Khao Lak or Phuket.
The Similans are uninhabited except for the national park facilities. No hotels, no bars, no noise... but in high season one helluva lot of divers and day trippers. There is talk of limiting numbers, but I don't reckon it will happen. Maybe 10 years ago it was pretty much only liveaboards heading there, but these days there are lots of speedboats heading out from Khao Lak on day trips for snorkeling and that "remote island paradise" experience. I must say, aside from the beach at Island 8 in what is called Donald Duck Bay (where you can climb up the rocks for a great view), I have never had a problem with crowds. The day trippers generally all go to the same places for snorkeling, which does not affect the dive boats. You do sometimes get a few dive boats on the same spot (or more than a few at Koh Bon or Richelieu Rock), but I've never found this to be a worry.
For me, the Similan Islands are a special place. My reason for staying here - at least initially - was the diving. After my first season diving the Similans, I was back in Phuket. I met a girl who was working in the office for the same dive company. The rest is history.
Similan Links... You can book diving with me at Sunrise Divers.
• Similan Islands Information, Photos, Dive Site Guide
• Similan Islands Liveaboards