Thailand – The Similan Islands.
The Similans are commonly rated as one of the top 10 dive destinations in the world. Comprising of nine granite uninhabited islands covered in a tropical jungle, washed by a clear blue Indian ocean the Similan Islands (also referred to simply as the Similans) provide some of the most beautiful and diverse dive destinations in Thailand. The Similans lie in a 25 km long north-south chain of islands, 50 km offshore from Khao Lak in the Phang Nga Province on the Andaman Sea,
The eastern fringes of the Similans feature pretty hard coral gardens in the shallows and sloping reef banks down to thirty meters or more. At some dive sites such as East of Eden, large bommies (coral heads) rise from the sea bed and are blanketed with soft corals, fan corals, and swarms of smaller tropical fish. East coast Similan Islands diving is relatively easy-going, allowing you plenty of time to explore the sites at your own leisurely pace.
The western side of the Similan Islands along with the north and south points, offers divers a more exciting experience as currents swirl around huge sunken granite boulders, which form a series of arches, tunnels and swim-throughs at sites such as Christmas Point and Elephant Head Rock. Growing on, and between, these enormous rocks you find a tapestry of colourful soft corals. In the channels between the boulders, sea fans can grow to some three metres across, and in such numbers that you cannot possibly swim through. The contrast between the east and west coasts and the variety of underwater topography is one of the reasons the Similan Islands are so popular – every dive offers you something different.
For underwater photographers and lovers of marine life, then diving in the Similan Islands is difficult to surpass for variety and abundance of tropical fish. Leopard sharks make appearances on a regular basis and you’ll also see white-tip reef sharks. It’s not a ‘big fish’ paradise, but it’s consistently great for sheer diversity of marine life. You may find anything from tiny ghost pipefish to turtles and giant bumphead parrotfish.
Although the tsunami of 2004 did affect a few of the reefs here, most are in excellent condition and many divers in the last seasons have commented to us that they could not see any reef damage.
Liveaboards leaving from Khao Lak are typically 4 day tours, and visit both the Similans and Surin Islands including Koh Bon, Koh Tachai and Richelieu Rock but are usually too fast, and can feel stressed. 5 Day Similan Liveaboards offer the best chance to experience the entire region and take a slower, more natural pace. Some shorter tours (2 or 3 day) visit the Similan Islands only. Day trips for diving and snorkeling are now becoming more common from Khao Lak.