Holiday in Similan Islands
Off the western coast of Thailand lies an archipelago of nine islands situated in the Andaman Sea, collectively called the Similan Islands. “Similan”, which meaning originates from the Malay language, is a word used by the sea gypsies (Moken) which appropriately stands for the English word “nine”. These nine islands are authoritatively declared as part of the Mu Koh Similan National Park, thus, only two are open to the public, namely the centre island #4 Ko Miang and the northern island #8 Ko Similan, the latter being the largest of all. Although lacking in comprehensive visitor information centres, these two islands, however, have bungalow accommodations, simple restaurants and provisions for camping.
Reachable via tour speedboats, you have to travel the 50 kilometre span from mainland Thailand to reach the Similan Islands for the chance to witness what has been claimed as Southeast Asia’s best diving and snorkelling sites. Although the tragic effects of the 2010 El Niño phenomenon devastated and killed most of the reefs through coral bleaching, both of the area’s soft and hard corals have been slowly recuperating and returning to their former beauty. If you visit today, expect only the most splendid sub aqua sceneries and the most exotic marine life which has made the Similan Islands sort of like a naturally-set theme park. This fact, unfortunately, has made the Similan Islands overcrowded as thousands of visitors flock its beaches year after year.
Nevertheless, the unshaken beauty of the area with its regal waters, finest white sands, breathtaking vistas and exciting hiking routes seem to offset the frenzied ambience of the islands. Note, however, that the entire trip is on the expensive side but no cliché intended, it is well worth your money especially if you decide to stay overnight or longer to take advantage of the serenity found after the day tours have left and returned to main land Thailand.
Most of the available bungalow accommodations are equipped with air-conditioning and electricity but must be booked ahead. If unavoidable, you can try walk-in bookings but as mentioned above, the islands get so busy that there usually are no vacancies in terms of a decent place to stay. If your destination is Ko Similan, we recommend taking advantage of the all-inclusive services most tour companies offer. Let them know if you plan to stay the night so they can arrange for everything --- from shuttle services to booking arrangements, which most are more than willing to do at no extra fee.
As far as dining options go, you won’t get the best served food but again, who has time to eat when there are so many things to do? Most of the restaurants, however, do serve liquor and are open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., but are closed between 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. There are several coffee booths throughout the islands serving java from morning until 5:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, there is no public transportation on and off the islands. So the only way to get on and off the islands is through the tour speedboats. If you cannot wait for the regular schedules of these boats, you have to pay the equivalent of a one-day tour. No public transportation means there are no roads and no vehicles for rent either for use when touring around.
We recommend you bring enough cash to spend while on the islands as there are no ATMs or banks, especially if you plan to buy your basic necessity items or are the type who love to shop around for souvenirs. You may do these at the many small shops which are open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
As far as medical facilities go, Ko Similan, in particular and due to its remoteness, only provides basic first aid. We recommend that you purchase travel insurance because you might need to be transported via Thai Navy boat to receive major operations or treatments on the mainland.
With such distance, your cell phones might not get the strongest signals, except on Ko Miang and Ko Similan. If you must get access to the internet, you have to use air cards, which again, due to signal problems give slow connections.
The national park is only open from November 1 to May 1 every year. Beyond these dates, the islands are closed to the public.
Hiking is highly recommended and we suggest bringing your best hiking boots because the hiking routes are truly rugged. There is one hiking trail that will lead you to a point called the Donald Duck rock. You have to check out the western sides of the islands which showcase the best powdery sand banks.
Nature lovers can marvel all day long as they catch glimpses of all sorts of wildlife in the air (exotic birds like kingfisher, sea eagles and even the almost extinct nicobar pigeon), at sea (sting rays, whale sharks, moray eels and an array of colourful fish) and by the shores (sea turtles). Or how about taking photos at the areas where trees seemingly kiss the grounds littered with gigantic smoothened boulders, which from afar look like play things of the gods?
As mentioned above, public information centres are not yet fully operational on the national park islands. But you can get your daily dose of information from the many tour boats, operated by either private companies or those of the national park management, crisscrossing the nine islands. Consequently, these boats can take you to snorkelling areas upon requests. Most visitors, however, join the diving and day tours available from Khao Lak.
If you are on the diving tour groups, you will be taken to at least one of the 25 dive sites in the Similans. The most famous of these are Deep Six, Anita’s Reef and East of Eden. Deep Six boasts of their bottomless archways and rock formations frequented by wild sharks and gigantic fish while Anita’s Reef showcases the diving site where a Chinese junk sunk back in 2002. Lastly, East of Eden is an excellent choice for those divers who love to swim alongside all sorts of marine and coral life.