The Mu Koh Similan National Park consists of a group of nine islands - the Similans - plus two remote islands, and the park lies approximately 70km off the western coast of the Southern Thailand peninsula. Nestling in the Andaman Sea, these islands with their never-ending beaches of perfectly white sand and their stunning diving locations are the jewels of Thailand and attract visitors from all over the world.
The nine Similans were named for the Sea-Gypsies' Malay-like word for "nine", Sembilan, and are known by both their Thai names and their numbers. They are numbered 1 through 9 from south to north and are quite separate, both geographically and ecologically, from Ko Bon and Ko Tachai, the two northern islands. Diving and snorkeling are Ko Bon's primary attractions while visitors to Ko Tachai can stay overnight and make use of the island's beautiful beach between snorkeling trips.
Most of the nine Similans share a similar geography: granite boulder strewn landscapes on the western sides, several small hills in the center and long, pristine beaches on the eastern coastlines. The underwater vistas are similarly different, with the western dive areas featuring awe-inspiring underwater granite formations with numerous intriguing swimthroughs and the eastern dive areas displaying the fine architecture that is created by blooming mushroom, brain and deer coral. Apart from diving and snorkeling, the Similans offer exquisite hiking trails and exciting birdwatching opportunities. The islands' wildlife, birdlife and marine life treats the visitor to endless delights, and flying lemurs, Nicobar pigeons and hairy-legged mountain crabs are only a few of the islands' fabled exotic species.
Favorite diving spots in the seas surrounding the Similans are divided into the southern, middle and northern sites. Southern dives are the deepest of them all and attract mainly qualified divers. Popular southern dives include those to Shark Fin Reef, which lies off Ko Payan (#3) and which features exquisite blue-faced angelfish, and those to Coral Gardens, which is found off the shores of Ko Ha (#5) where the Kuhl's stingrays roam.
The middle dive sites are the most popular and the most suitable for inexperienced divers. They include Deep Six off the coast of Ko Hin Pousar (#7), with its harlequin shrimp, table corals and pipefishes, and Honeymoon Bay, with Ko Miang (#4) to the west, is perfect for night diving and offers glimpses of Jenkins rays, nudibranchs and fusilier schools. Northern dives are the rocky dives, and sites include the huge Elephant Head Rock off Koh Similan (#8), which is well known for its swimthroughs, caverns and tunnels that hide the powder-blue surgeonfish and yellow goatfish. Another exquisite northern dive site is Christmas Point to the north of the island chain, where divers are sure to see whitetip and blacktip reef shark as well as ribbon eels.
Tourists wishing to visit the Similan Islands have several choices of itinerary including going on a daytrip to the islands by speedboat, cruising the best diving locations from the decks of a livaboard and overnighting on the islands themselves. Most visitors to the park travel across the Andaman Sea from Khao Lak or Krabi on the mainland, and, depending on what type of boat is used, trips can take anything from 70 minutes to 3 hours. The park welcomes tourists but is closed to all visitors every year from May 15th through November 1st, when it is too dangerous to go diving or snorkeling due to the seasonal monsoons.
The Similan Islands can be reached only by boat from the Thai mainland but no-one who visits Thailand should miss the opportunity to explore these definitive island paradises.