SIMILAN ISLANDS, THE JEWEL OF THE ANDAMAN
The Similan Islands are not only the jewel in the Andaman ocean but a jewel in the oceans of the blue planet we call Earth. These islands lie 65 kilometers off the west coast of Thailand. This is just 85 km north west of the tourist hub ofPhuket Thailand. This island chain consist of nine islands in the Similan archipelago which are just pin pricks in any map but with such stunning beauty that it will leave you wanting to return year after year. The Similan national park consists of the nine islands plus two more islands that stand alone to the north of the main group. The eleven islands are Koh Bangu, Koh Bon, Koh Ha, Koh Hin Pousar, Koh Huyong, Koh Meang, Koh Payan, Koh Payang, Koh Payu and Koh Similan. In total they cover 140 square kilometers with the largest being Koh Similan. Koh being the Thai word for island.
The islands themselves are on the whole uninhabited with a few tents and cabins available for an overnight stay during the season. The low lying islands are covered in a mix of thick jungle, white sandy beaches and large boulders. Ironwood and gum trees are among the larger trees, while jackfruit, rattan and bamboo form part of the denser undergrowth. The islands are home to crab-eating monkeys, dusky langurs, squirrels, bats, lizards and a good variety of birds (though the monkeys are shy and rarely seen by the casual observer).
But the most striking feature of these islands, at first glance, are the huge boulders that litter the western and southern shores on several of the islands. Another highlight, as the visitor soon discovers, are the white coral-sand beaches, splendidly picturesque and often deserted.
All eleven islands are surrounded by crystal blue tropical bays and lagoons. The clear warm water makes these islands a snorkeling and scuba diving dream. The conditions for coral growth are ideal, with a minimum prevailing sea temperature of about 28oC and exceptionally clear waters. More than 200 species of hard coral alone have so far been identified in this area, while these islands have the greatest profusion of reef fish in Thai waters. These are not only the best islands in Thailand but in the world.
DIVING THE SIMILAN ISLANDS
For scuba diving then by far the best way is to join one of the Liveaboard boats that tour these islands during the season which runs from 15th October till the 15th of May each year. This way you can travel from island to island diving as you go and still being able to stay in a comfortable air conditioned cabin with en-suit toilet and showers. The Liveaboard boats these days are a far cry for what many think of or experienced years ago. The boats in the Similansare all trying to be better than the others. This means that all the boats now have great chefs turning out better food on these dive boats than many smaller hotels and guest houses. Some boats are turning out four meals a day with snacks in-between. They all have almost unlimited supply of soft drinks all well chilled and of course when on a boat cruising in the tropic a nice sun deck too.
To join these trips is very simple. Just pop into any dive shop phuket that have gathered in this ideal location and there are trip leaving every day from Phuket. The best way to join these trips is to look for a well establish dive center specializing in scuba diving phuket with many years experience on the island as they will offer you several options both in length and quality of boat for you to choose from. The average price of a good mid range trip is fifteen to twenty thousand Thai baht for a three day cruise. This price will normally include the transfers from your hotel in Phuket, all your dive equipment and being a national park there is an entrance fee too. These are normally all included but do check these things when booking to avoid any unexpected fees. Some dive centers do offer “cheap trips” but then they add on all the extras so be aware of this and try to book a trip where everything is included as this will rule out any issues later. On Phuket diving shops are in every town. That is why a bit of research is best as the long established shops are the best as the newer shops tend to have to try marketing tricks to get the customers as diving phuket is many people dream so new shops tend to come and go which is why the best diving is done with the older well establish dive centers as they have so many returning customers they dont need tricks to bring in customers just plain simple great service.
The Similan island liveaboards which are two or three day trips which take you to the eleven islands in the Similan national park including Koh Bon. The nine islands in the Similans islands are known for their clear waters with 40 meter or more viability being the norm rather than the exception. Here you will find both Black and white tip reef sharks, Hawksbill turtles as this is a turtle breeding ground too. Recent years have seen the rise in new visitors too like the guitar shark, Minke and pilot whales too. Koh Bon is the most northern island in the group and is a location where people go to see both the reef and giant Oceanic Manta Ray. When in Phuket Thailand then there is no better place on earth to visit than the Similan islands.