The national park of the Similan Islands (เกาะสิมิลัน) is in southern Thailand, 50 km west of Khao Lak. It is considered the best place in Thailand for divers.
GeographyThe park is an archipelago consisting of 11 islands, occupying an area of approximately 140 km 2 with a land area of about 26 km 2 . For convenience, the Thai Department of National Parks (DNP) has assigned numbers to the islands. From north to south, they are:
- Island 11: Ko Tachai
- Island 10: Ko Bon, AKA Ko Talu
- Island 9: Ko Ba-ngu, AKA Ko Bayu
- Island 8: Ko Similan
- Island 7: Ko Hin Pousar
- Island 6: Ko Payu, AKA Ko Pa Yu
- Island 5: Ko Ha
- Island 4: Ko Miang, AKA Ko Meang. Park HQ is here.
- Island 3: Ko Payan, AKA Ko Pa Yan
- Island 2: Ko Payang, AKA Ko Pa Yang
- Island 1: Ko Huyong, AKA Ko Hu Yong
HistoryThe islands were created by upwellings of hot magma during the Tertiary-Cretaceous period some 65 million years ago, then smoothed by glacial ice and the erosion by the sea. The coral reefs are about 5,000 years old and hence the oldest in Thailand. In 1982, the national park was established and now it is scheduled to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 2004 tsunami left the islands and the underwater landscape almost unharmed, since the waters are very deep around the islands.
LandscapeThe nine granite islands are postcard perfect images of paradise, covered in tropical jungle and equipped with beaches of chalk-white sand. As if this was not enough, the views under the water surface are even more impressive and many people believe this is the best dive site in Thailand. Skin-Diver Magazine has acclaimed the Similans to be one of the ten most beautiful places in the world.
Flora and faunaThere is an enormous diversity of fish species. Underwater visibility is the best you will find in Thailand. You will see plenty of colourful fish such as lionfish and clownfish (Nemo), and if you're lucky you may spot a bigger one like a manta or even a whale shark. The corals in the area have largely fallen victim to coral bleaching in 2010 and have not yet recovered, though the fish still make snorkelling and diving worthwhile.
On Ko Huyong, the Royal Thai Marines run a turtle breeding facility and access to the island is restricted.
ClimateHigh season in the Similans is from Dec-Apr, when the monsoon stays far away. The best period to visit is Mar, when the winds are calm and the water clear. The national park is closed from 16 May-15 Nov.
The Similans are closed to visitors during the rainy season, 16 May-15 October every year. In addition, Ko Tachai has been closed to the public for an indefinite period since 15 May 2016 to allow the island to recover from the destruction caused by excessive numbers of visitors.
Virtually every dive shop on the North Andaman Coast offers diving and/or snorkelling day trips and liveaboards to the Similans. Dedicated cruises usually start at four days and four nights (4D/4D) in length. Many shorter trips are available, often with operators who have a large vessel stationed at the islands who do regular transfers using speedboats. Consult dive shop listings in Khao Lak, Ko Lanta, Phuket, Ranong, and even Bangkok agents for information.
Fees and permits
DivingUnder new rules implemented 2018-10-15, the number of divers in the park will be limited to 525 per day. Similan Islands diving is famous and high on the list of top dive destinations. The Andaman Sea has perfect water conditions that make underwater visibility extremely high and suitable for diving and snorkeling. The seawater has an average temperature of 27 °C during the open season.
Mu Ko Similan National Park Souvenir ShopA small souvenir shop on Ko Similan sells small gift items.
Mu Ko Similan National Park RestaurantsThe facilities on the islands are pretty basic. You will find restaurants on Ko Similan and Ko Miang.
No overnight staysIn 2018 all overnight accommodations in the islands were demolished and the number of visitors is now limited in order to preserve the environment. Admissions are capped at 3,325 one-day tour visitors and 525 scuba diving tourists.