Ko Similan : A virgin beauty
My first snorkeling experience really opened my eyes to the exquisite world under water. It’s an indescribable feeling, being there in the water with all the fish, sharing their space and be able to touch the beautiful corals. Since I don’t know swimming, it took me a while to get used to the idea that I would be floating in deep open sea! Even with a life jacket, initially I was scared to jump into the water. But soon I realized that swimming wasn’t necessary at all. And all other fears got distracted by the awesome sight of the underwater world. There were brightly colored corals in all kinds of shapes and among them were fish of all sizes & colors and other sea creatures, all living together on the reef. The whole experience of snorkeling was so much fun that I planned my next holiday, to the mecca of snorkeling & scuba diving in Thailand - Similan Islands.
Similan which means ‘nine’ in Malay, is an archipelago of 9 completely uninhabited islands, in the Andaman sea. It is one of the most famous diving sites in Thailand, and noted as one of the top ten dive destinations in the world, according to the National Geographic Society. The islands made of black boulder-like rocks, were created by hot magma some 65 million years ago, smoothed by glacial ice and eroded by the sea. The rocks are made of granite and not limestone, like in other parts of Phang Nga. The coral reefs are about 5,000 years old and the oldest in Thailand. Located around 50 kms from Khao Lak, and 100 kms from Phuket, off the west coast of Phang Nga province, the islands were converted into a Marine National Park in 1982. The nine islands Ko Bangu, Ko Bayu, Ko Similan, Ko Payu, Ko Miang, Ko Payan, Ko Payang, & Ko Huyong, are all numbered from North to South, and recently, two remote islands Ko Bon & Ko Tachai have been added to the park. They are more often referred to by their numbers than their names for convenience.
A long sleepy bus ride to Khao Lak, north of Phuket, and we reached Tap Lamu pier, to board the speed boat to Similan. I climbed on to the speed boat and the Thai tour agent welcomed everyone on board, “Sawasdee kha! ( hello in Thai), today we go to the beautiful Similan island. You will be very happy to see the island and I happy to take you there…” And he continued about the tour details in his broken English and warm smile. As the boat caught more speed, the sea got more choppy and bumpy. Soon the mainland disappeared from sight and the endless sea became a dark blue-grey, merging with the horizon. Almost an hour later, as we approached the islands, the depth of the water started reducing and the color of the water turned into a deep turquoise. I looked down and there were hundreds of fish in schools swimming around and I could faintly see the corals below. The water was so clear that I couldn’t wait to snorkel! The driver stopped the boat engine here as it could harm the delicate corals below.
High season in Similan is from December until April, March being the best time to visit, when the sea is calmer. The islands close from May to November as the National park shuts down during monsoon. There is no accommodation, electricity or facilities on the island other than the 20 bungalows & tents provided by the National park on island 4, Ko Miang. Booking in advance is a must as the bungalows are mostly booked by divers. A basic camping tent is available for 500 baht per night. I spent two days on the islands and one night in a tent at Ko Miang, and that night was the closest to nature that I’ve had since I moved from India. It really felt like being in the middle of no where! It is advisable to carry food, water & drinks as there are no shops on the island. Other than day trips or the option to stay at Similan, there are live aboard cruises available as well for divers. The live aboard cruises depart from Phuket, Khao Lak, Ko Lanta and even Singapore! The prices of tours to Similan vary depending on the boat and tour operator, but generally a 2 day 1 night tour on a speed boat, costs around 5500 Baht for an adult and 3500 Baht for a child (above 4 yrs). Take a look at the map here to find out the exact location of the islands. Some more information on Similan islands here. I found this site useful and informative with details about all the nine islands and dive centers.
The colorful coral reefs and fish under water are as beautiful if not more, than the graded turquoise blue clear waters and powdery white sand beaches above. The waters are rich with various types of exotic fish & other sea creatures, and the land above is teeming with diverse tropical flora & fauna. The visibility in water is excellent and the best in Thailand. Island 4, with the accommodation is quite small and there are walking trails to explore the island with impressive panoramic views of the Andaman. The islands still preserve their natural beauty, all thanks to the national park authorities. There are all levels of PADI courses available for scuba diving in Similan.
Hooked on to snorkeling now, I am determined to learn swimming and try diving soon. It’ll be something else to be suspended in water, to be able to breathe, and be one with the environment. And hopefully by then I will get myself a water-proof camera too! Some beautiful pictures of the islands and marine life here.
Similan islands are so appealing that once you’ve visited them, no other place in Thailand would feel as exotic anymore! The virgin beauty of the islands is flawless and gazing into the bright turquoise sea I realize how unpretentious it is…
P.S. Don’t forget to carry a torch and mosquito repellent on your holiday to Similan.