(Vessels depart from Thap Lamu pier, 20 km north of Thai Muang (3-5hrs) to the Similans, 40 km offshore. Boats also leave from Ao Chalong and Patong Beach, Phuket with Songserm Travel (T076-222570), Tue, Thu and Sat from Dec-Apr, 6-10 hrs. Boats also leave from Ranong. The best time to visit is Dec-Apr. The west monsoon makes the islands virtually inaccessible during the rest of the year; be warned that boats have been known to capsize at this time. Also, bear in mind that transport away from the islands is unpredictable and you might find yourself stranded here, rapidly running out of money. At the end of Mar/early Apr underwater visibility is not good, but this is the best time to see manta rays and whalesharks.)
The Similan Islands lying 80 km northwest of Phuket and 65 km west of Khao Lak are some of the most beautiful, unspoilt tropical idylls in Southeast Asia. The national park consists of nine islands (named by Malay fishermen, who referred to them as the ‘Nine Islands’ – sembilan is Malay for nine). The water surrounding the archipelago supports a wealth of marine life and is considered one of the best diving locations in the world, as well as a good place for anglers. A particular feature of the islands is the huge granite boulders. These same boulders litter the seabed and make for interesting peaks and caves for scuba divers. On the west side of the islands the currents have kept the boulders ‘clean’, while on the east, they have been buried by sand. The contrast between diving on the west and east coasts is defined by the boulders. On the west, currents sweep around these massive granite structures, some as large as houses, which can be swum around and through and many have fantastic colourful soft coral growing on them. A guide is essential on the west, as navigation can be tricky. The east is calmer, with hard coral gardens sloping from the surface down to 30-40 m. Navigation is straightforward here and can be done with a buddy, without the need for a guide.
Koh Miang, named after the king’s daughter, houses the park office and some dormitory and camping accommodation. While water did sweep over Koh Miang, it is largely recovered and was the first place that Thailand’s navy established a tsunami warning system. Koh Hu Yong, the southernmost island, is the most popular diving location. From some 16,000 tourists in 1994, the numbers visiting the Similan Islands has risen to more than 25,000. Anchor damage and the dumping of rubbish is a big problem, although buoys have now been moored....
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