Similan Islands Guide

Designated as a national park in the year 1982, the Similan Islands are a captivating archipelago composed of 11 distinct islands nestled in the heart of the Andaman Sea. Located approximately 70 kilometers off the coast of Phang Nga Province, the park spans a total area of 140 square kilometers, with 26 square kilometers of it being terrestrial.

The Similan Islands are a treasure trove of marine biodiversity, boasting a vibrant array of both hard and soft coral reefs. The islands are bathed in crystal clear waters and are adorned with pristine white beaches, making them a paradise for nature lovers. Recognized as one of the world’s premier diving sites, the islands’ unique features include rock formations composed of massive boulders, shallow waters, and lush tropical forests that paint a picture of unspoiled beauty.

Regrettably, the islands have been grappling with the adverse effects of overtourism. Ko Tachai, one of the islands that has been hit the hardest, has been indefinitely closed to the public since 2016 and remained so as of 2021. The issue of overcrowding escalated to such an extent in 2018 that the park authorities were compelled to cap the daily visitor count to the Similan Islands at 3,850, which was later further reduced to 3,325. Prior to these restrictions, the similan islands tours were witnessing an influx of up to 7,000 visitors each day.

Despite various websites labeling numerous locations around the national park as “uncharted”, “unexplored”, or a “secret spot”, the reality is that there are no such untouched places. During the high seasons, these spots are typically teeming with tourists.

The closest popular mainland towns to the Similan Islands are Khao Lak and Phuket. The nearest pier, Thap Lamu Pier, is situated to the south of Khao Lak, providing convenient access to the similan islands means well.

The islands experience a rainy season that spans from May to October, with the heaviest rainfall typically occurring between June and September. The remainder of the year is relatively dry, with minimal rainfall from December to March, making it an ideal time for visitors to explore the islands’ natural wonders.

Islands in Similan National Park

The term “Similan” is derived from the Yawi language, a dialect of Malay, and translates to the number originally nine islands. This is a nod to the original composition of the park, which initially consisted of nine islands, each assigned a number from 1 to 9. However, in 1998, the park expanded its boundaries to incorporate two additional remote islands, namely Ko Tachai and Ko Bon, bringing the total count to eleven.

Although each island is known by a specific name, they are often referred to by their assigned numbers for simplicity. The eleven islands themselves, in numerical order, are as follows: Ko Hu Yong (#1), Ko Payang (#2), Ko Payan (#3), Ko Miang (#4), Ko Ha (#5), Ko Payu (#6), Ko Hin Pousar (#7), Ko Similan (#8), Ko Bangu (#9), Ko Bon (#10, also referred to as Ko Talu), and Ko Tachai (#11).

Among these, the two most prominent islands that stand out due to their unique features and popularity among visitors are Ko Miang and Ko Similan. These islands serve as the heart of the Similan Islands National Park, offering a diverse range of attractions and activities for tourists to indulge in.

Similan Islands Wildlife

The Similan Islands are a haven for an impressive array of marine species that are emblematic of Southeast Asia’s rich oceanic biodiversity. Visitors can expect to encounter a variety of aquatic life, including manta rays, whale sharks, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, leopard sharks, bluespotted ribbontail rays, spotted eagle rays, bowmouth guitarfish, shovelnose guitarfish, and several species of sea turtles such as hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback, and green sea turtles. The islands also host a variety of morays, including giant, fimbriated, and greyface moray eels, along with great barracudas, green humphead parrotfish, ribbon eels, giant trevallies, humphead wrasses, and many more.

While sightings of whale sharks and manta rays are relatively rare, they do make an occasional appearance, particularly around the months of March and April, adding to the thrill of the diving experience.

The islands are also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with less than 120 bird species reported so far. Some of the rarer birds found in the Similan Islands include parasitic jaegers, roseate terns, and Nicobar pigeons. Among the more common birds, visitors can spot barn swallows, greater coucals, common mynas, Pacific reef egrets, little egrets, pied imperial pigeons, white-bellied sea eagles, and many others.

However, the islands have not been immune to environmental challenges. In 1998 and again in 2010, the coral and sea life here in the Surin and Similan Islands suffered a massive blow, with 90% dying out due to temperature changes. The 2010 event, known as the Reverse Indian Ocean Dipole, triggered a natural phenomenon known as “coral bleaching” that decimated most of the marine life in the surrounding islands. However, in a testament to nature’s resilience, the park authorities announced in August 2019 that the corals have nearly fully recovered, restoring the underwater landscape to its former glory.

Visiting Similan Islands National Park

It’s important to note that the national park has a daily visitor limit of 3,325 people to preserve the natural beauty and biodiversity of the similan islands worth visiting them. The optimal time to explore the Similan Islands is during the winter and hot seasons, which span from December to April. During these months, the waters are exceptionally clear, providing ideal conditions for scuba diving and snorkelling.

The Similan Islands are renowned for their stunning coral reefs, which are a sight to behold for any visitor. There are several ways to reach these islands, depending on your preference and the duration of your visit. For those planning to spend multiple days, liveaboard dive boats are an excellent choice. For day trips, day trip dive boats and snorkelling speed boats are the preferred options.

Thap Lamu Pier, also known as Khao Lak Pier, serves as the primary departure point for boats heading to the islands. The pier is situated 65 kilometers from the main islands, 55 kilometers from Ko Bon, and 72 kilometers from Ko Tachai. There are also several other piers in the vicinity, used by various tour operators to ferry their customers from hotels.

Another viable option is Baan Nam Khem Pier, located approximately 22 kilometers north of Khao Lak. This pier is primarily used for trips to Ko Bon and Ko Thachai and other islands around. It is about 52 kilometers from Ko Bon, 55 kilometers from Ko Tachai, and 72 kilometers from the original nine islands.

The Mu Ko Similan National Park Office and the main visitor center are conveniently located on the mainland near Thap Lamu Pier. Additionally, there are visitor centers on Ko Similan and Ko Miang Islands, providing information and assistance to tourists during their visit.

Navigating to the Nearest Town to Similan Islands National Park

The region is serviced by three airports: Phuket Airport, the closest and only international airport, is approximately 70 km from the pier, though it is the priciest option. Surat Thani Airport, the most economical choice, is about 175 km away, while Krabi Airport is roughly 135 km from Lam Tapu Pier.

The closest tourist destinations to Thap Lamu Pier include:

  • Khao Lak, located around 20 km away, a 30-minute drive
  • Khao Sok National Park headquarters, approximately 78 km away, a 1.5-hour drive
  • Phuket, roughly 105 km away, a 2 to 2.5-hour drive
  • Khura Buri (gateway to the Surin Islands), about 105 km away, a 1 hour 50-minute drive
  • Krabi & Ao Nang, approximately 135 km away, a 2 hours 15-minute drive
  • Surat Thani, around 195 km away, a 3-hour drive

Regular coach routes operate from Bangkok or Hua Hin to Phuket and most other towns in the area. All buses from Bangkok to Phuket pass through Khao Lak along the west coast.

Surat Thani City, located 200 km east, is an affordable option for domestic flights or train travel from Bangkok. It’s also the closest city to the popular tourist destination of Ko Samui. Minivans or buses are readily available from Surat Thani to Khao Lak.

Getting to Thap Lamu Pier or Khao Lak

The pier’s name is spelled in various ways, including Thap Lamu Pier, Tab Lamu Pier, Tap Lamu Pier, and Thaplamu Pier. However, the correct spelling is Thap Lamu Pier.

The pier is situated about 20 km south of Khao Lak and 5.5 km from Highway 4. It can be easily accessed by various public transportation options or taxi from nearby towns and airports. It’s signposted as “Similan Islands” from the highway.

Minivans are the most practical and common mode of transportation between nearby towns, while coach buses are better suited for long-distance trips. While buses drop passengers off on the main road, minivans can drive all the way to the pier upon request.

Hotel staff in Khao Lak, Krabi, Phuket, and other nearby towns can assist by arranging minivan services to pick up guests directly from the hotels, providing a hassle-free experience. If hotel staff can’t arrange transportation, they can provide advice on the nearest agency to contact or directions to the minivan stations.

Khao Lak is easily accessible by public transportation from all major tourist towns in the area. All buses or minivans operating from Bangkok, Hua Hin, or Chumphon to Phuket pass through Khao Lak. Regular minivan services also operate from Krabi and Surat Thani.

If you’re driving from Phuket, head north along Highway 402, which will eventually merge with and follow Highway 4 further north. Continue on this route until you see a large blue signpost indicating a left turn towards the “Similan Islands”.

If you’re coming from Khao Lak, drive south along Highway 4 for approximately 25 minutes. Look out for the large blue signpost that will guide you to make a right turn towards the Similan Islands.

For those driving from Krabi, follow Highway 4, then turn onto Route 4090 and drive for about 14 km. Next, make a left turn onto Route 4240 and continue for about 17 km until the road reaches Highway 4 along the west coast. Turn right onto Highway 4 and drive north for another 12 km until you see the large blue signpost indicating a left turn towards the “Similan Islands”.

Similan Islands Basic Details

Arranging Similan Islands Boat Tours

The most practical way to visit the islands is by booking a tour that includes transportation from your hotel to the islands and back. Most resorts in nearby towns or agencies can assist in arranging boat trips. Hotel lobbies often have tour brochures available, offering excursions to various destinations, including the Similan Islands. It’s also possible to book trips online through various websites.

Entrance Fees & Opening Times on the Similan Islands

As of June 2022, the entrance fees for the Similan Islands are 500 Baht for adults and 250 Baht for children aged 3-14 years. Thai citizens pay 100 Baht for adults and 50 Baht for children.

The park is open to visitors from October 15th to May 15th and is closed for the remainder of the year during the rainy seasons. The park may close earlier than May 15th if the weather conditions are unfavourable. Any such early closures will be announced on this page.

The park’s daily operating hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. This means that boats may depart from the piers early in the day to arrive at the islands around the opening time, and must leave the islands by 4 pm.

All the details on this page were updated in January 2020. The opening times/dates and entrance fees have all been confirmed with the park authorities.

Mobile Reception on Similan Island National Park

Mobile reception on the islands is limited to the following providers: AIS, TrueMove, and DTAC.

Activities on Similan Island National Park

The main activities in the Similan Islands are diving and snorkelling. The best time for diving is the monsoon season from December to April when the wind is minimal and the average water temperature is around 29 °C. February to April is the most ideal time to spot large pelagic species like manta rays and whale sharks, although sightings are rare.

There are numerous beaches on various islands where visitors can relax and swim. Some islands also have trails leading into the island or to viewpoints.

While the islands may not be a popular birding destination, they do attract a few migratory birds not found elsewhere in the country. Wildlife watching opportunities on Similan Island are somewhat limited.

Accommodation & Dining on Similan Island National Park

There are numerous resorts in Khao Lak, the nearest popular tourist town.

Camping used to be an option on the islands, but it is no longer possible in order to limit the number of visitors. There are also no park accommodations on the islands.

There is only one restaurant on the islands, located in Ko Miang, which is open daily from 8 am until 2 pm.

Similan National Park Attractions

Ko Huyong (Island #1)

This southernmost island has a water depth of 10-15 meters and boasts the longest white beach in the national park. It is a nesting place for sea turtles and is ideal for both swimming and scuba diving.

Coral Gardens

Located on the east side of Ko Huyong, Coral Gardens is a fantastic spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. The coral life here is abundant, with a maximum depth of 39 meters and visibility ranging from 20 to 40 meters. The currents are generally low to medium.

Ko Payang (Island #2)

This small island is characterized by rocky hills and rock formations, making it a great location for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Ko Payan (Island #3)

Situated northwest of Ko Payang, Ko Payan is another small island with rocky hills and rock formations, perfect for scuba diving.

Shark Fin Reef

Located southeast of Ko Payan, Shark Fin Reef is comprised of submerged massive granite boulders adorned with gorgonian sea fans and various hard corals. With a maximum depth of 40 meters and clear visibility of up to 30 meters, this dive site offers the opportunity to encounter species such as whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, leopard sharks, and an array of colorful fish. The reef also features a large swim-through worth exploring.

Boulder City

Positioned 400 meters southeast of Shark Fin Reef, Boulder City consists of three submerged granite pinnacles surrounded by smaller boulders. The sea surface is flat and sandy, with scattered boulders covered in coral in some areas. The depth ranges from 12 to 30 meters with good visibility. Currents can be moderate or strong, making this diving site more suitable for experienced divers. Common species found here include dogtooth tuna, great barracuda, Indian mackerel, clearfin lionfish, and tassled scorpionfish. While larger species like manta rays and whale sharks are rare, they may occasionally be seen passing by.

Ko Miang (Island #4)

Ko Miang is the second largest island in the national park and is home to the only restaurant on the islands. It features two beautiful white beaches that are a 20-minute walk apart. The island offers various activities such as swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, trekking, and wildlife watching.

Bird Rock

Also known as Chinese Wall, Bird Rock is situated on the south edge of Ko Miang. It consists of large granite boulder formations creating a wall that stretches southward. The rock formations feature canyons, swim-throughs, tunnels, and underwater caves, making it an exciting site for divers. The depth ranges from 5 to 30 meters with visibility between 15 and 40 meters. The currents are usually mild but can occasionally be strong, making this site more suitable for experienced divers. Moray eels, parrotfish, trevallies, sweetlips, fusiliers, humpnose unicorns, and clown triggerfish are some of the species seen in this area. While whitetip reef shark juveniles are quite common, leopard sharks may occasionally be seen. Bird Rock is one of the less visited spots in the Similan Islands, providing a peaceful diving experience.

Ko Ha & Ko Hok

Ko Ha and Ko Hok are two smaller islands, numbered #5 and #6, located on the east side ko ha island of Ko Miang. They are considered the best snorkeling and diving locations in the national park, featuring a rich variety of hard and soft corals and abundant marine life.

Anita’s Reef

Also known as Barracuda’s Point or Hin Muan, Anita’s Reef is located on the east side of Ko Ha and Ko Hok. This reef is a mixture of scattered boulders, a large sandy seabed, and staghorn corals. It is one of the most popular dive sites in the park, suitable for both beginners and experienced scuba divers, including night diving. The average depth of the site is 12 to 40 meters with visibility ranging from 10 to 30 meters. The currents are very mild and infrequent. The reef is teeming with marine life, including glassfish, bluespotted ribbontail rays, and spotted garden eels.

Ko Bayu (Island #7)

Ko Bayu is a mid-sized island located north of Ko Miang.

East of Eden

Also known as “The Orchid Garden,” East of Eden is considered one of the best diving sites in Thailand. The reef starts at a shallow depth of 6 meters and steeply descends to 35 meters, with an average depth of 20 meters. The visibility ranges from 10 to 30 meters, and the currents are moderate. The site is suitable for snorkelers and divers of all levels, including night diving. The Orchid Garden is covered with soft and hard corals such as staghorn, table, pore corals, orange/red gorgonian sea fans, anemones, and colorful feather star worms.

The reef is home to a wide variety of species, including hawksbill sea turtles, green sea turtles, ribbon eels, blue ring angelfish, blueface angelfish, halfmoon triggerfish, clown triggerfish, false pipefish, giant moray eels, yellow longnose butterflyfish, royal angelfish, potato cod, and ornate ghost pipefish. In the deeper areas, you may encounter bluespotted ribbontail rays, spotted garden eels, blacktip reef sharks, and leopard sharks. Larger sharks may also be seen passing by.

West of Eden

Located on the west side of Ko Bayu, West of Eden features large boulders covered in gorgonian sea fans, anemones, feather stars, and both hard and soft corals. The shallow waters make it suitable for less experienced divers. The depth ranges from 12 to 35 meters with visibility between 20 and 25 meters, and the currents are moderate. Marine species commonly found in this area include green sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, redtoothed triggerfish, red fire gobies, blacktip reef sharks, and whitetip reef sharks in the deeper sections.

Deep Six

Situated at the northern tip of Ko Bayu, Deep Six is a V-shaped ridge that starts 5 meters below the sea surface and extends deeper into the water. The site consists of a pinnacle that rises above the surface and a cluster of submerged boulders, canyons, tunnels, and swim-throughs between large granite boulders. Giant barrel sponges, big sea fans, and feather stars are common, while corals include small table, green tree, wire, wart finger, and leather corals.

The depth ranges from 5 to 40 meters, with an average depth of 20 meters, visibility between 10 and 30 meters, and moderate to strong currents. It is suitable for experienced divers. Exciting species found in this dive site include frogfish, streaked spinefoot, clearfin lionfish, tassled scorpionfish, bluespotted ribbontail rays, dogtooth tuna, giant trevally, moray eel, lobster, shrimp, hawksbill sea turtles, and nudibranchs. Occasionally, manta rays and whitetip reef sharks can be spotted in the deeper areas at 30+ meters.

Ko Similan (Island #8)

Ko Similan is the largest island in the national park, with an average depth of 25 meters around the island. It features a small bay on the western side and offers activities such as hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming.

Fantasea Reef

Located slightly offshore on the west coast of Ko Similan, Fantasea Reef is considered one of the best diving sites in the archipelago. The reef showcases wonderful underwater granite boulder formations spread over a vast area, providing a diverse and rich marine life and experience.

Elephant Head Rock

Locally known as Hin Pousar, Elephant Head Rock is an unusually shaped rock situated southwest of Koh Similan. It is an ideal spot for diving due to its unique underwater landscape. However, this dive site can be more challenging compared to others in the islands due to surge and strong currents that may occur. Divers can explore swim-throughs, underwater tunnels, and hideouts for fish. Species found in these waters include large snappers, clearfin lionfish, olive ridley sea turtles, hawksbill sea turtles, spider crabs, blue ring angelfish, leopard sharks, and McCosker’s flasher.

Beacon Point

Named after the beacon at the southernmost point of the Similan Island, Beacon Point is a more challenging dive site. The depth ranges from 10 to 37 meters, with an average depth of 20 meters, visibility between 10 and 30 meters, and strong currents. The southern part of the site features large granite boulder formations covered in hard corals, gorgonian sea fans, white sandy beaches, seabeds, and swim-throughs. The dive route continues eastwards and ends at Beacon Reef. The largest gorgonian sea fans in the national park, measuring nearly 2 meters wide, can be seen here. The species found here are similar to those in Beacon Reef, but Beacon Point offers better opportunities to spot sharks and rays due to its depth. Whitetip reef sharks, leopard sharks, zebra sharks, and occasional blacktip reef sharks can be observed.

Donald Duck Bay

This bay is located on the main island, Ko Similan, and offers a long beach and turquoise blue shallow waters. It serves as an anchoring point for snorkelers and beachgoers who want to relax.

Ko Ba-Ngu (Island #9)

Ko Ba-Ngu is the northernmost of the original nine islands and is ideal for scuba diving on its northern side, with depths ranging from 10 to 35 meters.

Breakfast Bend

Breakfast Bend is located on the east end of Ko Ba-Ngu. It is considered one of the best dive sites in the national park, known for its early morning diving in the beautiful morning sun. The reef consists of scattered boulders on a sandy seabed, rocky slopes with large boulders in deeper areas, and an abundance of coral life. Staghorn corals dominate the area, along with cabbage corals, brain corals, table corals, and plate corals. The maximum depth is around 35 to 40 meters, with an average depth of 18 meters, visibility ranging from 10 to 30 meters, and low to medium currents.

While yellowtail barracudas, ghost pipefish, spotted garden eels, blue ring angelfish, milkfishes, green sea turtles, and hawksbill sea turtles are quite common in the reef, larger pelagic species are less common. The most frequently seen larger species in the reef are whitetip reef sharks, leopard sharks, zebra sharks, and bluespotted ribbontail rays, which can often be found resting on sandy seabeds.

Christmas Point

Situated on the northwest ridge of Ko Ba-Ngu, Christmas Point is a cluster of submerged boulders and pinnacles with exciting underwater tunnels formed by large rock formations. The combination of soft and hard corals, along with the rock formations, makes this one of the best diving spots in the national park. Depths range from 10 to 40 meters, with visibility between 20 and 30 meters. Some exciting species found in these waters include whitetip reef sharks, humphead wrasse, ribbon eels, trevallies, turtles, and great barracudas.

Ko Tachai

Ko Tachai is a small island with an 800-meter-long beautiful white sandy beach and a few excellent diving spots. It is located between Surin Island and the original nine islands of the Similan Islands, approximately 47 km north of Ko, visit Similan islands, 26 km north of Ko Bon, and 32 km south of Surin Islands.

Please note that Ko Tachai Island has been permanently closed to the public since 2016 (as of 2020, still closed), but some of the dive sites around the island are still open for divers. Before the closure, there was a camping ground next to the beach where visitors were allowed to camp, and there were also restaurant, toilet, and bathroom facilities.

There are two short trails starting from the beach on the east side of the island. One trail is about 500 meters long, starting from the southern end of the beach and extending a bit into the forest. The second trail is 700 meters long, starting from the northern end of the beach and ending at a viewpoint on the rocky eastern tip of the island.

Several piers can be used to access Ko Tachai, including Baan Nam Khem Pier (55 km), Lang Thung Pier (also known as Khura Buri Pier, 66 km), and Thap Lamu Pier (71 km).

Tachai Pinnacle

Also referred to as Twin Peaks, Tachai Pinnacle is located approximately 400 meters south of the island. It is a submerged reef consisting of boulders and a sandy seabed, making it one of the top diving sites in Thailand. The pinnacle rises 12 meters below the Certainly! Here is the continuation of Part 8 of the Similan Islands diving guide:

Manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, and other marine species commonly found in the national park can also be spotted around the pinnacle. Larger schools of fish like giant trevallies, bluefin trevallies, great barracudas, and dogtooth tunas are frequently seen hunting in the area.

The currents at Tachai Pinnacle are generally very strong, making it a challenging dive site suitable for experienced divers. To avoid the strong currents, there is a support line from a mooring buoy that divers can descend with. Visibility typically ranges from 20 to 30 meters, occasionally dropping to less than 10 meters.

Although the name may suggest a single pinnacle, there is actually a second smaller pinnacle in the immediate vicinity of the main one.

Ko Bon

Also known as Ko Talu by locals, Ko Bon Island is one of the smaller islands, located approximately 23 km from the northernmost edge of the original nine islands in the national park. It is a rocky island along the coast, covered with a small forest.

The island is popular for its many underwater stone pinnacles, which make it an ideal destination for experienced divers due to the strong currents. There are several diving spots on the west, northwest, and north sides of the island. However, the two main diving spots are not suitable for snorkeling as most of the beauty is hidden deeper underwater. It is possible to snorkel in the shallow bay on the west side of the island.

Leopard sharks are quite common around Ko Bon Island, and most of the exciting species found elsewhere in the national park can also be observed here. It is one of the best spots in the region to encounter manta rays, especially during the months of April to May.

There are two piers that can be used to reach Ko Bon Island: Thap Lamu Pier (55 km) and Baan Nam Khem Pier (52 km).

Ko Bon West Ridge

This rugged underwater ridge is located on the west side of Ko Bon Island. The ridge extends for about 100 meters from the shore and drops down to a depth of 35 meters, with an average depth of 15 meters.

Ko Bon Pinnacle: Also known as Hin Luang (meaning “yellow rock”), Ko Bon Pinnacle is often referred to as the Pinnacles. It is situated not far north from the West Ridge and consists of four pinnacles. These pinnacles descend from 18 meters below the surface to a depth of 40 meters. The pinnacles can reach a height of up to 22 meters and are covered in yellow soft corals, along with sea fans.

Please note that Ko Bon Island is a separate island and should not be confused with another popular island of the same name located just 2 km off the coast of Phuket Island.

Lisa Boonmee
About the author
Lisa Boonmee
I am passionate about unveiling the hidden gems of Phuket, from its stunning beaches to its vibrant cultural scene. My extensive travels across the island have given me a deep appreciation for its unique beauty and rich history, which I love sharing with our readers.