Similan Islands Diving

The Similans lie about 50 kilometers due west of Khao Lak. The group comprises nine major islands and at least as many small islets. All the islands are covered in Jungle, with several powdery white sand beaches to be found at the waters edge. Around the islands are more than 25 dive sites, which many say are among the best in Thailand.

The islands are a national park, and thus practically deserted. Camping is allowed, but most people visit the Similans on a liveaboard cruise from Phuket, or a day trip from Khao Lak. Note that the islands are effectively closed during the rainy season, from 15 May to 15 November, although some boats do visit there during this time.

The main Similan ground can be divided into three sub-groups: The southern-most three - Islands 1, 2 and 3 - are a coral and marine life rehabilitation area, where diving is prohibited. The middle group consists of Islands 4 to 7, and is home to many of the Similans' most favored dive sites. Lastly, the two northern-most islands form the northern group. In addition to the main island group, the Similans National Park also includes the more remote islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai to the north.

Which sites are the best? That depends on the conditions. Almost all of the sites can be fascinating, great dives. My particular favorites are Elephant Rock and Anita's Reef in the main Similans group, and Koh Bon Pinnacle. Although not part of the Similans, the Boonsong Wreck is not to be missed. Are there any I would give a miss? Well, I have never been thrilled by Koh Tachai Pinnacle; it's just too much "work" for what I've seen.

Similans Park Admission Fees & Rules

As a national park, there is an entry fee as well as a daily fee for divers. The entry fee for adults is 400 Baht, while the daily dive fee is 500 Baht per day.

The park also has some rules, which your dive master should review with you before your first dive:

  • Do not collect or remove anything, except garbage.
  • Do not hunt, destroy, or do anything that harms plants, animals or the environment.
  • Do not make any loud noises that might disturb other people or the animals.

Anita's Reef

Anita's Reef at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 26 m
Currents: Mild
Season: Nov. - May

Also called: Barracuda Point, Hin Muan Daew

Anita's Reef is among the best of the dive sites around the Similans. The reef starts to the east of Islands 5 and 6, and wraps around the southern tip of Island Five. Most of the reef lies between five and ten meters, and slopes down to 26 to 28 meters. The highlight of the site is a large outcrop southeast of Island Five. The rock rises from the bottom at 20 meters to the top at 12 meters. The rock is covered is various soft corals, as well as surrounded by giant sea fans and other hard corals. The Thai name for the rock - Hin Muan Daew - literally translates to "Whole Roll (of film) Rock", which aptly describes the interest and time most divers end up spending on the rock.

Although the site's other common name is Barracuda Point, you're actually not very likely to see one here, unless like me you come across a barracuda at the cleaning station on top of the pinnacle. You will find lots of Parrotfish, Surgeons, Triggers and anemone fish. Turtles are rather common, and ghost pipefish can sometimes be spotted in March and April.

Several large boulders tumble down into the depths at the south end of Island 5. There's a channel through them at around five meters, and riding the surge through the channel can make a bit of a thrill ride out of your safety stop.

Anita's Reef Wreck

There's a "wreck" off the southern tip of Island 5. It's a fishing boat that was actually sunk on purpose by the park authorities to provide a new diving spot. As wreck dives go, it's not very exciting and at 28 to 40 meters it's a little deep. There are, at least as yet, very few corals growing on the wreck, and the hull is so smooth that there's very little life to be found on it at all. It's perhaps best to give it a quick look, then swim up over the ridge of the reef to the pinnacle, where you'll have more bottom time.

Beacon Reef

Beacon Reef at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 35 m
Currents: Mild
Season: Nov. - May

The largest of the Similans, Island 8 / Koh Similan, is fringed by a reef along most of its eastern side. The reef starts at around five meters, but drops off sharply to nearly 40 meters. There are a variety of corals spread out along the length of the reef, including hard corals such as staghorn, brain, pore and bottle-brush.

Near the middle of the reef is the wreck of the Rareung-Chon, also know as the Atlantis X. The boat sank in 2002 without any fatalities, and lies on a slope from about 15 to 30 meters.

At night, you'll find a few lobsters out and about, and if you look carefully in the nooks and crannies in the corals, you'll find some sleeping parrotfish. Turtles can also be found at all hours.

Deep Six

Deep Six at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 40 m
Currents: Moderate - Strong
Season: Nov. - May

Deep Six is formed by several large boulders which tumble down into the sea from the northern tip of Similan 7 (Koh Pa-Yu). The big rocks form several channels and even some swim-throughs. The name derives from the time when the island was known as Similan 6 rather than 7. Until a few years ago, what are now known as Islands 5 and 6 were considered a single island - Island 5 - and so Island 7 was Island 6. Then someone decided Island 5 was actually two islands, and Island 6 became Island 7. But the site is still known as "Deep Six". Confused? Welcome to Thailand!

If you look out into the open water at the outer edge of the reef, you might see whitetip reef sharks. Closer in, blue-spotted rays can been seen on the sandy bottom at the edges of the reef.

Donald Duck Bay

Donald Duck Bay at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 20 m
Currents: Mild
Season: Nov. - May

Also called: Ao Guerk

This dive site is just past the northern tip os Island 8 (Koh Similan). The small bay is where the park headquarters is located, so there are often several boats moored here. The bay's generally mild currents make this an easy dive site.

The area is home to many sea turtles, some of whom have become very accustomed to human visitors. At night, you can find many interesting small creatures, such as coral crabs, harlequing shrimp, and squid, as well as larger things like lobsters.

East of Eden

East of Eden at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 40 m
Currents: Sometimes Strong
Season: Nov. - May

Also called: Ruan Gluay Mai

East of Eden is a rather large and sprawling site on the east side of Similan Island 7 (Koh Pa-Yu). There is a wide variety of corals, ranging from five to 40 meters. The landscape varies from north to south, with large rocks covered with staghorn and blue coral in the north, followed by patches of sand and fire coral in the middle. Near the southern end is the highlight of the dive, a large pinnacle called Ruan Gluay-Mai in Thai, which translates as "orchid garden". The pinnacle is covered in fans, soft corals and numerous nooks in which all manner of creatures can be found. The site is considered to be one of the best in the Similans, and is worth all the time you care to take exploring.

North of the pinnacle, around a large table coral sprouting from the open sandy bottom, used to be one of the reef's most famous residents, a giant moray eel called "Emma". The fish had a reputation for being rather friendly, but also made headlines when it took the thumb off an experienced diver who made the mistake of hand-feeding the near-sighted eel. Emma has gone now, but there are still a few morays around.

Other marine life includes clown triggerfish, parrotfish and many kinds of anemone fish.

Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock at a Glance

Depth: 15 - 45 m
Currents: Sometimes Strong
Season: Nov. - May

Also called: Elephant Head Rock

Elephant Rock is one of the larger boulders that protrudes from the sea just south of the main Similan Island (Island 8). The site is probably one of the best in the main Similans group. It gets its name from the shape of the large boulder, which some think resembles an elephant's head (looks more like his ear to me). Beneath the waves is a large pile of boulders, with several swim-throughs.

You'll find lots of things on the boulders, if you look carefully. Several large fans can be found on he vertical sides, but watch your depth and bottom time. This is a dive site where it's easy to find yourself deeper than you think. Besides, there are lots of interesting things to see on top of the boulders as well. That's where I found an interesting cleaning station where a large school of small fish and a giant moray being cleaned by two shrimp. The eel seems to be a bit ticklish, but he still lets one of the shrimp crawl through his mouth.

Honeymoon Bay

Honeymoon Bay at a Glance

Depth: 5 - 26 m
Currents: Mild
Season: Nov. - May

Also called: Haad Lek

Honeymoon Bay is a popular mooring spot for live-aboard boats to spend the night. The sheltered bay on the east side of Island 4 (Koh Miang) offers calm waters when the occasional storm blows in from the west. It's also an easy dive site. The sandy bottom is covered by patches of Staghorn and Pore corals. Around the reef, you can find many small reef fish, such as lionfish, angelfish and moray eels.

At night, different creatures make their appearance, such as squid, lobster and many types of crabs. This is a rather easy dive site, even at night. There's a nice beach along the bay, if you need some time on dry land.