travel

 Similan Secrets

 The Hush: There’s a special something about the Similan Islands. Accessible only via a choppy 90-minute boat off the Western coast of Thailand, this remote archipelago is a hidden gem, shining bright in the crystal clear waters of the Andaman. It’s easy to see why the islands have been named amongst the top dive sites in the world – great granite boulders perch precariously at either end of perfect ivory bays, tumbling down into emerald waters – a creating a submarine playground for divers. While day-tripping snorkelers from Phuket do arrive in droves, the secret is to stay the night, meaning you’ll have this perfect piece of paradise to yourselves for all but a few hours in the middle of the day.  

The Hush: If you aren’t staying on a live-aboard, the only place to stay overnight is in tents or bungalows provided by the Similan National Marine Park- but be prepared for serious heat, ravenous mosquitos and the creepiest of crawlies.

Waking at dawn aboard our hulking dive boat the MV Camic, we peer bleary-eyed into the early morning light. Finding ourselves moored in a sheltered cove,  we’re dwarfed by enormous granite outcrops on either side, piled impossibly high as if by some wandering giant. 

The Hush: Forget the rule about not taking pills from strangers. Make sure to take the sea sickness pills on offer for the trip over, even if you don’t get sea sick they’ll knock you out and you’ll wake up in paradise- useful too if you’re staying the night.

The Hush: Do your research when it comes to dive companies – make sure there’s a minimum amount of dive instructors per group (usually 1:4 max)

Pulling on tanks we plunge into the water, a rainbow of turquoise blue so clear we spot the fish far below our fins as we sink into the deep. Beneath the waves, we swim through the tightest of granite archways, lined with fragile corals, sending fish scattering with plumes of bubbles. Yellow butterfly fish flutter past in pairs, shoals of shimmering trevally swarm in the deep and bright-scaled parrotfish meander awkwardly past. From swirling sea anemones fiercely guarded by the tiniest of Nemo clown fish to the prettiest violet corals- we float weightlessly through a whirling world of colour. 

All underwater photography courtesy of Khao Lak Explorer

Late morning we reach the largest of the nine Islands, Koh Similan, mooring in Ao Kuek Bay- known as daffy duck bay from the bill shaped rocks atop the headland. Eager to go ashore the outrigger boat groans under our collective weight, dipping beneath the rippling waves. Bundling less than gracefully from the boat, we find ourselves alone on a stunning stretch of silver sand, fine as talcum powder between our toes. Shocking aquamarine waters lap gingerly at a perfect shoreline backed by a wild jungle interior. 

 


Somehow, these nine islands have managed to keep much of their magic, uninhabited and untouched. While the sad story that is global warming and overfishing has left no coral reef unscathed, the islands have been a marine national park since 1982, prohibiting fishing and helping to preserve this fragile paradise.  

The Hush: Before your trip make sure to ask for the dive schedule if there’s a specific site you want to visit. We wanted to make sure to dive Koh Bon for example, a steep drop off famed for passing mantas and whale sharks. While schedules are weather dependent, it’s useful to check as some dive sites (like Richelieu rock) are only for more experienced divers.

At the end of a long day’s dive, we cheers our Changs and climb up to the top deck. As the sun dips below the horizon, we watch a red moon rise over the island believing for a moment that we’re castaways, deserted but utterly content under a star-scattered sky. The How: after umming and ahhing over reviews we went with Khao Lak Explorer. Our trip was organised brilliantly by Sylvain who even arranged for my partner to do his PADI referral course. We met them at the pier but if you’re staying in Khao Lak they’ll arrange to pick you up from your hotel. 

The Hurt: We paid 14500THB (£290) per person for 2 days 1 night in the master cabin, including 6 amazing dives, all food, transfers, equipment rental and an individual dive guide.

  

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