If you’re looking for a Similan Island Tour read our essential guide to make the most of your trip. Here we will tell you where to take your tour from, when in the year to go, which are the best tour companies to book with, what to beware of, which of the Similan Islands are best to visit and how you can sleep on the islands in tents or bungalows.
Many people take their Similan tour or day trip from Phuket. This is great and Phuket is a really popular destination in Thailand. But the mini bus van journey takes more than two hours from Phuket to the pier in Khao Lak, Phang Nga province, where the speedboat sets off for Similan. And all of the boats doing day trips and tours leave at around 9am or 9.30am, with guests having to check in and take breakfast and collect any equipment and listen to the introductory talk at around 8am or 8.30am. That means most people will be leaving Phuket at 6am – having to wake up at 5am. Add in the long 90 minute speedboat journey from Khao Lak to the Similan Islands and it can be pretty exhausting.
We recommend staying one night in Khao Lak before your day trip in order to wake up later and take the short van drive to the pier. This way you’ll feel a lot more refreshed and ready to enjoy the beauty of the islands and the thrill of snorkeling. Khao Lak is also a really beautiful resort with plenty to do.
What time of the year to go to Similan?
Similan Islands are open from November to May and closed for the rest of the year. Day trips, tours, snorkeling and diving are only allowed during this time. This is because they are a National Park in Thailand, and must be closed to protect the wildlife. The islands number 1, 2, and 3 in the archipelago are closed permanently and nobody can visit these. Book your holiday anywhere between November and May if you would like to visit Similan – but check with local tour companies of the exact dates the islands open in November and close again in May as each year it changes slightly.
Many people will book their trip with local tour guides and agents in and around the hotel where they are staying. There are lots of small, independent booking agents in Khao Lak, as there are in Phuket. They give good deals and can often give discounts. They’ll also be able to arrange a bungalow or tent if you would like to sleep on the island (see below).
The two biggest tour companies that do day trips to Similan, Surin and Tachai (UPDATE: As of May 2016, Koh Tachai has been closed indefinitely to tourists in order to protect the wildlife) are called Sea Star Andaman and Love Andaman. Both provide a good service for almost identical prices. But we found that Sea Star Andaman was slightly better, and gave better food – a nice breakfast before setting off, hot cooked food on the islands, and more hot freshly cooked food upon the return. Love Andaman’s food was more like basic snacks before and after the trip but the lunchtime meals on the islands were ok – though not as good as Sea Star Andaman. Both companies provide snorkeling equipment which is a great activity for everyone young or old, experienced or not.
Obviously there are a lot of other tour companies that do trips – so let us know if you have any experience of those.
The Similan Islands are made up of around 11 different islands in the Andaman sea about 45 nautical miles or 85km off the south west coast of Thailand. Tours go to either Similan, Tachai or Surin.
Ko Similan is the largest of the islands and the most popular for tours. Day trips to Similan Island also included stopping at some of the other small islands nearby to see their beaches or for snorkeling. Similan is home to the famous Donald Duck bay and some stunning rock formations. Because it’s also the most popular and well-known of all the islands, it’s also the busiest. During high season and especially around Chinese New Year it can be particularly loud, busy and even dangerous because of the high number of speed boats pulling into the beach.
Tachai is a smaller island north of Similan. The beach has beautiful white sand and clear blue sea. It is quieter than Similan. Tours to Tachai also included a jungle walk through the forest where people can see the island’s wildlife, which includes bats, chicken crabs, emerald jade snails, and other creatures.
Snorkeling on trips to Tachai is also great fun, as the surrounding waters are home to many of the same beautiful fish that can been around Similan and Surin island.
The Surin Islands are less popular and less well-known than Similian – but it is a must visit if you’re in the area. Surin is not part of the Similan Islands, but is one of five islands in the grouping of Surin Islands. Fewer tour companies go to Surin, as it is further from the pier. It’s also a little more expensive because of the distance. But the island is very beautiful and much quieter than Similan and Tachai. Read our guide to trips to the Surin Islands and the Moken tribe that now live on one of the islands.
It is also home to the Moken people – a small community of around 300 Thai ocean gypsies that were settled on the island some 30 years ago by the Thai government and given ID cards. They welcome the small number of tourists that visit the island, the children sell a few handmade trinkets, and the young boys help out with transferring tourists from the speedboats onto the long tail boats that go to another small Island.
Most of the tours to Similan Island, Tachai and Surin will include snorkeling as part of the schedule of activities. This is an amazing experience – even for those who aren’t interested much in swimming or don’t like the sea. Well, the sea is warm and the waters are placid and safe. The view beneath the water is simply breathtaking. Colourful fish, exotic coral reefs and even the occasional turtle can be seen.
For people who are not confident swimmers it’s actually very safe. The tour companies provide life jackets which can be worn in the water, and sometimes a tour leader might swim with them and pull them around so they can take in the view. We went on a day trip to Surin Island, Tachai Island and finally to Similan Island and at each place the snorkeling was magical. We had never snorkeled before, and at first were a little nervous, but that apprehension soon disappeared. We recommend buying your own snorkel gear first before going on the trip and practicing a little in the hotel pool to get used to it – especially if you are not experienced! It is also more hygienic than using a snorkel that other people have had in their mouth.
Day trips Vs overnight stays on the islands
Day trips leave the pier in Khao Lak between 9am and 9.30 am and return at around 4.30pm. It takes around one hour and 20 minutes to reach Similan, 90 minutes to reach Tachai and a little longer to get to Surin. So there’s quite a lot of time spent on the speedboat (which is not pleasant). That leaves only a few hours for enjoying the island scenery, beaches and a little snorkeling. However, it is possible to stay longer on the islands by booking accommodation. Surin island has only tents available to tourists, while Similan has bungalows and tents.
A few words of caution…
- Bungalows on Similan get booked up very quickly and they are expensive
- Tents can also be expensive and offer little protection against wildlife
- These are tropical islands in the middle of the ocean. You are at the mercy of wildlife that loves to come out at night – mosquitoes, bats, rats, snakes, spiders and loads more exotic creepy crawlies
- An experienced western diving tour guide informed us that 80% of people that stay overnight on Similan island or Surin island complain about the wildlife
- Liveaboards are expensive and focused on diving and snorkeling. They are best for diving and snorkeling enthusiasts or those that have done it before. Liveaboards dock in the ocean and don’t spend any (or very, very little) time actually visiting the beaches
We hope this guide to Similan Island tours and day trips has been useful – and you will enjoy a beautiful trip to these stunning islands in the Andaman sea.
Here’s a small tip…. when boarding the speedboat at the pier in Khao Lak for your tour, take a seat towards the back. It will be noisier, but the boat ride out to Similan Island is fast and bumby – so those at the front of the boat get bounced around a lot!