Khao Lak Diving | The LOCAL’s Guide to the SIMILANS

Khao Lak Diving | The LOCAL’s Guide to the SIMILANS

Established as Mu Ko Similan National Park in 1982, the Similan Islands are renowned for offering some of the best diving in Thailand. The tropical, lush green islands are scenic above, as well as underwater. In a picturesque setting of stunning rock boulder formations lined with white sandy beaches, the crystal clear waters harbor a wealth of coral and marine biodiversity.

The ‘Most Wanted List’ for divers includes: whale sharks, manta rays, blacktip reef sharks, leopard sharks, barracudas, trigger fish, to the tiniest of critters such as tiger tail seahorse and ghost pipefish.

Similan Islands National Park

Originally, the National Park encompassed the 9 granite Similan islands. All islands are named but the Thai tend to refer to the islands by their numbers (1 to 9) to make it easy. In 2014, Koh Bon and Koh Tachai became the newest additions to the Park. The lush green jungle on the islands is home to multiple varieties of tropical singing birds, reptiles, small critters and amazing sea creatures that migrate onto shore, including turtles.

Being a popular tourism attraction is both a blessing and a challenge for the fragile ecosystems of the Similans. To protect and give these ecosystems a chance to recover, the Park is closed from the middle of May until the middle of October every year.

Dive site highlights

There are many beautiful dive sites around the Similan Islands and there is something for divers of all qualification levels. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boulder City and Sharkfin Reef

Located near Island 3, Boulder City and Sharkfin Reef form a chain of submerged boulder formations. Usual suspects include giant barracuda, dogtooth tuna and mackerel, as well as lion fish, scorpion fish and different kinds of moray eels. Both dive sites are out in the open sea and as such prone to currents bringing in all kinds of underwater creatures; whale shark or manta for the lucky ones!

Honeymoon Bay

Honeymoon Bay is home to the elusive leopard (zebra) shark, blue spotted stingrays, clown trigger fish, rabbit fish, scorpion fish, snappers, emperor fish, giant trevally and angel fish. The coral gardens, bommies, and boulder formations are wonderful to explore.

East of Eden

Hard and soft corals are mixed up nicely on this reef while the current tends to be mild. With ‘aquarium-like’ conditions, it is an ideal spot for a slow, relaxing drift dive where you can find reef sharks, turtles and many more critters.

Anita’s Reef

This reef is sometimes called Barracuda Point and is at Similan Island No. 5. At the surface only a rock-pile is visible, but underwater you will find a great reef from 5 to nearly 30 meters and a lot of marine biodiversity. There is a stunning big coral bommie on the east side and some big granite boulders right on the south of the island at about 30m depth. Explore the small wreck – a fishing boat – on the west side of the island, which lies at 28 – 40m. Enough to see here for several different dives!

Christmas Point

Near island 9, this is an attractive combination of boulder clusters, arches, passages and a plethora of soft corals and fan corals. Often named as one of the Similan’s best dive sites, where you may see whitetip reef sharks. Beautiful swim-throughs between the boulders, while the sandy bottom with rubble provides a home to many a marine critter, such as nudibranch and eel.

Elephant Head Rock

The dive site Elephant Head Rock can be spotted from the surface; it is in fact the biggest pinnacle in the Similans and offers some fantastic swim-throughs. If you are lucky you might even see some whitetip reef sharks. Batfish, trevally, and barracuda can often be seen on the perimeter of the boulders and if you look closely in the cracks and in the rubble you may find smashing peacock mantis shrimp, porcelain crab, moray eel and cleaner shrimp.

Beacon Point / Beacon Reef

The most southern point of Similan island No. 8 is pretty wild and rocky. Visible from the boat, this rock looks like a face (the Thai call it: ‘na ling’ which means ‘monkey face’). Jump in the water where you will find huge boulders at a depth of 20-35m before ending in a white sandy bottom. Further north, a nice coral reef continues for several kilometers along the eastern part of the island. Depending on where your guide takes you, your dive can be along boulders or reef or a mixture of both.

A landmark of this site is a shipwreck named “Rareung-Chon”, also known as “Atlantis-X”, which found its last resting place in the middle of the reef. The ship sank in 2002, fortunately without any casualties. The wreck lies on the reef slope at a depth of 30 meters at the stern and 15 meters at the bow.

The corals are home to lots of fish, such as angel fish, butterfly fish, fairy, basslets and puffer fish. Porcupine fish, trigger fish and moray eels are also abundant here. Large schools of pelagic fish are common. Bluefin trevally, snapper, fusilier, goat fish and long-nosed emperor fish can be seen here.

Breakfast Bend

Dive in on the east of Similan Island No. 9 and check out the healthy and beautiful hard corals and amazing fish life. Watch banner fish, damsels, groupers and hunting trevallies   diving into clouds of tiny bait fish. The reef drops to 25m, making this a great multilevel dive. Your safety stop can be done swimming in the shallows where you should keep an eye out for turtles. This is a great night dive site.

Leopard sharks are commonly seen and sometimes you may even see two of three on the same dive. Whitetip reef sharks and Napoleon wrasse make an appearance every now and then. Other usual suspects include Kuhl’s sting rays, garden eels, groupers, trigger fish, soldier fish and Bluefin trevally. For the keen eye, camouflage experts like octopus and ghost pipefish are regularly sighted here. An occasional comet fish can be seen in the rock crevices. Generally, large swarms of inquisitive bat fish and yellowtail barracuda hang about on the northern side of the site.

 Koh Tachai

The islands of Koh Tachai and Koh Bon were added later to the Similans National Park to protect their fabulous marine residents. The main attractions of Koh Tachai are its pinnacle dive sites and gorgeous relaxed reef diving. There is also a good chance to encounter bigger species in this area such as manta rays and the majestic whale sharks, especially during the period of late January till April. Frequent visitors include turtles, barracudas, pipe fish, and nudibranchs.

Koh Bon

Koh Bon island is famed for its manta ray sightings due to its plankton-rich waters. Manta rays often come up for a good feeding session during which they show off their moves and perform their famous somersaults. Otherwise, you are likely to see Napoleon wrasse, sweetlips, octopus, blue fin trevally, giant moray eels, great barracudas, turtles, fire dart goby, popcorn shrimp, spiny lobster and nudibranchs of many types. Occasionally, you may spot whitetip reef sharks or leopard sharks. The dive sites vary from wall diving to gently sloping reefs and from submerged boulders to coral gardens.

 Richelieu Rock

Beyond the Similans National Park, a little further north of Koh Tachai is Richelieu Rock. A visit to this solitary limestone pinnacle is usually included in a liveaboard trip for its amazing biodiversity and stunning seascapes. Jacques Cousteau named it after General Richelieu, an important Danish officer who served in the Thai Navy. Gorgeous purple dendronepthya soft corals are covering most of the pinnacle, while other areas are adorned with magnificent sea anemones. Barely breaking the surface at low tide, this horseshoe-shaped outcropping slopes steeply to a sandy bottom at 18 to 35 meters (60-120 ft). Richelieu Rock offers extraordinary diversity for such a small and isolated spot in the middle of the Andaman Sea. It also offers excellent multi-level diving and, since it is a high-profile reef, there are always sheltered areas to hide from the currents. The marine life is prolific and includes amongst many other things; pharaoh cuttlefish, octopus, all 5 (!) varieties of anemone fish found in the Andaman Sea, many different kinds of moray eels, ornate ghost pipe fish, smashing mantis shrimps, harlequin shrimps, tiger tail sea horses, Spanish mackerel, frog fish, many schooling snappers and occasional sightings of manta rays and whale sharks. There is always a lot of fish action happening around Richelieu Rock!

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 Khao Lak and beyond 

During the Similans’ season, from mid May to mid October, day diving trips as well as longer overnight liveaboard trips depart from Khao Lak or from Phuket. Khao Lak is the nearest, and most convenient spot to reach the Similan Islands. A day’s diving in the Similans is always great, but to get the most out of it, hop on a liveaboard boat for a few days’ diving around the various islands. Liveaboard diving trips generally run between 2 to 7 nights. A variety of hotels in Khao Lak, suitable for every wallet, ensure you will have an enjoyable and relaxed stay before and after your dive trip.  

How to get to Khao Lak? 

When you arrive at Phuket Airport, a taxi ride to Khao Lak takes approximately 1.5 hours. Several buses run daily between Phuket Town and Khao Lak, which is about a 2 hour ride. Some dive operators include free shared transport from Phuket to Khao Lak so do enquire when you book your dive holiday. 

Where to stay in Khao Lak? 

Khao Lak hotels are scattered across the town and cater for all budgets. At present, in COVID times, it would be best to check the famous hotel booking sites which hotels are open as it varies greatly per week and month. 

 Khao Sok 

While you are in Khao Lak, you really shouldn’t miss out on a visit to Khao Sok National Park. An attractive combination of a lake and dramatic mountains covered in lush green jungle guarantees a scenic setting for wonderful adventures. Khao Sok was established as a National Park in 1980 and consists of a thick native rainforest, waterfalls, majestic limestone cliffs and a lake dotted with islands. The rain forest is believed to be one of the oldest in the world, potentially even older than the Amazon rain forest. Cheow Larn Lake was created in 1982 as part of a damming project to provide hydroelectricity to the southern part of Thailand. The lake encompasses an area of 165 km2, with great peaks of limestone jutting from its surface. Spend a day cruising and swimming in Cheow Larn Lake plus the ancient mangrove swamps and stay overnight in one of the floating hotels on the lake. Enjoy the spectacular limestone cliffs rising up almost vertically out of the water from the comfort of a boat with a cocktail in hand. The next day, go for a trek through the jungle to explore the unique flora and fauna wildlife. Watch majestic elephants go about their business in their natural environment. Canoeing, diving or kayaking are only a few of the many recommended activities you can do in Khao Sok.  

 Samet Nangshe

Thailand is not short of amazing panoramic view points. Easily one of the best ones in the country is Samet Nangshe, which is not far from Khao Sok National Park and more or less on the way to Phuket. From the mountain tops, you can overlook Phang Nga Bay with its incredible limestone islands. Words will not do it justice, it is a sight to behold. It is definitely worth staying overnight in one of the tents or small bungalows so you can see the breathtaking sunrise over the bay at the crack of dawn. Do not expect any luxurious accommodation here though, it is all very basic. Until now, Samet Nangshe is a little hidden gem. Do go and experience it before it gets crowded.

In case you have any questions regarding diving the Similans, feel free to send us an email via the contact page

Phi Phi Diving | Where to Go and What to See

Phi Phi Diving | Where to Go and What to See

Phi Phi Diving – Koh Phi Phi is one of the islands in the islands in the Andaman Sea. It is situated just to the east of the southern tip of Phuket, Thailand. If you were around at the turn of the last century, this part of the world was best known by the film The Beach starring Leonardo Di Caprio. This area was known for being paradise then… and it still is today.

When is the best time for diving Phi Phi?

The best part of diving in Phi Phi is that you can dive all year round. Unlike the sites to the west of Phuket which are not protected by land masses from the bigger currents and waves during the summer season. As the area around Phi Phi is protected, conditions are suitable for all levels of diver for the most part. There are some sites prone to currents which may be unsuitable for newer divers, and some are at depth.

For the utmost best diving conditions; lesser currents and greater visibility, the winter season from late Oct – early April is when to visit.

Phi Phi ; if you go to this island without diving you will miss an extraordinary experience…

Carla

How to get there

The simplest route to getting to Phi Phi island itself is most likely via ferry from Rassada Pier, Phuket Town. That is if you are flying internationally into Phuket Airport. It is also possible to come in from the other side via Krabi on the mainland.

For diving Phi Phi, you can access the sites from 3 main areas. From Chalong on Phuket island, from Phi Phi itself or also from Krabi on the mainland (also Koh Lanta but you’re likely looking at a 2hr boat ride).

The most well known dive sites around Koh Phi Phi

 

Phi Phi has nice variations in diving styles over the different dive sites. There are wall dives, a wreck, some nice caverns and even a made man reef (which is surprisingly interesting!). The diving, as mentioned before, can cater to all levels and there are generally few currents to worry about.

King Cruiser Wreck

King Cruiser was a car ferry operating between Phuket and Phi Phi. In 1997 it sadly sunk after hitting a reef, fortunately no one was seriously hurt. The catamaran was only carrying foot passengers of the time of the accident, so until more recently you could penetrate the empty hold. Over the last 20 years the conditions have not served the wreck well causing some of the frame to collapse. Sadly, penetrating the wreck is no longer allowed due to safety concerns.

The boat rests on the sea floor in an upright position from 18m down to 30m. This makes the dive site better suited to advanced certificated divers. As there can sometimes be some stronger currents, staying above the wreck at 18m can mean being swept off for lack of cover. Also, you will likely descend and ascend holding the buoy line attached to the rear of the vessel for ease.

King cruiser is full of fish. Snappers circle the outside, some frogfish camouflage on the wreck itself. You may also find a Leopard Shark around the sea floor area if you’re lucky.

Shark Point

Running north to south are three pinnacles that make Shark Point. This dive site is often considered a drift dive as light currents run over the site regularly. You will see great macro within the colours of the pink and purple corals, scorpion fish, groupers, jacks, trevallys, anemone fish and hopefully a Leopard Shark or Whale Shark on occasion. A great site for divers of all experience levels.

Cathedral (Koh Haa 5)

The Cathedral Dive site at Koh Haa is mostly know for its large cavern, which from the inside makes some great silhouettes for photography. Don’t worry, the cavern is plenty spacious in the main part. If you a new diver you will have no problems exploring it. There are also a couple of cheeky swim throughs. One is a little bit technical and the other quite large.

As you come out of the cave area, the rest of the dive will likely follow along the shallow sea floor, gradually getting a little deeper. Plenty of fish to see close up and even the odd Blacktip Reef Shark. Overall this dive site is very pretty and you will feel very connected to your surroundings as you dive it.

You may wish to check out our article Phuket Diving Season | When Should You Go?

Featured image by Nikki Williams from Pexels

Phuket Diving Season | When Should You Go?

Phuket Diving Season | When Should You Go?

The paradise island of Phuket is renowned for its diving, its arguably the best in Thailand. But what is the main diving season in Phuket? Surprisingly, the two main diving areas have slightly different times they can be accessed and yet they’re only 100km apart.

What are the main diving areas?

First of all, we need to take a look at the areas for diving in Phuket.

The main two are the south east of the island, accessible via Chalong, and actually just off the island to the north west, accessible via Khao Lak.

Each area has a different diving schedule due to the geographical surroundings and yearly weather cycles. If you look at the map everything to the east of Phuket is open to the ocean; unguarded if you will. The diving to the south east is somewhat protected from the open seas by land masses hence you can dive some sites all year.

High season for diving in Phuket

The main diving season in Phuket runs from around the end of October until April. This time of year all the diving is usually accessible. The Similan and Surin National Parks (from Khao Lak) are closed the rest of the year as the seas can get too rough for boats and divers during this time. It is so exposed to the elements from May-Oct that the authorities close the park in full for safety.

You will find the regularity of trips less during the ‘summer’ season of May-Oct from Chalong. Don’t worry though, there is still great diving to be had. Many people worry about the weather at that time of year as it is considered rainy season. The truth is, it usually rains for an hour or two and then the sun is back out in full for most of that time of year. Do bear in mind that it may be grey and wet for a couple of days on occasion though.

When is best to visit?

To be frank, the best dive site in Phuket is most likely considered Richelieu Rock, up in the Surin National Park. It really is one that should be on your list if you are diving in Thailand. With that in mind, you can only access the national park between late October and early April.

We would highly recommend that you do a liveaboard as the Similan and Surin National Parks are a little way out. Also, there is ample diving for 4-6 days if you include the Koh Tachai and Koh Bon. Liveaboards also give you a better diving schedule as you can often can sleep right near to your next days diving. If you like diving on uncrowded, yet popular sites, it is certainly the way to go. You can be out of the water after your first dive before the day boats even arrive. Very sophisticated.

If you are in Thailand outside of the months of October to April, do dive the south east. There is some nice reef diving and a couple of wrecks, King Cruiser the most well known. As mentioned before, the scheduling will be a little more sparse at that time of year as it is less busy. There will still be plenty of day boats and some liveaboards operating.

Unleash the AndamanTop Tier Liveaboard Adventures embarking from Phuket

When diving in Phuket what will I see during the season?

 

As with all diving, there can never be any guarantees although the list below details the likely critters you will encounter.

Harlequin Shrimps
Hawksbill Sea Turtles
Leopard Sharks
Octopus
Manta Rays
Eagle Rays
Turtles
Seahorses
Whale Sharks
Blacktip Reef Shark
Barracudas

Looking for more information? Check out our Scuba Diving in Phuket Price Guide

Featured image by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Scuba Diving in Phuket for Beginners | Where Do I Start?

Scuba Diving in Phuket for Beginners | Where Do I Start?

There are many options for scuba diving in Phuket for beginners. The paradise island is a hotspot for divers as the weather is great, the water warm and the prices are very reasonable. Also, the locals are known for their friendliness and laid back attitude. Phuket is the biggest island in ‘The Land of Smiles’ and is truly a stand out destination.

Scuba Diving in Phuket for Beginners – Where to look

There are dive centers all over the island, in every town. The main tourist towns are on the west coast. Kata, Karon and Patong being the three most popular. Chalong is the main diving hub for the dive sites to the south and east of the island.

The picture above shows where the groupings of dive centres are so it is unlikely you will be far from one wherever you are on the island. But just in case here are some good companies you may wish to take a look at –

What Can I Expect as Someone New to Diving?

There are two ways that you can proceed when starting to dive.

  1. The first option is to test out diving whilst a diving professional escorts you around giving you a chance to experience the sensation of breathing underwater. This is called a ‘discovery dive’ and is a great way to determine if you would like to enrol and get your diving license, or maybe you are the type who would prefer to get straight to the point…
  2. The second option is to go directly in to your ‘Open Water’ course which usually takes 3 days. You will do one day of diving in a confined area, usually a pool. On the subsequent days you will head out into the sea for some skills drilling and more real world experience.

As someone who is new to diving there is unlikely a need to worry about equipment, your dive school should have that factored into your course. Diving insurance should also be included, although it is most likely a good idea to double check.

Studying beforehand is expected and we would advise that you do take this seriously. Completing the e-learning section prior to your course will assist you greatly in passing as there is quite a lot to take on. Furthermore you do want to be the best diver you can be surely right?

Why Scuba Dive?

Scuba diving really is one of the most fascinating sports you are likely to come across. First of all, we do not know all that much about the sea, certainly with regards to how much we know about the world on land. There truly is a wonderland under the surface hence why we highly recommend you explore it.

Bouyancy control, getting used to the equipment and understanding the science behind it all are a great challenge. When you have mastered the basics you will naturally relax more and start to really take in the environment around you.

Finally, you never forget the first time you see a Manta Ray, or a Whale Shark. Utterly incredible moments. There are things out there that you do not even know how much you love yet. Just wait until you see how dorky Bumphead Parrotfish are…

Why not take a look at our Scuba Diving in Phuket Price Guide?

Unleash the AndamanTop Tier Liveaboard Adventures embarking from Phuket

Scuba Diving in Phuket Price Guide | What Can I Expect?

Scuba Diving in Phuket Price Guide | What Can I Expect?

Welcome to our price guide for scuba diving in Phuket. What we aim to achieve here is a rough guide of costs for your days in the water. Everything from courses to gear hire as best we can.

Thailand is renowned as a great place for learning to scuba dive. The prices have always been affordable, even with an expensive Thai Baht. What you get for your money also is diving in utter paradise, the amazing Thai cuisine and laid back hospitality of the Thai people. Hence Phuket makes for one of the best holiday destinations known.

Prices for Scuba Diving in Phuket

There are a few things to bear in mind with the differences in prices. Firstly, some courses may be held on less days than others. Trips may be to different destinations and include transfers. Also, some prices may include things like equipment already. The below table is so that you can get an idea on price for scuba diving in Phuket.

Liveaboards

For those of you with a slightly higher budget there are many liveaboard options in Phuket. The main areas where they operate are the Similan and Surin national parks and are the best way to visit those sites. Our favourite is The Junk (also happens to be Scaramanga’s boat from the film Man with the Golden Gun, for any James Bond nerds)

Unleash the AndamanTop Tier Liveaboard Adventures embarking from Phuket

Looking for more information? Check this out – Phuket Diving Season | When Should You Go?

Featured Image by Jason Dean Chamberlain on Unsplash