Located 60 kilometres off the west coast of Thailand, and almost 100 kilometres north-west of Phuket, the Similans group is an archipelago of nine small islands, covered in vegetation and fringed with huge granite boulders and powdery white sands. A designated National Marine Park, not only do the Similans offer some of the best diving in Thailand, but the dive sites and clear blue waters around these tropical islands also rank highly on an international scale.
Shark Fin Reef (Similan #3)Taking its name from the rocky pinnacles which just about break the surface, Shark Fin Reef is a long granite ridge, which runs south-east, away from Koh Payan (Similan Island #3).
Access to dive site: By liveaboard Diver level: Beginner to Advanced Currents: Mild, occasionally strong Depth: 5 – 35m
The ridge divides the site into two parts, north and south, with both regions featuring steeply sloping, rocky drop-offs. With channels and swim-throughs at between 12 – 18m, the northern side descends to 20m where you’ll find sandy slopes scattered with giant sea fans, hard and soft corals, and many rocks. The southern side drops a little deeper, to a sandy bottom dotted with huge boulders. On both sides, the sea bed reaches a maximum depth of 30 – 40m, and combined with the possibility of strong currents, a watchful eye on your air is recommended.
The topography here lends itself to all sorts of marine life, both big and small. Hidden in the cracks you can find octopus and moray eels, and fish life here includes scorpionfish and lionsfish, beautiful batfish, schools of fusiliers and snapper, bigger pelagics such as tuna and trevally, and even the occasional white- and black-tip reef shark. Blue-spotted stingrays and maybe a leopard shark can be found in the sandy patches, and keep your eye out for a manta ray in the blue.
Hawksbill turtles have been spotted here, but what makes Shark Fin Reef unique are the napoleon wrasse and bumphead parrotfish, often seen on the northern side.
Anita's Reef (Similan #5 & 6)Situated around the eastern part of Koh Ha and Koh Hok (Similan islands #5 and #6 respectively), Anita’s Reef is frequently a first stop for liveaboard cruises. With mild currents and good visibility, it makes a good location for a check dive, and gives divers a wonderful welcome to the Similans.
Access to dive site By liveaboard Diver level: Beginner to Advanced Currents: Mild Depth: 5 – 30m
Starting at 5m and gradually sliding away to more than 25m, the sandy slopes feature staghorn coral, hard coral pinnacles, beautiful gorgonians and pretty, colourful soft corals. In the deeper waters you’ll find large granite boulders, with interesting channels to swim through.
For more advanced divers, the ‘Tuna Wreck’ is located just west of the southern tip of Koh Ha, and is marked by a buoy. At 30m long and starting at a depth of 28m, this fibreglass fishing boat was sunk by the park authorities in 2003 to create a new dive site.
Marine life at Anita’ Reef is abundant, the coral reef and rocks provide a home to nudibranchs and critters, anemone fish, damsel fish and fusiliers, and higher up the food chain, tuna, trevally and barracuda can be seen patrolling the site. Triggerfish, turtles and seasnakes can be seen here, and between the bommies, you’ll find garden eels popping up and down, and Kuhl’s stingrays buried in the sand.
West of Eden (Similan #7)Situated on the north-west coast of Koh Payu (Similan Island #7), West of Eden is made up of giant granite boulders forming gullies and overhangs, and a hard coral reef in the shallower areas.
Access to dive site: By liveaboard Diver level: Beginner to Advanced Currents: Mild to moderate Depth: 9-30m
Situated on the north-west coast of Koh Payu (Similan Island #7), West of Eden is made up of giant granite boulders forming gullies and overhangs, and a hard coral reef in the shallower areas.The northern region slopes away to more than 25m, and is strewn with massive boulders, covered with soft corals, leather corals and large gorgonians. The rocks also provide a home to different types of nudibranch and shrimp, schools of glassfish, as well as spiny lobster and ghost pipefish. Hawksbill turtles are not uncommon here, and ribbon eels and the more rarely seen painted frogfish can be found in the deeper waters amongst the whip corals.
Moving south you’ll reach a garden of hard coral at between 8 and 12m, alive with numerous types of reef fishes including parrotfish, banner fish and Moorish idols, pretty batfish and angel fish
Deep Six (Similan #7)Located just off the northern point of Koh Payu (Similan Island #7), Deep Six is an exciting dive site comprising a rocky pinnacle surrounded by giant boulders. It offers a combination of superb swim-throughs and channels, with strong currents and depth, and therefore requires advanced skills and experience.
Access to dive site: By Liveaboard Diver level: Advanced Currents: Strong Depth 5 - 40m
A small peak of the pinnacle protrudes above the surface, whilst the rocks beneath tumble down in a ‘v’ shape to depths of 30 - 40m, making it one of the deeper sites of the Similans. The stacked boulders between 12 and 22m create multiple swim throughs which are excellent fun to explore, as well as gullies to both the east and west of the pinnacle itself. Around the rocks at 10 – 15m you’ll find patches of coral, including large table corals in the shallower areas.
Plenty of colourful soft corals cover the rocks at Deep Six, and on the eastern side there are some magnificent gorgonians which manage to find shelter from the current. Fire gobies, schools of neon fusiliers and different species of snapper and sweetlips can be seen here, and the schooling fish attract pelagics such as trevally and tuna. Amongst the rocks and hard corals you can find nudibranchs and the usual critters, as well as lionfish, scorpionfish, moray eels and bamboo sharks; the deeper areas offer the chance to see leopard sharks lazing in the sand, or white-tip reef sharks cruising by.
The buoy line at the centre of the site can be used for descents, and the current will determine the rest of your dive.
Elephant Head Rock (Similan #7 & 8)Perhaps if you squint, the rocks above the surface here could be described as an elephant’s head? The questionably named Elephant Head Rock lies north of Koh Payu (Similan #7), and south of Koh Similan (Similan #8), the largest island of the group.
Access to dive site: By liveaboard Diver level: Advanced Currents: Moderate to strong Depth: 0 - 35m
Perhaps if you squint, the rocks above the surface here could be described as an elephant’s head? The questionably named Elephant Head Rock lies north of Koh Payu (Similan #7), and south of Koh Similan (Similan #8), the largest island of the group.
The site itself comprises one large pinnacle to the west, with smaller pinnacles to the east, formed from impressive granite boulders piled atop each other. There are corals here, along with plenty of fish life, but the predominant features are the swim-throughs and tunnels, channels and canyons created by the rocks, and depths which reach beyond 35m. Mixed with the possibility of strong currents, Elephant Head Rock offers an exciting dive which is recommended for more advanced divers.
In addition to the geological beauty, schools of sweetlips and rainbow runners can be seen, as well as trevally, great barracuda, and the occasional white-tip reef shark or leopard shark.
Breakfast Bend (Similan #9)The reef at Breakfast Bend follows the curve of Koh Bangu (Similan #9), the northernmost of the Similan Islands, and since it lies in the east, catches the beautiful light at the start of the day.
Access to dive site: Liveaboard Diver level: Beginner to Advanced Currents: Mild to moderate Depth: 5 - 30m
Starting at 8m, and gently falling away to more than 30m, the sandy slopes are scattered with hard coral bommies and expanses of staghorn coral, and stretch all the way along the eastern side of the island.
The current here is generally mild and can run both north and south. It is likely to originate from the east, so when it hits the reef, it splits into two and continues in both directions.
The gentle conditions here make the waters perfect for snorkelling as well as diving, and with either choice there much to see. Close to the surface, the waters are teeming with sergeant major fish, and the reef is animated by butterfly fish, bannerfish, parrotfish and different types of triggerfish. Hawksbill turtles can be seen here, and keep your eye out for the well camoflaged ghost pipefish and octopus.
In the deeper waters, check the sandy slopes for blue-spotted stingrays, and you’ll find patches of garden eels sticking their heads up out of the sand. If you’re lucky, you may chance upon a leopard shark lounging on the bottom, and the occasional white-tip reef shark has been known to pass by.
Boonsung WreckSunk in 1984, the Boonsung was a tin dredging barge that lay intact in the sand at 18- 20m until the 2004 tsunami tore it into several separate pieces. The remnants are now unrecognisable as a seagoing vessel, and it is not advisable to try and swim through the remaining structures.
Hhowever the decades of barnacle encrustation and growth of corals and sponges act as a magnet for fish, attracting glassfish, bannerfish, fusiliers, big-eye trevally, juvenile barracuda and yellow snapper in incredible quantities.
Access to dive site: Day Trip / Liveaboard Diver level: Beginner to Advanced Currents: Mild to moderate Depth: 15 - 20m
Living amongst the wreck, scorpionfish and lionfish are often found, along with porcupine pufferfish, boxfish, frogfish, and a variety of crabs. Invertebrates are well represented, with cuttlefish, schools of squid and a colourful assortment of nudibranchs to be found; the Boonsung also hosts many types of eel, including white-eye morays, giant morays, and the beautifully patterned honeycomb morays.