The Similan Islands are the true gem of Thailand’s south. They are located quite far out into the Andaman Sea, meaning that the water remains clear & pollution free. And getting to Similans is not as easy as some other islands in Thailand. Therefore, fewer visitors go there, and those who do understand the natural beauty. Not only does getting to Similans require time and travelling cost, there are national park fees to pay. This deters some travellers but it pays the rangers’ costs and salaries to protect the area.
- Where are the Similan Islands?
- What are the Similan Islands?
- How easy is getting to The Similans?
- Getting to The Similans from Within Thailand
- Getting to Similans from abroad
- Getting to Similans from Phuket
- Boat Departures to The Similan Islands
Where are the Similan Islands?
The archipelago is located in the Andaman Sea, 60km from the nearest point of mainland, which is at Khao Lak, Phang Nga. The Andaman Sea is the easternmost part of the Indian Ocean, and therefore the seas are affected by monsoon winds and currents. But the marine life and water clarity are among the best in the world.
What are the Similan Islands?
The Similans is a mini archipelago of 8-9 uninhabited islands. How many there are (8 or 9) depends on who you talk to. The word ‘similan’ means ‘9’ in a local dialect, but because one of the 9 islands doesn’t have any trees on it, it’s officially not included.
Park rangers live and work on the islands, and tourists used to be able to stay in simple huts on islands #4 & #8 but this was stopped from 2018. Several islands are out of bounds to the public. The reasons include a turtle sanctuary and the royal family using one.
The islands are tropical, and have lots of marine life in their crystal-clear warm waters. On the west side of the islands above and below the surface is different from that on the eastern side. This is because of millions of years of sea currents, wind and waves shaping the western shores, while the eastern side has been better protected from the elements. Underwater, the marine life generally involves smaller species on the sheltered eastern side compared to the exposed western side where you will find more variety and some larger species.
How easy is getting to The Similans?
There are various ways of getting to the Similan Islands. Of course, all of them involve travelling by boat for the final stage, but depending on where you’re coming from there are lots of other forms of transport. These include plane, bus and taxi, but usually no train travel. The most-popular port or pier on the mainland is Khao Lak’s Tab Lamu Pier, in Phang Nga. You can also leave the mainland from Phuket or Ranong, but these involve spending a lot more time at sea.
Getting to The Similans from Within Thailand
- From Bangkok
- From The North
- From The Gulf of Thailand
- From Pattaya, Koh Chang, Koh Samet
- From West-Coast Islands
- From southern Thai towns
Travellers have two main options, which are by plane or by bus. Those coming by plane can take a domestic flight from either of Bangkok's airports (DMK & BKK) to Phuket Airport (HKT). DMK flights usually offer more low-cost options than from BKK. The flight time from both is 1 hour 15 minutes.
Then from Phuket Airport to the pier involves a taxi, public bus or shared minivan. There are also some flights to Ranong airport from DMK, but unless you have already booked a boat from Ranong (not Khao Lak) flying to there is not a good idea. It takes several more hours to travel from Ranong to a Khao Lak Pier.
The cheaper option of travelling from Bangkok to the Similans is a 12 hour bus journey from one of Bangkok’s bus terminals to Khao Lak. It is wasted time on the road to go from Bangkok to Phuket by bus, because most Similan boats depart from Khao Lak. Khao Lak & Phuket are both 11+ hours south of Bangkok. Most of the journey is on the same road, but Phuket buses then take a different road for the final few hours. If you’re absolutely sure that your boat departs from a pier or port in Phuket, then getting a bus to Phuket is better. But normally a bus to Khao Lak is better than to Phuket.
Although Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal has most departures to the south, it’s also possible to depart from Mor Chit.
The price of your bus ticket will be a direct indication of what luxury you can expect. The best buses are 24-seat VIP buses and prices are approximately 1,100 THB ($35USD). These buses have lots of space, fully-reclining seats, and meals are included. Travel agents who cater to foreigners tend to offer other options more than the VIP 24. It’s very easy to buy a ticket for another type of bus that is referred to as VIP, but these will have 32 or more seats. The VIP 24 is the one to go for unless you’re on a tight budget. The cheapest bus fares are around 500 THB, with 700 THB being the average price.
From the north
Air Asia offers daily flights from Chiang Mai directly to Phuket. Other flight options are from the north to Bangkok, and then Bangkok to Phuket. But this would mean checking-in for the second flight and in some instances even changing airports in Bangkok. Then from Phuket Airport you need to take a taxi, public bus or shared minivan to the pier.
It’s also possible to travel from north Thailand to Khao Lak or Phuket by bus, but the bus you take from the north would stop in Bangkok and you will need to take a new bus from Bangkok to the south. Also, you would probably have to change bus terminals in Bangkok. This journey would be 24 hours, plus connections.
Although there is a train service around much of Thailand, there is no option for taking a train to Thailand’s south-west coast. This includes Phuket, Khao Lak and Ranong. And there’s no plan to build one in the near future. Anyone travelling by train and hoping to go to the Similan Islands, needs to disembark the train at Surat Thani and then take a road transfer across to Khao Lak.
From the Gulf of Thailand
Coming from islands such as Koh Tao, Koh Samui & Koh Pha Ngan, travellers need to take a public ferry or catamaran to the mainland at Surat Thani or Chumphon then a road transfer across to Khao Lak. Going down to Phuket is a waste of time & money unless you’re absolutely sure the departure port for your Similan boat is in Phuket. Most Similan boats depart from Khao Lak.
From Pattaya, Koh Samet and Koh Chang areas
It’s possible to fly from U-Tapao airport to Phuket, but there are limited flight options. Then from Phuket Airport to the pier a taxi, public bus or shared minivan is required. Alternatively, travelling by road via Bangkok is the only other realistic option. Like travelling from the north of Thailand, you will have to change buses in Bangkok.
From west-coast islands
In the south of Thailand, such as Phi Phi, , Lipe and others, the simplest way of getting to Similans is a ferry to Phuket, and then a road transfer from Rassada Pier to Khao Lak, unless your Similan boat’s departure is from a Phuket pier. But if you’re on Koh Lanta and your Similans boat departs from Khao Lak, it’s better to take the ferry to Krabi, and then a shared minivan or bus from Krabi to Khao Lak.
From Hat Yai, Satun and other southern towns
It’s most common to travel to Khao Lak in a public shared minivan or bus. There are some flights from Had Yai to Phuket, but then a road transfer from Phuket to Khao Lak is necessary.
|Khao Lak boat departure||Phuket boat departure pier|
|From Bangkok by road||12 hour bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||12 hour bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From Bangkok by air||Flight to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
|From the north by road||10+ hour bus to Bangkok + 12 hour bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||10+ hour bus to Bangkok + 12 hour bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From the north by air||Flight to Phuket (maybe via Bangkok) + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight to Phuket (maybe via Bangkok) + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
|From The Gulf islands by ferry & road||Ferry to Chumphon/Surat Thani + van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Ferry to Chumphon/Surat Thani + van/bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From The Gulf islands by air||Flight from Samui to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight from Samui to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
|From Pattaya area by road||Bus to Bangkok + 12 hour bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Bus to Bangkok + 12 hour bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From Pattaya area by air||Flight from U-Tapao to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight from U-Tapao to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
|From west-coast islands by ferry & road||Ferry to Phuket or Krabi + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Ferry to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From the south by road||Van/Bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Van/Bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|From the south by air||Flight from Hat Yai to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight from Hat Yai to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
Getting to Similans from abroad
Travellers coming into Thailand from overseas who want to visit the Similan Islands have very few options. By far the most-common choice is to fly into Phuket, but there are also a few alternatives.
- Directly into Phuket
- Via Bangkok
- By land from Malaysia / Singapore
Flying directly into Phuket is the most-common way for international visitors to get to the Similan Islands. The airport’s international terminal was new in 2016 and receives dozens of flights every day from around the world. Depending on the departure pier for your Similan boat, you will need a road transfer from Phuket airport to Khao Lak or down to the pier in southern Phuket.
Flying into Bangkok and then down to Phuket is an option, and may be a cheaper or more suitable choice for many. For travellers who spend a day or more in Bangkok, refer to the section above. But for those who want to transfer immediately, then it’s important to note that some domestic flights leave from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and others from Don Mueang (DMK). Generally speaking the low-cost carriers fly from DMK and the larger aircraft from BKK, with the exception of Thai Smile.
Coming in from Malaysia by land is possible but not common. Travellers wanting to explore this option can follow the instructions for coming from Hat Yai.
|Khao Lak boat departure||Phuket boat departure pier|
|Direct to Phuket||Flight to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|Via Bangkok by road||Transit from one of Bangkok’s airports to Bangkok bus terminal + 12 hour bus from Bangkok to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Transit from one of Bangkok’s airports to Bangkok bus terminal + 12 hour bus from Bangkok to Phuket + boat to Similans|
|Via Bangkok by air||Flight from Bangkok to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Flight from Bangkok to Phuket + taxi/van/bus to the pier + boat to Similans|
|From the Malaysia by road||Van/Bus to Khao Lak + boat to Similans||Van/Bus to Phuket + boat to Similans|
Getting to Similans from Phuket
All flights, nearly all ferries and some road transfers take travellers to Phuket. Phuket is a large island and has an international airport in its north, and tourist beaches on its west coast. There are hundreds of hotels in Phuket, at all price ranges. It depends on several factors about the best way to get to the Similan Islands from Phuket.
Similan boat departures from Phuket mean that travellers need to stay on Phuket Island. The boats which depart from Phuket normally sail from Chalong Pier, but some leave from Patong. Both Chalong and Patong are in the south of Phuket. Travellers coming from the airport can easily get a meter taxi or shared minivan to almost any popular area in Phuket. Most public ferries come into Rassada Pier, which is quite near to Chalong, and not so far from Patong.
Similan boats which depart from Phuket do so in the evening, and the sailing time is usually at least 7 hours. On the departure evening this is usually no problem, because guests have dinner, relax and then sleep. However, the return journey from The Similans back to Phuket is of course 5+ hours again. This means that scuba diving must finish before lunch, and disembarkation is in the evening or the next morning.
Similan boat departures from Khao Lak are much more common than from Phuket. Scuba diving liveaboards usually depart from Khao Lak in the evening and sail 3-4 hours in the night. Some leave in the morning and the scuba diving begins at 10.00am. Day trip speedboats all leave from Khao Lak around 8.00am. Therefore, travellers who land at Phuket airport should not go south, but only travel north directly to Khao Lak.
From the airport to Chalong, Phuket, Karon, Kata & Phuket Town is usually at least one hour on the road from the airport. Khao Lak is an hour north of Phuket airport. Therefore, it makes no sense to travel south and then north.
Travellers who need a night at a hotel soon after landing can easily find a place to stay near Phuket airport.
From Phuket airport to Khao Lak is much better value for travellers in pairs or groups than for people on their own. The reason for this is that a private taxi is the best option for this journey, and taxis charge per car, not per person. Prices start around $40/car, but we can offer private transfers in the daytime for 1,200THB for up to two passengers. Larger vehicles for groups are only slightly more expensive. The journey is 60-75 minutes.
There are no public minivan services from Phuket airport to Khao Lak. Some Similan liveaboard operators collect guests in shared minivans for free or for a small fee. These vans are privately run, at set times, and only on the boat trip’s departure day.
The other travel option is a public bus, but this involves quite a lot of waiting and transfers. Guests need to first get from the airport terminal out to the main road, which is 3km away. Sometimes there is an airport bus, but a private taxi is more convenient and sometimes the only option. Then once out at the main road, they need to wait for a passing bus to Khao Lak or Ranong. The bus journey could be 2 hours or more, depending on stops.
From southern Phuket to Khao Lak is equally difficult. A private taxi would be at least 2,000THB/car. There are some shared minivans, but prices are still quite high and they collect other passengers until the van is full.
The problem is that the public buses only go from Phuket Town, which is in the south-eastern Phuket. The main tourist beach resort areas are Patong, Karon, Kata, Kamala which are all on the west coast of southern Phuket. Getting any kind of transport from the popular beaches is notoriously difficult. It is claimed that the local mafia control the situation, ensuring that public or shared transport is virtually impossible. Rassada Pier and Chalong are nearer to Phuket Town than the main beach areas of the west coast.
Therefore, even if you’re in or go to Phuket Town, you still need a bus to Khao Lak, which will take at least 3 hours. And in recent years, to have more space and less traffic, the main bus terminal in Phuket has been moved to outside of Phuket Town. This means that private transport will be required, even to get to the public bus station.
Once you arrive in Khao Lak, boat departures may be in the morning or evening, but never at lunchtime. Morning departures are most often by speedboat. Evening departures sail 4+ hours into the night, and guests wake up ready to dive.
Boat Departures to The Similan Islands
Most boats that sail to The Similan Islands depart from a pier or port in Khao Lak. This is the nearest part of the mainland, and therefore uses less fuel than travelling from Phuket or Ranong. A few boats sail in the evening from Phuket or Ranong, but journey times are longer. From Khao Lak there are two times of day that boats depart. These are early in the morning and in the evening. There are no departures at lunchtime or early afternoon. Speedboats all leave in the morning and the journey is at least an hour, sometimes as long as 90 minutes. Liveaboard boats take 3-5 hours to reach the Similan Islands, but they are usually in no rush because they sail through the night.
THERE ARE NO PUBLIC FERRIES TO THE SIMILAN ISLANDS.
Every traveller must pay to join a private tour.
Scuba diving liveaboards to the Similan Islands MUST be booked in advance. Sometimes a day or two in advance is possible, but the most popular trips are sold out months before departure.
Snorkelling trips to the Similan Islands can be booked through local travel agents, normally as late as the day before departure. Most Similan snorkel trips are day trips, but one or two boats offer an overnight option.
This means staying on the boat, not on the islands.
Staying on The Similan Islands
New regulations for 2018 are now enforced. The public are no longer permited or able to stay on any Similan Islands.
Similan Islands accommodation was limited to a few basic bungalows and tents. There were no hotels or resorts. The only accommodation was on Islands #4 & 8. Similan Islands accommodation was organised by the local authorities. But due to the government's decision to tear down the bungalows and remove the tents, there is no longer the option of staying on the Similan Islands.
Rules & regulations involve limited activities such as when and where travellers can explore on land or in the sea. Anything like kayaking, snorkelling, trekking or other activities are strictly controlled by rangers, who have limited English skills.
Bringing pets and certain food items are forbidden. Leaving litter or taking even shells is strictly prohibited.
Every tourist who visits The Similan Islands must pay a National Marine Park entry fee. Locals pay less than foreigners. The fee ($16USD as of 2018) is used to pay to protect the marine park from illegal activities such as fishing. From 2018, a strict limit of how many people can be within the park was introduced. And to control this fairly, the authorities introduced a ticketing system. Everyone's tickets need to be bought at least 24 hours before departure, and they are not transferrable.
Island hopping at the Similans is not normally possible.
Most boats go on fixed itineraries from the mainland and back. There aren’t boats which are happy to take random travellers from one island to the next, and some Similan Islands are not open to the public. Unlike many other islands in southern Thailand, there are no locally-operated longtail or fishing boats whose captains are happy to earn a few dollars.
Getting to The Similan Islands normally requires a boat departure from Khao Lak, and this trip needs to be booked and paid for in advance. We are happy to offer scuba diving trips, but we do not specialise is snorkel trips.
Getting to Khao Lak or Phuket normally involves a flight or long bus journey. From Phuket airport to a pier in Khao Lak there are very limited options other than private taxis or pre-arranged minivans. In nearly all cases, your transport needs to be booked in advance. Anyone booked to depart by boat from Khao Lak in the morning needs to stay in a Khao Lak hotel the night before departure.