Scuba Diving Thailand’s Colorful Similan Islands

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Nudibranch Slug Similan Thailand

Colorful Nudibranch Slug

Similan Islands, Thailand

With a simple wave of my hand, glowing trails of green pixie dust materialized in the dark water. Had I become a wizard? Did someone slip me some something?

Nope. I was just on a 3 day live-aboard scuba diving trip around the Similan Islands with Wicked Diving. Hovering weightlessly in a pitch-black abyss conjuring up spells like Harry Potter!

This was my fourth scuba dive of the day. A night dive. The phenomenon I was witnessing is called bioluminescence. Microscopic plankton that can produce light in the same way a firefly does.

Waving my handset them off — creating magic dust in the darkness.

Similan Islands Thailand

Beautiful Similan Islands

Similan Island National Park

Located about 30 miles off Thailand’s West coast in in the Andaman Sea, the Similan Islands have been a protected national park since 1982.

The park originally included 9 islands, but 2 more have been added for a total of 11. They are covered with granite boulders, ironwood & gum trees, and some include small picturesque white-sand beaches.

But the real reason most people visit is not to lay on the beach, but to snorkel and scuba dive the 5000-year-old reefs and boulder fields around the islands.

The sea here is known for it’s amazing visibility, and the underwater wildlife is abundant.

Diving Similan Islands Thailand

Live-Aboard Similan Island Diving

Live-Aboard Scuba Diving

To visit the islands, you can either jump on a speedboat and spend a day at the beach, or book a multi-day scuba diving adventure living on a boat. Common scuba trips last 3 or 6 days.

I was on a mission to swim with Whale Sharks after readers voted for it. So I booked a 3-day dive trip. It would be my very first live-aboard scuba diving experience.

Our boat, the 23 meter (75 foot) M/V Mariner, is normally capable of holding 20 guests in 10 small rooms with 2 bunks each. Seems I lucked out though, as there were only 5 of us! I had a whole cabin to myself.

With three bathrooms, hot-water showers, air conditioning, and a sun deck full of hammocks, this boat was pretty damn nice.

Similan Islands Live-aboard Boat Thailand

My Floating Home for 3 Days

New Friends

Accompanying me on this journey were 4 other travelers. A Canadian in the US Army on leave from Afghanistan, a former Navy officer exploring the world after completing his service, a middle-aged Brit who sold his home to travel the world, and a Scottish woman who’d saved up & quit her job to do same.

Vagabonds the whole lot of us.

A local Thai crew led by Captain Wit kept the ship on course, running smoothly, and above water.

Mountains of delicious Thai food was prepared by two ladies, P’da and Tik. We were supplied with 4+ meals per day.

The rest of the crew was made up of Dive Masters and Dive Masters In-Training from all over the world. Norway. Spain. Canada. United States. Plus two young Burmese refugees training to become Advanced Divers! An eclectic bunch for sure.

Boat Kitchen Thailand

P’da Prepares Yet Another Tasty Meal

Daily Dive Routine

To start the adventure, firecrackers were set off at the front of the boat to ensure safe passage. We slept as the ship motored over to the islands in the middle of the night.

Our morning began with a light breakfast of toast, fresh fruit, and coffee. Then the diving began. The rest of the trip pretty much looked like this:

  • Dive. Eat.
  • Dive. Eat.
  • Dive. Eat.
  • Lay in the sun.
  • Have a beer.
  • Sleep.
  • Repeat.

Not a bad way to spend 3 days!

Scuba Diver Similan Islands Thailand

I ♥ Scuba Diving

Trigger Fish Similan Islands Thailand

Aggressive Trigger Fish

Sea Fan Similan Thailand

Amazing Red Sea Fan

Moray Eel Similan Thailand

Creepy Moray Eel

Incredible Underwater Life

Before this, I’d only dived about 10 times. With a total of 9 dives in 3 days on this trip, I was almost doubling my scuba experience.

I encountered all kinds of new alien creatures and landscapes that I’d never seen before too.

Shape-shifters that could morph into their surroundings in the blink of an eye. Candy-cane striped lions full of poison. Rocks with eyes. Fat ugly worms the size of your arm.

Vibrant multicolored vegetation gently moving with ocean currents. A city full of underwater boulders as big as buildings.

Coral Crab Similan Thailand

Colorful Coral Crabs

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Similan Thailand

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Soft Coral Similan Thailand

Soft Coral Cave

Protecting the Reef Environment

Coral reefs are having a hard time all over the world. Many believe global warming, overfishing, and chemical runoff is to blame. In 2010 the ocean suddenly warmed up around the Similan Islands, killing off the fragile bacteria that gives coral it’s color.

This phenomenon is called coral bleaching. If warm water conditions last for too long, the coral eventually dies.

Coral health around Similan has improved but the reef is still recovering. In fact 2 of the islands were closed off to divers in order to let the area flourish again. One of our dive sites had just re-opened after 2 years of being off-limits, so that was a treat to see.

Spotted Lion Fish Similan Thailand

Poisonous Spotted Lionfish

Parrot Fish Similan Thailand

Funny Parrot Fish

Nudibranch Slug Similan Thailand

Nudibranch Sea Slug with Eggs

Minimizing Impact

Wicked Diving does its part to help minimize the effects its divers have on the reef. All soaps and shampoos on board are organic. Towels and linens are never bleached. Human waste is disposed far away from any reef in the middle of the ocean.

Every year dive instructors team up with the National Park Service to help clean up the islands above and below the water.

The boat’s kitchen doesn’t serve fish either. While I was initially kind of disappointed, it actually makes perfect sense. We are all there to enjoy the company of our underwater friends, not eat them!

Ethical diving practices are important if we want future generations to enjoy the magic of the underwater world.

Giant Boulders Similan Thailand

Building-Sized Boulders

Scorpion Fish Similan Thailand

Camouflaged Scorpion Fish

Yellowfin Snappers Similan Thailand

School of Yellowfin Snapper (Credit: Jade Fougler)

Sea Star Similan Thailand

Vibrant Sea Star

No Whale Sharks, But…

My mission was to swim with whale sharks. But they didn’t feel like showing themselves. Neither did the giant manta rays that often call this area home.

That didn’t stop me from having some of the best diving experiences I’ve had yet!

Highlights included the magical bioluminescent plankton, stumbling onto a pair of octopi trying to mate, 4 different sea turtles on one dive, big colorful sea fans, tiny art-project-worthy nudibranch slugs, and giant underwater canyons made from boulders the size of homes.

Plus warm, clear water that enabled me witness & photograph it all.

Red Octopus Similan Thailand

Sneaky Red Octopus

Spotted Puffer Similan Thailand

Blue Spotted Pufferfish

Wicked Diving Similan Thailand

Underwater Sign Language

Scuba Diving Addiction

Every time I go diving I’m amazed at how incredible the underwater world is. And how big. There is always something new to learn about and see down there.

Floating weightlessly through an alien landscape full of, well, aliens, is something I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. It’s probably as close as I’ll get to experience the wonder and discovery of space travel.

On my current quest for the best adventure travel activities in Thailand, diving the Similan Islands is definitely a top contender.

Watch Video: Diving Thailand’s Similan Islands

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More Information

Location: Khao Lak, Thailand
Company: Wicked Diving
Cost: $595 USD (3 Day Trip)
Useful Notes: The Similan Islands are closed from May to November each year due to dangerous sea conditions during monsoon season. Wildlife sightings of whale sharks or manta rays are never guaranteed.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Thailand
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

READ NEXT: Rock Climbing Railay Beach

Are you a scuba diver? Ever dived in Thailand? Any questions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

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  1. We were on this island with my friends in July, I must say that this was my first dive. Definitely was fine, but I was a little tired during the briefing, and my impressions from the coral reef got a little blurred for this reason. But I raised my strength after a long sleep and filled my attractions list with the help of Chiang Mai temples, we went see them on hired motorbikes Catmotors. On the land, I felt myself much better than under the water …

  2. Great blog! Found the blog very helpful with our trip planning. My friend and I will be in Khao Lak in April. I researched prices for 3D/3N liveaboard for couple of the companies. Questions:

    1. What month did you do the liveaboard?

    2. Did you book online or called Wicked Dive while you were in Thailand and negotiated a lower price/discount?

  3. Hi!! Gosh i love your blog, thanks so much for sharing all these amazing adventures, ideas and teaching how to travel best. I have a question, I will be traveling with my best friend to Thailand for 10 days and we want to visit another country near Thailand that is cool, adventures, maybe beach… in Thailand we want to do Chiang Mai and Phuket but we want to add another country to spend 2-3 days there. Can you please give me some suggestions? I am sure you’re swamped with peoples messages but hopefully soon i can receive you’re ideas… many thanks, have an amazing fun/adventures day wherever you are in the world.

  4. Thank you for your trip report.
    I have read so many conflicting reports about the quality of the diving in the Similan Islands. I am thinking of taking a live aboard trip there.
    Why do you think there’s such a discrepancy? Some say the corals are recovering beautifully and still a top dive destination and others say it’s all bleached out.
    Thank you

  5. Stunning photos Matt. I too did not see a whale shark when I dived at Sail Rock recently, even though one had been spotted there the day before. Definitely have to get to the Similans when they reopen. Meanwhile, I think I will head to the Perhentians where visibility is reportedly very clear right now. I too have become a total SCUBA addict. What a glorious addiction.

  6. Fantastic photos! Even with an underwater camera, my dive photos always turned out crappy. Not a bad price for a 3 day live-aboard, either. I believe the one I did on the Great Barrier Reef cost about that much.

  7. Oooh great photos! I recently did the blue hole in Belize and my camera died after 1 blurry picture!!!

    I have had the pleasure of diving all over the world, and next month The Galapagos! Yay! What kind of camera did you use? DSLR? Go Pro? Did I mention Brilliant photos?!

  8. It is always great to read your blog. I thought the photography was beautiful and so colorful. Thank you for the cost information and close dates. That will help me make plans for a trip. I very much appreciate your information and I hope you continue to get rave reviews and great rewards. Happy wanderings, Matthew.

  9. Fess up. You stole those photos from National Geographic.
    No eating fish? I saw that dead, no eyes, terrible looking fish on a plate you said you ate on another post. If you didn’t have a Smuttynose IPA beer, you didn’t have beer. Period. You need to be retrained.

  10. Sounds and looks amazing! Adam is getting dive certified in Utila at Parrots, we read your article there! So we are following suit with you on that! But this sounds amazing, might have to add this to our Thai Islands plan on our RTW trip! What type of underwater camera do you have, pictures AMAZING!

    1. Nice! Adam should have a great time at Parrots. The diving in Utila is not this good, but when you’re first starting out, it’s all freaking amazing anyway. :D

      But the real magic of Utila is the fun atmosphere and very cheap prices for a class. Make sure to visit the crashed drug plane if you have some free time!

    1. Thanks Michael! The more I practice underwater, the better I’m getting. Three days of diving certainly helped. But it isn’t easy! For every decent shot here, there are a ton of shitty ones.

  11. It looks gorgeous! Great photos. That is my ideal day, except I would insert surf instead of dive. :) Spending all day in the water feels so rewarding for some reason.