Stunning above and below the waves, the warm tropical waters around the Similan Islands and Surin Islands are teeming with aquatic life. These tropical islands can be visited as a day trip from Phuket or Khao Lak.
Khao Lak is a great base for anybody wishing to experience the outstanding dive sites in the vicinity, including the Similan Islands and Surin Islands. All travel agents in Khao Lak and the majority of hotels can arrange trips for you. If you don’t want to dive or snorkel, you can opt instead to stay on the boat and relax while the others are donning their masks and flippers. However, there are not usually any discounts for non-swimmers and set rates apply for all passengers.
The Similan Islands and Surin Islands can both be visited as day trips from Khao Lak, but if you prefer more time diving choose a liveaboard option which typically involves at least three nights away. Marine life regularly spotted amongst the corals around the Similan Islands include moray eels, leopard sharks, sea turtles, snappers and barracudas. In the waters further north around the Surin Islands and Richelieu Rock, whale sharks are often seen amongst the angelfish and parrotfish.
There is a national park entry fee (500 Baht for adults), but this is usually included in most tour prices together with round-trip transfers from your hotel in Khao Lak. Sample prices at the time of writing for a day trip with snorkelling from Khao Lak are:
Similan Islands = 2,000 Baht
Surin Islands = 2,200 Baht
Trips can be booked with any travel agent in Khao Lak and most hotels in the area. You can also check with the tour companies listed in the islands travel section further below.
The Similan Islands are a group of islands which are part of the protected Mu Ko Surin National Park. The area originally included nine islands (Similan means nine in a Malay dialect), but the islands of Ko Bon and Ko Tachai are now also included within the boundaries of the National Park. The islands in the archipelago all have individual names, but are also identified by numbers. As part of a protected marine area, Island 1, 2 and 3 are off limits to the public to maintain the reefs and protect the endangered green turtles who hatch their eggs on the beaches there.
The biggest island of the group, Ko Similan (Island 8) is located approximately 40 miles away from Khao Lak. The distinctive shape of the rock formations here have led to one bay becoming known as ‘Donald Duck Bay’. All boats stop here and visitors have time to relax on the beach or climb up to the viewpoint next to the sail-shaped rock overlooking the bay.
There are no hotels or guest-houses on the Similan Islands. Up until 2018, it was permitted to stay overnight in designated camping areas and National Park bungalows on Ko Similan (Island 8) and Ko Miang (Island 4). However, overnight stays are no longer allowed on the Similan Islands as part of ongoing plans to protect the local ecosystem.
Five islands make up the gorgeous Surin Islands with Ko Surin Nuea (Nuea = north) and Ko Surin Tai (Tai = south) the two biggest. The north island is the location for the Mu Ko Surin National Park headquarters and visitor facilities.
Ko Surin Tai enjoys a sheltered location and for many years, long before it became part of a National Park, the island has been used by the Chao Leh (People of the Sea) also called ‘Sea Gypsies’. Locally, though, these nomadic people are known as the Moken. They possess remarkable swimming and fishing abilities, speak their own language and have their own unique culture. Visitors are asked to be respectful of the Moken way of life when visiting the island.
For conservation reasons, much of the interior of Ko Surin Nuea is off limits to the public and park officials take it seriously if people wander off and ignore the warning signs. It’s possible to stay overnight on Ko Surin in the National Park bungalows or campsite. This has the advantage that you can charter your own longtail to enjoy snorkelling in a more leisurely fashion compared to a day trip. Longtails can be hired via the National Park HQ or directly with the Moken.
Travel to the Similan Islands and Surin Islands
There are no public boat services to or from either group of islands. The only way to get there is by using one of the tour boats. This means that even if you want to stay overnight at the camp site or park bungalows you still have to pay the cost of the day tour. Trips can be booked at most hotels and travel agents in Khao Lak or Phuket and the price includes transfer to and from your accommodation. For the Similan Islands, most boats depart from the small fishing village of Tap Lamu Port close to the central area of Khao Lak. Speedboats make the trip out to the Similan Islands in just over an hour.
Different departure points are used for the Surin Islands depending on who you book with. You’ll normally head north from Khao Lak to Kuraburi from where speedboats take approximately 1.5 hours to reach the Surin Islands. If you are a keen diver, specialist dive companies such as Dive Worldwide can arrange trips for you, including liveaboards. See the links below for more details on trips to the islands:
Check In Andaman
Sea Star Andaman
Good to know
The best weather in Khao Lak and the offshore islands is from November-April which also corresponds to the diving season for the Similan and Surin Islands. The best underwater conditions for divers and snorkelers can usually be found in February and March. The Similan and Surin Islands are open to visitors from October-May. Outside of these months, the marine parks are off-limits to tourists.