We flew from Bangkok to Phuket then took a car for an hour and a half north to Khao Lak. Its a sleepy little beach town that the dive trips to the Similan Islands leave from. It reminded us of the Florida Keys with every other shop being a dive shop. We had a reserved a 2 day/ 1 night live aboard through Khao Lak Explorer and spent the time we had in Khoa Lak exploring local beaches.
The Similan Islands are group of 11 islands about 70 km off the coast of Thailand. The live aboard we reserved stayed at the islands and used a speed boat to transport passengers to and from the islands. It took about an hour and a half to reach the boat. We spent the first day around island 8 and 9. Our boat had a lot of day trippers, but they used the speed boat to hit different snorkle spots . Only divers stayed on the boat to dive. We lucked out and only had 6 other divers on our trip. From there we were broken into smaller groups of 2 and they spaced out the start of each group. It was an amazing change from the diving we are use to back in the States where 12-15 people are on a dive site at once. To dive the Similan Islands, you have to either have an advance open water certification or you have to take the course while you are there. Chris didn't have his certification so he did the class while we were on the live aboard. Chris's instructor Guillem was from Spain but around our age and super chill. We also had a divemaster in training, Claire, assisting us on the dives. She was from France and a little younger. Guillem was fluent in English, while Claire was still learning. We had a great time over the 2 days talking with them about diving and their cultures.
Dives 1 and 2
We had heard the islands were one of the top dive sites in the world, but we really weren't sure what to expect. We quickly found that statement to be true as the diving was absolutely incredible. We had about 90-100 foot visibility and the water was around 86 F so we only had a wear a 3mm short wetsuit for the dives. The coral was flourishing and was surrounded by thousands of fish. At the beginning of each dive, Chris and Guillem went through the skills test for the advance dive certification. While they did that, Claire and I would explore the reef surrounding us. Within the first 10 mins of the first dive I had already seen 2 eels, Angel Fish, Clown and Anemone Fish, Parrot Fish, and schools of small fish that I couldn't even identify. The second dive was even better than the first with even more schools of fish and some canyons for us to swim through, Chris also had to lead part of the second dive as part if the course. He enjoyed learning the more technical skills of diving instead of just looking at random fish for an hour. We did both dives as a drift dive due to the current in the area, which I love since it lets you explore without worrying about getting back to the boat. As we did the safety stop, Claire would send up a buoy to notify the boat where we were. When we surfaced the boat was already heading our way to pick us up, and upon boarding we would be served hot meals to help refuel us for the next dives. Talk about great service!
After our second dive that day, the day trippers headed back to the mainland. The rest of us hung out on the boat for a couple hours and went onto Island 8 for an hour to hike up to a lookout and enjoy the beach. During the day the island is covered with snorkelers, but we went ashore after all the day boats had left for the day. Only two other small live aboards were anchored in the bay and then a couple people were camping on the islands. Our live aboard group climbed to the lookout and had the place to ourselves. It offered awesome views of the beach and surrounding islands. The sand on the beach looked pristine white and the water faded between a beautiful aquamarine and deep turquoise blue. After our time on the island, we headed back to the boat to get ready for the night dive. It was one of the best night dives I have ever done. I was so bummed not to have my nice dive camera with a light strobe so we could take pictures! I found 2 octopuses (1 small and 1 the size of a volleyball), a scorpion fish, lion fish, eels, and a giant prawn (like the one we ate at the Bangkok floating market)! As we did our safety stop, we turned our lights into our chest to make it really dark so we could see the bioluminescent plankton. As we waved out hands and fins around, you could see little sparks of light. I have always found it amazing how different the ocean is at night, and I was really happy to have Chris finally experience my favorite type of diving.
Dives 4, 5, and 6
The second day we woke up eager to hit the water. Chris was finishing his deep water and fish identification skills on the first two dives of the day. We started the dives around island 7 and worked our way down to Islands 4, 5, and 6 throughout the day. The first dive had massive rocks with tons of will passage ways hidden in them. Massive schools of fish hovered over our heads when came through the rocks. The sun was bouncing off their metallic scales and created a beautiful shimmering effect. While we ate breakfast after the first dive, a sea turtle came up around the boat. I quickly grabbed the GoPro and a mask to swim with it while everyone else watched from above. It stuck around for about an hour swimming between the boat and the reef. Unfortunately it swam off before we started the next dive, but we did see a stingray laying in the sand on the dive. We were hoping to see a Manta Ray as they are known to visit the island between Mid-October and May, but we never caught a glimpse of one. For lunch we stopped off the short of island 4 which has another beach where day trips bring tourists. Islands 4 and 8 are the only islands you can access the land, so it was PACKED! We were so happy to be anchored a couple hundred meters off the shore. The water in the bay was absolutely stunning. I don't think I have ever seen such pretty water. It was like looking at a sea of sapphires glittering the sun. We were anchored there for about two hours in between dives so we had time to swim around and watch the speedboats full of passengers zip by on their way to the shore. Our last dive was just around the corner from the beach in an area without all the crazy speedboats. It was Chris's first dive as an advance certified diver so we could enjoy the entire dive without the skills tests. It was a beautiful and relaxing dive with lots of coral and fish. Plus a few minutes into the dive we saw a stingray swimming by. They move so gracefully in the water I could have watched it for hours. After the dive we headed back to the mainland. We were sad to say goodbye to the islands and wished we could have spent a few more days there diving.
Guillem invited us to a local bar after our dive so we jumped at the opportunity for some socialization and met him at Gecko Bar. It was run by locals but full of expats, and very fun. Taking your shoes off before entering a bar is so strange! We played darts and Jenga and discussed our theories on how Trump got elected for the 100th time of our trip. Everyone we meet wants to know. The next day, we couldn't fly for 24 hours after diving so we spent one day exploring the local beaches by motorbike. Guillem had told us about a few beaches about 25 mins north of where we are staying. We went to White Sands Beach, Coconut Beach and Memory Beach. White Sands and Coconut Beach were right beside each other, but were surprisingly very different. White Sands beach only has a beach at low tide. During high tide (which was when we were there), the water comes all the way up to the mangrove and trees. Coconut Beach has a beach during both tides with palm trees leaning out over the water. Both beaches have a couple small resorts on them, but neither are really crowded. Memory Beach is a little more south. There is a small peninsula between it and the other two beaches. since its not as protected, it has a lot more waves and the water is a little murkier. It was kind of like visiting the Gulf of Mexico then going to the Atlantic Ocean. It had a much larger beach area too with almost no resorts on it. There are a couple beach bars for one to enjoy though. As we left Memory Beach to head back to the hostel, a massive rain storm hit. We powered through on our little motorbike, but were absolutely drenched by the time we got back. We were dreading trying to catch the local bus to the Phuket airport that evening, but luckily the rain let up some so we could get there without becoming a waterlogged mess.
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.