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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2003
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Independent Travel

Thailand’s Smiling Similans

Appreciate the Country’s Remaining Pristine Environment

Off the Andaman coast of South Thailand lies what is often described as one of the world’s 10 loveliest places. The nine Similan islands form a national marine park open to the public each year from November to May (after the monsoon). We reached this wonderland via a 16-meter converted fishing boat operated by a local company called Poseiden Bungalows (see below).

Poseiden’s trips are ecologically sound—no anchors, no septic tanks, no garbage tossed overboard, and no noisy generator. We tied to a mooring buoy 100 meters from Similan 9 and enjoyed our first of many delicious meals served under a large canopy on the upper deck. The translucent waters around us teemed with rainbow-colored fish. Those not confident enough to swim ashore were ferried by dinghy; others explored the rocky ledges and dive-throughs. Huge granite formations around the islands are a haven for a variety of sea creatures.

Back on board I asked our guide about tomorrow’s plan.

“We’ll sleep here tonight and go back to the other side of Similan 9 in the morning. There’s good coral there. Then we’ll head down to the park headquarters at Similan 4.”

Although well maintained, some of Thailand’s 80 national parks have surrendered to uncontrolled development by the tourism industry. The Similan’s new park ranger, who rigidly enforces regulations and restricts access to sensitive areas, was already on the endangered list. In his first three weeks there were two attempts on his life.

We were denied access to Similan 1, 2, and 3, but I was secretly relieved. Four of the world’s six species of sea turtles are found there and all—like the park ranger—are endangered. At least for now they are in good hands.

The park headquarters at Similan 4 (Ko Miang) shares the western beach with an informative visitor center and accommodations ranging from tents to bungalows. A 20-minute rainforest trail bisects the island, allowing hikers to explore with minimal impact.

In the seas surrounding Similar 4, 5, and 6 schools of angelfish, parrotfish, and clownfish combined to dazzle us with a kaleidoscope of colors. The coral gardens at Similarn 4 provide shelter for friendly moray eels; in the deeper waters we saw groupers, rays, reef sharks, and barracuda.

Most of us were here for similar reasons—to experience one of Thailand’s few remaining pristine environments, careful to leave as few footprints as possible. But, as each new day brings faster boats and the threat of day-trippers from Phuket, the familiar question remains: for how much longer?

For More Info

You can organize your own trips, but you’ll spend more money, waste time, and be at the mercy of unreliable boat services. Live-aboard boat trips are the best option—crews are experienced and knowledgeable and everything is supplied. Start your trip from Khao Lak or the nearby port of Thap Lamu. Boats also leave from Phuket but must travel almost 30 kilometers further to reach the islands.

If you’re a diver, pick the company you feel most comfortable with and that offers the best value for money. Snorkel boats maintain less rigid schedules and are more flexible about exploring the many land-based attractions of the Similans.

Three-day all-inclusive dive trips start at 12,000 baht. Our 3-day all-inclusive snorkel trip with Poseiden Bungalows cost 5,300 baht. More extensive and exotic excursions are available, sometimes lasting several weeks. Check Poseiden’s website at www.similantour.nu.

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