I hiked to a sturdy slab of granite near the peak of Miang Island for a better view of the beach. Below me, yachts, dive boats, and people float in an aquamarine sea. They didn’t look anything like ants, unless ants have taken up recreational swimming.
A string of islands stretched out in the distance, disappearing over the horizon. I was dying to be back in the clown suit that is my snorkelling gear, floating with the fishies.
I told myself I was lingering up here because I was in awe of the view – which was amazing. In reality, the severity of the trail back down to sea level tempered my excitement to get back in the water. In proper shoes, it would have been challenging. Barefoot, after a day spent running around sans shoes – in childlike glee – it was going to be yelp inducing. But totally worth it.
The Similan Islands – there’s nine of them – are sixty-five kilometres (40 miles) west of Phang Nga province. A bumpy hour and a half after boarding a speedboat, boulder-strewn islands rise from the dark expanse of previously empty sea. It’s an odd slice of paradise, seemingly out of place and in the middle of nowhere. But paradise it is.
Internationally renowned for its diving, it consistently ranks in the top ten alongside places like Fiji, Australia, and Indonesia. You don’t have to be a scuba junkie, however, to enjoy the silent underwater ballet.
The Start of Something Beautiful
My speedboat snorkelling tour, complete with a one-night stay on the islands, kicked off at eight in the morning at Tuplamu Pier with coffee, toast, bananas, motion sickness tablets, and a briefing by the guide that included cleverly coded instructions: only liquids go in the boat’s toilet, as the sea has enough coral as it is. Funny.
Looking more like a group of tourists with fins than an elite paramilitary squad – which was appropriate – we trudged down the dock, dropped our shoes in a plastic bag, and hopped on our boat. Sun lovers should slink to the front of the queue, as the open bow always fills up first. Snack enthusiasts can hang back – those closest to the ice chest get first servings of fruit, water, and soda.
The first stop of the day, at ten o’clock in the morning, was island number nine. The islands are numbered from south to north, and also given non-number names. Island number nine is also Bangu Island and is the furthest north. I enjoy snorkelling, though I wouldn’t call it a passion (not like, say, beer taste-tests). But one glimpse of that magnificent clear-green water and I couldn’t get my mask and fins on fast enough.
The boat emptied quickly, and garbled oohs-and-ahhs wafted out of snorkels (okay, that might be my imagination). My first thought after splash down was, “Wow, that’s cold.” It was a silly thought, really; the result of too much time spent in hotel pools. The water temperature was refreshing. And the sights? Inexplicable.
A Whirlwind Itinerary
The day consists of four snorkelling stops, each one following a similar script: The boat stops. The guide informs guests of special sights they should be looking for (turtles, eels, and the like). The guide informs guests what to be careful of (touch nothing; scrapes and itchy burns are a telltale sign that rule was broken). The guide loudly states the time allotted for the stop. The guide loudly states the time allotted for the stop, again. And maybe a third time too – this is serious business. Snorkel. Board the boat. Drink water. Full speed ahead to the next destination. Repeat.
The second stop was island number eight, the actual Similan Island. The longest stop of the day, it also included a family style lunch and free time to hike, sunbathe, or swim. A precarious hike (don’t look down) to Donald Duck rock – so named for reasons I lacked the imagination, angle, or drugs to comprehend – yields heart-stopping, 270-degree views. For the able-bodied and sure-footed, it’s a worthwhile trek for an unbeatable photo op.
Roughing It in Style
Miang Island (number four) was the final stop of the day. It’s home to two beaches and national park facilities, including camouflage tents, bungalows, a restaurant, and a gift shop.
Those on the day trip had fifty minutes to explore and rid themselves of any remaining snorkelling urges, while the boat guide handed the rest of us off to the island guide, who showed us to our tents. Spacious and simple, with sleeping bags, mats, and small pillows, it wasn’t like camping – it was camping.
After a tasty dinner in the restaurant, we searched for – and found – massive, land-loving Chicken Crabs.
After breakfast the following morning, we boarded a (very) small boat and hit three more snorkelling spots, though I would suggest passing on this in favour of staying on the island and making your own fun.
A real boat arrives in the afternoon to shuttle overnighters – low on energy but rich in pictures and memories – back to the pier. Thailand has 3,219 kilometres (2,000 miles) of coastline. I haven’t see every inch of it, but I’d bet money that the Similan Islands are home to the most beautiful beaches in the country.