Having been on my fair share of day-trips to Thailand’s islands over the years I’ve always felt a little underwhelmed by the underwater Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong – I think Thailand has some of the best islands and beaches in the world, and there’s certainly stuff to see, but I just can’t help feeling slightly indifferent – maybe I’ve been going to the wrong places or maybe it’s because I’ve only ever explored by snorkel and fins.
That was, however, until I visited the Similan Islands off the Phang-Nga coastline. You’ll have probably already guessed my reason from the title of this post – it was the first time I ever swam with turtles, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. As I entered the water, albeit not that gracefully with my big flippers on, there they were – a large turtle heading straight towards me followed a few minutes later by a smaller one.
Observing these magnificent creatures swimming so freely around me was like a daydream – somehow it didn’t feel real and I certainly didn’t want it to end. The best part about it was that it was so unexpected, and sometimes there’s no better feeling than having your expectations totally exceeded.
Ok, so perhaps I should have had some idea from the big turtle image on the front of our tour leaflet. But I thought that’s just what some designer chose to make it look nice, along with the obligatory starfish and Nemo photo – nobody actually gets to see turtles, right? Kind of the way I felt about going in search of the Northern Lights last year.
The only flaw in my trip was that I didn’t bring an underwater camera with me (that’ll teach me for not expecting much) and I was very jealous of everyone else and their fancy GoPros. Have I told you it’s my birthday coming up soon?!
The 90mins speedboat ride from Thaplamu Pier, Phang-Nga was bumpy to say the least and those of us out front soon started to head to the back of the boat, even if the only space was on the floor. Hats off to my husband who toughed it out the front and endured the full brunt of the waves, along with another guy as equally noble, or crazy perhaps, I’m not quite sure. Unfortunately it literally was hats off for my husband’s cap when the wind took hold of it. Note to self – next time make sure to get to the front of the queue and find a decent seat.
When we arrived on Koh Similan island we were one of the first tours to arrive, which was great as it meant we could head up Sail Rock for some uninterrupted views. When it was time to head back down we couldn’t have gone any quicker – it was so hot we couldn’t wait to get in the sea.
After snorkelling at some of the smaller Similan islands and our exciting encounter with the turtles, it was time for lunch on our last island of the day and a nap underneath the trees. Sometimes life is just too hard!
I left the Similan Islands with a huge smile on my face, and when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, a pod of dolphins chasing us on our journey back to shore proved me wrong.
The practical bits
- If you’re planning a trip specifically for the Similan Islands make sure you check your dates! I believe that the national park is open November to April and closed in May to October during the rainy season. www.similaislands.org appears to publish exact opening and closing dates each year.
- I booked my tour from Khao Lak, which is where I was staying, but there are also trips from Phuket. There are many tour operators who will be able to arrange your trip for you but try to book at least two days in advance as the tours can get booked up fairly quickly.
- Depending on where you’re staying you might be able to book a tour through your accommodation provider. I tend to find however that you get a cheaper rate by going to a tour agent – you will find them in abundance when visiting any beach resort .