When you think of paradisaical Thai beaches, the popular Maya Bay comes to mind. This destination is spectacular but the crowds that flock here make it hard to enjoy the experience. Most of your time is spent competing for space, waiting to take photos and shaking your head as tourists litter everywhere. But this certainly isn’t the case in the Similan Islands – a remote archipelago 70 km off the coast of Phang Nga in the Andaman Sea.
Having traveled Thailand from top to bottom, and visited my fair share of beaches, I can safely say that the best beach I have seen is in the Similan Islands. Imagine a bay in the middle of nowhere with unique boulders at either end of the beach, perfectly soft white sand that massages your feet with every step, and water so clear and boasting so many different colors that you have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming.
That idyllic scene can be found on the largest island in the archipelago called Ko Paed (Island #8) at Ao Kuerk Bucht (Donald Duck Bay). The Similan Islands are composed of nine different islets and the word “Similan” means “nine”. Ao Kuerk Bay is home to the iconic Sail Rock which can be accessed by walking up a path from the beach. The viewpoint offers a breathtaking panorama of the bay and the waters that shimmer in the sun.
There are day trips to the Similan Islands that you can book from Phuket or from other nearby towns such as Khao Lak or Phang Nga. I was staying in Phuket at the time and booked with Love Andaman. My all-inclusive tour included hotel pick-up and drop-off, breakfast at the Love Andaman headquarters at the Thap Lamu Pier, speed boat trip to the Similan Islands with snorkeling gear provided, lunch, and snacks and water.
The price was 3,500 Baht for myself (a farang) and 2,500 Baht for my partner (a Thai citizen). Although it wasn’t the cheapest boat tour we have ever done, the value for money was still very good considering the fact that we had to get picked up from Phuket and drive two hours to the pier. We saw brochures advertising Similan Islands’ tours from Phuket that were as expensive as 3,900 Baht pp – so all in all Love Andaman was a great option.
Best Tour Company in the Similan Islands: Love Andaman
Our tour to the Similan Islands with Love Andaman was just fantastic. Their team is made up of friendly Thai’s who can speak English and Chinese, and who clearly love their jobs. On our boat was a group of 40 travelers – half required English translation and the other half Chinese translation. The two tour guide leaders on our boat were bursting with enthusiasm, and offered some helpful info and support for those who needed it along the way.
It’s a no-brainer to travel to a beach paradise like the Similan Islands via speed boat because the journey is fast and comfortable. Even when the sea is a little rough, the speed boats can plow through the choppy waters while remaining stable. On previous occasions, my partner and I took tours to Thai islands – like Ang Thong National Marine Park – and booked a big, slow boat which wouldn’t stop rocking precariously from left to right.
If you plan on visiting the Similan Islands, whether it be on a private or small group tour, make sure you get a speed boat. It makes the journey much more pleasant. From the Thap Lamu Pier, you arrive at the islands in 60 minutes. Our first stop was the best beach in Thailand that I mentioned: Ao Kuerk Bucht. We arrived at 10am and had around one hour of free time to go swimming and walk up to Sail Rock for the famous viewpoint.
The earlier you arrive the better your chances are of avoiding tourists. When we got there, about six other boats were anchored in the bay. We went in February (which is high season), so it wasn’t a surprise to see people on the beach. Despite having to wait a bit to head up Sail Rock, the beach didn’t feel too crowded and we could enjoy a little slice of paradise all to ourselves. The beach was immaculately clean too, without a piece of rubbish in sight.
After Donald Duck Bay, the tour continued to the first snorkeling spot: Island #9. The little cove here was picturesque, with translucent waters and cool rock formations. We could see schools of fish and colorful corals. The next adventure took place on Island #7 which is known for sea turtles. We didn’t have any luck but the snorkeling was lovely. The day finished with lunch and a visit to Island #4 with two more heavenly beaches to relax at.
Highlight of the Similan Islands: Ao Kuerk Bucht
Words fail to describe the beauty of Ao Kuerk Bay. The color of the water, in combination with the green vegetation and granite rocks, makes it one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen – easily the top beach in all of Asia. I know that’s a big claim, however this beach truly does warrant that title. As you approach it, you can’t stop grinning from ear to ear. You feel so blessed to have the chance to witness such a wonderful creation of nature.
The water goes from deep blue to emerald green to crystal-clear in the space of 100 meters. The variety of colors can be seen at their most dazzling from Sail Rock where you can take once-in-a-lifetime photos of the water, paired with smooth boulders and green scenery. The hike up only takes 5 minutes and there are ropes to guide you. As stunning as the viewpoint is, for me the highlight was swimming on the beach and walking on the sand.
It was 31°C and there was barely a cloud in the sky when we went. My partner enjoyed having her photo taken, and after seeing what the images looked like we couldn’t believe our eyes. “Is this real?!” was a question asked several times on our trip to the Similan Islands. Despite only having an hour at the beach, it was probably the best hour we have ever spent at a beach destination. The only place that comes close is Koh Nang Yuan.
Where to Stay Near the Similan Islands
One of the great things about the Similan Islands is that there isn’t any accommodation available to book on the archipelago. Some tourists might find that annoying but the benefits to conservation (and sustainable tourism) are massive. The nearest town on the mainland is Khao Lak and it offers plenty of hotels. I was staying in Phuket when I visited and gave myself a couple of extra days to incorporate the Similan Islands trip.
The only downside to staying in Phuket is you face an early morning, and a two hour drive each way, on the day of the tour. We were picked up at 6:30am (which isn’t too bad) and dropped back at 7:30pm. This makes it a full-on day, so it’s a good idea to plan a rest day in Phuket afterwards. We stayed at The Royal P Phuket for seven nights. Each night cost 800 Baht. They also had scooters to rent which we used to visit Phang Nga Bay.
Need to Know Before you Go
The only way to visit the Similan Islands is on a day tour. The top company I found, in terms of price and quality, was Love Andaman but there are several to choose from. You probably have more options from Khao Lak rather than Phuket. If you really want to be alone at Ao Kuerk Bay, you could ask around to see if there are any companies that leave early to get you there before 10am. There might be a private tour that does that.
From May to November, the national park is closed to preserve its nature. So ensure you are aware of this fact before you make plans in Thailand’s rainy season. In regards to the tour itself, bring plenty of sunscreen and protective gear like hats and long sleeved shirts. A couple of hours in the sun is nice but you don’t want to return looking like a lobster. A waterproof bag and phone case are also must-brings to keep your belongings dry.
Apart from that, just have fun and appreciate the moment. It’s not everyday you get to venture to a secluded beach paradise like the Similan Islands. Remember to take a break from your phone and from going crazy taking photos, and just soak in your surroundings. It will pass you by quicker than you realize. You only get about five hours at the national park. Therefore, it’s important to try and make the time slow down a bit. Enjoy the trip!