Stay a night!
With their colourful reefs and soft-sand beaches the Similan islands are a dreamy place for families to explore. Though this nine-island archipelago is fairly remote, Thailand’s tourist infrastructure has developed into a well-oiled machine that makes travelling to the Similans a simple matter of shopping for a trip that best suits your budget and family needs.
If price is no object it’s possible to hire a yacht or private speedboat charter, but most visitors join one of the many speedboat day-trip packages that depart from Thap Lamu pier near Khao Lak. Land and sea transfers, lunch, water, snacks and snorkel masks are all included – all you really need to bring along is your swimsuit and sunscreen. Some diving liveaboards also allow children aboard and have family cabins – if older children with diving experience are keen to develop their skills the Similans would be an incredible place to do it.
Children are welcome aboard most day-trip boats but be sure to check before departure that they have enough kid-sized lifejackets on board. The trip we joined had only one, which might have made for some unpleasant “Sophie’s Choice” decisions had we not brought our own for our two kids. Best just to bring your own. We’d also recommend bringing your own child-sized snorkelling gear.
The Similans are ideal for children about five years old and up. It’s certainly possible to bring along younger children but if they can’t snorkel they may not get much out of the trip. As well, the speedboat rides can be rough at times, which could cause neck injury.
With children in tow, we’d highly recommend staying over at least one night, since the day trips involve three or four stops at beaches and snorkelling sites and don’t allow much time for independent exploration. Kids will love having more freedom to roam the beaches, which they’ll have virtually to themselves after the day-trip crowds depart in the afternoon.
With a two-day stay, our kids, aged nine and 10, spent hours swimming and snorkelling off the beach, and also enjoyed a little jungle trail walk where they searched for hairy-legged crabs hiding in tree trunk crevices. At dusk they watched hundreds of bats take flight from the trees, and soon after dawn the next day they were ready to jump straight back into the warm sea again to swim with the colourful fish. During our snorkelling stop at island #7 they kept a sharp lookout for sea turtles, which are commonly seen there, but sadly none came around that day.
We stayed on Ko Miang (island #4), one of the two Similan islands with accommodation, which has a better range of places to stay with national park bungalows, rooms and tents. Ko Similan (island #8) has only tents available for rent. Again, there’s no need to worry about bringing much aside from swimwear, toiletries and a change of clothes since both islands have restaurants and shared toilet and shower facilities with electricity. If your young ones are picky eaters be sure to pack along some snacks for them, since the restaurants have a limited range of dishes. Flip-flops or sandals are adequate for walking around, aside from the viewpoint trails, which have steep sections difficult to navigate without walking shoes.
Bungalows and rooms are generally booked out months in advance, so you’ll need to plan well ahead if wishing to stay in these. Staying in the tents is really a “camping lite” experience, since they’re already erected for you with bedding and mats folded up neatly inside. We were told it was possible to book one tent for our family of four, but we were thankful to have booked two since it would have been a tight fit with our backpacks jammed in there as well. The kids loved having their own tent anyway, though they admitted to being spooked by the sound of screeching bats a few times through the night.
Though we haven’t heard of malaria or dengue fever risks on the Similan islands, it’s a good idea to use repellent in the evenings and early mornings just to keep these pesky insects at bay – you can buy some at the park shop if you forget to bring your own. A torch would also be handy, though there are electric lights in the bungalows, bathrooms, restaurant and in the camping area.
For health and safety, the biggest concern for kids is the tropical heat. Make sure they drink plenty of water and take some breaks in the shade throughout the day. They should also have some experience using a snorkel since there’s little in the way of instruction provided. Park staff and tour guides should be able to provide basic first aid — any more serious problems would require a boat trip back to the mainland.
Though the crowds and packaged trips make travelling to the Similans a “soft adventure” at best, the islands’ dazzling blue seas and white beaches will captivate the kids for hours and days on end — even if the sea turtles don’t come out to play.
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
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