Khao Lak is the gateway to some of the top diving areas that southern Thailand has to offer.
It has the advantage of being in closer proximity than neighbouring Phuket and Krabi for day trips to locations such as the Similan and Surin Islands and can therefore offer a cost and time effective alternative for those seeking to explore the underwater world.
Off shore from Hat Khao Lak are some coral gardens which make for interesting snorkelling and diving.
Reached by longtail boat, the trip takes about 45 minutes and can be organised through local operators beachside at Hat Khao Lak.
3 hours by boat off the coast of Phang-Nga, the diving here is generally considered to be the best in the region, and compares favourably with some of the best in the world. Diving possibilities range from touring coral gardens to adventurous drift diving in strong currents.
In the judgement of Asia Magazine (October 18-20, 1991): "Every diver has particular favorites, but few would dispute that the Similans... are one of the best. The visibility tops 100 ft between the November-April peak season, revealing a wonder world among the giant granite coral-coated boulders stacked one atop the other to depths of 90 ft and more."
Koh Huyong, the southernmost island of the Similan group offers a magnificent coral garden in 7-14m (23-46ft) of clear waters. This site frequently has over 30m (98ft) visibility, only slight currents and is considered a very safe site.
An extensive reef runs off another of the southern islands and provides at least four different dive sites. One bottoms out at 25m (82ft) and has many large rocks which provide a most interesting contour; many large schools of fish inhabit the area.
Another part of the reef has an excellent 20m (65ft) dive, with a lot of small lava type rocks which provide a home for colorful anemones, hydroids and soft coral as well as moray eels and red grouper. The visibility is seldom less than 30m (98ft) and frequently better. There is often a strong current, providing an ideal site for drift dives.
The central island of the group, Koh Miang, is the only inhabited island. There is also a number of excellent dive sites around this and the small adjoining island, including one that features a jumble of huge boulders with many interesting swim-throughs and caves.
This dive often has a strong surge, which attracts a large variety of marine life. Small whitetip sharks, rays, snappers and turtles are just some of the species of marine life encountered at this site.
An excellent night-dive site lies just around the corner and close to a safe overnight anchorage and beautiful white-sand beach. The coral drops off to 10m-20m (33-66ft), and the almost complete absence of currents makes it ideal for night dives. Lobster and large red crabs are commonly seen here.
Hin Pousar, or Elephant Rock, is one of the best-known dive locations in the area. It offers at least three excellent sites and, again, the dramatic and varied underwater topography makes for great diving. Anemones and coral provide a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, blues and browns. Large rays, tuna and barracuda are commonly encountered.
Farther to the north lies an offshore reef that comes up to within 8m (26ft) of the surface and drops off to over 35m (114ft). More passages overhangs and chimneys provide a site that will appeal to even the most experienced diver.
Two large sea cod and a huge resident moray eel add are among the many attractions of this site. Seldom is the visibility less than 25m (82ft) and it's usually even better. These are only a few of the many dive sites available in the Similan archipelago.
Each island features its own special sites and there is something to be found to interest both the novice diver and the much-travelled diver. Day trips to the Similan Islands for diving and snorkelling can be made from Khao Lak.
For budget travellers, the Similan Islands can be reached via national park service boat from the pier at Thap Lamu or by boat from anywhere along Hat Khao Lak. Boat charters can also be organised, costs depending on the quality and speed of the vessel and the number of persons to travel from Khao Lak.
Surin Islands are located about 60 km off the west coast of Phang-Nga Province and offer excellent diving and snorkelling possibilities. Of the five islands that make up the group, Koh Surin Neua (north island) and Koh Surin Tai (south island) are the principals.
The park office and visitor's center are on the southwest side of the north island at Ao Mae Yai, where boats find safe anchorage, and an official camping ground is on the south island. The best diving is in the channel between these two islands.
The cheapest way to travel to Surin Islands is to go from the village of Ban Hin Lat where group tours can be arranged. It also greatly reduces the boat travel time to reach your destination. You can charter a boat to the Surin Islands that operates from the Chumphon pier.
Like the Similan Islands, Surin Islands are best visited during the months of December to March when the seas are at their most calm, and for divers and snorkellers, water visibility is good.