A Thai Tour Of The Simolan and Surin Islands
Simolan Islands, Thailand
After being in Thailand a little over a week, my travel mate and I are meeting up with another friend and his Thai girlfriend in Bangkok. Monica lives in Lat Phrao, which is an area west of Mo Chit, the northern bus terminal. After a day or two visiting the Bangkok highlights, we are invited on a tour around the Simolan and Surin islands with Monicaâ€™s family. Everything I have seen so far has been incredible. On hearing that the tour includes scuba diving on some of the top dive sites in the world, and camping on beaches of some of the most beautiful islands in Thailand, I got a little excited. As the tour was advertised in a local Bangkok newspaper and in Thai, we are a little unsure what people will think when three Farangs turn up!
The bus journey from Bangkok down to the mainland port near the resort of Phucket takes all night. The 3:00 morning stop serves a less than appetizing meal, but the Kapow Nue (chili basil beef) that we got while waiting for the bus has done its job. We board the boat that we will be spending the next few days on at around 8:00 a.m. We find that breakfast is fish flavored rice soup. We three Farangs pass on this and opt for the hot chocolate.
The boat is reasonably big and can easily fit the 100 odd people who are about to travel the 55 kilometers to the Simolan Islands. The guide who does all the talking mentions Farang a number of times and everyone turns around and looks at us. When you hear the wordFarang, you know they are talking about you, yet you just have no idea what they are saying. It seems to be in good nature, though.
As the boat pulls off, we head to the front to hang our legs off the side in the morning Thai sun. A couple of hours into this trip, the sea starts to get a little choppy. I have never had sea sickness, but after an hour or two of the up and down motion, I am feeling more than a little queasy, yet glad I gave the fish breakfast a miss. I look round to see the majority of the Thais hanging off the side of the boat, sick. The sea is so choppy that all the chairs on the top of the boat are thrown from side to side as the boat goes up and then down again. This goes on for some hours before we reach the calmer waters closer to the Surin Islands.
As we catch our first glimpse of the Surin Islands, I realise that a camera cannot capture the beauty of traveling to a paradise like this. The captain drops the anchor and we are given a snorkel and flippers, and soon, we are in the water. The water is so crystal clear that we can see for miles and what seems like thousands of colorful fish swimming around. That night we eat a small feast of fish with rice and then camp on the beach in tents. The particular island we are on has no development for the tourist market. It is very remote. The power on the whole island is off by 9:30 p.m. There are no bars, let alone nightlife. About 75% of the visitors to the islands are camping in tents and are predominantly Thai.
We wake up the next morning with the heat suffocating us inside our tent. We have the whole day to chill on this remote tropical island, which we use to walk around and sunbathe on the beach. The local island inhabitants, the Mokans, who I guess seldom see Westerners, laugh at us sunbathing, confused as to why we would want tanned skin.
The next day we travel to the Surin islands, again stopping at a couple of top dive sites. The sea is calmer and there is less sickness. We again see some truly amazing fish while diving in the clear tropical water. But the most spectacular moment comes when a small pod of dolphins swim alongside our boat. How incredible to see this while traveling to and from tropical paradises. There tends to be more boats that have come from Phuket for the diving around the Simolan Islands. And even though we are miles away from any developed town, that evening we watch Arsenal V Chelsea on a television system hooked up on 10 car batteries with the island locals. Neither speaks the other language, but we still smile as we watch football together.
The Simolan and Surin islands are awesome and are probably the most remote places I have ever been to. With the power turned off at 9:30 p.m., you really do realise how far away you are.
The Simolan and Surin islands are national parks and are only open certain times of the year. Foreigners will be charged 200 Baht for entry; however, we got away paying this fee due to the company we were with. To the best of my understanding, the Thai government has limit development. Let’s hope it stays that way, as it is a totally different experience to any other island I visited in Thailand. Unfortunately, two weeks after our trip, the 2004 Tsunami destroyed much of the little there was, including the Mokans village.
In his spare time, Craig also runs a web site which is a Guide to Thailand for travellers.