The Similan Islands consist of nine granite islands studded with mammoth rock formations like statues of ancient gods in a water wonderland of brilliant sapphire blue. The beauty is so surreal one would expect it to be the playground of mermaids.

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Thailand has lifted its game about conserving its precious assets—this continental archipelago in Phang Nga Bay was established as the Mu Ko Similan National Park in 1982. Unlike when I stayed on one of the islands for a week several years ago, the government no longer allows overnight stays. There are only two of the nine islands you can leave your footprints on (Islands 4 and 8) when they are accessible because many of its beaches are home to turtle nesting sites.

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These jewels of the Andaman Sea have an annual tourist ban from the 15th of May to the 15th of October. This no-go period allows the islands time to recover from the mass invasion of divers and snorkelers smothered in sunscreen and leaping off boats in complete mayhem. It's international chaos with fluorescent noodles clutched by inexperienced swimmers wearing bright orange vests or people getting trampled by big flippers, all happening amidst a disorderly and rambunctious boat exodus of jostling bodies of all shapes and sizes.

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Considering camping has been banned, indulging in a liveaboard is the best way to see these pristine waters. You won't have the drama of squealing non-swimmers pretending they can swim or people invading your space when on the boat. Both budget and luxury boats offer various itineraries, such as swimming with manta rays and whale sharks. Numbers are limited on liveaboards, and once the day-trippers depart mid-afternoon, the islands are yours until mid-morning. You can chill out on the white sand beach in peaceful oblivion watching the sunset or rise with the sun in the morning for a dip in crystal clear water where your only companions will be fish playfully circling you. Snorkel straight off the beach and watch in awe the brilliantly colored parrot fish gouge coral in a harried perpetual motion or gracefully dive off the boat's bow into the deep alive with a myriad of marine wonders. Liveaboard adventures can be either snorkeling or diving. If diving, you need to be of intermediate or advanced level as it's not for the novice diver. The Similan experience is totally different from being one of a frantic horde on a day trip.

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Day trips are available from various locations, but a tour from Phuket begins in the wee hours of the morning which is not ideal for the sleepyheads who love their holiday bed. The alternative is to stay in Khao Lak, close to the tour offices and the islands. From Phuket, you will be picked up from your accommodation at around 6am by minibus to get to the tour company's office in Khao Lak. You must register for the tour and collect your snorkeling gear if you haven't brought your own, which I recommend. Then it's a mass of excited people on sleek speed boats taking off simultaneously with far too many bodies onboard. Take preventive medication if you are prone to seasickness, as the trip can sometimes be rough. On the return trip from your day under the water, the boats overflow with tired, sunburnt bodies jostling for space to snore their heads off. Depending on the weather, the boat drivers may even decide to have a boat race back, which hastens the journey somewhat.

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It is a Similan Island invasion when all the different tour boats arrive on the beach of Koh Miang at once. Most tours have lunch on the beach before heading to the other islands for snorkeling. To escape the crowds, take a walk under the mass of gigantic trees littering a grove by the sandy shoreline, letting your imagination run wild as they must have been the inspiration for the "Ents" from "Middle Earth" in "The Lord of the Rings" movie. If the water where the boats moor is rough due to the weather, take the trek across to the other side of the island, and you will find fewer people and calmer waters. A dirt track leading up to the lookout point is worth stretching the legs for. The day-trip boats all follow a set route: Koh Miang (Island 4), Koh Payu (Island 7), where clown fish hide in the coral and sea turtles gracefully glide; Koh Bangu (Isand 9), followed by Koh Similan (Island 8) before heading home.

If like me, you don't want to be surrounded by a rabble of people from all over the world, take a liveaboard tour to make the most of your time in this blue paradise, or splurge on the ultimate and indulge in a private luxury boat charter.

The alternative is to go further afield to the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea of the Khura Buri district of Phang Nga province, where camping is still permitted.

Gail Palethorpe, a self proclaimed Australian gypsy, is a freelance writer, photographer and eternal traveller. Check out her website Gail Palethorpe Photography and her Shutterstock profile.