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November 20, 2013

A Retreat in Thailand's Similan Islands

By Sarah Gold | Travel

A Retreat in Thailand’s Similan Islands
Courtesy of Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve

Though located just 50 miles from the tourist crowds of Phuket, Thailand’s Similan Islands might as well be in another universe. The nine isles, clustered off the Phang Nga coast in the cerulean waters of the Andaman Sea, have been protected as a national preserve for more than 30 years. They are as unspoiled as the nearby coast is overrun.

Given their much-hyped aquatic scenery (the reefs are routinely listed among the world’s top snorkeling and diving destinations) and dearth of on-island lodgings (there are none, apart from a few dozen bungalows that the National Park Service maintains for overnight travelers), the islands are explored best by boat. And though group-tour cruises and private charters abound, one live-aboard excursion stands out: the new Similan Island Escape, which Phulay Bay, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve launched in October.

Up to six guests at a time can experience the weeklong trip, which starts with a three-night stay at one of the property’s luxe Royal Beach Villas, each with an infinity pool, 24-hour butler service and access to Thai massages and herbal infusions at the resort’s ESPA spa. A transfer by private helicopter to Phuket connects with a luxury yacht, which then embarks for three days of sea exploration.

Once guests are aboard, the bespoke adventure begins. Island outings include hikes among dramatic boulder formations like Sailing Boat Rock on Koh Similan, picnics and swims at secluded white-sand beaches on Koh Huyong and Koh Tachai and guided snorkeling and diving excursions with whale sharks (near Koh Bon) and giant manta rays (near Koh Hin Pousar).

The one drawback? The yacht is comfy enough that guests may need a push from the crew to abandon ship. Available through April; six nights, from $25,000; 111 Moo 3 Nongthalay, Muang, Krabi; 66-7/562-8111; ritzcarlton.com.

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