Travelling in Thailand and not lazing on the beach is a crime. Some islands will be empty during the non-tourist season so that you see only blue water and green mountains when the sun comes up. It makes you think you are Chuck Noland from “Cast Away” searching for your lost “Wilson the volleyball”.
Here is your complete guide to island hopping in Phuket, where you can wholeheartedly sing John Denver’s “SUNSHINE, ON MY SHOULDERS, MAKE ME HAPPY.”
- Why go sailing in Phuket.
- How and where to book sailing trips.
- Choosing the islands
- What to do and what not to do while sailing.
- How was our day of sailing?
Why go sailing islands in Phuket.
SQUEEZING IN THE GAP AT HONG LAGOON
Fulltime travellers stay on different islands for weeks together while we did hopping in a day at Phuket. Why? Being surrounded by more than 30 islands, Phuket can confuse anyone to pick an island. So Island hopping is the best way to savour sunshine and beach vibe to the fullest. The sea route and boat connectivity are so good that you can visit multiple islands in a day if you are on a short trip.
Usually, switching hotels with luggage is a headache; this island-hopping trip lets you sunbathe on different beaches without changing hotels. Otherwise, also, it is good to go on a hopping sailing tour to know which island feels like how so that you can put a flag there for a few days. Phuket town’s beaches are good, but they are crowded. Especially Patong and Kata beaches are flooded with people. Exploring some remote islands is a great way to escape the crowded beaches of Phuket.
How and where to book sailing trips.
From tuk-tuk drivers to your host, everyone refers to a sailing agency. Some of them were even half the price of what I paid at the end. While sailing, you must keep in mind the weather and the number and size of the group they take. Phuket’s local government authority restricts sailing in case of bad weather. When I say bad weather, it is scary weather. If the ocean gets angry and decides to take your boat down, you can’t do anything. Many boat tour agencies ignore the caution to take up the tourists. Check this article about the death of 33 Chinese tourists on a boat just after a month of our trip to Phuket. So you got to choose an accomplished agency responsible enough to follow the warning or take precautions. Don’t choose random agencies suggested by Tuk Tuk drivers.
Then comes your personal choice – group tour / private tour. Are you a sunset person or a sunrise?. After hours of researching, I chose Simba Sea trips. They are the most expensive and high rated agency in Phuket. Betting a huge amount of money over safety and quality, I made the right decision. Their small group tours were ideal for us.
Choosing the right island
There are more than 30 islands near Phuket to explore. Here is a list of a few islands near Phuket that I was considering and not considering before going.
- Koh Phi Phi – The most touristy place on the entire planet, perhaps! Marine life is great; tourists flock here because of the nightlife. If you choose this, you are walking into a tourist den- Ahrith has been there and never wants to go back there.
- Railay beach -Honeymooners from India who goes to Thailand won’t come back without staying in Railay beach. The mainland of Railay is accessible by road too. Hundreds of resorts, connectivity by road and ferries make it easy for tourists. Just like Phi Phi, this wasn’t on my radar. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t in our favour that day. Hence I ended up here at Railay full of creepy men in Dixcy underwear with their hairy butt cleavage whistling at women in bikinis.
- Phang Nga and James bond islands-Tall freestanding green mountains look like volcanic eruptions that froze in time and got covered with green. If you have read my post “Slice of heaven at Samet Nangshe.” – you can relate to what I am saying. It is famous among tourists, but not as much as Railay and Phi Phi.
- Similian island –A group of the island famous for its rock formations and boulders around the sea. The Andaman sea surrounding the island is an excellent place for snorkelling.
- Hong Island, Krabi – KAHO NA PYAAR HAI! Though Krabi is famous among tourists, this particular beach isn’t crowded all the time, especially in the Non-Touristy season. The two mountains curve inside as if they are stretching their arm to hold the land. The tiny pocket of the sea locked between two peaks is the best place to sit back and relax. The Hong lagoon with crystal clear emerald water is sure to blow your mind. When you go by boat between the small gap of two rocks, it feels like you enter a fairytale location.
- Racha Yai and Racha Noi – The water here is more transparent than everywhere else, and marine life is excellent too. So this makes it one of the best spots for Scuba diving for beginners.
The less explored islands(when I say less, it isn’t least! They aren’t a hidden gem) by tourists are – Ko Yao Yai & Ko Yao Noi. Koh Lanta is famous among luxury travellers.
What to do and what not to do while sailing.
Choose the company’s pickup service. There are multiple ports in Phuket. A wrong port drop by your tuk-tuk driver may cost you a lot.
Don’t pick and bring back pebbles from islands– It is hard not to put one or two of them in your bag. The sad part is, you aren’t allowed to take anything off the islands. Most islands come under the national park and protected areas.
Do not overeat on the day of sailing –Unless you are a regular sailor, you don’t know if you get seasick or not.
Keep the luggage light – Unless you are taking a ferry to another island to stay over, carry as little as possible.
Listen to your captain – Getting crazy and adventurous is cool. The captain, familiar with the sea and Phuket weather, knows where to let you jump into the water and where not to.
Have patience if your sailing trip gets cancelled/postponed – When you travel between April to June or the winters, lousy weather may stop your sailing trip. If you haven’t scheduled and assigned each day of your Phuket vacation with something, you can always opt for the next available trip. The destination may change too. I opted for the Phang Nga sunrise tour and ended going on the Krabi sunrise tour because of bad weather the next day.
Don’t fall for Maya Bay trap -We all have seen pictures and heard of Maya Bay. The sudden rise in tourist influx after Leonardo Di Caprio movie “The Beach” caused terrible damage to marine life. The Thai government has closed Maya Bay for visitors to restore the beach. If any agency tells you that they can take you to Maya Bay, two things are possible: lying and showing you some random island-like Maya Bay. Or you are in an illegal or restricted area. Follow up on Thai news to know when Maya Bay will open.
Keep the island’s trash-free – We (tourists) successfully destroyed marine life in Pattaya and Maya Bay. The other beaches like Railay and Phi Phi are in the pipeline to get ruined completely. It isn’t easy for all of us to pick off-beaten islands due to cost and time constraints. As much as possible, try to avoid crowding an island. Choose “Non-tourist season.” If nothing is possible, don’t throw your garbage into the ocean.
Men: Don’t be a Swine, don’t ogle at women in Bikini ”- Thailand may be your first foreign trip. It may be the first-ever time you are seeing girls in swimwear and bikinis. It doesn’t mean you can’t control your hormones and mind. Don’t ever click pictures of anyone without their permission. We saw two Indian men trying to videograph a white woman in her Bikini at Railay beach. She felt uncomfortable, called the beach guard and made that group leave the island. Stop being a creep.
Enjoy every moment – Sailing on the sea is the best way to get lost without worrying about being found. Because there are your Boat captain and sailors, let everything go off your mind. Dip, swim, lay back and let your hair fly with the breeze carefree in the sunshine.
How was our day of sailing?
At 5.30 in the morning, Royal Phuket Marina looked like a royal palatial complex. A big gate opens to a court with gardens with luxury cars, hundreds of Yatches parked in the water lined with Thai style grand buildings behind. We met our crew and fellow passengers in one of the halls there. It had been a delight to see women running the shows from day 1 in Thailand. So was our lady captain. As usual, Thai names are long, and we tourists find it difficult to pronounce their words. So she has cut it short to her favourite food, “Momo.” Some quick snacks and tea woke us up from sleep.
It was only five of us on the boat. A lady from the USA, another girl from Tunisia and one more guy from our neighbouring state, Kerala, living in Abudhabi. Momo’s only concern was, getting back to the marina before the ocean got angry in the evening. Few previous days hadn’t been good for sailing.
It was a small speed boat suitable for 10 to 12 people max. If it rains, we could sit under the shade, if not outside. Who wants to sit inside, missing on the glorious sun rising? Everything that his ray touched was turning gold. Once we exited the marina, mountains afar looked like black paper cut in shape and were floating on the water. It is astonishing to see how the sea colour changes right after the sun is up. The mountains were no more black but green. Water was bright turquoise green and not gold. Mild bumps and smooth sailing with water splashing now and then, we wondered where on earth we were? – Because as far as your eyes can roll, the ocean spread to infinity. Every time water splashed on our faces, we cheered. Every mountain we passed by looked like something – A bear, a camel and even a Penis.
Hong Island – the best of all .
Though I read and researched a lot before going, there are always surprise elements. The boat stopped almost 100m away from the shore. Water wasn’t shallow yet. Mom was wondering if we would be able to walk to the beach or not. That is when she spotted the floating bridge right next to our boat. The sea didn’t have many waves, but even with a slight wave, the bridge followed a wavy pattern. It was the first-ever experience in our life – walking on the floating bridge. Mom and I laugh a lot usually, even at silly things. Every time a wave hit the bridge, we were awing and laughing, losing balance. Momo understood immediately – “If I let these two walk by themselves, they will remain on the bridge forever instead of getting to the island” She held my mom’s hand, held the rope on the bridge and walked to the shore.
At 7.30 in the morning, we were the first ones to land there. The smooth white sand on the even surface was opposite the floating bridge. With a Lush green forest on the left and a serene beach on the right, the surreal feeling you get when you arrive at a peaceful place filled our minds. This is what I had dreamt of my “Thai Beach vacation.” We arrived at “the spot” where two mountains curving inwards had created a pocket of the pool. Momo directed us to a changing room inside the forest. Without wasting any time, we were in the water. The shallow water was perfect for sitting with legs stretched. The beach sand was smooth. But the water bed had sharp stones and pebbles. However, it isn’t an excellent place to get into the water. It is best to sunbathe on the smooth sand.
We laid back on the sand paying the Sea goddess to remain calm throughout the day.
Snorkeling at Chicken island
The journey continued amidst weird looking mountains standing alone on the water. It feels like someone threw pieces of big chunks of stone here and there. Some took a round shape; others went sharp. Few crazier droppings took bodies of animals. The chicken mountain is one such weird rock formation. 40 min after leaving Hong island, it was time for snorkelling.
The reason for stopping there for snorkelling is clearer and not muddy water. I had done my scuba diving the previous day. It was the first-ever time for mom to go snorkelling. She was super nervous, but Momo was there to comfort her all. We enjoyed splendid 30 minutes spotting some marine life with our snorkelling gear, life jackets, and noodle tubes. Most of them were small-sized yellow fish. Feeding fish is banned, but Momo and the boat driver dropped fresh fruits and some meat pieces so that the fish come to the surface.
Railay bay and cave beach
A place I regret visiting most. There is no doubt about the beauty here. It has lost (or lost) its charm by mass tourism. Read my post “High Quotient of creepiness at Railay” to know why I don’t suggest this particular place to anyone.
Let me talk a bit positive side of the Railay beach. The third stop of our sailing trip was Phra Nang caves at Railay. The place looked great from far with stalactites hanging from the rocks as Melting lava froze here zillions of years ago. At the shore, a herd of tourists were endlessly clicking photos, playing loud music on their phones and making noise.
When we saw a local Thai family making wooden Penis offerings to the Go in caves, we asked Momo, and she narrated a few interesting stories. Many versions of why locals worship the caves. Essentially the cave is associated with fertility—couples who want to have a child make offerings in a wooden penis to the goddesses Phra Nang. There are different theories about Phra Nang and how she came to be associated with this particular cave in Krabi.
One legend says that an Indian princess was killed in a shipwreck offshore, and her ghost occupied the cave and became the fertility goddess.
Another story says that Phra Nang was the wife of a local fisherman. One day her husband set out to sea but never returned. According to this story, she lived out the rest of her years living in the cave and looking out to sea, waiting for her husband to come back.
The third story: When the most beautiful maiden of Krabi decided to marry a gentleman, other villagers envied them. The envious villagers tried to stop the ceremony, turning the event violent. A hermit nearby turned the maiden into this cave, and the groom became chicken island! After Momo narrated the mythological significance, I explained to my fellow travellers how Hrithik Roshan danced to the KNPH Title track.
Apart from the natural beauty and mythological significance, Krabi cave beach is famous among rock climbers. I am sure the view from the cave top is rewarding. When you walk beside the cave, the footpath takes you to Railay bay that houses many resorts and guest houses. It is the central hub of tourists coming from Phuket and Phi-Phi. Just like the cave beach, this place is overcrowded. The only advantage over Cave beach here is – It opens to a wider area while cave beach is a narrow shore.
Krabi for Lunch
With the filthy crowd whistling, teasing and trying to take our photos at Railay, we wanted to escape the place ASAP, though the scenery was amazing. The weather was shifting to its angry mode slowly. Momo seemed worried about cancelling our other plans and heading back to Phuket directly from there. All of us were joyous in the morning, but by lunchtime came, we were annoyed by the tourists who misbehaved. But the Centara resort for lunch cheered our mood a bit. There was another floating bridge, and the private resort restricts non-guest tourists. So we had some time to pour out the creep incidents at Cave beach and clear our minds.
My second favourite place on our sailing trip was this lagoon. Though it was raining a little, the journey was as cheerful as the morning. All of us were least bothered about getting drenched. Somewhere, captain Momo called asked us to be ready with the cameras when sailing on the sea. There were two mountains with a gap big enough for two boats to go at a time. As we approached the opening, the watercolour changed immediately. It was dark emerald green.
Whatever we saw the entire day, everything had changed within fractions of a second. We saw an endless ocean all day long. Here was the lagoon bordered by dark greyish rocks. Some of the stones extend over to the lagoon, like a cantilevered shade for boats below. There was neither wind nor the wave’s sound– it was just the music of rain droplets falling into the emerald water. If you are camera ready, you can capture that incredible moment when a boat/yacht goes through the lagoon’s only opening. It is magical to see this.
Sadly, this used to be home to freshwater sharks before, but now, no sharks are left here because of people like us. So keep this in mind if you want to swim in the Hong lagoon.
Krabi – coconut cape
I was fascinated with Koh Yao Yai coconut island. One of the main reasons for choosing Phang Nga Bay Tours was Koh Yao Yai. When we had to either take the Krabi tour or get the refund money, I was glad to see something similar to the Koh Yao Yai coconut cape. Along with not so favouring weather, we made our way to the coconut cape from Hong island. By the time we reached here, the rain had stopped for a while as if it wanted us to enjoy the beach a bit.
Either side of the mainland’s stretch is surrounded by water. A lane of coconut trees lines the beach. The water near the shore is shallow, so it can be a fine place for sunbathing and soaking when it isn’t raining. The sand is smooth and almost pebble free, unlike Hong Island.
By this time, the ocean was almost unhappy with intruders like us and demanded that we leave her alone. The mild storm, high tides and bumpy rides took us to the Royal Marina Phuket much before the scheduled time.
I won’t say I had a relaxing, laid back beach day. But I had one of the finest days in Phuket in the rainy season. For a proper beach vacation, you must stay for a minimum of two days on any island except the super crowded Phi Phi, Krabi and Railay.
What are your thoughts on island hopping? Let us know in the comment section below.