If I know where I want to get to I’ll usually rent a motorbike and go myself. I’m a bit of an independent chap that way. However, this isn’t an option if you want to get out to an island. Driving to the islands just doesn’t work. I’ve given up trying.
So, enter the long-tail boat, one of the most iconic images of Southeast Asia. In Thai it is called “ruea hang yao” and talking to the owner of one on the beach is a good way to get to where you want to go.
In a lot of places the owners of the boats are willing to hire them out for less than you would pay to have a trip arranged by a tour desk. They are usually the ones the tour desks are using anyways so essentially you’re just cutting out a middleman.
If you want to do some local island hopping you will get to pick exactly where you want to go instead of following a rigid tour itinerary. Often the owner will get a feel for what you’re looking for and can suggest places you may not have considered. They know the local islands and beaches better than anyone.
Now, these are ad-hoc deals – there’s no insurance or waivers or paperwork. It’s an under the table, cash for transport arrangement so, if these things are non-negotiable to you (and it is absolutely understandable that they would be), definitely go through a travel agency or a tour desk.
But, I usually find that by speaking to the owner you can size up who they are and get a feel for what they’re like on the water. A bad feeling about someone on land will only get worse the deeper the water gets and vice versa. Trust is everything. As well, by talking to the owners you get to size up the boat so there are no surprises in terms of its sea-worthiness.
You’re also plugging directly into the local economy. My friends and I were recognised almost a year to the day by the gentleman who had taken us out the last time we were on Koh Phi Phi Don. Your business is valued and appreciated.
So if you like to DIY, go talk directly to the owners of the boats on the beach. They can take you where you want to go.