Boat and kayak tours

Be strategic

Photo of Boat and kayak tours, , Ao Nang

What we say: 3.5 stars

Touted by every travel office in town, more than a dozen different companies offer tours to many of the surrounding islands and coastal kayaking destinations -- and that doesn’t include the private longtail boats that can be arranged on your own. While virtually all of the destinations covered by tour companies are worth a trip, crowds can detract from the experience and it pays to be strategic.

Usually referred to as the “Four Islands tour”, probably the most popular boat trip covers the nearby islands of Ko Poda, Ko Gai (Chicken Island) and two neighbouring islets that connect to Ko Gai’s eastern end by way of a breathtaking sand bar at low tide, a phenomenon known as Talay Waek, or “Separated Sea.” After lunch and some beach lounging time on Poda’s white sand, the last stop tends to be Phra Nang beach on Railay.

Not interested in the Railay stop since we were headed there next, we arranged a 1,700-baht private longtail through the booth in Ao Nang, which took us to Talay Waek in the early morning, before anyone else had arrived, then around the rock formation that looks like a roosting hen on Ko Gai and lastly to Ko Poda. If going with a tour, expect to pay anywhere from 500 to 1,100 baht per person, depending mostly on the type of boat you choose. And expect to be part of the crowds.

Those looking to head further afield might opt for the Ko Hong tour, which runs 2,800 baht for a private longtail boat from Ao Nang. These trips typically stop at a couple of smaller islands in the Ko Hong group, such as Ko Phak Bia’s beach beside a “mushroom rock” and Ko Lao Lading’s sheltered bay, before swinging through Hong’s stunning lagoon and ending on the white-sand beach, perhaps with some time for a short hike or kayak ride. Tours start at around 750 baht per person by longtail, 1,000 by speedboat, and the beaches do get crowded.

Another popular boat tour runs to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Le, with stops at Ko Phi Phi Don and possibly Ko Mai Pai (Bamboo Island) for snorkelling. Poorly managed by authorities, Maya Bay has become a magnet for tours from all over Krabi, Phuket and of course Phi Phi itself, resulting in a beach that’s begun to resemble a packed football stadium in high season. We’d give it a pass from Ao Nang, perhaps saving it for an early morning excursion if you’re heading to Phi Phi for an overnight.

Then there’s the “Seven Islands tour”, usually an extended version of the Four Islands with extra stops thrown in for snorkelling off karst islets like Ko Ta Ming and Ko Si. If you’re up for a rather insane 11-hour boat trip, book the Ko Hong plus 7 Islands plus Railay plus sunset trip for around 2,500 per person. Other options include a more leisurely sunset cruise around Ko Poda and Ko Gai aboard a large wooden junk, and a half- or full-day fishing trip.

Costing around 3,000 baht for a max of four people, privately arranged longtail boats can take you as far as Ko Haa, where we’ve heard the snorkelling is superior to any of the islands mentioned above. In fact, we were disappointed by the snorkelling (low visibility, sparse marine life) while on the Ko Hong and Four Islands trips.

The other major segment of tours focuses on kayaking amid the coastal mangroves and sea caves up the coast. The cheapest and most popular option is Ao Tha Len (also spelt Ao Thalane), which includes a morning of kayaking through a limestone canyon for around 900 baht per person. If you’re not big on tours and don’t mind motorbiking, this trip can be done independently without much hassle; see the Ao Tha Len listing in the Krabi town page for details.

Kayaking enthusiasts who are also archaeology buffs should instead opt for the tours touted as “Kayaking Sea Cave at Ban Bor Thor”, which include kayaking through mangrove forest on the way to behold 3,000-year-old cave drawings in Phi Hua To cave, part of Than Bok Khorani National Park. This is a longer trip than Ao Tha Len and costs around 1,500 baht per person. See the main Than Bok Khorani listing for info on hitting the park independently.

Note that most of the group tours mentioned here include lunch and pick up / drop off at your hotel. They can also be booked in Krabi town or Railay. Private longtails to Ko Poda and Ko Gai are also easily arranged on Railay for the same prices, while boats to Ko Hong should cost 2,500 baht from Haad Noppharat Thara and as little as 2,000 from Khlong Muang. In Ao Nang, private longtails can only be arranged through one of the ticket booths, the most popular one located where the main drag meets the beach road.

If you just want a day trip to Ko Poda or Ko Gai, boats leave between 07:00 and 16:00, when they’ve collected seven passengers, and cost 300 baht for a roundtrip. When you’re ready to return to Ao Nang, simply hop in the next boat. Boats also run all day between Ao Tonsai, Railay West and Phra Nang beach before returning to Ao Nang, costing 200 baht for a return ticket.

Keep in mind that Krabi’s islands are busy from November to April. We recommend hitting them privately and leaving as early as possible to avoid the rush and the inevitable salty tour guide or inconsiderate passenger. If you’re not travelling in a group, ask around at guesthouses and hostels to try and rustle up some heads for a private trip.

Last updated: 9th May, 2015

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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