If you have the time and the money, a cruise on the waters of the Andaman Sea can be the experience of a lifetime. Two itineraries are suggested here: a northern route which includes the Similan and Surin islands, and a more intense southern route which includes Racha, Phi Phi, Phang-nga Bay, assorted Trang islands and the Tarutao group.
But cruising does not necesary mean big bucks, the longtail boat is a ubiquitous sight in Thai seas. Originally based on the design of the Arabic dhow, the boats - as we see them these days - have been built here for the last fifty years, using skills handed down from father to son. No plans, no drawings, yet the incredible seaworthiness of this vessel makes it indispensable for fishing and taxing around these islands. The engine, big enough to power a large truck, is pivot-balanced to rotate to almost 360 degrees, affording a reverse manoeuvre without having to use a gearbox.
Boats can be hired all around Phuket to visit nearby islands. Fares can be barganed for. Take a light raincoat on the boat with you between June and November in case rain and/or stormy seas. See our Around the island pages for details on some of the places to find longtail boats for island trips.
South East Asia Liveaboards (Tel 076 340460) runs several boats, including a 17-m trimaran called Wanderlust that holds eight passengers comfortably.
Jimmys Lighthouse on Chalong Bay lists imminent yacht departures for Langkawi island in Malaysia. The captains usually stop off at the southern Andaman islands for fishing, snorkelling and exploring. Passage on private yachts to ports farther afield may also be arranged at Jimmys, from paying passengers to crew. Experienced yachtsmen can charter their own vessels while novices can hire a vessel with crew, by contacting Thai Marine Leisure (Tel 076 239111) or Sunsail (Tel 076 239057).