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Sail Away from the Crowds In Southeast Asia

When I travel, my most frequent frustration is visiting a "don’t miss" destination only to find busloads of my brethren swarming about with video cameras, talking loudly.

As a traveler who wants to know a country through its people, culture and history, I have devised ever more clever ways to escape the crowds.

I’ve danced the lambada in an Amazonian rainstorm, and biked Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park, USA by the light of the moon. However, off-season and after-hours are not the only alternatives. If you’re finding the shores too crowded, set sail for more remote locales.

Sailing, diving and kayaking adventures are a welcome alternative to beaches teeming with tourists. Not only can setting sail bring you to places inaccessible to the landlubber, but it can show you new sights, some of them underwater.

Southeast Asia is an exceptional area to explore by boat because of its extensive coastline and reasonably good infrastructure. Exotic foods and colorful people draw crowds in increasing numbers, but what most visitors don’t know is there are pockets of unexplored territory, including islands that have been closed to foreign visitors for as long as 50 years.

  • The Mergui Archipelago was off limits to outsiders until 1996. Now, you can visit this remote paradise for a multi-sport maritime vacation. Southeast Asia Liveaboards (SEAL) runs six-day trips that take you within a stone’s throw of the deep jungle, which roars with the call of tigers, elephants, monkeys, rhinoceros, wild pigs, parrots and herons.

    The Mergui Archipelago is over 800 islands strong covering 10,000 square miles. It is virtually untouched by modern development. Historically, the area was home to fisherman, pirates and maritime merchants. The sea gypsies, a peaceful floating people, still paddle Mergui’s island passages, and the area remains pristine as ever. SEAL’s guests can now kayak, sail, snorkel, dive, lie on remote beaches, explore the jungle, and visit with local peoples in the Archipelago.

  • If you’re uncertain about spending a week on a boat, or hesitant to go too remote, many outfitters offer sailing, sea kayaking or diving day trips. In Thailand, SeaCanoe runs a sea-kayaking trip to Phang Nga Bay, near Phuket.

    Phang Nga Bay is sprinkled with limestone crags, up to 300 meters tall, tucked amongst mangrove swamps. Kingfishers and seabirds sail overhead, undisturbed by the quiet swish of kayaks gliding over the water. Guests stay in beachfront bungalows, kayaking into the hongs, a complicated maze of tidal sea arches and caves that lead to a chain of small lagoons, accessible only at certain tides. SeaCanoe provides paddling instruction for newcomers to the sport as part of their package.

  • For die-hard divers, AquaLine has just introduced an exotic itinerary to the Andaman Islands of India. In the Bay of Bengal in the Andaman Sea, these islands have remained remote because of insufficient infrastructure and unpredictable Indian Administration. Aboard the M/Y Aqua One, AquaLine’s staff whisks you from the shores of Phuket, Thailand to the Andaman Islands for a 10-day trip that includes seven days of diving.

Offshore trips are a chance to adventure and enjoy in a group setting far more intimate and worlds apart from a traditional cruise. Choose a guide service or outfitter with a good reputation and references. Ask in advance for detailed information about preparing for your trip--what to bring and what to expect. If you prefer a private cabin, or are happier in a bungalow than camping on the beach, find an outfitter who will meet your needs.

Wave farewell to the crowded Thai beaches and shores and let the wind and water take you away.


The operators mentioned below are environmentally responsible and socially conscious. All of them offer other adventures at sea in other Southeast Asia locales.

Kayaking trips in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Liveaboard dive trips to the Andaman Islands, the Burmese Coast, Mergui Islands and other Southeast Asian Locations

Additional resources
PADI offers the most widely recognized dive certification in the world. The PADI travel network, reputedly good on prices, but weaker on customer service, can help you get to the dive destination of your choice.
World Wide Sail, a listing of hundreds of crewed boats and charters.


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