Private tours for the same itinerary, will generally cost 4-5 times more per person (for 2 people travelling). In a bigger group, the costs are proportionately less – and can even work out cheaper than a group tour if there are many of you.
Group tours are popular because they are cheap and cheerful, offering value for money, and the opportunity to pack a lot into one day. But you have to follow a set schedule, can’t choose your companions, and each comes with their own particular quirks. Forewarned is forearmed, so here we present the facts about group tours in Krabi – please read this carefully before you travel as, even if you have been on group tours in other places, it might be different here.
Pick up routes
Group tours need to pick up their guests from around the region. Most guests on any given day will be at hotels in and around Ao Nang, but others may be staying out in Tubkaek Beach, or in Krabi Town. Some will be in Railay. As new bookings are accepted up to the evening prior to travel, it is not possible to know the exact route the driver will need to take in advance.Although it is planned to be as efficient as possible, the pick up process can take a long time and, depending where you are on the route that day and how many vehicles the tour company has, can involve quite a bit of waiting around. People can also be late, or not show up at the appointed time, which delays everyone else further down the line.
If you are staying somewhere at the start of the route on a popular tour, then you can expect to have around an hour of travelling / waiting time before the tour actually starts. Wherever you are on the route, you will be given a timeframe of around 20 minutes, during which the pick-up should arrive. There will be a number to call if they are not there within this period – it usually means they have been held up elsewhere.
The pick up vehicles can be anything from a/c minivans (if you are going inland), to converted pick up trucks, or even ancient buses with wooden benches.
After collecting all the guests for that day, you will then either depart directly on your tour (inland itineraries), or be taken to the pier (island itineraries) to board a boat. Note: if you have a huge busload of people, don’t panic: operators often have several tours / boats going out on the same day and the pick up group may be split up later (or combined with another bus coming from a different area).
On the boat / minibus
Most group tour transport will have a basic level of comfort. Do not expect luxury. Speed boats will have padded benches; longtail boats usually have bare wooden benches; both will have covered (shaded) seating, but open on the sides so you can see out. Minivans will have air conditioning. All transportation will be fitted to allow the maximum possible number of seats; you generally won’t find open areas to relax, or places for bag storage (except under your seat).
Seats on group tours are never allocated. For minivan travel, the luck of the draw (i.e. when you are picked up) will determine what (if any) choice of seat you have. For boat travel, you may need to scramble for the best seats on the boat when everyone is boarding.
Playing music on board (usually western top 40 hits) seems to be a recent trend on some tours; certainly not all trips will have this, but be prepared.
Other guestsGroup tours can be brilliant fun, spending the day exploring new places with interesting people from all over the world – if you are lucky. Possibly (though less frequently) they can be a nightmare, if you are stuck with rude, loud or unpunctual customers, who spoil the trip for others. The operators will take anyone – from toddlers to grandparents, backpackers to five-star guests – and there is no way of knowing who will be on your trip.
Group day tours however, are different from group holidays, as you can always walk away at the end of the day – or even during the day. Our top tip in case you find yourself with people you would rather not spend time with, is simply to distance yourself from them. With only a few exceptions, Krabi tours will give you plenty of free time to explore the beach / forest / temple at your leisure when you arrive – none of these tours are like city walking tours where you have to follow the guide holding an umbrella.
In fact, there is no obligation to stay with the group at all once you arrive at a destination, provided you are back by the time given (see “Timing”, below). So share the transport, then run away when you arrive.
If you would like to get an idea of how many people will be in your group, you can click on the “Good to Know” tab on any archived tour page, and the average number will be listed there.
FoodAll food provided on group tours in Krabi is Thai (not Indian, not western, only Thai). It is generally also Halal as standard for everyone (but there is no harm in specially requesting this).
Group tour food is notoriously average: edible but not incredible. This is the result of trying to please everyone.
If the tour specifies a restaurant or buffet meal, there is usually one “spicy” curry (mild by usual Thai standards); one non-spicy stir-fried dish; perhaps a third sweet and sour dish and / or a piece of fried or barbecued chicken. At least one option will be vegetarian. All of these dishes will be served with rice and with proper plates and cutlery.
For a picnic lunch box, there will be a boxed rice dish – sometimes fried rice; sometimes a stir fry with rice and an egg – usually eaten with disposable cutlery.Requests for special dietary requirements (other than Halal or vegetarian) unfortunately can be difficult to communicate as the Thai catering staff are often not familiar with international diets. Vegetarians and vegans can always be catered for, even if the choice is limited and possibly not very filling. Seafood and beef are rarely served for cost reasons, which is convenient for those who are not able to eat one or the other; in all cases where either is on the menu, another option will be available.
Being Thai food, there will never be any dishes containing dairy products.
Those with gluten allergies will be able to eat the curry and rice (stir fried dishes, which are normally made with soy sauce, should be avoided). If you are gluten and spice intolerant, or a hungry vegetarian, bring snacks just in case. This goes in general, especially if travelling with children, or on a full day tour: you are always welcome to bring your own food and drink on board (or cash to buy it) on any tour.
Fruit (watermelon and / or pineapple) will usually be provided, either after lunch, or as an afternoon snack. Water is available on demand on most boats; for inland tours, you may be restricted to 1 – 2 small bottles during the day.
Toilets / changing facilitiesThere are no toilet facilities on board a longtail or speed boat. There are public toilets at Poda Island; Railay and Phra Nang Cave Beaches; Hong Island; Bamboo Island; and Phi Phi Don Island, in varying states of cleanliness. You will find toilet facilities on larger boats, such as dive boats, ferries and cruise boats only.
Inland, most destinations visited will have public toilets.
If you need to change clothes, you would need to do so in public (bring a sarong), or at one of the toilet stations. For this reason, most people arrive wearing their swimwear, with or without something on top. The only exception to this is at the Hot Springs, where public changing rooms are available.
Group tour operators are fairly tolerant and accommodating when it comes to kids (most under 4s travel free for example) but they do request that you bring your own flotation device for them if travelling on a boat. It is not feasible for them to carry a full range of sizes, shapes and styles that may suit individual children.
Strollers are not usually allowed on board any vehicle, mainly due to the storage issue, but also because there are very few places where their use is practical. A baby carrier or sling would be a better option.
Car seats are never provided; nor are there spaces for them. There is no law in Thailand providing for child safety in vehicles.
Guide knowledgeGuides in Krabi are not usually very fluent in English, nor very forthcoming about the places you will visit. Their main job is to make sure everyone is alright, and to manage the time schedule.
To become a licensed guide, you need only pass a very basic exam set by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. In recent years, as the number of tour companies has exploded, and as the salary is relatively generous, guides have come from all over Thailand to Krabi, and often lack the knowledge or even the interest required to give guests proper background information, or show them unusual sights during the trip.
Of course this is not true of everyone, and you may be lucky to find a great and knowledgeable person at your disposal, but in general do not have high expectations. You can do research on sites such as this one in order to get background information beforehand. We are currently also working on an e-guidebook, covering the main sights in Krabi, to try and address this problem.
TimingGroup tours in Krabi are slightly obsessed with time, and sticking to the schedule. This can be annoying, but is for good reason: often people on the tour are depending on being back at a certain time as they have unmovable travel plans, such as a ferry connection, or perhaps another excursion booked in the afternoon. And ten minutes here and there throughout the day can quickly add up to an hour of overrunning, which can be tiring and stressful even if you don’t have a plane to catch.
So guides spend a large amount of time threatening and / or cajoling guests to respect the time guidelines provided at each stop. On group tours in Krabi, 45 minutes really does equal 45 minutes. More than 50 and you will get a warning; more than 55 and you will be getting a taxi home – no joke (any personal items left on the bus or boat will be delivered back to your hotel at the end of the day). Of course, most people would not dream of being late – but they are unfortunately still subjected to the threats aimed at potential troublemakers.
While the time slots are rigid, the order of events during the day should be considered flexible. They could vary according to tide times; availability of transport; and in some cases, how many people are booked on to your tour, and others run by the same operator – but everything will eventually be covered within the alloted timeframe. The exception will be in adverse weather conditions, for example if you can not get to a certain beach due to high waves.
The drop off times back at your hotel will be similar to those you experienced at the start of the tour, in reverse. The first people on the bus will be last to get off (and vice versa), with the whole route taking up to an hour to complete.