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Thailand and Malaysia: Exclusive Island Access

National Geographic Adventure picks the 25 best new outfitted trips.
Text by Bonnie Tsui   Photograph by Ingolf Pompe/Look
Photo: Travelers in Thailand
Boarding long-tail boats from Thailand's Ko Phi Phi Le, near Phuket

WHAT'S NEW: Early next year, the regal 170-passenger Star Flyer sets sail on the Andaman Sea, touring a series of beguiling tropical islands that have rebounded rapidly from 2004's devastating tsunami. The vessel is the only cruise boat allowed by the Thai government to stop at many of these islands; this privileged access means that passengers aboard the ship, which is stocked with sea kayaks and small sailboats, can explore shallow reefs and uninhabited beaches that other seafarers miss. National Geographic underwater zoologist Clyde Roper—whose research was featured in the film Sea Monsters: Search for the Giant Squid—will lead the expedition.

ON THE GROUND:
Launching from Phuket, the ship first travels to the little-visited Batong Group, where you'll pause to snorkel, kayak, and windsurf along the secluded beaches and coves of Ko Adang. You'll then sail to Pinang, Malaysia, where a local expert will lead a tour of the shrines and lush gardens of Kek Lok Si, one of the largest Buddhist temple complexes in Southeast Asia. Other tropical gems include the Similan chain, famous for its vibrant indigenous bird species and unusual mammals such as the flying lemur. As the trip loops back to Phuket by way of mangrove-lined Phang-nga Bay, Roper will act as an on-site naturalist, pointing out spinner dolphins as they frolic nearby and helping you spot underwater oddities, including fire coral and blue-ringed octopuses.

Vitals

Outfitter: National Geographic Expeditions (www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com)

Length: 14 days

Price: $5,375

Difficulty: Easy

Departs: February 2007


Cover: Adventure magazine

Our November 2006 issue features the best new adventure travel trips; an exclusive look inside Iran; a Greenland global warming report; backcountry spas; digital cameras; travel Web sites; weekend getaways; and more.

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