As a Malaysian, there are a fair few things that you can say to earn yourself a side eye from fellow countrymen. One of them is admitting that you’ve never been to Thailand. That little statement earned me a smack, a side eye, and an order to have that changed within the year. So when I finally set out on my Thai adventure, I was told that island hopping is a must.

With over a thousand islands scattered across Thailand, and its reputation for having many beautiful tropical beaches, it’s not hard to see why. However, as someone who nearly drowned once as a child, being out at sea for an extended period of time’s something I was a little apprehensive about.

However, I emerged from my sun, sea, and sand adventure (mostly) unscathed. So, if you’re dreaming of an island hopping adventure in Thailand, here’s what you should know before you jump on your first boat out:

Swimming skills not required

Since we’re in the business of confessions, here’s another one: I can’t swim. Nearly dying by swallowing too much water in the deep end of the pool as a child will mess with your head. It’s also a good enough reason to just lounge back on the boat, and enjoy the view and the sun, while everyone else cannonballs into the water. Except, as it turns out, life jackets are in abundance on island hopping boats.  

As a matter of fact, you’re encouraged to wear the life jackets regardless of your water-treading abilities. The guides are also kind enough to assist you when getting in and out of the water should you need it. Once you strap on one of the life vests, all you have to worry about is navigating your way through and not swallowing too much seawater. Speaking of which…

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Whether it’s from frolicking in the water or being overly excited when snorkelling, you will unwittingly swallow some seawater. When that happens, you’ll need to compensate by drinking more regular water. But why?

You know the movies that show you castaways refusing to drink sea water no matter how thirsty they get? They’re not exaggerating the dangers of drinking sea water for drama’s sake. The National Ocean Service reports that because your kidney can only produce urine that’s less salty than saltwater, you have to urinate more than you drink, which can lead to dehydration. So you might want to forgo that beach margarita and opt for a bottle of good old mineral water instead.

Get on the pill

Before heading out, there’s usually a briefing session where the tour operators break you into smaller groups, assign you a boat, and let you know what to expect. They’ll do a little safety briefing and also a small sales pitch for aqua shoes or snorkel gear. It goes without saying that you should pay attention to the safety briefing and use your own judgement as to what’s worth buying or not.

If you’re horrendously bad at math, I suggest you not take a calculated risk of foregoing that expenditure, because I ended up cutting my feet on the rocks. It wasn’t a terribly deep cut, but it stung quite a bit on account of being in saltwater the entire day.

At the end of the briefing, the operators will normally also offer you a sea sickness pill free of charge, as having to clean vomit off of boats probably isn’t much fun for them. Even if you’ve never particularly experienced motion or sea sickness before, it might be wise to take the pill regardless. I’m not normally prone to motion sickness, but I did feel my upchuck reflex working hard to contain the contents of my stomach each time I got out of the water and back onto the boat.

You’ll get burned

Apart from hydrating yourself appropriately, you should also be prepared to get a little bit sunburnt. Unless your boat goes out on a cloudy day, or you’re not particularly a fan of basking in the sun (in which case, why are you on an island hopping tour?), you’ll find certain areas a little bit overexposed and in need of some post-island hopping care.

These tops spots are your forehead, nose, and shoulders. Even if you manage to avoid the full brunt of a burn on most parts of your body, these areas will likely feel a little tender. Give them some extra loving with deep moisturisers that have aloe extract to soothe the skin, and consider using lotions and gels containing vitamins C and E to promote healing.

Now that I learned these lessons the hard way, you don’t have to. Happy island adventures!

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