I love Globe Trekker! Oh what an amazing job that would be – traveling the world, meeting new people, trying fun food, exploring beautiful places etc. I’m pretty sure that’s everyone’s dream job. About a decade ago I was watching an episode about renting rice boats in India. You can hire a crew + boat and float along the backwaters of Kerala. It’s a beautiful and relaxing way to spend your time in southern India. “I have to do this someday…I’m going to do this, it’s officially on the bucket list!” So when Dan and I were invited to a wedding in India, I knew this might be my only chance to weave it in.
Here’s all you need to know about booking a magical globe trekker adventure of your own.
Do Not Book Online
I tried…numerous companies and TripAdvisor leads, but no one seemed to respond. That’s a good thing though; you should book it in person! All the prices online are 3x the amount it actually costs and you don’t know what/who you’re getting. Don’t worry, there are literally hundreds of boats for you to choose from when you get there. They come back every day so there is no need to book a boat in advance. You can show up on the same day you want to leave or arrange it for the next day etc.
Pick The Right Season
Make sure it’s not monsoon season, because that would not be fun. I’m pretty sure the majority of the boats are stored away during these months. It looks like Jun-Nov are pretty rainy…with a bit of a break for August. Dec-May are the best months for boating. Here is a rainfall chart for Kerala
Find Your Dream Boat
I’ve heard there are a few towns where you can hire boats, but Alleppey (AKA Alappuzha) is the granddaddy of them all. You’ll find they have the best selection and prices compared to other towns. If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll want to fly into Kochi airport (Cochin International Airport COK) and hail a cab to Alleppey. The ride from Cochin to Alleppey in an AC car will cost you around $25 for a 2.5 hour drive or if you’re a bit scrappier you can take the train from Aluva (AWY) to Alleppey (ALLP) but you’ll need to reserve your tickets in advance (usually with an Indian cell phone or through a travel agent) for about $10. Once you’ve arrived, stay near Finishing Point. D and I stayed here (about a 3 min. walk from the dock at Finishing Point). Finishers Point is where you’ll find 1000+ boats along a mile or so walkway. You don’t need a reservation, just show up early about 8:00AM and search for the boat you want. Everyone will want your business and welcome you onboard. Feel free to look at as many boats as you want, shop around and find one you like. The house boats depart around 11:00 or so and return the following day around 8:00am. There are so many that they usually double/triple dock them, so you’ll have to climb through numerous boats.
Boats are usually stocked with food and ready to leave the same day, so no need to plan ahead. My group wanted to do a two-day trip, so we gave our boat a 1 day notice to buy extra food. Everyone is very flexible with time – you’ll definitely be able to find a boat that meets your needs.
Talk with passengers who are just leaving their cruise. Ask them if they liked the boat and crew / pros and cons and how much they paid. It’s nice to hear some honest reviews from fellow travelers. Chat with the crew too! Ask them what their usual route is and let them know if you are hoping to explore smaller backwaters. Let them know if there are certain places you want to see.
Get That 2nd Story
If possible, find a boat with a 2nd story or sun deck. It’s a lovely space to relax and find some peace and privacy upstairs + better views!
Make sure you look at lots of boats before you commit to one. Things to look for –>
-Do the toilets flush / do the bathrooms smell bad?
-Do I care if there is hot water? Truthfully most of the boats don’t have hot water, but you may find it on the fancier ones.
– Are there mosquito nets?
-Do I want individual private rooms with a lock or a common room? 1 or more rooms?
-Is there enough privacy on this boat?
-Check for bugs, cockroaches and bedbugs. Check the mattresses and make sure they’re clean and comfy…
-Is there AC?
-Are meals included?
-Is the water bottled?
-Check to make sure that the chef can accommodate for any food allergies you may have.
-Is the kitchen clean?
Pick A Good Crew
Find a crew that is similar in age and fun to spend time with. You’ll be in close quarters for the next 24-48 hours, so make sure you can jibe with them. Our friends found a fun group of guys in their mid 20’s early 30’s they were fantastic and fun! Our chef Shravan was kind enough to give us cooking lessons for each meal! It was a blast. And our friend Raj helped us find a toddy hut, where the guys could try palm wine.
Negotiate A Price
In my experience most businesses in India mark up their prices by 300% of what you will actually end up paying after a 30 min bargaining session…so get your game face on. We paid $300 total for 4 people – 2 nights with meals included. Which ended up being around $37 per person per day. A little higher than I would have liked (the majority of our accommodations in India were around $10 per night) but hey…you’re on a houseboat in the jungle with really yummy home cooked food. Well worth it! The more expensive months will be January and February (when we went). I’m betting you can find one even cheaper than we did.
Overall experience = A+!
I highly recommend it! Hire a boat of your own if you ever find yourself in southern India.
Here are some pictures of our two-day rice boat trip in Alleppey and a short little insta clip. If you want to read more about our time him India or watch our travel video here is another post you should read! Thanks for stopping by!
^^^Our bedroom. Basic, but all that we needed – fan, soft bed, linens, mosquito net, fresh towels and our own bathroom with shower.
^^^Our sun deck, complete with squishy cushions and bamboo chairs.
^^^Home cooked meals. Masala pearl fish, sambar, rice and crispy puffy poori! I love them all.
Sunrise from our bedroom window.
Dan and AJ ^
^^^We woke up early with the parrots and cicadas, sipped on chai and watched AJ befriend a huge water snake on his morning swim.
^Yeah no… you should have seen how fast that snake zipped across the water.
^^^Chickpea gram flour fried plantains with turmeric and black sesame, served with chai.
^An abandoned pink church
^^^The picture is a bit fuzzy, but you can actually see the fireflies! We docked the boat next to the coconut shack one night…had a candlelight dinner and played Sinatra. The fireflies came out to dance. Alleppey is a magical place.
Lounging on the deck, with a hot tropical breeze and too many coconuts to count!
If you’re not interested in an overnight houseboat you can find smaller boats (Shikara) and guides available for 3 to 4 hour excursions . They’ll tour you around the narrow canals and villages across the lake. We picked our boat from the main canal in Alleppey (Vada Canal) where you can find hundreds to choose from. We paid around $10 for a 3 hour boat ride. Shikara offer comfortable seating and best way to explore tiny rivers that the larger boats can’t fit in
Fruit stands in Alleppey. This is where the boats stock up on fresh food for your trip.
^^^We cruised over to a little hut selling coconuts. You can buy them for 25¢! The man will cut off the top and give you a straw…you drink the water and give it back to him. He’ll then machete it in half with one big swing and give you the top as a spoon to eat the meat. Perfection.
^^^Mango trees and kingfisher birds galore.