Sunday, July 31, 2005

Phang Nga Bay by Kayak

Part two of a series on Phuket. Links to part 1 and part 3 .

I've always wanted to go on a kayak tour. My two previous attempts (Palawan and Australia) were scuttled by poor weather or lack of participants, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance in Phuket.

The vast majority of advertised tours were mass-market paddles sandwiched between snorkelling off the beach and tours to James Bond island. Not my cup of tea.

The other end of the range was made up of serious multi-day sea canoe expeditions. Camping. Hmm. Maybe next time.

Finally I settled on a day trip visiting the various hongs (lagoons) inside the islands in Phang Nga bay. Again, on the advice of the ThornTree folks, I booked with John Gray - who is well known for his ecologically responsible tours and who pioneered exploration of the hongs.

We weren't disappointed. John and I (my husband John, not our tour leader John) had an excellent time kayaking through the caves and the lagoons. Normally, the tour company provides a guide who paddles the kayak for you. John claimed I was an Olympic kayak competitor (I doubt anyone believed that for a second!) so we took an extra paddle and struck off in our double-engined kayak.

Turned out that was a great idea. We entered most of the lagoons well ahead of the other kayaks, and enjoyed a beautiful view in unbroken silence. Our guide, Golf, pointed out crab-eating macaques, crabs, mudskippers, and a lazy water monitor.

We had a good Thai seafood dinner on board the support boat. We got about two shrimp each (in tom yum goong soup), and the rest was yummy chicken and fish. John Gray is a fervent environmentalist and doesn't support commercial shrimp farming.

We stayed out in the bay until well past sunset, and paddled back through the caves and into a lagoon after dark. We brought traditional Thai krathongs, lit candles, and floated them in the caves. The lagoon was pitch-black, the darkness broken only by the occasional firefly or the swirl of bioluminescent plankton in the water.

Finally it was time to return to the support boat, with the guides collecting the floating krathongs along the way. We got back to our hotel, tired but happy (and hungry, in John's case) at around 10 pm.

Note: There are a number of kayak and sea canoe companies offering tours in Phuket. Some are much more professional (and more ecologically friendly) than others. You'll pay a bit more if you go with a good tour operator, but it's well worth it - we've heard stories of cheap tours where eager guides pull out baby mangroves to show tourists their roots... sigh.

Prices and reservations

Tours can be booked through the John Gray Sea Canoe website ( or via phone. The Hong by Starlight tour, for 3450 baht per person, includes hotel transfers, beverages, lunch, and dinner. The web site states they'll serve "a light lunch", but don't be fooled - it's quite substantial. You can pay online via credit card, or via cash or credit card at the pier.

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