Sea Kayaking in a Incredible Environment
This is can be one of the best one-day tours off Phuket, but it is not always the tranquil encounter with nature that it once was, and is still advertised to be
A few years ago just one or two companies quietly paddled kayaks into the incredible world of the hongs, tidal sink holes in the middle of rock islands, connected to the sea by narrow caves. Inside, these hongs are mysteriously open to the sky, and harbour a world that has remained hidden from humans since their creation.
Today up to 30 companies push and shove their canoes into the caves in an unregulated traffic jam. So try to pick your canoeing company carefully, for in this business they are not all the same.
How did these amazing, hidden worlds carved in solid rock form?Despite the warning above, we still emphasise that the sea kayaking (or sea canoeing) experience can be one of the most memorable moments of a visit to Phuket, and we do recommend it. But don’t just buy the cheapest tour or the first on offer. Far from the beaches, the sea kayaking takes place in the rocky limestone mountains of Phang Nga Bay. The boats depart Phuket from the Northeast corner, usually at the rickety wooden pier of Ao Po, for a trip that takes about an hour.
The very first island encountered is one of the largest and most incredible, Koh Panak. This island harbours the largest number of hongs, and some of the deepest – deepest in two senses: the longest tunnels from the sea to reach them, and the highest vertical walls from water level to mountaintop rim. Koh Panak, plus the next small island, Koh Hong, are the focus of so many day-trip companies trying to get their customers inside first, as soon as the tide drops enough for sea kayaks to squeeze in. And this is usually the fun part, squeezing through the dark sea caves to reach the inner sanctum.
The whole sea canoe experience was begun in the early 1990s by an American, John Gray, niccknamed Caveman who was the first to explore the dark, narrow caves leading into the islands’ interiors. He had discovered similar environments in islands of the Pacific. He set up the original company, Sea Canoe Thailand, with high ideals, making the Thai staff his partners. But despite that Phang Nga is a National Park, the lack of regulations in Thailand allowed the unique wilderness experience he created to become part of the mass tourism highway.
The two islands used by the sea kayaking tours are just a short distance below the famous, and very crowded James Bond Island. Day tours to either of these, or a straight Phang Nga Bay tour by boat, gives the visitor a good view of the amazing vertical rocky mountains that have made Phang Nga Bay famous, and are thus similar. But the cheaper James Bond tour by bus, then boat, gives least time in the bay, spending more time on the road.
All sea kayaking companies provide lunch, and usually stop at an island on the return allowing passengers time for swimming. Choosing the best company – one that will try to avoid the kayak traffic jams and give its clients an educational experience – is difficult. But don’t always buy the first tour on offer. Tour desks usually sell the tour that gives them the biggest commission, not the best experience for the buyer. Or contact those on our list below.
Sea Kayaking in KrabiSea Kayaking is also quite popular in Krabi, though the number of places is somewhat limited compared to those accessible from Phuket. The main place visited is a mangrove estuary that snakes below a magnificent vertical rock mountain. It is quite a mystical place, and well worth getting away from Krabi’s crowded beaches for a day.
Several companies are active here, including the original Sea Canoe, with signs and advertisements easy to find at Ao Nang.
Overnight and long distance sea kayakingAnyone with a few days to spare can indulge in the ultimate sea kayaking and wilderness experience by joining one of John Gray’s multi-day sea canoe expeditions. These get away from the tourist areas completely, taking their clients into some magical environments in Phang Nga Bay, or along the beautiful Andaman coast.