By Dian Hasan | September 5, 2009
Asia offers a plethora of travel experience choices. The most challenging question choosing what type of experience you are seeking. From FIT, MICE, Medical, Business Travel, Sports, Showbiz, Shopping, Gourmet, Cultural, Wellness, to the micro-niches of Adventure-, Eco-, Humanitarian– and even VolunTourism, where you’ll find diving, surfing, birdwatching, and mountain cyclists, among the many subdivisions.
Which takes us back to Adventure Travel, that part of travel that exudes exploration, expedition, exhilaration… and excitement galore. Laced with adrenaline, enjoying the dwindling Asian landscapes that are changing fast… from pristine to precariously threatened. So let’s look at Thailand’s stunning Phang Nga Bay, near Phuket, and how to enjoy it via the unique adventure of Extreme Kayaking (as originally appeared in Playak).
The Southwest of Thailand with it’s spectacular limestone cliffs became famous through James Bond, Di Caprio…
…and John Gray, paddling pioneer and environmentalist, more than 20 years in the business…
…explaining geology of the ‘hongs’ of Phang Nga, a result of chemical weathering of carbonate stones.
” WHAT, a touri kayak trip in Thailand ? It’s going to be crowded, hot, boring and they will force me to eat FISH !!! ”
– those were my objections against such a tour. – I live in Indonesia, an archipelago consisting of some 15000 or so islands but only a hand full of kayakers swing the paddles due to truly idiotic import policies of Indonesia where You end up to pay the same amount of money for taxes as You’ve paid for Your boat ! – So I’m used to solitude when I go out boating and I’ve been to Thailand few times where I saw crowds of Sit-on-toppers in the most beautiful bays of Koh Pi Pi in search of THE BEACH…
So how was it then, really ?
Crowds / heat : After more companies in Southwest Thailand copied SEACANOE tours, it gets crowded, of course. This is one of the most beautiful coastlines on the planet, so don’t expect to be the only one who wants to see it !
John Gray tackled the problem by scheduling a one-day-tour in the afternoon / evening – some paddling is done even at night ‘ HONG by starlight ‘ – that way we avoid the crowds and are less exposed to the heat at noon.
We were 16 people on the tour – I didn’t feel exactly like Robinson Crusoe but I found it nice to have a chat here and there with others without screaming against the common techno sounds of Thai beaches.
Boring ? – If You’re into hardship / suffering and need to paddle at least 50 km a day to achieve satisfaction then this tour is not for You ( however, most operators rent out kayaks to experienced paddlers to go by their own ).
Kayak day tours in Phang Nga are rather designed for everybody including absolute beginners, families…
…if You’re too weak, too lazy or generally don’t bother much about environment You can also use a boat like this :
‘ Motherships’ are used to bring a kayaks plus passengers to the most beautiful spots of the National Park.
Decent operators give introduction to the ecosystem and explain what to do and not to do during the motorized cruise: ” Don’t scream, don’t step on juvenile roots of mangrove trees, etc. ”
The main attraction on ‘Hong by starlight’ is the particular environment of Karst formation with it’s collapsed caves.
It requires a long time of research and knowledge of the area to find these caves, their entrances and exact timing of the tides to enter and leave such a hong in the right time. There is no way I would have found the entrance to these caves if I just rented out a kayak and paddled on my own. It NEEDS someone who really knows the area.
Inside the Hongs we saw birds, snakes, lizards and monkeys – there used to be saltwater crocodiles, – John calls them affectedly ‘salties’ but they are probably the only animal he does NOT like, proven maneaters… – but in Phang Nga a story of the past…
Inside a Hong
In the evening there’s a big dinner ( of course: seafood – but nobody forced me and plenty vegetarian options ) –
Before sunset a couple of KRATONGS are prepared – Thai women do this usually in the time of full moon but our guides can do them pretty nice as well in February…
HALIM : ” Let me dump this thing NOW ! ” – GUIDE: ” NO, wait for starlight… ! ”
We paddle once more into one of the caves, this time in darkness – and release the Kratongs.
After that we call it a day and paddle back to the Mothership that brings us to Phuket. – It was very different compared to my tours in Indo – I usually fall into bed with aching back… actually I hardly paddled any distance at all but experienced a new environment in a breathtaking setting.
– I will definitely go again on a longer tour another time.
For anybody interested about such a trip I emphasize to search for a professional operator who loves what he’s doing and not to go with the cheapest… It’s that way with many things in life, isn’t it ?
Sunset at Ko Lanta