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Trip Report Canoeing around Phang Nga Bay

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I know a number of people, myself included, have asked questions regarding tours of Phang Nga bay so I thought I would post a mini TR of our recent (i.e. yesterday) experience.

We are staying in Khao Lak and looked at a couple of operators, one in Kl itself - ( thanks internetwiz) and the more famous

Kl land discovery were offering a tour leaving from KL at 04.30 am to catch the tides and before the "hordes of Russian and Chinese" arrived (their words not mine!). A 4.30 am start was fine for an insomniac like me but the others were seemed less than enthralled by the prospect of the early start so we chose John Gray.

They have a number of day and multi day options. We decided on the "Hong by Starlight" tour. Priced at 3800 baht p.p., it was the most expensive tour on offer. Would it provide good value?

The tour itself departed from the dock in Phuket at midday so the four of us we were collected by luxury minibus from our hotel at 10.00am for the 90 mi drive.

On arrival at the dock we were given a short briefing and then transported by sornthaew to the boat at the end of the pier. In all there were around 60 people and we were divided up into two boats. Comprehensive onboard briefings followed and then we were introduced to our guides for the day. One guide was allocated for every two guests so a very high staff/guest ratio.

As we began our cruise out to the bay a light buffet lunch ( vegetarian) was served. Simple but delicious and plenty of it.

It took just over an hour to reach our first destination of Panak Island where we disembarked the main boat and got into our canoe paddled by our guide Gai. Gai spoke terrific English and was very good. Extremely knowledgeable, funny and entertaining. We set off around the island getting up close and personal with the cliffs and caves. Our arrival had been timed to coincide with the low water point which would allow access to the horng (room) within the island. Even with the low water, it was still necessary to lay down in the canoe to avoid the stalactites and rocks for teh 20 metre paddle through the cave. All the rocks are covered with oyster shells so can be very sharp for the unwary!

Once inside, it was like being in a lost world, immense, sheer cliffs, topped with jungle, eagles soaring on the thermals above. At sea level, the mud banks were populated by masses of mudskippers and crabs.

After exploring for a while we continued on to another cave, more ducking down, more amzing sights. At the entrance to this cave we were greeted by a large "crab eating macaque" eating, unsurprisingly I suppose, a large crab. Ripping its arms off and wolfing them down it was clearly the best and freshest monkey sushi around! We were able to get within feet of this hungry primate.

After the second cave the boat moored up just off a small bay for an hour or so. This afforded those that wanted to, to get paddled ashore to a small beach. Other, including us elected to paddle the canoes unaided for a while and enjoyed a little swimming, jumping off the boat etc.

After a while we sail off for an hour or so to another part of the bay to Hong Island where we are again decanted into our individual canoes. This place is even more dramatic and spectacular than the first. Limestone Karsts soaring above us, lots of inlets and caves to explore. In one bay there is a single karst standing alone at teh entrance to the bay and it is known as James Bond Island 2 - indeed very similar but without the crowds and cheap souvenir stalls.

By this time it is late afternoon and the light is showing off the scenery at its best.

Before dinner our guide demonstrate how how to create a "Kratong" from a slice of banana tree trunk, Palm leaves, orchids and marigolds. Each guide, with some minor input from ourselves, creates his own signature Kratong. As they are placed in the dining galley, one can appreciate the artistic effort which has gone into their creation.

As the boat is positioned to maximise the sunset view dinner is served. A bowl of Tom Yum Goong is first served by the staff which is followed by BBQ chicken and Fish, massaman curry, a variety of vegetable dishes, fried rice. All unspiced but delicious (bowls of Naam Prik Pla) were available which spiced up the dished to an adequate level.

The food was good,very good. Equally impressive was the fact that the crew managed to cope with everyone's food foibles ( even my FIL who is the pickiest eater I know!). A couple of people were on gluten free diets and were accommodated on the day, no nuts, no problem. ( no need to prebook special meals). All very impressive.

After sunset it was back into the canoes for another trip through a cave into the horng beyond. This time it really was pitch dark so we were led the way by the guides head torches. Once in side, we followed the Thai tradition of lighting the candles and incense on the Kratong, making a wish and floating it on the water. 20 of these from the different canoe made quite a sight as did the stars twinkling through the open roof of the horng above.

After extinguishing the Kratongs and recovering them to the canoe ( all very Eco concious) we returned to the main boat for our cruise back to phuket.

Not usually tour people had my in-laws not been with us we would normally just hire a longtail from one of the jetties and made our own way to the islands renting a canoe once their. We would not have had such a great experience.

The staff at John Gray Sea Canoe really are first class and at one guide to two guests you really do get personal attention. There is plenty of space on the boats The food is really excellent and there is plenty of it.

The one and only negative on this trip was the haze which seems to be dominating the whole of Thailand at the moment. We had to leave the North because air quality was so bad (the worst I have seen in many years). Whilst it was no where near as bad here and was never uncomfortable, the haze did spoil the dramatic views of the bay somewhat. In parts,the Islands in the distance were barely visible.

The 3800 baht pp, fully inclusive cost of the trip, did provide good value for money. The logistics were handled well and the service was excellent. As we were based in Khao Lak we had to pay a further 2600 baht for the four of us for the ( very luxurious minibus) .
A longish day. We left at 10.00am and returned back to our hotel at 10.00pm

We will be posting some photos on our blog at some point but, due to circumstance beyond our control we are running little behind at the moment.

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