Paddle Thai: Sea Kayaking Thailand's Southern Coast

Considering the meteoric rise of tourism—and consequent overcrowding—Thailand's reputation as "The Land of 1,000 Smiles" may seem more like strained expressions of tolerance rather than welcoming grins. However, if you head to Thailand's southern coast, hop on a sea kayak to escape the sunscreen-drenched hordes. Once water bound, you will count your own smile among the thousand as you paddle along the coastlines and satellite islands of the aptly-dubbed "Pearl of the South."
Phuket, off the mainland's western coast, is Thailand's largest and most-visited island. The nearby Phang Nga region is considerably less traveled. Mangrove forests, hundreds of uninhabited islands, and sheer limestone cliffs beckon. At low tide, slip through the narrow mouths of the area's sea caves, called "hongs" after the Thai word for "room." These caves remained largely undiscovered, even by local fishermen and their wide boats, until narrow kayaks began cruising the waters in the late 1980s. The western Krabi Province comprises one of the most diverse and interesting of Thailand's coastal environs with mangrove inlets, primeval islands, and white-sand beaches waiting to be explored. While on the western end of the southern coast, also visit Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, a 61-island archipelago with stunning beaches, calm bays, countless deserted islands, and very few fellow tourists.
The premier spot in the southern end of the Gulf of Thailand, just off the eastern coast, is the 247-square-mile island of Ko Samui. Pristine beaches, aquamarine waters, and lagoons lined with drooping palm trees mirror the Thailand depicted on countless postcards. The surrounding isles—particularly Pha-Ngan—have enough deserted beaches and coral reefs to keep you drowning in tropical bliss for as long as you can stay. Angthong ("Golden Basin") National Marine Park, northwest of Ko Samui, is another prime sea kayaking spot. Forty small islands are scattered over 250 square miles of azure water rich with protected coral beds, short-bodied mackerel, crystal-clear bays, and to-die-for unpopulated beaches.
Thailand's coastline, dotted with narrow inlets and rocky outcrops, make it ideal for sea kayak exploration, but you need not be an experienced paddler to make use of this liberating mode of transport. Inflatable and open deck kayaks make piloting these boats far easier than it might seem, and Thailand's calm waters are perfect for novices to get their sea legs.

Published: 13 Aug 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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