Coastal Tranquility: Eight Great Sea Kayaking Spots

Thailand: Mystery Adventures

Exotic, beautiful and little-known to westerners, the Phang Nga (pronounced "pong naw") region of southwest Thailand is perhaps the most unique tropical kayaking destination in the world. Here, you'll find mangrove forests, hundreds of uninhabited islands, and huge limestone monoliths that rise like giant fingers from the quiet waters. Narrow breaks in the island walls open into mysterious sea caves, called "hongs," and rock gardens. There is nothing else like it anywhere on earth.
Amazingly, many of Phang Nga's largest sea caves were only recently discovered during exploratory tours of the region by John Gray, director of SeaCanoe Thailand, Ltd. (SCT). Because some cave entrances were so narrow that only a kayak could pass through, even local Thai fishermen had no idea what lay behind the sheer limestone walls of Phang Nga's islands.

Before exploring Phang Nga Bay, start with a day trip to Koh Samui, a palm-covered island in the Gulf of Siam that boasts some of the finest beaches in the world. Unfortunately, Koh Samui has become all too popular with vacationing Europeans and the tourism is starting to take its toll, though Koh Samui is still a wilderness compared to, say, Waikiki. You will have a chance to experience the unspoiled Thailand, however, during a visit to the Angthong National Marine Park. This region, with its crystalline waters and beautiful rock formations, has been justly hailed as one of the world's finest underwater preserves.
After Koh Samui, take a ferry to the mainland to Phuket and spend the next few days will exploring Phang Nga's myriad islands, sea caves, and grottos in forgiving inflatable kayaks. Paddlers can count on great food and companionship before they retire to camp onshore each night.
Thailand, despite the rapid expansion of tourism in the past 15 years, remains a very special destination, a place to be treasured for its unique culture and natural beauty. And there is no better time to visit Phang Nga than now. In another few years, many of the secret spots will have been added to a hundred package tours, and kayakers will no longer be able to ply the waters of Phang Nga in quiet solitude.
Practically Speaking
While you can visit Phang Nga for a day or two by booking a motorized longboat trip with local tour brokers in Phuket (a popular beach resort in South Thailand), to see Phang Nga's most exotic features, and the sea caves in particular, you must have a kayak. Make arrangements with a local outfitter, whose programs usually include a guided tour of the seldom-traversed waters bordering the coastline—at present, SCT is the only Thailand outfitter.

Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 31 Jan 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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