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Paddling in Phang Nga Bay
One of the perks of running a tour agency in Phuket is that we get to go on inspection tours in order that we can experience the various trips first-hand. We are then well equipped to promote them - or not!
One of the companies on the list to check out this season was John Gray's Sea Canoe. When considering what a sea canoeing trip in Phang Nga Bay might be like, the image that was conjured up by my limited imagination came nowhere near to the reality of the Hong By Starlight trip, what a magical experience!
So what makes it so special?
Well for starters, the stunning location speaks for itself. The iconic limestone karsts of this region are breathtaking, and to paddle through the perimeter of the islands, under the cliffs and through bat caves to reach the hidden world on the interior, is an amazing adventure; something akin to Jurassic Park, but thankfully without the dinosaurs!
But many Phuket tour companies can offer this locatation, so it's more than that. This trip runs like a well-oiled machine; their 30+ years of experience really does show. The trip leaves later in the morning, which of course allows the opportunity for a lazy start, but on a practical level, means that you're not battling with the masses, i.e. other day trip boats leaving first thing in the morning. To continue this pragmatic theme, the Captain takes into account not only the weather, but also the location of other tour boats, and makes a concerted effort to avoid them! This means that once in the bay, guests aren't contending with other tourists, and can enjoy the tranquil environment without interuption.
All guests are assigned to a guide for the day, and groups are usually 2 guests to 1 guide, since that's all that can fit in one canoe! These guys really are are brilliant; they paddle you around with what appears to be zero effort, speak excellent English, and other languages, are knowledageble, informative and professional, and best of all, they love to have a joke with you! The staff really are this company's best asset and know about good customer service. Later in the afternoon, you do get a chance to take the canoes and explore the cliffs and beaches by yourself, but to be honest, I missed our guide!
The unexpected highlight of the trip was being introduced to a charming Thai tradition - how to make a 'Kratong', a floating decoration, made of bamboo, banana leaves, flowers and candles. It sounds like a primary school craft, or 'Blue Peter' activity (British readers will get that one!), but in this beautiful setting, it's surprisingly fitting. Once your Kratong handiwork is complete, at sunset, everyone takes to their canoes and heads for a sheltered sea cave where you light the candles of your kratong, and set afloat on the sea - really a very lovely moment...
After dark, once back on the main boat, a Thai seafood feast ensues! For all snacks and meals throughout the trip, the guides take the time to inform you exactly what's in the food, which is very welcome consideration if you're new to Thailand, though I haven't seen any other company do the same. That said, by this point of the day, my experience was that I didn't care about what was in the food, it looked delicious, so please just let me eat it!
So what's the downside? At the end of the day, you have to go home! Needless to say, every one of my family and friends who have visited me in Phuket have been on this trip, and have come back with beautiful photos and contented smiles. This trip is suitable for people of all ages, and no canoeing experience is necessary, so if you need a day off from scuba diving and you're interested this fabulous day out, get in contact! Overnight or longer expeditions can also be arrange for experienced paddlers.
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