The John Gray Sea Canoe Safari in Phuket, Thailand is something special. I
t is our 3rd time visiting Thailand for an extended period and we have been here on at least four other occasions for some chill time between travels through South East Asia. So when we came back for yet another trip, we didn't expect to see or do anything much different from before.
Boy, were we wrong.
Sea Caves, Canoes and Culture in the Isles of Thailand
Smiling Albino put together an itinerary for us that introduced us to new adventures in Thailand and to experience a different side of the country that we have never seen.
They tailored a trip to suit our interests taking us from the Southern Islands of the Andaman Sea to the most northern point of the country on the Burmese border.
The First leg of our Thailand Adventure began with John Gray Sea Canoe.
Read More About John Gray and his company at Meet Thailand's Big Monkey
Today we are exploring the famous sea caves and Hongs of Thailand just off the coast of Phuket.
It is a pleasant hour-long boat ride to our first cave. Sea Eagles follow our boat as our leader Nick throws out some fresh fish for them to scoop up.
A Bollywood movie is filming a high-speed chase on the water complete with yachts and helicopters following in a convoy and the incredible karst formations of the islands surround us in every direction.
As we eat our delicious lunch en route to our first island, we listen to what will be happening in the day ahead. John Gray goes out to the islands later than other companies giving his passengers a special treat on more than one occasion.
When we arrive there are no other boats around and we have the Hongs (hollow lagoons in the centre of islands) to ourselves. Keeping his tour list to a minimum, he allows only 30 or so people on the trip to keep the experience intimate.
Time to Canoe
We all hop into soft canoes armed with our safety briefing and rules freshly in our minds.
We all have a guide because paddling through sea caves is not something to be taken lightly. There is great skill involved in reading the tides and navigating through narrow openings.
At some points, we have to lay down to get through the cave and our guide “Natt” paddles through with smooth skill careful to not touch a hanging stalactite or to disturb the precious natural environment.
One of the caves is 200 meters in length and we paddle through in pitch darkness with only the shine of Natt's headlamp to guide the way.
When we emerge from the dark, we arrive to a serene setting of sea cliffs and mangrove trees.
A quiet lagoon in the centre of an island awaits, known as Hongs these hollow circular openings are magnificent.
John Gray is the founder of the Sea Kayaking industry in Thailand and he discovered and explored these caves and hongs in the early 80's.
Having extensive knowledge of sea caving from already developing his business in Hawaii, he wanted to come to Thailand to promote eco-tourism and share his love of the water with the world.
He now worries that the very natural setting that he loves is being destroyed because of his findings.
The Sea kayaking experience is overexploited in Thailand, but John Gray is doing his best to curb the overdevelopment and for now, at least keeps his tours authentic and to a minimum.
He avoids overcrowding his boats to make a lot of money and he encourages responsible paddling. From not taking anything from the environment, leaving anything behind or disrupting the wildlife and natural setting his staff briefs that passengers before each trip about the importance of responsible tourism.
His company has zero tolerance for any guest that doesn't follow the rules.
We visited 3 other hongs today leading up to the climactic moment of the tour; Hong By Starlight.
Before dinner, we all sat down with our guides to build our own Krathong.
The Krathong ceremony has participants make their own offering out of banana tree bark to give to the Sea Goddess. We decorate them with lotus leaves, incense, candles and flowers.
With our offerings ready to go, we eat our incredible dinner feast and wait for the sun to go down.
At dark, we hop into our boat and paddle in darkness. No headlamps or flashlights are allowed, this is meant to be enjoyed by starlight.
When we enter the hong we are treated to stars twinkling in the black night while bioluminescent sea plankton sparkles through our fingers as we drag our hands through the water.
Sparking lights are all around us and we can't get enough of the bioluminescence. Natt splashes his paddle into the water and it really lights up.
It was Magical.
The night ended with our boat dropping Dave and I off on our own private island for a night of camping on one of Thailand's famous karst islands.
Allan was waiting for us all day as he set up camp and we were greeted with a roaring fire and cold beer where we settled in for the night and watched the boat sail off with the rest of the passengers heading back to Phuket.
Pinch me now, I am in a dream.
The John Gray Sea Canoe day trip is spectacular.
Not only do you see and visit many hongs and caves, you are well fed and hydrated with an abundance of food and drink, you are given a spiritual experience, a thrill and excitement as you go through the caves and treated to incredible beauty.
Don't be fooled by the other companies claiming to use John Gray's name. John Gray Sea Canoe is the only and original.
Note: This tour was sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.