Sea Kayaking in Thailand and Island Camping with John Gray’s Sea Canoe

Written By: The Planet D

We always wanted to go camping on a private island and go Sea Kayaking in Thailand.  With John Gray Sea Canoe, we had the chance.   After a splendid day kayaking through tidal caves and into island lagoons, we were let off in the dark of night to be paddled to our private beach where we would spend the night.

Sea-canoe-thailand-beach
A beautiful morning to sea canoe in Thailand

Our camp was waiting for us as we paddled in with our gear and guide Natt. Alan, a young apprentice had spent the day preparing camp and setting up our tents.  

Towels and cold water were waiting for us by the roaring fire and once we settle in an icy cold beer and campfire snacks were brought out for our enjoyment.

We spent the night trading stories and walked over to the beach to check out some more luminescence plankton glowing in the water of the Andaman Sea.

John-Gray-seacanoe-thailand-beach-camping
Our beautiful beach camp.

Sea Kayaking in Thailand

It was early to bed as it had been a long day and we had even a bigger day ahead. The islands aren’t quite as secluded as they used to be and we awoke to the engines of longtail boats roaring by out in the bay.  

After eating a feast big enough for a group of 10, but only to be consumed by our tiny party of tow, we readied ourselves for our day with John Gray. As Alan stayed back to finish up at camp, Natt took us out to explore some more sea caves.

Today we had the chance to paddle our own canoes and we followed Natt through the choppy waters to our first cave of the day. It was a little intimidating to be navigating our own boats.

The cave roof was low and we had to push ourselves through the limestone with our hands as we laid back in our kayaks.

Sea-Kayaking-thailand-hongs
Stunning beauty inside the Hongs in southern Thailand

Once we emerged from the cave, we were treated to yet another spectacular view.High limestone cliffs reach up to the sky surrounding the entire lagoon.  These hollow openings known as Hongs can be found in the centre of islands all over Thailand.

Most of them can only be reached at low tide through sea caves.  Nat told us that we had about an hour before high tide. We explored the Hong quickly to have a look around. Read: 23 Fun Facts About Thailand – The Land of Smiles

We had seen several Hongs the day before on the John Gray regular day trip, so we were excited to be out paddling on our own today.

John-gray-photographing-thailand
John Gray grabbing some photos as we exit a Hong

When we came out to open water, we were greeted by John and an intern studying with him from Holland. We paddled on to another sea cave and entered an even tinier opening. Following Natt’s every move, we crawled along careful to not cut ourselves on the stalactites hanging close to our heads.

The four of us sat in the lagoon for a while and talked about the environmental issues that Thailand is facing. Many tour companies allow and even encourage tourists to sit on the fragile mangrove tree routes.

They make loud noises shouting and bringing their engines into some navigable bays scaring off wildlife and they throw their litter into the water. John Gray Sea Canoe uses only glass bottles and recycles, they don’t let anyone take anything from the lagoons and they don’t allow people to touch or disrupt the natural environment.

Alan told us privately that he worked for another guide company for a few years, but came to John Gray because he cares about the environment and he wants Thailands future to be clean and protected. Read: Thailand Travel Tips – 32 Things to Know Before you Go

paddling-sea-canoe-thailand
Dave takes it all in from his kayak.

After spending a little too long in the Hong, the tide has risen and both of us are a little freaked out having to paddle through the swelling water in the caves.

We tell ourselves that we are paddling with the world’s foremost expert on Tidal Caves and sea canoeing, but that doesn’t put your mind to rest when the water is filling up and you are laying on your back pulling yourself along the roof of the cave to make it out to fresh air.

In my controlled panic, I manage to keep it together but cut myself up a bit from the sharp rocks. John and Natt seem unphased by it all, but we are happy to be back out in open water.

The large longtail boat is waiting for us to take us to the next island. Today is a completely different experience as we are heading to all the places that the tour boats don’t stop at.

These are some of John’s favourite locations in the area and the only other people we see is a catamaran and some fisherman.

sea-kayaking-thailand-HDR
Great view for lunch after a morning of sea kayaking

I love traveling by longtail boat. The weather is perfect today as the sun is shining, there isn’t a cloud in the sky and the breeze is pleasant.

We spend the entire morning paddling and exploring different caves and then we stop for yet another feast made for 10 people but only to be consumed by our party of 3.

deserted-hong-phuket-thailand
It was like having your own personal paradise

John tells us tales and some of the most extraordinary moments in his life.  He has lived a rich life in his 66 years. Decorated with awards and accolades he could be living the high life in Hawaii, instead, he lives a humble existence giving back to the people who work for him.

Being an environmentalist and activist doesn’t make for the most lucrative of lives, but he certainly has left a legacy for everyone to follow and he definitely hasn’t thrown his hat into the ring just yet.

For more information on kayaking Thailand check out John Gray Sea Canoe the original.

The John Gray Sea Canoe Safari in Phuket, Thailand is something special.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.

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.

sea canoe Thailand - sea eagle
The Sea Eagles followed us for a while!

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.

sea canoe Thailand tours
Paddling out of one of the Hongs

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.

sea canoe Thailand lagoons hongs
Breathtaking lagoons, known as hongs, await you on the other side.

Exploring Lagoons

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.

sea kayaking Thailand
Sea Kayaking is a must do experience in Thailand

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.

Cultural Experience

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.

sea canoe Thailand - making a krathong
Our finished Krathong

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.

Looking for a place to stay in Bangkok? Check out our post on

Where to Stay in Bangkok – A Guide to the Best Neighborhoods

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use Booking.com and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • World Nomads - Digital Nomads or Frequent Travelers.
  • Allianz - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

37 thoughts on “Sea Kayaking in Thailand and Island Camping with John Gray’s Sea Canoe”

  1. I have been to Sea Kayaking and Island Camping and found it really a different part of the universe, i can safely say this is like a heaven on the earth

    Reply
  2. Dave and Deb, Thanks for the great coverage. Can I link to http://www.johngray-seacanoe.com and our Facebook page as well?

    I’ve got a hot tip for you – have you been to Fiji yet? I just visited my very first Community-Based Ecotourism project (1983) in Lavena, Taveuni and it’s doing great! Tino and Salele have a fantastic program there, with natural history training from ecotourism consultant Dave Bamford from New Zealand. I was there in September and did the day trip, which was amazing. Even better, as I was walking back through the village Salele said “John, you remember how our kids had to walk 7K each way on the hilly dirt road to Mbouma to go to school? Well, we used the profits from our Sea Kayaking trip to buold our own village school.”

    That’s what it’s all about. gt to admit I shed a tear or two before my bowl of kava!

    In the 80’s before I came to Thailand we ran overnight trips down to Salialevu – a great waterfall coastline. If you do get the chance let me know and I will see if I can get-away to join you. I’ve been willed 50% of the 94-acre Vure Vure Plantation at one end of the coastline and just convinced the MD of Shangri-la in Fiji to build an eco lodge at Salialevu, so it would be greatmto start at my place and finish at Salialevu.

    Keep in touch and I will advise you when I get the slide show up and running. I’m about a year behind right now!

    John Caveman Gray [email protected]

    Reply
    • Hey John,

      Thanks for stopping by. We didn’t forget you 🙂
      We had your link at the top and have now added it to the bottom as well. We cannot find your Facebook page though. Can you post the link to it?
      We look forward to coming to Fiji and maybe checking out your Eco Lodge once you get it up and running.
      Be sure and keep us posted!

      Reply
  3. You guys always have beautiful photos. This set are so breath-taking. The cave and the water so stunning. Looks like you guys had a great trip there deb!

    Reply
  4. I loved this article. We went out on a Hong trip with John Gray during our Thai honeymoon back in 2007. We didn’t go camping but we thought about it – and looking at your photos, I wish we had! Thanks for sharing and bringing back great memories. 🙂

    Reply
    • So glad that you felt taken into the moment. I was a truly special experience in Thailand. And here we thought that because we had been here a couple of times before, we would not find anything new and exciting to do. We were very wrong.

      Reply
  5. It’s a good thing you are Canada’s Adventure Couple — I would have been a little scared to sleep on a secluded island and quite scared when the high tide starting filling the cave! But it does look like paradise so maybe I would have relaxed 🙂 I love reading about your trip to Thailand!

    Reply
    • You are most welcome in here and keep sharing your ideas and experiences with us without any hesitation,

      I think It is really lovely Adventure.After reading this article I have found interest to visit these places.

      The article is very clearly and attractively told.

      Thanks.

      Reply
  6. Totally jealous!! The photos are just stunning. Now I will spend the whole day desperately missing Thailand :)What a cool trip

    Reply
    • Thanks Caz. How perfect that your post today is Getting a massage in Chiang Mai. Looks like Thailand is on a lot of people’s minds these days.

      Reply
  7. What stunning photos. There is something very mystical about those rock formations. I would love to see the bioluminescent plankton – I just think that is too cool.

    Reply
    • It was prett amazing seeing the plankton. I have heard about it but didn’t even realize that we were going to see it until we put our hands in the water. It was very cool.

      Reply
  8. Wow – what an adventure! Where abouts was this in Thailand – I did something similar around -but I can’t remember where! The raising water would have freaked me out a bit though!!

    Reply
  9. Beautiful. The ones of Dave in the kayak and the walkway shots are my favorites. I love how rich with color all your pictures are!

    Reply
    • Thanks Kristin, I am so happy to hear you like my shot of Dave in the Kayak. I didnt’ capture the sky as well as Dave does, his photos are so blue and vivid, but I do think that it captured exactly how we felt that day…content. I love the shot of the walkway too that is my favourite shot of all the pictures Dave took that day. It was at the pier that we pulled up to for lunch. Truly a spectacular day.

      Reply
  10. Oh wow, beautiful photos! Camping on the private island sounds fantastic. I don’t blame you for being a little skeeved by the rising water in the sea caves though!

    Reply
    • Yeah, I started panicking a bit and kept asking how bad it was going to be as we entered the cave. All John said was that “we are going to have a little fun at the end” I was like What does that mean? What does that mean? I thought I was being such a wimp, but when it was all over even Dave admitted that he was a little freaked out. And nothing ever freaks him out, so I felt validated. In the end all was well. John and his crew know these waters inside out.

      Reply
  11. Dave – fantastic shots! Really lovely! We did something similar in Puerto Rico where we kayaked out to a private island. It was an incredible experience and one of our favorite parts of our trip there.

    Reply
    • Akila, if we ever get ourselves to Puerto Rico we will definitely have to do that too. It just might have to become a regular thing for us to go sea kayaking. We loved it.

      Reply