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.
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.
Sea Kayaking in Thailand
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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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