Monday, December 9, 2013

John Gray's Sea Canoe Overnight Expedition - 2 Days & 1 Night exploring Phang Nga Bay by Kayak - Day 1

Phang Nga Bay Expedition Express trip report: Day 1 | Day 2

For this first day of the Overnight Expedition Express by John Gray's Sea Canoe we followed the same itinerary of the Hong By Starlight Tour, sharing the boat with the day trippers.

Phang Nga Bay - John Gray's Hong By Starlight escort boat
JGSC Escort Boat
According to the tide prediction of the day I was picked up on time at 12:00 and transferred to Ao Por marina where all participants were gathered at a restaurant for the count, then after the staff introduced themselves we got on the "escort boat". Once on board the tour leader did a safety briefing about the do's and don'ts on the boat while we started cruising towards Phang Nga Bay. There were about 25 guests on board plus many guides though there was plenty of space for everybody, fruits and soft drinks available all the time, the boat also has a toilet on the lower deck.

When we were about half way to destination a light buffet lunch was served, mostly vegetarian choices and plenty of food for everyone.

John Gray Sea Canoe - Kayaking Briefing
Safety birefing
After lunch we were given a very detailed briefing about the canoe session that we were about to enjoy, the guide in charge was using maps and other funny pictures which made the briefing interesting so people didn't miss the important parts. We then finally got to our first stop which was at Panak island, a canoe and an English speaking guide/paddler was provided each 2 people, all the guides are kind and knowledgeable about the local environment providing a lot of information and smiling all the time. In the meanwhile we were paddling from the moored boat towards a high and steep limestone cliff with a dark cave entrance at the bottom.

Ao Phang Nga - Panak Island Cave
Cave entrance
Once we went deeper into the tunnel it was pitch black so the guides turned their flashlights on, the tunnel was large and very long and we could see hundreds of bats sleeping while hanging on the ceiling. After about 200m the cave started to get more and more narrow to the point that we had to lay down horizontally and deflate the canoe a bit in order to move forward, when we managed to pass through the little hole I realised that we entered another world. This was one of the so called "hongs" (Thai word for "room"), a large hidden lagoon completely surrounded by limestone cliffs covered in lush vegetation, only accessible through a cave.

Hong at Panak Island - Ao Phang Nga
Inside a hong
The atmosphere inside the hong is surreal, you can find absolute silence only broken by the animal sounds. The effects by the light filtering through the trees was amazing and could see plenty of sea eagles flying above us. Looking carefully into the trees we also spotted some large hornbills and monkeys (long tailed macaques) laying on the rocks. After about an hour exploring this hong we went out again trough the cave and then to a smaller lagoon before returning to the boat. 

Hong Cave Entrance - Phang Nga Bay Phuket
The very narrow hong access point
We immediately started cruising towards the other side of the island and during navigation we were followed by a flock of sea eagles "hunting" some pieces of chicken skin that where tossed from the kitchen, quite impressive! When we reached our destination we had some free time to self paddle, swim and relax on the beach, this was also the place where we would later spend the night camping. There were few other boats from other tour operators moored here and many people wandering around though they left very soon as they were at the end of their day while we still had plenty of time to go. 

Diamond Cave - Sea Canoe in Phang Nga Bay
Diamond-like Calcium carbonate
Once back on board the guides provided us banana leaves, flowers and needles to teach us how to build a traditional krathong, this part was interesting and a particular experience of Thai culture. Before sunset we moved to the nearby Hong Island and went for another canoe session through caves and hongs, pretty similar to the first though in this cave there were some formations of calcium carbonate that was shining like diamond when hit by the light from the torches, therefore it was called "Diamond Cave". 

Loy Kratong in Phang Nga Bay - Phuket
Krathong construction...well done!
Back again on the boat a great Thai buffet dinner was waiting for us, this time there was more choice with both seafood and chicken curry dishes plus some vegetarian option. By the time we had our dinner it got dark, so the tour leader gave us a detailed explanation about Thai culture and history related to the Loy Krathong festival, all this in preparation for what we were about to experience. Once ready we finally went for our last canoe session into a hong, this time in the total darkness. When we all got into the hong we lit the candles and launched our self-made krathongs, all the candles floating in the dark together with their reflection in the water made it a truly magical moment. In respect of the environment before heading back to the boat we recovered all our krathongs, though they are mostly made with natural components there were also too many steel nails in them to be left there, it's good to be Eco-friendly.

Cmping at Koh Panak - Phang Nga Bay
Lawa Island's beach - overnight campsite
While most guests returned to Phuket, the 5 of us who chose to stay overnight were left on the tiny secluded beach at Lawa Island together with few of the guides. They already prepared the camp site with tents, fire, oil lamps and all the supplies we could ever need. Everything was perfectly organised and it was nice to be just a handful of people from different countries chatting around a fire on a remote beach, all under a starry sky. Unfortunately as it often happens in tropics the weather quickly changed and in a couple of hours a short thunderstorm came, time to go to sleep. The tents were set under a limestone cliff and a large tree so we were well sheltered from the heavy rain, it actually cooled down the temperature enough to allow us a nice sleep and be fresh for the second day of our adventure.

Sunset in Phang Nga Bay Sea Canoe
Sunset in Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay Expedition Express trip report: Day 1 Day 2

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