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Andrew SigalIf you are traveling to a foreign land, you might like to ask your friends what it was like. That's what Andrew Sigal's TripTalk.com is about. While enjoying around the world kayaking, scuba diving, and just taking in the sights, he and his companions report on "what worked "or "what didn't." What places were "great, terrible, and just OK." They don't accept compensation from the places they review. Here, Andrew shares his experience in Thailand on the popular Sea Canoe tour of the Pha Nga Islands. Read more of Andrew's Travel Journals by clicking here

Thailand By Sea Canoe
by Andrew Sigal

In December 1998, long before the Tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia, I spent almost a month enjoying Amazing Thailand with two friends. Far in the south of Thailand in the Andaman Sea lies the island of Phuket (pronounced "poo-khet"). Phuket is a strange combination of island paradise mixed with Sodom and Gomorrah. Beautiful sand beaches, warm water and delightful surf compete for attention with bars designed for Navy R & R.

Thailand's Pha Nga IslandsOff the coast of the mainland, and northeast of Phuket Island, lies Phang Nga bay. This bay is full of extraordinary limestone islands filled with exciting lagoons and caves. One morning my friends and I got up bright and early go sea canoeing amongst them. Our tour operator for today is Sea Canoe Thailand, the "Original Sea Canoe" company.

We were picked up at 7am at our hotel in a shuttle van, which drove us to a dock at Ao Poh ("Poh bay"). The water was quite rough due to winds and high surf, so the boat ride out to the Phang Nga islands was quite long, as the weather required the boat to go slowly. Thailand's Pha Nga Islands

Low BridgeThese islands are absolutely spectacular, and made all the more interesting because many of them have lagoons hidden inside. For most of the day the lagoons are inaccessible, however, at low tide caves are exposed allowing access to the inside. Even at low tide the ceilings of the caves are so low that you have to lie down in the canoe to make it through without bashing your head. Sea Canoe Inflatable Sit-on-tops: Low Bridge

Inside the lagoons are various species of plants growing up the sides of the interior cliff walls. I am told that there are also birds and monkeys living in there, but we didn't see any.

Even without the lagoons and caves these islands are striking. They rise straight up out of the ocean. The bottom of each island is severely eroded by the action of the sea. This causes a shelf-like appearance skirting the bottoms of the islands. Over the years stalactites have grown down from the tops of the eroded shelves, making the whole thing even more stunning.

As you canoe next to the islands, you also realize that their walls are covered with amazingly colored crabs. They are about the size of a small hand; mostly black, they have neon blues, greens, and reds on their backs.

StalactitesWe also canoed next to a mangrove where there were mudskippers basking on the mud and roots. Mudskippers are a bizarre kind of fish that take a big mouthful of water and then haul themselves up on land. Definitely a "missing link" type animal. Stalactites

My boat had an extra bonus of excitement. At one point there was a small waterspout spinning and churning over the water. I was looking at it trying to figure out if my eyes were playing tricks on me, when I suddenly realized it was coming straight at us. It went right over our little canoe, thoroughly spraying us with water. It was very cool.

Richard & HeatherAfter canoeing, our guides made us a Thai lunch on the boat and then we headed back to home. Overall it was really cool, but it was also kind of a long trip. I suspect that if the water hadn't been so choppy it might not have taken so long.

Final thought: I chose to go with Sea Canoe Thailand, "The Original Sea Canoe" company on the recommendation of one of the guys at the Scuba Cat dive shop. Sea Canoe Thailand was the first operator to run a sea canoe trip to the islands, are the most expensive, and are reputedly the best. The Scuba Cat folks assured me that the extra expense was worth it.

Thai islandsI am unconvinced. We saw several other operators while we were out on the water, and I couldn't see how the extra money for the "Original" folks bought us anything at all. In fact, from talking with others it sounds like some of the other canoe operations went to more interesting islands than the ones we saw.

On a subsequent trip to southern Thailand I did more investigation of sea canoe operations, though I did not have an opportunity to go on another trip. As of April 2000 there were many companies offering sea canoe type adventures. Some are exclusively canoeing around the Pang-Nga islands, others offer canoe trips as part of a larger package including elephant riding, jungle trekking, snorkeling, etc. The following are just a few of the companies offering these kinds of trip from Phuket (note that I have not taken any of these trips besides that offered by the Original Sea Canoe people.) At the time of this writing there are 37.5 baht to the US dollar. Keep in mind that as with everything in Thailand, all prices are negotiable.

*After the 2004 Tsunami some of this contact info below may be out of date. See John Gray's Sea Canoe Thailand article "After The Deluge" for current outfitter contact info but for what it may be worth:

  • John Gray's Seacanoe
    e-mail: info@johngray-seacanoe.com. Phone: (66-76) 254505-7 Fax: (66-76) 226077
    Location: Phuket, Thailand
  • Sea Canoe Thailand: Telephone (66 76) 212-252.
  • Horizon Canoe: Telephone (66 76) 340-008.
  • Holiday Sea Canoe: (66 76) 234-811, http://www.phuketweb.com/hsct
  • Island Queen Canoe: (66 76) 263-628. [On a comical note, I spoke with Island Queen Canoe on the phone to find out the price for the trip, as it was not indicated in their brochure. When I was told 1500 baht, I asked if that was the regular price, or a special off-season price. The operator did not understand me and said "OK, 1300 baht." I persisted asking in a different way if 1500 baht were the normal price, she replied "For you, 1200 baht." Once more I tried to rephrase my question, causing her to reply " OK, OK, 1000 baht, final price." Just goes to show how negotiable these prices really are in the off season. I never did find out what the high season price would be.

Thai resortIn addition, I spent several days on the mainland in Ao Nang, a coastal town on the opposite side of Phang Nga bay from Phuket. What Ao Nang lacks in night life, it makes up in tranquility. Ao Nang

If you would like to experience this part of Thailand without some of the problems that plague Phuket, Ao Nang is a nice alternative. As with Phuket, there are a host of outfits offering sea canoeing trips to the islands of Phang Nga bay. I suspect that these trips would probably be better than those from Phuket, since Ao Nang is significantly closer to these islands.

My original trip from Phuket involved a bus ride and a long boat ride to get to the Phang Nga bay islands. Those departing from Ao Nang should require only a short boat ride. Thus, you should get more canoeing time for your Baht. The following are two of the operators working from Ao Nang:

  • Sea Canoe Thailand. These are the same people that operate out of Phuket. Telephone (66 76) 212-252.
  • Sea, Land & Trek Co. Ltd. Telephone (66 75) 637364.

For a more detailed account of Andrew Sigals Thailand Adventures and other travelogues, visit his website at TripTalk.com. While there you can subscribe to his newsletter: Trip Talk News.

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