Sea Canoeing in Southern Thailand

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand
Phang Nga Bay, Thailand | Source

Exploring Phang Nga Bay

“Look up and keep your mouth close,” Joe whispers. I look up at the dark cave ceiling, trying to see the bats I hear squeaking overhead. They flit and flutter in the dim beam of my flashlight under sparkling stalactites that drape down the cave wall like a glistening ice curtain. Then suddenly, it is pitch black. The flashlight has gone dead and we bump against the cave wall in the blinding darkness. “Don’t worry,” Joe says reassuringly, “I know the way out.”

Joe, a young Thai sea canoe guide, has taken hundreds of guests into Bat Cave over the past two years. They have all survived, despite having “Crazy Joe” as their guide. Like most Thais, Joe loves drama. Earlier in the day, we had nearly paddled over a giant crocodile. The ‘giant crocodile’ -- a viciously jagged rock – was yet another creation of Joe’s vivid imagination. A short time later we encountered a ‘wild elephant’ – a limestone formation that actually did look like an elephant’s head.


Escaping from Bat Cave

After a few moments of drifting in total darkness, I begin to feel like a bat. The pungent odor of bat dung envelopes us. Joe turns the canoe and we hit another cave wall. He grabs the flashlight, fumbles with it until it comes back to life. “Watch your head,” he warns. I duck just in time to miss a low hanging stalactite. Slipping underneath a rocky archway, we suddenly emerge into the blinding sunlight of Bat Hong.

The dramatic limestone islands of Phang Nga Bay are regarded as one of Thailand’s most mystical and stunning seascapes. A compelling geological masterpiece; the colossal spires are world famous for their collection of what once was described as “secret” hongs – hearts of islands, containing natural sanctuaries of unsurpassed beauty.


Lying only an hour away from Phuket, the hongs (literally meaning “room” in Thai) are hidden tidal lagoons, completely enclosed by sheer limestone cliff walls. The only way to access these amazing hongs is through sea caves – some so narrow they resemble rocky cocoons.

We glide over the calm water inside Bat Hong, absorbing the primeval world around us in quiet meditation. The hong buzzes with swirling insect noises and melodic bird songs. Towering mangrove trees soar above us covering the jungle-fringed cliffs. Joe points to my left. A large owl stares down at us. Mudskippers jump across giant mangrove roots. Tiny silver fish dart under our canoe. We retreat to a shady corner and sit in silence absorbing the marvelous view around us. Joe continues paddling, taking us through a narrow passage into smaller hong. He taps my shoulder and points up into the treetops. I see a brown blur and then spot a group of monkeys sitting atop the branches.

Back on board the support boat, the delicious aroma of lunch greets us. Boom, our talented chef, has prepared a feast of spicy prawns, lemongrass-coconut milk and shrimp soup, grilled fish, ginger chicken, mixed vegetables and fried rice. We are in culinary heaven, practically licking our plates clean.


John "Caveman" Gray

Sea canoe trips to Phang Nga Bay first began in 1989, after conservationist John “Caveman” or “Big Monkey” Gray discovered several sea cave windows leading into the hongs. From the vantage point of his trusty sea canoe, Gray observed the tidal movements at various caves and diligently recorded the intervals between their closing and opening. After months of exploration and observation, his findings provided him with the tidal knowledge necessary to lead sea canoe excursions.

Today, there are numerous sea canoe companies competing for space in the once unknown hongs. Occasionally, there is even a “traffic jam” of canoes waiting to enter the hongs. It is a far cry from the wondrous world Gray first shared with his truly fortunate guests, but still truly alluring and well worth the trip to Phang Nga Bay.

We head out to Mangrove Hong and enter a sea cave scarcely large enough for our sea canoe. The tide is high now, making the “window” or access way inside the karst monoliths, nearly impossible. “Please lie back and keep your arms and legs inside the canoe,” Joe warns. The jagged, oyster encrusted opening passes only a meter above my nose. I imagine what Caveman must have felt upon entering the cave for the very first time, not knowing where the dark claustrophobic cave would lead him. For us, it is a thrilling adventure, especially having an expert like Joe to guide us.


Back out in the open sea, we circumnavigate Koh Hong. The sound of the ocean echoes eerily, rocking back and forth underneath the limestone overhangs. Joe spots a huge sea lizard climbing out of the slapping water onto a rocky ledge. The lizard freezes for a moment, gives us a curious glance, then scrambles away into the water.

After a brilliant day of hong exploration, we return to Phuket quenched with a wondrous feeling of having seen the best that Nature could create. This place is “perfect nature,” Joe remarks. Perfect in every way.

Recommended Sea Canoe Company

John Gray Sea Canoe Co., Ltd.

124 Soi 1 Yaowarat Rd., Taladyai, Muang, Phuket 83000, Thailand

Tel. (66-76) 254505-7 | Fax: (66-76) 226077




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Comments 11 comments

PETER LUMETTA profile image


Prisana you are teching me more about the place I live in then anyone. I had never heard of the "hong" down in the islands. Thank you,


Prisana profile image

Prisana 5 years ago from Thailand and Colorado Author

Sawasdee Kah Peter,

My roots in Thailand run deep. My Mom is Thai and I also have Thai Citizenship. I've lived there on and off since I was 3 yrs old, but spent most of my life in the U.S.. I love sharing my Thailand stories and commend you for choosing one of the best places on earth to retire!

PETER LUMETTA profile image


Thanks Prisana, my daughter is just like you, her mom is Thai and she has both Thai and US citienship. I love hearing your Thai stories, my Daughter and I lived mostly in Alaska and she is there now. I wish I could get her here. Peter

Lord De Cross profile image

Lord De Cross 5 years ago

Just read it. And let tell you, never heard of those paradisiac places. Probably hot and humid, but challenging to our eyes. Great hub Prisana!


MyMastiffPuppies profile image

MyMastiffPuppies 5 years ago

Beautiful pictures and what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing, makes you wish you were there. Voted up, useful, awesome, beautiful and interesting...

ubanichijioke profile image

ubanichijioke 5 years ago from Lagos

Seems to me like you had fun. What a glorious adventure and your guide Joe, made it fun. Great narration. Keep it up. Awesome picture too

Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

What a fun and lovely hub. I miss wonderful beaches in Thailand a lot. Thanks for sharing this. All the photos are very nice.

Prisana profile image

Prisana 5 years ago from Thailand and Colorado Author

@lord de cross, @MyMastiffPuppies, @ubanichijoke and @Om Paramapoonya

Really appreciated everyone's comments! Thanks for dropping by and giving me your feedback and support. It meant a lot to me, especially as a new hubber!

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nikashi_designs 5 years ago

Really interesting and beautiful location. Your article was spot on and my bags are ready to go. Welcome to Hubpages.

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

Thank you for taking us along on this wonderful journey. I enjoyed it very much. Your writing is crisp and quite descriptive. Your photographs are exquisite. Welcome to the HubPages Community!

epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

I haven't heard from you in a little while so I do sincerely hope all is well with you - I am having my morning coffee here at lake erie time ontario canada 9:27am and thank you once again for taking me on this exciting and picturesque journey with you.

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