On our holiday to Malaysia last year, we ended up taking a detour to Phuket. We had two full days in Phuket, and like most tourists in the area, we booked ourselves on a island-hopping boat tour.
We went with Holiday Sea Canoe to see James Bond Island, involving a 7.30am transfer from our hotel to the pier at Ao-Poh in Phuket's north. Our boat is large, with about 25 tourists on-board, and a dozen locals travelling as guides.
The inflatable sea canoes
We chug our way past picturesque islands before finally dropping anchor in Phang-Nga Bay National Park. There's the squeaking sound of rubber and a commotion below deck before we look over the side and realise that a dozen sea canoes are being pushed out onto the water.
It's two tourists and one guide per kayak, involving a treacherous wobbling embark given that I'm holding my DSLR in a plastic bag. I'm tucked in behind Minh and our guide perches at the very back, deftly gliding our boat with a paddle, using precise and seemingly effortless strokes.
An eerie silence descends over us, as everyone quietly admires the surrounding scenery. The limestone caves soar above us, and for several minutes we glide around the bay, hearing only the gentle splash of water against the paddle. It's magic and mysterious.
Accommodating some happy snaps
Heading into the caves
Phang Nga Bay stretches for 400 square kilometres, and includes about 100 islands. Several limestone islands contain caves that have gradually had their floors collapse due to erosion. Locals call these "hongs" or rooms. We patiently queue and enter the caves one kayak at a time. Inside it is cool and quiet, and looking overhead we can sometimes make out cracks of blue sky through the soaring ceilings.
Entering a second hong or room
We explore a number of hongs, or rooms, but the last one is most hair-raising. Due to the current high tides, the ceilings are relatively lower and we're warned to keep our limbs in the boat as much as possible and to point the flash light upward for our navigator.
High tide makes for a low entry
It doesn't seem too bad until we realise the corridors are getting narrower and the roof of the cave is rapidly dropping. The cave becomes practically pitch-black but I can smell the wet limestone and hear drips of water that echo.
There's a moment of panic when both Minh and I realise that the roof of the cave is terrifying low - I'm certain that my nose is about to be scraped by rock. I bury my head deeper into the kayak, petrified, sucking in my breath in a futile effort to contract myself. There's the scrape of rock against rubber as we jerkily make our way through - I'm not a claustrophobe but it's the nearest I've felt to panic.
I have no idea how our guide is contorting himself to push and steer the boat, but we make it. We sit up with relief, gulping in fresh air as our hearts continue pounding.
Exiting the caves
Returning to the boat
Phang Nga Bay
Steep limestone cliffs
Lunch is an on-board buffet, a mixture of steamed fish, deep-fried calamari rings, chicken legs, salad, noodles and rice.
We move onto Ko Tapu next, the spectacular limestone rock formation made famous in the James Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun".
Khao Phing Kan or James Bond Island
James Bond Island is so famous now that a strip of tourist stalls have been set up on the beach to tempt the boat loads of tourists that arrive. We take a stroll around the island, exploring the myriad of caves, before getting our kayak again and returning to the boat.
Our industrious tour guides getting crafty
On the journey home, our tour guides are full of charm and good humour, entertaining the crowd with magic tricks and making roses from plastic straws. Minh and I end up asking them how to make them, and we sit at the back of the boat patiently twisting the plastic under their direction.
Plastic rose made from straws
Night market dinner in our hotel room, including Pad Thai 25 baht (About AU$0.85) and fried chicken 50 baht (about AU$1.70) for 3 pieces
Dinner is a grab bag of items from the local night markets that have set up near our hotel. It's a food lover's paradise, cloaked with plumes of smoke, fragrant with sizzling noodles,
We're assured that the markets will close late, so we vow to return again with our cameras. However when we come back an hour later, the markets have vanished, as though they never existed. We kick ourselves that we didn't buy more (like cups of fresh soy milk for AU20c and coconut desserts and banana fritters and more) but really we have more than enough for a light dinner for four.
The moral of the story, of course, is to never leave your camera in the hotel room!
Roast pork belly 45 baht (about AU$1.55)
Barbecued sticky rice balls 20 baht (about AU$0.70)
Fresh corn 30 baht for two (about AU$1.00)
Heading out to Phang Nga Bay
< Read the next Thailand 2010 post (Phi Phi Island)
< Read the first Malaysia 2010 post (Kuala Lumpur)
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5/09/2011 02:15:00 am