returned from a business trip to the US on Wednesday night, May 31,
and began preparing for a trip at 7:30 the next morning. After the
boats were loaded and gear sorted out, I went to the pier to meet
our guests and the support boat we were using for the first time.
guests Peter and Marcy had been traveling in the north of Thailand
for some time. They had located us through the Lonely Planet web
site. They asked about kayaking in southern Thailand and were referred
to us by another guest. We were happy the word was getting around,
“PaddleAsia gives a good trip.”
boat we were trying out for this trip was a fishing boat that regularly
made the run between Phuket and Racha Island. Racha is good for sport
fishing and for snorkeling. It is also a good destination for a kayak
crossing, as it lies 10 miles from the southern end of Phuket. The
boat captain had never been into Phang Nga Bay. He didn’t seem familiar
with reading a nautical chart. No worries, I guided him by the time-tested
method of pointing at where I wanted him to go. Once he realized
I knew the area, he relaxed and we arrived at our first paddling destination.
and Peter had some orchids in their southern California home, and
were interested in the wild orchids we see in the Bay. The tide was
too low to paddle into one hong (interior lagoon) that hosts an unlikely
colony of dendrobium indivisum on the branches of a dead mangrove
tree only two meters above sea level. Fortunately they wanted to
see these orchids - I always want to see them. We exited the boats
and walked slowly across the mud flat, sticking to exposed rock where
possible. Luckily they were wearing Tevas; flip flops would have
been devoured by the thick mud.
dendrobium indivisum is an orchid generally seen at higher
elevations. But I have been visiting this colony for about a year
now, and it has adapted to this environment quite well. Marcy pointed
out a few clusters of the orchid which had made their way to a nearby
healthy mangrove tree.
returned to the kayaks and put on our spray skirts. There was a lively
tidal flow around the back side of the island and we wanted to prepare
for the mildly choppy water. Marcy and Peter had both paddled sit-on-top
kayaks in Baja and were comfortable with our water conditions. Had
they been beginners we may have stayed in the lee of the island.
paddling around the first island, we went across a channel to a small
bay that at higher tide is good for swimming and for taking a short,
beautiful nature hike. We left the boats on some dead coral and walked
across the rock to the beach. We passed small clusters of live coral,
brightly colored exceptions to the dull dead rock. Then off we went
on the little path behind the beach.
destination was a large ficus tree. The ficus supports its weight
by extending buttresses well out from the trunk. This creates different
little “rooms” between buttresses. People invariably want to pose
for pictures. This is a remarkable tree and well worth the short
it was time to check into the bungalows and order dinner. This fishing
boat draws more water than the local longtail boats and we had to
wade through deep water to get to the beach near our bungalows. The
captain and crew were cheerful and helpful, which made up for their
lack of knowledge of the area. However, we may return to the more
familiar large longtail boat for our next trip.
next morning the sky was clear and we were looking at a beautiful
day. I changed the day’s plan and went to a closer island on which
I had previously seen many orchids. It turned out to be a good move!
were early enough to have the island entirely to ourselves. During
high season this island is visited by many tour boats and canoe companies.
The resultant congestion takes away from the beauty and quiet enjoyment
of the place. Imagine entering a lagoon clogged with 30-40 sit-on-tops
and inflatable boats, with several guides simultaneously yelling their
spiel to the often disinterested audience. We avoid this place during
this day, it was just past peak high tide and we were alone. The
hong, the lovely lagoon, was full of water and we could fully appreciate
its unique nature. We spotted orchids in full flower. These climbing
orchids had fastened themselves to the limestone cliffs, their aerial
roots hanging down toward the water. We paddled to a rock that had
a huge cymbidium cluster on it at eye level. When in its glory, its
inflorescence would easily reach down to the water at high tide.
Today it was just a mass of thriving greenery to the casual viewer.
flittered about the lagoon. Marcy and Peter were quick to reach for
binoculars to see if the flash of blue belonged to a Black-capped
or a Collared kingfisher.
decided to move on and paddled toward the lagoon entrance. Then we
spotted another mass of climbing orchids in flower, lovely pale pink
flowers jutting from the limestone rock. There are three different
species of orchids flourishing within a 15’ radius on this rock wall.
paddled around to the white sand beach that is so favored by tourists
in the high season. Today it is empty, just a few National Park employees
rousted from their midmorning slumber by our shouts of joy. We strolled
the beach, soaking up the glory of the day!
to move on. Spray skirts on, we ventured into the third hour of the
falling tide. There was quite a current on the windward side of the
island and we paid close attention to the swell as we paddled into
it. We had wind with tide; it would be choppier with this wind had
the tide been coming in.
rounded the rock at the end of the headland. No wind, no current,
no swell. It was almost a letdown after that last stretch!
returned to the boat and moved to a group of islands not far away.
We anchored in some calm water on the lee of one island and got back
in the boats.
paddled around one island and moved toward another when I took serious
stock of the weather around us. We had left the blue sky behind when
we departed our orchid island. We saw some rain fronts moving in
the distance. I noticed one island in this group had a silvery sheen
on it; rain! The wind picked up and the swell doubled in size almost
immediately. I pointed to some rocky overhangs on our destination
island where we took shelter. We paddled a few long minutes through
the gusting wind and were hit by the hard drops of rain just before
reaching shelter. The tide was falling, our tenuous refuge wouldn’t
get washed away. So, we sat under the rock ledge and waited out the
storm passed and the boat moved our way. We carefully picked our
way through the exposed barrier reef and returned to the boat.
evening at dinner Marcy and Peter talked about their Baja paddling
trip. One big difference was the water; in Baja the water was cold.
They marveled that during the storm the ocean was warmer than the
air. Welcome to the tropics!
Vampire Moth uses its proboscis to pierce the thin membrane
around animal eyes to drink blood! Some
moths don’t eat anything! They get all the food they’ll need
for life while they are caterpillars. They don’t even have
third day we didn’t want to go far. It was already raining by breakfast
time, and the captain wasn’t certain of the way back to the pier.
We went to a nearby island and checked out a few caves. They weren’t
deep, but we enjoyed seeing the stalactites around us.
headed back to Phuket but there wasn’t enough water to reach the pier.
The east coast of Phuket doesn’t have any resorts because at low tide
it’s a massive unattractive mud flat. The local longtail boats can
negotiate some channels, but not this boat.
never mind, we are infinitely adaptable. Our captain waved down the
taxi boat that has come from Yao Noi Island. We loaded all our gear
and boats on the roof, and proceeded to the pier. Mai me banhaa,
or as it appears in English, we have no problem. It was a good trip.