Navigating Phang-Nga Bay’s Mangroves
Having traveled extensively in the south of Thailand, it’s always a welcome surprise to find places that can still impress and make you go “wow!” This is how our Phuket branch manager felt after kayaking in Ao Luek. Close your eyes and imagine this: Thick green mangrove trees rooted into a meandering, mud-colored river and a stunning backdrop of karst formations.
Our guide picked our family up at our home stay in Lanlay for a short ride to the pier. After a cursory kayak rehearsal, we hit the water. The day was perfect with no wind; it felt great to be outdoors on the water. Since the area is quite sheltered, the going was easy, even for someone like me who is not a kayak expert. I was able to navigate and follow behind the guide’s kayak.
Our first stop was the cave Tham Pee Wa Toh (sometimes spelled differently). Here we “parked” our kayaks and walked into a big chamber. The cave has large openings so it was well lit and easy to walk around. Our guide, Khun Man, showed us a strange figurine painted high on one of the walls. Research by Thai anthropologists suggests that it was painted there around 1500 years ago by pre-historic cave dwellers who inhabited this mangrove swamp. The character looks a little odd with an elongated body and little hands. We had to drag our kids out as they were mesmerized by it!
Next we continued through the mangroves. This was a difficult part for someone with little kayak skills like me. One needs to maneuver in very short spaces and avoid branches where there could potentially be a sleeping snake. Trust me, you don’t want to wake one up! Khun Man just tied my kayak to his and proceeded to “tow” us in between the rickety mangrove trees. It sounds difficult but it worked out perfectly.
The last part of the trip was the most dramatic. We went inside some very tight cave openings where we had to duck to avoid the rocky ceiling. The inside, called a hong (room), was a magical place enclosed by rocks and trees with an opening on top where the light entered. Suddenly I realized how lucky we were to be there at that time experiencing something so enchanting.
We kayaked back to the pier and said goodbye to our excellent guide. The kids, who are two and four years old, loved the adventure and the 3-hour time length was just right for them. This kayaking and caving was the perfect outdoor complement to our home stay in Lanlay.
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