Tuesday 2 July 2013

Phuket Travel Part 18: John Gray's Seacanoe Review & Photos

I wanted to experience sea kayaking in Phanga Bay and decided on John Gray's Seacanoe "Hong By Starlight" day tour. It was a choice I deliberated on as among all the sea canoe companies in Phuket, John Gray's Seacanoe was the most expensive.
At 3950  baht (RM 400)  per pax, it costs as much as my return air ticket from KL to Phuket. But John Gray's Seacanoe is renowned and Mr Gray was the pioneer and original explorer of Phanga Bay by kayak so I presume that must also be "the best".
"Hong by Starlight" includes a free return ground transfer from whichever hotel you are staying in to the pier, a boat ride from the pier to two islands in Phanga Bay, canoeing into "crazy places" at the two islands and meals on board. 
We were told to wait at our hotel at 11.45am. The van arrived on the dot at 11.45am to pick us up. (Punctuality : A+)
It took about an hour to reach Ao Por Pier from Patong Beach where we stayed. We were dropped off at a row of roadside stalls selling souvenirs and finger food and waited till guests from other hotels arrived. This place is just a short walk to the pier.
A picture of Ao Por Pier taken from the roadside stall.
We started walking to the the pier when everyone has arrived. We had to take a truck  to the boat as the pier is quite long. (almost 1km)
John Gray's very own double-deck boat which we boarded at  1.10pm. 
A light lunch was served as soon as we were on the boat. The menu is as follows:
Fried spring roll with tough very hard to bite skin.
Averagely sweet pineapples.
Refreshing salads but without any salad sauce.
Savoury fried noodles.
Green Tea and iced syrup. There is also free flow of bottled mineral water throughout the journey. I would rate the light meal as average.
Briefings were given by three staffs on different aspects of the tour. The first spoke with excellent English. The second, Farouk (the guy on the right) and the 3rd (the guy on the left) with satisfactory English.
Each couple was loaned a watertight bag to put important belongings which they could bring along while canoeing; all other belongings were stored away below the table counter.
 The guests sit on the upper deck.
The toilets are on the lower deck. This is also where the kitchen and the staff's quarters are.  
Those wanting to see an unhindered view of the panaroma of Phanga Bay can make their way to the open-air upper deck at the bow. Seen on the lower deck here are two of the canoe peddlers.
It took an hour an a half to reach the first island (Hong Island). There is a peddler for every two guests and this same peddler will be with the assigned guests for all the three canoeing sessions. The boat can take up to almost 50 guests but I was glad there were only about 30+ for this trip.
Hong Island is not inhabited. It is characterised by high cliffs, caves, creeks and lagoons also called "hongs" 
The peddler manoeuvred the canoe through a narrow creek to reach the first hong. A "hong" is a Thai word meaning room. The hongs are actually lagoons surrounded mostly by high cliffs within the island.
An interesting sighting: A piranha shaped cliff.
As the hongs are cut off from the sea, the water is totally calm. A few jumped in to swim around.
We explored "Honeymoon Cave", which stretched only a short distance.
Absolute calmness - that's the beauty of kayaking in the hongs. The islet in the centre is a smaller version of James Bond Island which is also located in Phanga Bay.
Another interesting sighting: A dog-shaped boulder on the cliff.
We decided to give But, our peddler a break.
 But rowed the kayak back to the boat and left us on our own. It was a free and easy session where we could swim or do our own kayaking.
 We had coffee break after the first kayaking session. There were banana cakes, watermelon and coffee. (the coffee tasted horrible though).
We proceeded to the next island called Panak Island. Perhaps it was part of the program to get these seagulls to trail our moving boat. All the staffs needed to do  was to throw chicken skin into the sea.
We finally reached Panak Island which is less than half an hour's ride away from Hong Island. Soon we were on the kayaks again to explore more caves and hongs.
These caves are only accessible when the tide is low.
The roof is so low we had to lie horizontal to get in. The peddlers are skillful and well trained to handle these situations.
We were going into The Mangrove Cave. It was total darkness inside and most of the time we lay low.
After the dark stretch of cave, we arrived at the mangrove hong.

This lagoon is very shallow and we got out to wade around.
It was time to visit the next hong. We exited through the extremely dark and low cave once again.
Our next destination was The Diamond Cave. Because it was extremely narrow we had to wait for the tide to subside further. 
The yellow made in US canoes got through as they were flatter but our blue made in Korea one was stucked in the hole. We were in total darkness and I was wondering who was going to rescue us. 'But', our peddler released a lot of air from the canoe to make it flatter and with the help of the oar squeezed through. This was really an out of the world experience for me.
 Photo taken while we were stucked.
This cave is called Diamond Cave because the roof sparkles like diamonds.
After the passage through the cave, we arrived at another lagoon.
This lagoon is surrounded by tall cliffs. It was serene but felt a little spooky here.
After the Diamond Cave we headed back for the boat.
 While waiting for dinner, our peddler taught us how to make a "krathong" or a flower basket.
Our pretty  krathong - all ready to be released into the sea.
Our dinner menu: Fish which was not that tasty
Cashew nut chicken - the best among all the dishes served
Tomato sauce prawns - very bland
Yellow chicken curry- just average
Supposedly BBQ chicken -also bland
Mixed Vegetables - was OK
Tom Yam Soup and white rice. I wished the dishes tasted as nice as they looked. My sincere rating for this meal is just B to C.
We had dinner on board and waited till the sun set to visit The Bat Cave in Hong Island. 
This was our third and also our last canoe ride. 
We were going to The Bat Cave in Hong Island to release the krathongs we made.
As it was night time the peddlers had to put on headlamps.
Stalactide formation in the cave .
Myriads of bats perched on the cave roof.
We released our krathong in the cave and watched it float for a while.
We exited the last cave and made our way back to the boat. 
(A staff actually picked up all the floating krathongs to dispose them somewhere else - to maintain the ecosystem of the place)
Queueing to board the boat.
We were pretty wet and had a change of clothes when we board the boat. While travelling back to the pier one of the staffs said his farewell speech and gave each couple a John Gray's Seacanoe CD and free tickets to visit Phuket Aquarium. Even though it wasn't mandatory the staff did hint about giving tips to the peddler who paddled us around the whole session. 
After one and a half hours we arrived at Ao Por Pier. It was then 8.30pm. The peddlers actually lined up at the pier in anticipation of a token of our appreciation. 
We were finally on the van heading back to our hotel.
It was a trip full of adventure and surprises, and something I'll never get to do just anywhere else. Despite being costly, tips were still expected even though not mandatory.  The 3rd session, that is the one after sunset and the "krathong thing" could have been skipped as it was too dark to see much anyway. The meals could have been improved by getting a better cook. 

Related Posts:
Phuket Travel Part 1: I Stayed In Patong Beach
Phuket Travel Part 2: Dining At Seahag
Phuket Travel Part 3: A Walk On Patong Beach
Phuket Travel Part 4: A Visit To Banzaan Fresh Market
Phuket Travel Part 5: Savouring The Street Food Of Patong
Phuket Travel Part 6: A Peep At Bangla Boxing Stadium
Phuket Travel Part 7: Jungceylon Shopping Mall
Phuket Travel Part 8: Bangla Road
Phuket Travel Part 9: Patong Tower Condominium Review And Photos
Phuket Travel Part 10: Eating Out In Phuket
Phuket Travel Part 11: A Visit To Phuket Old Town
Phuket Travel Part 12: A Visit To Phuket Aquarium
Phuket travel Part 13: Cape Promthep & Karon Viewpoint
Phuket Travel Part 14: A Pit Stop At Chalong Wat
Phuket Travel Part 15: Tourist Shops
Phuket Travel Part 16: Pit Stops At Kata Beach & Karon Beach
Phuket Travel Part 17: Thai Massage For 200 Baht
Phuket Travel Part 19: Panoramic Phanga Bay


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the detailed photos and info, which was very practical. Thanks!

Lily... said...

U'r most welcome.

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