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Phang-Nga Bay

Phang-Nga Bay is southern Thailand's most famous tourist destination, and rightly so. Conveniently located between Phuket and Krabi and protected from the southwest monsoons during the summer months, it is a 'must see' for everyone. The surrealistic limestone islands, called 'karsts', are one of the great natural wonders of all Asia.

The karsts are honeycombed with caves formed long ago by water percolating through the limestone rock. Some caves have collapsed and left 'rooms' inside the mountains. Resembling lagoons, and called 'hongs' in Thai, they attract many tour groups every day.

The result is traffic jams among the inflatable boats waiting to enter or exit the hongs. This congestion, and the noise from the motorized escort boats, detract from the experience of these remarkable islands. We do not visit those islands, nor do we go to 'James Bond' Island.

There is a better way to see and appreciate the Bay. By going on a multi-day bird watching holiday, you will visit parts of the Bay beyond the reach of the day tour companies. By paddling your own traditional sea kayak, you will see the karst islands away from the tourists. Easing our way along each island, moving at a relaxed pace, we see soaring White-bellied sea eagles and Brahminy kites.

Closer to the islands we watch Brown-winged kingfishers scanning the sea from tree branches, or Collared kingfishers flying low, near the surface. Pairs of Pacific reef egrets seem to follow us around the island. Crab-eating macaques move across the rocks or in the trees, Dusky langurs are high on a cliff face. During the frequent beach breaks, we spot the distinctive track of the Giant water monitor lizard. We will point out the many varieties of wild orchids that have adapted to the limestone islands.

On the first day we stop at a beach in a sheltered bay to teach paddling skills. The first hour is spent paddling easily, learning to maneuver the kayaks and getting accustomed to the scenery. More experienced paddlers relax and enjoy the sights.

We paddle around islands, explore hongs, visit beaches, take a nature walk to a huge ficus (fig) tree, walk into a hollow island. In the event of unseasonably rough weather we stay on the lee (protected) side of islands. We don't mind sunny days, but the Bay's even more mystical if it's cloudy or lightly raining. Sometimes we will see a few fishing boats, sometimes we won't see any boats or people at all.

We don't camp; we stay in bungalows. The cabins are charming and clean, and the food is excellent. For those guests on a more generous budget, there is a five-star bungalow resort on the same beach. We can stay there if you wish, at an additional cost.

Phang-Nga Bay is not well suited for day trips. It is a strange and magnificent place, worth several days of comprehensive exploration. Don't pass up the Bay in the rush to get someplace else. See the best, go with the people who know and love the Bay.