Skip to content

Hong by Starlight by John Gray’s SeaCanoe

A magical canoe experience in Phang Nga Bay

John Gray’s Hong by Starlight day trip in Phang Nga Bay is an extraordinary adventure that offers a unique and immersive experience in one of Thailand’s most captivating natural wonders.

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight phang nga 19

This tour, designed by the renowned sea kayaker and environmentalist John Gray, takes participants on a journey through the mesmerizing limestone karsts, pristine waters, and hidden caves of Phang Nga Bay, offering a blend of adventure, eco-awareness, and cultural insight.

john gray seacanoe island

The majestic limestone islands covered with dense vegetation standing two or three hundred metres above the ocean is a sight that seems to have inspired some scenes of the movie Avatar. While several tour companies offer day trips to Phang Nga Bay, no one does it the way John Gray’s team does with the now famous ‘Hong by Starlight’ day out.

john gray seacanoe big boat

Phang Nga Bay stretches between Phuket and Krabi and is peppered with more than a hundred islands of various sizes, most of them vertical rocks standing vertically in the water. The best-known rock is the famous James Bond Island and the more recently discovered Samet Nangshe.

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight 3

The two sites we were going to explore are located 30 km northeast of Phuket, which is a good 45-minute boat ride from Ao Pier on the east coast of Phuket.

phang nga rain

What makes the difference between John Gray and other tours?

In our many years in Phuket, we had the chance to explore Phang Nga in many ways and with several companies, but none came even close to John Gray’s experience (this was our fourth time!). This is the only tour that goes in the afternoon and comes back after dark, offering a chance to admire the bay in the sunset light, when weather permits of course.

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight island 4

The team cares greatly about the environment and is truly knowledgeable. As we cruised to our destination, they explained in good English what we were about to discover, what to look for and what to expect, what to do and not to do. The boat was spacious with plenty of space for everyone to sit and move comfortably, and even take a nap when needed.

john grays seacanoe onboard

The first island: Koh Panak

One of the highlights of the tour is exploring the mystical ‘hongs’ (Thai for ‘rooms’), which are hidden lagoons surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. Equipped with a sturdy yellow sea kayak, you’ll paddle through narrow limestone tunnels and into these emerald-green lagoons, accessible only at certain times of the day when the tides allow.

john gray seacanoe boat

Soon after lunch and coffee, the boat arrived at the first island where we got a short briefing on what was coming next, the true highlight of the trip!

John Gray's Seacanoe briefing

In front of us was a cave entrance at the bottom of an immense vertical cliff, and we were about to enter what looked like a tiny hole in the iconic yellow canoes, custom-designed by John Gray for this very specific use. Each canoe fits 1 or 2 passengers, sitting in front, plus a crew member who does the paddling (thankfully!) through a pitch-dark maze tunnel.

john grays seacanoe cave entrance

The canoes, which are uniquely designed for John Gray, are comfortable and very stable and feel very safe. The team paddled the distance from the boat to the cave, which was actually taller and wider than it seemed from the distance. We moved into the dark cave with only the LED light the crew wore on their forehead to light the way. The tunnel is maybe a hundred metres long with high ceilings at first, not scary at all, but if you have claustrophobia, this part may not be recommended.

john grays seacanoe inside hong

The guides, who are well-versed in the local geology and ecology, shared stories about the caves’ formation and the creatures that call them home. As they paddled through the dimly lit passages, we were awed by the enchanting limestone formations and the eerie tranquillity that enveloped us.

John Gray's Hong by Starlight in Phang Nga Bay near Phuket

High above us we could observe a lot of tiny bats hanging from the ceiling, together with a smell of ammonia. As we moved forward, we could see a little bit of daylight at the end of the tunnel, but it seemed really small and dimmed considering it was midday!

entering a hong in phang nga bay

Getting out of the cave was quite an exciting moment as the ceiling gets incredibly low and the exit tiny, less than a metre high! The crew asked everyone to lie down backwards in the canoe and lay down flat with hands inside as they skillfully paddled us out of the tunnel. At the last minute, they also laid down on their back, making jokes about protecting our nose if we thought it was bigger than average.

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight

And there we were, inside those hongs, silently gliding in an enclosed lagoon invisible from the outside, surrounded by mangroves and vegetation. Inside the hongs, everything was quiet and peaceful, and we were greeted by the sight of unique flora thriving in this secluded ecosystem. The shallow water reflected the sun and rays of light shimmered through the branches. We slowly paddled all around the lagoon for a long time, then aimed back at the shallow tunnel entrance to return to the boat.

inside a hong in Phang Nga Bay

Lunch and dinner on board

As the trip left the pier at noon, we were served a copious and varied Thai lunch, and dinner was served at the end of the afternoon as we waited for the tide to allow us the last cave exploration. These two meals, that are included, tasted better and more authentic than in many restaurants we know in Phuket!

john grays seacanoe som tum making

Prepared with locally sourced ingredients and a focus on sustainability, this meal is a culinary delight that reflects the flavours of Thailand. Enjoy your meal while taking in the stunning views of the bay and its iconic limestone karsts.

The Som Tum (green papaya spicy salad was truly Thai and went perfectly with the chicken satay and sticky rice. While tea, coffee and water are free, guests can purchase soft drinks and several brands of beer for a small price.

Second stop: Koh Hong

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight 4

After exploring the first hong, the boat moved further into Phang Nga Bay to discover Koh Hong, a second beautiful limestone island. This one was busier as other tour companies were there too with their own guests, in kayaks of different colours. We embarked on our canoes and the team paddled us around the huge rocks while describing what we were looking at, and answered all the questions people asked as we glided along and under the majestic cliffs.

john grays seacanoe hong by starlight phang bnga bay

Once we finished exploring the circumference of Hong Island, free time was given to the passengers to enjoy self-paddling or even swimming.

The last stop: Hong by starlight and bioluminescent plankton

sea canoe sunset

As the sun came down and the night enveloped Phang Nga, our guide took us for the third and last ride, back to the tunnel and hong we first visited, but this time in the darkness. We had to wait onboard and took our sweet time to enjoy a dinner waiting for the tide to be high enough to allow the canoes to enter the cave again. From the boat, we could see the team walking near the cave entrance to decide when the time was right.

The entrance of the hong at low tide

Once dinner finished, the crew joined the passenger to explain what the next phase of our trip would be: build a floating Krathong. A Krathong is a small, beautifully crafted floating offering made of banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense. It is used in Thailand’s Loy Krathong festival to symbolically honour water spirits. Each crew member helped prepare one krathong for each pair of passengers, and because the Loy Krathong Festival is a countrywide event every Thai joined since their childhood, they were very talented!

krathong

Once the tide was high enough, we all reembarked our canoe and paddled in the direction of the dark cave at the foot of the cliff. Depending on the day, and because tides and never the same, the group will release the Krathong in the cave, or further in the hong itself. All the canoes gather and everyone releases their beautiful offering and makes a wish as the candlelight shines a warm light on everyone around.

krathong john gray seacanoe

The team also showed us the bioluminescent plankton, but while we could see the phenomenon with our eyes, it wasn’t bright enough for a photo on that day. Once the Krathong little ceremony was over, we gently glided back to your boat, and one of the crew collected the floating offerings so as not to leave anything behind.

john grayssea canoe night trip

Return to Ao Po Pier

sea canoe moonlight

The day ended and the boat calmly returned to Ao Po Pier, where we bid farewell to your guides. The van that took us in the morning was waiting to return us to their respective hotels, tired but happy with unforgettable photos and memories.

Summary

In conclusion, John Gray’s Hong by Starlight day trip in Phang Nga Bay is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that combines adventure, environmental consciousness, cultural encounters, and natural wonder. It takes you on a journey through the heart of this pristine marine paradise, immersing you in the beauty of limestone karsts, hidden lagoons, and bioluminescent magic.

phang nga bay kayaking 1

With a commitment to eco-friendly practices and cultural respect, this tour not only leaves you with unforgettable memories but also a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of nature and the need to protect it for future generations. It’s a day trip that invites you to connect with Phang Nga Bay and experience its surreal charm in a way that few others can offer.

More photos of the Hong by Starlight tour

John Gray’s SeaCanoe Info

Prices: 3,950 Baht/person, Kids from 6 to 12: 1,975 baht, Under 6 years old: free of charge

Address: 80/25-28 Moo 6, Ao-Po, Paklok, Thalang, Phuket 83110
Phone: (66-76) 254505-6
Website and rates: https://johngray-seacanoe.com
email: reservations@johngray-seacanoe.com

John Gray’s SeaCanoe Map

4.9/5 - (9 votes)