John Gray Sea Canoe – Hong by Starlight
Kayaking in Phuket with John Gray Sea Canoe is a fantastic experience. Exploring the magnificent Phang Nga Bay with their program Hong by Starlight is once in a lifetime adventure, silently gliding along and between majestic cliffs in a kayak.
The caves and abrupt cliffs covered with vegetation are ‘out-of-this-world landscapes you should see for yourself if you only have a day trip available on your calendar.
John Gray Sea Canoe may not be the cheapest tour going to Phang Nga Bay, but John Gray is the man who started to explore it more than 30 years ago and shared it with the world. There are now many companies offering a similar tour, but none are as good as John Gray’s, their guides are sharing a unique knowledge of the nature around you, gently and silently gliding around with great respect for the environment.
John Gray’s crew cares about you and the nature around you, speaks good to excellent English and shares a lot of interesting facts about what you will see and discover. You will learn a lot more than with other tours and it is interesting to listen to, and never overwhelming. The boat that takes you from Phuket pier to Phang Nga is never crowded so you will like a being on small local cruise, and the Thai food onboard is really good and adds a local flavour to this tropical day out.
As you glide inside the caves and Hongs (enclosed lagoons, usually only accessible through a narrow tunnel when tides permit), the crew will ask you to refrain from touching, talking loudly and of course smoking. This Hong by Starlight program operates from midday, so the waters and lagoons are quiet and peaceful, very different from the busy hours other companies arrive loudly.
Hong by Starlight in Phang Nga Bay
John Gray Sea Canoe offers several programs, but as explained earlier, Hong by Starlight had more to offer than other day trips. You will visit several lagoons plus a special one after sunset. Gliding silently in a canoe inside an enclosed Hong in the dark generates a surreal atmosphere, drifting in candlelight, starlight, and bio-luminescent plankton phenomenon.
How kayaking in Phuket works
John Gray Sea Canoe tours are totally stress-free as the team will pick you up at your hotel to take you to the Ao Por Pier on the east coast of Phuket, where you will board a comfortable wooden boat. If you are worried about riding a boat, remember that Phang Nga is a bay protected by huge limestone cliffs, so the sea never gets rough and you won’t get seasick. The one-hour gentle boat ride that takes you to the first island is an experience in itself, a chance to take tons of incredible photos to share on your Instagram. As you arrive at the first site and before boarding the inflatable canoes, a light lunch is served on board.
They will briefly describe the limestone phenomenon and how to enter a Hong through narrow tunnels at specific times. They have to change the schedule according to the tides as water in the tunnels giving access to the Hongs raise too close to the ceiling, and access becomes impossible.
Two persons and one guide board one canoe, but you won’t have to paddle; the guide will do it for you (and you’ll be glad he does). Don’t worry; you will be given some free time to play with the kayaks in the afternoon. Waterproof bags are free to protect your camera if you are worried, but it’s stable in there, and you don’t want to miss those pictures.
On the way, you will be amazed to see the size and the amount of these fantastic limestone formations rising straight up from the sea and covered with dense vegetation. While moving from one island to another, the crew will throw some chicken bits in the air, and dozens of Bramany Kites (some Sea Eagles) flock and dive behind the boat.
Depending on the tides, you will enter some tunnels leading to the ‘Hongs’. Some are short with a high ceiling, and some are a few hundred meters long with a low ceiling. You will be asked to recline face up in your inflatable canoe. Guides will point at things worth looking at, birds, weird rock formations, vegetation and mangrove. One of the tunnels is called ‘Bat cave’, and you will soon find out why… but nothing to worry about, except a strong bat smell, it’s not disturbing. It’s recommended to keep your mouth shut while you are passing underneath the bats. I wonder why 🙂
The last tunnel, called the diamond cave, was the toughest. It was nighttime, the tide was getting high, and our canoe started to get close to the ceiling to the point that we had to deflate it a bit to squeeze in. This is not unusual, but the noise of the rubber scratching hard against the sharp rocks in a very dark, flooded, narrow funnel tends to stimulate the imagination.
The passage is not very long on the way in but feels longer on the way out. Inside this last cave, you can release your ‘Krathong‘ (see photo), a floating offering made of banana leaves, orchids, incense and candles that are supposed to bring you luck. Going back to the pier around eight o’clock, you’ll know it was worth the price. Click here to book this amazing tour!
Only soft drinks are available on board, so if you wish to have some beers (reasonably, of course), you can buy them at the small restaurant where you meet the crew at the pier. (70 Baht for a Heineken), and there is an ATM just across the road to pay for those beers. Staff will keep your beer on the ice, and other customers will look at you with envy!
If you are subject to severe claustrophobia, you might want to try another way to explore Phang Nga Bay, as the narrow access to caves can be impressive.
Photos of Phang Nga Bay
Popular Ways to Visit Phang Nga Bay
John Gray Sea Canoe
Address: 80/25-28 Moo 6, Ao-Po, Paklok, Thalang, Phuket 83110
Phone: (66-76) 254505-6
Hong by Starlight Prices:
– Adults: 3,950 Baht/person
– Kids from 6 to 12: 1,975 baht
– Under 6 years old: free of charge
Map of Phang Nga Bay