Discovering The Secret Gardens of The Hongs of Phang Nga, Thailand
Ao Phang Nga is one of the most spectacular landscapes…or seascapes around Thailand…maybe even the whole of Southeast Asia, it’s definitely right up there. The green ocean, the huge otherworldly limestone towers, hidden beaches, secret gardens and jungle. It’s an adventurers paradise! Although now it has become a huge draw for tourists, especially “James Bond Island” or Phnag Nga Bay, which is pretty much at saturation point of tourists. We decided to take a tour with John Gray Sea Canoe (check them out on TripAdvisor here) during our stay in Phuket. (check out the amazing hotel we stayed at in Phuket here!) This is one of the original tours and various companies have tried to recreate what they offer, but this is pretty much known as the original, and the best!
Their “Hongs By Starlight” tour skips James Bond Island and starts around mid day to avoid the crowds. You are picked up from your hotel and whisked away to Ao Po to board the main boat which then takes you out towards Phang Nga where the adventure really starts. As we approached the area these weird shaped towers began appearing on the horizon it was like nothing I had ever seen before, so exciting!
So the way Hongs were described to us were that they are towering limestone formations out at sea which if you flew over them and looked down at them they would appear kind of like doughnuts. Only accessible by going through water under caves when the tide lets you they are home to hidden gardens…which are more like jungles, and an abundance of amazing plants trees and wildlife. John Gray Sea Canoes describe this as a natural history tour which it really is, they also pride themselves on serving some amazing fresh food on board their boats…I can vouch for this, it was delicious vegetarian food.
After a light lunch we arrived at our first stop and got onto our sea kayaks. They were flat bottomed inflatable kayaks and for our time exploring the hongs everyone is joined by their own personal guide. So in our kayak was my fiancee Katalin, me and our guide who was paddling for us. He was a lot of fun! As we paddled over to our entry point the heavens opened, but it really did not spoil the experience, in fact it kind of added another layer of mystery to what was an already remarkable experience. We came to the cave and had to lie down in the kayak to fit under the entry point which soon opened up and the bats were pointed out to us hanging upside down sleeping above our heads in the dark!
It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the light as we came out of the cave into the hong, but as we did it was like we had entered a time capsule, an unspoiled self contained jungle protecting itself from everything else going on in the world outside! Moments like this always make me think of Jurassic Park! For 360 degrees around us we were towered over by huge mountain sides of dense jungle reaching up towards the sky.
There are all sorts of animals hidden away in here including monkeys…who decided to avoid the rain and stay hidden whilst we were there! We were to get a bit of an unexpected surprise later though…
There was that jungle noise all around us as well, everyone had been asked to keep noise so that the wildlife was disturbed as little as possible, the silence was deafening! Speaking in whispers as we we paddled around the inside of the hong helped create a mysterious feeling, as if all of this was being discovered for the first time…and of course for many of us it was. I’ve spoken before of certain places around the world where people are almost stunned into silence by everything they are taking in…this is one of those places. Wherever you looked people were gazing up open mouthed at this other world we had been transported to!
We moved between lagoons and the wonder just continued, we felt so cut off from the outside world, the worries of the modern world are definitely left behind here and a I was struck by a feeling of serenity. Even the younger kids who had been so chatty during the boat ride were now staring, awestruck by what they were confronted by.
After exploring the first hong we headed back under the caves and to our boat and moved onto the next location. Again another incredible place, and it was here we got a pretty big surprise, although it was pretty difficult to get a photo of it, a snake sleeping a tree was pointed out to us, our guide moved our kayak so we were right under it!
It was only when we got back home and I googled Mangrove Vipers that I found out they are potentially deadly poisonous to humans! I’m just glad Katalin didn’t know that at the time…she was already freaking out! Our guide told us that apparently they sleep during the day and are blind during daylight and that’s why it wasn’t moving…he even shook the tree just to prove the point…”Alright mate, we believe you…HONESTLY!!!”
On the open water in the kayaks is such a great way to take in the scenery of Phang Nga, you are really in that scenery, the best way of enjoying it!
Phang Nga is a must when visiting Thailand and this trip was a great way of experiencing such a unique landscape, such an adventure, something totally new and different, a completely different world.
We were then given some free time where we could take the kayaks out by ourselves…this was so much fun…of course I was continuously turning us round in circles, it took a while to get used to it but it was great fun. We even managed to paddle over to a secluded beach with a rope swing over the sea, what a way to enjoy this scenery, it really was an awesome experience.
When we headed back to the boat we set about making our very own Loi Kratong, a traditional decorative flower float with candles to float on the water once the sun had gone down. A moment of calm after all of the excitement and adventure!
We had some more delicious freshly prepared food which we enjoyed on board as the sun went down, to see these rock formations, this landscape, with the amazing colours of a Thai sunset was very special.
Everybody was gazing out at the breathtaking scenery which took on another personality as the sun went down, a serene, mystical, almost spiritual feeling seemed to descend. It was a magical time to be in this amazing part of the world.
We went back into the kayaks and floated the kratongs after the candles had been lit, under the over hanging cliff faces of the Hongs. We were also shown the bioluminescent plankton in the water here. When the water is disturbed, if you kick your feet or move your hand through the water you can see the plankton light up near to the surface, like thousands of fire flies darting about just under the surface, another real wow moment.
As we made our way back to shore in the dark we were talking about everything we had seen and done, this was a spectacular day amongst some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. This is a must if you are visiting Thailand!
During our stay in Phuket, Thailand we stayed at the luxurious Movenpick Resort, Bangtao Beach, somewhere I really can’t recommend highly enough, an amazing place to return to after days filled with adventures. It’s location right on an amazing beach on west coast of Phuket provides some of the most spectacular sunsets as well. You can read about our experience at this hotel here.
Thanks for reading!