Whilst on holiday in Phuket I decided to take a canoe tour of James bond Islands and the surrounding National Park.
The hotel transfer involved an 8am collection travelling to the pier at Ao-Poh in Phuket’s North. The boat is medium sized, with about 20 tourists on board, and a dozen locals travelling as guides.
The boat speedily zoomed its way past picturesque islands before finally dropping anchor in Phang-Nga Bay National Park. Once there you could hear the squeaking sound of rubber and a commotion below deck before I looked over the side and realised that a dozen sea canoes are being pushed out onto the water.
The kayak consists of two tourists and one guide and a treacherous wobbling embarkation given that I am holding my camera. I sat in front and my companion behind me with the guide perched at the very back, deftly gliding our boat with a paddle, using precise and seemingly effortless strokes.
An eerie silence descends over us, as everyone quietly admires the surrounding scenery. The limestone caves soar above us, and for several minutes we glide around the bay, hearing only the gentle splash of water against the paddle. It’s magic and mysterious.
Phang Nga Bay stretches for 245 square miles, and includes about 100 islands. Several limestone islands contain caves that have gradually had their floors collapse due to erosion. Locals call these “hongs” or rooms. We patiently queue and enter the caves one kayak at a time. Inside it is cool and quiet, and looking overhead we can sometimes make out cracks of blue sky through the soaring ceilings.
It does not seem too bad until I realised the corridors are getting narrower and the roof of the cave is rapidly dropping. The cave becomes practically pitch-black but I can smell the wet limestone and hear drips of water that echo.
There is a moment of panic when I realised that the roof of the cave is terrifying low – I am certain that my nose is about to be scraped by rock. I bury my head deeper into the kayak, petrified, sucking in my breath in a futile effort to contract myself. There is the scrape of rock against rubber as the kayak jerkily makes its way through – I am not claustrophobic but it is the nearest I have felt to panic.
James Bond Island is so famous now that a strip of tourist stalls have been set up on the beach to tempt the boat loads of tourists that arrive. We take a stroll around the island, exploring the myriad of caves, before getting our kayak again and returning to the boat.