The Hawngs of Phang Nga Bay

One of the things we were really looking forward to was seeing all the hawngs around Phuket. Several cruisers who have been to Thailand in the past on yachts just raved about how great they are. Someone gave us the coordinates of about 30 or so in Phang Nga bay at the north end of Phuket Island. And there are tons more than just the 30 up there. The consensus was that the Emerald Hawng was the best of all, which is why we made a point of stopping in Ko Muk to see it, but that the other hawngs are still beautiful and worth a visit.

Logistically, though, it wasn’t going to happen. We only have a week in Phuket, and going up there would take three days a day to get up there in Kosmos, a day of hawng seeing and a day back. Plus, the hawngs are pretty well spread out, so we would have to move Kosmos several times on the day we went to see the hawngs, anchoring each time, which would stress us out. So, we bit the bullet and booked a tourist kayak trip through a travel agent just next door to the Royal Phuket Yacht Club Hotel. Mike passed on going, afraid of getting his bandages wet.

The shuttle picked us up at noon. We took the same main road that we had the other day, passing Boat Lagoon along the way. Not too far beyond Boat Lagoon, it becomes more rural, with a few upscale looking track home developments in and amongst fields. It took a full hour plus to get to the dock at Phang Nga.

We loaded onto a trawler type boat. We were the last to arrive and they immediately pulled out. There were 30 of us total, which we thought was a very bad sign. They served lunch while we were in transit. It was pretty good, with stir fried noodles and chicken, veggie spring rolls, salad, and fruit. After lunch, they did the safety briefing, where they held up signs with pictures to illustrate what they were saying. The signs were hilarious. For example, one had a person touching a tree in the left picture, and in the right picture he was tied up. Another example is a sign with a person talking in the left picture and in the right picture there was tape over her mouth.

Phang Nga bay has over 130 islands, most itty bitty, and seeing all the islands makes for a scenic ride. The water was flat and calm.

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We arrived at our first stop, the Bat Cave on Panak Island, which looks much the same as Ko Muk. We could see an obvious cave entrance in a vertical limestone wall at least 200 meters high (600 feet). We had thought we would be paddling our own kayaks, following a guide. It turns out our guide was in the kayak with us and he did all the paddling. We were thrilled about having a personal guide instead of one guide for the whole group. The kayaks are inflatable, and very long and narrow. We paddled in single file.

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Once inside the cave mouth, it felt exactly like the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland. It was pitch black, cool and damp. There were cicadas chirping in the background, which sound similar to crickets. The kayaks were slowly and silently sliding forward in a single file line, and there were hushed murmurs of excitement in anticipation of what we were about to see. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, we could see the cave is wide with incredibly high ceilings. It was tempting to start singing “Yo ho yo ho, a pirate’s life for me” to complete the setting, but we didn’t want our mouths taped shut. After a few minutes, we shone the light up on the ceiling and there were zillions of small insect bats hanging upside down from the high ceilings.

The cave was quite long, 200 meters. Near the end of it we were told to lie down. We lied as instructed in the briefing illustrations, completely flat with all extremities inside. Suddenly, the cave became very low, so low that there was probably only a foot and a half between us and the top of the cave as we moved out of the cave mouth into the hawng.

Inside the hawng it is absolutely spectacular, making the Emerald Hawng look like nothing special. It is much, much bigger inside than the Emerald Hawng. The walls are 600 feet tall on three sides, with foliage all the way up and stained with streaks of orange, black and white from the various minerals inside the granite. The sky above was blue and clear. The water in the lagoon is shallow and blue, so shallow that it is empty at low tide. The fourth wall is much lower and actually has a small archway in it that we paddled through into yet another lagoon, this one even bigger, also completely surrounded by 600 foot tall walls. There are a few mangrove trees in the second lagoon. We saw a monkey very high up and lots of little mud skippers at the base of one of the mangrove trees. It is so serene and peaceful inside there. It is truly paradise, and no photo could possibly truly capture the magnificence of it.

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Our tour guide, Golf, was informative. He obviously has learned a long script in English and he knows the script well, giving us all kinds of information about the stalagmites, stalactites, local flora and fauna, composition of the granite, and so forth. Golf, is young, enthusiastic and adorable. He also gave us complete information on how tides work, his English not quite good enough to grasp that we already understood tides. What was really nice is that there was no rush. The guides all paddled very slowly and gave us plenty of time to enjoy the surroundings.

The tide was rising, and on the way out the mouth to the cave was even smaller. It looked absolutely impossible to get through the tiny hole, but we laid down and somehow managed to squeeze through. Eric was laying with hat on, and the brim of Eric’s hat rubbed up against the roof of the cave. After a couple minutes, we were back in the high ceiling portion of the cave, and we could sit up and enjoy the journey out.

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To be continued”¦ [46]

2 thoughts on “The Hawngs of Phang Nga Bay

  1. Dawn is “right on” in her comments about guide books such as Lonely Planet —- in that once bought out by a large firm, the “personalized local hands on quality” seems to soon disappear. Also the depth seems to disappear and the writings seem to be written by a tourist who themselves never got to know anything about the local people or culture. Compare recent guide books of Indonesia to Bill Dalton’s “Indonesia Handbook” from past years. I think that this is one that was purchased by Lonely Planet from Moon Publications in the past. It had 1,350 pages written by people who had bothered to live with the peoples and experience depths that the white washed writers now cannot duplicate in their pub mills.

    When you two publish your book after the trip, please remember this. We like to feel that you have lived the experiences that you are telling us about. We like to hear about beauty also but one needs to add enough realism in to make one feel that our experiences will not be just plain old cookbook — without spice.

    Keep up the great writing and we all appreciate that many times it is being done when feeling low or extremely tired.

    Al

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