Low season has some very big advantages that the guide books don’t address. When it’s windy and the water is choppy, the companies running day canoeing trips in the Bay may not go out at all. The inflatable kayaks they use are not suitable for windy conditions. The freelance operators also stay at home as their smaller ‘longtail’ boats are not designed for use in anything more than mild ‘wind chop’ (the waves produced by wind in the predominately shallow waters of the Bay).
Paddle Asia guests have quite a different experience. Our trip to Phang Nga Bay gave us three days without seeing a single tourist! We saw very few local fishermen. We truly had the place to ourselves. We enjoyed this major tourist attraction as it was a hundred years ago (minus the pirates)! This is the essence of low season with Paddle Asia!
Our guest, David, was familiar with kayaking and had some experience paddling in choppy conditions. We followed the normal itinerary and maintained a close watch for any local storms.
David and I paddled around familiar islands but followed comfortable low season procedure. While in the lee (protected side) of the island, we took it easy and maintained a lookout for birds, orchids, monitor lizards, crabs scurrying to avoid the waves, schools of little fish, monkeys, and the other usual attractions. At one point, David spent some quality time right below a branch on which sat a large Brown-wing kingfisher.
David was the first to reach one of my favorite ‘hongs’, the karst islands’ interior rooms which seem to be complete ecosystems isolated from the rest of the world. As he looked in the narrow entrance, he saw a White-bellied sea eagle lift off from a low branch and fly slowly only a few meters above the water. As I approached the entrance, the eagle rose slightly and flew right over us. It flew beside the island then spread its wings and glided into the trees high on the rock face.
Later, we rounded the corner and faced the wind! The change was as abrupt as moving from a quiet eddy on a river into the powerful downstream current. The wind-driven swell meets the steep rocky boulders of the headland. This situation produces irregular waves that seem to churn up and down without pattern or rhythm. It’s not difficult to paddle through, just exciting. There isn’t, however, much opportunity to look for orchids while moving through that stuff. David enjoyed the combination of appreciating the great beauty of the islands alternated with adrenaline-fueled focus on moving through the chop.
What about the novice paddler, how can he or she participate in these low season pleasures? If I were a beginner considering these weather and sea conditions, I’d want to know what Paddle Asia could safely do for me. To put it as clearly as possible, I’d say to Paddle Asia, “I want to see the Phang Nga Bay in the low season, but I don’t want to be tossed about by waves”.
The solution lies in the experience Dave and I have gained from paddling year ’round in this area for almost two decades. We consider several factors:
- We assess the abilities of the people in the group and teach basic paddling technique as necessary. We watch as our guests paddle and make suggestions when appropriate.
- We occasionally spend some time demonstrating and practicing assisted re-entry. In the event a kayak does capsize, we want each person to understand and feel confident that we can get him or her back in the kayak quickly.
- We modify the itinerary as needed. Normally our escort boat anchors and waits for us to return from our various circumnavigations. When the sea is choppier, it is better for us to paddle the lee side of our favorite islands. We put the kayaks in the water and the escort boat moves to the pick-up point, also in the lee. As people gain confidence and familiarity with paddling, we may move about in the waves as we reach the open, exposed side of the island.
On a three day trip, we spend one day in the mangroves. The waters of the mangrove estuary systems are naturally protected from the wind and waves. It is an education, an appreciation of the nursery where young fish and shrimps grow among the roots until they are ready to make their way in the open sea. We get some idea of the wealth of life there among the trees and root systems; all the creatures protected by the mangroves, and all the birds, animals and reptiles that come to feed on the ‘protected’ creatures. Healthy mangrove forests mean a healthy marine environment. Mangroves are great fun for paddling during the windy days, especially at higher water levels.
Significant areas of southern Thailand’s mangroves have been destroyed to make way for shrimp farms. We do not visit these areas. We visit what is still healthy and beautiful along Thailand’s coastline. PaddleAsia celebrates natural beauty and we celebrate it all year long.
Come paddle with us in the high season and we’ll have a good time. We avoid the masses.
Come paddle with us in the low season and we’ll have it all to ourselves. This gives us a sense of ownership of the whole vast beautiful place! We’ll work with the weather, whatever it may be at the time.