If you are planning to do a sea canoe/kayak trip in Phang Nga and into the caves and lagoons that make it so famous, be very aware of the following: as with the rest of Thailand, the tourism industry around Phang Nga is overdeveloped, overexploited, so you have to be double or triple smart when doing tourism in order to have a pleasant and, YES, SAFE experience!. So, here the key tips:
1. Go with either private vessel and guide or with a company that organizes tours with manageable groups, 10 people MAX: With a private guide and vessel you can organize your schedule in order to avoid the notorious hordes of tourists that invade Phang Nga around 9 or 10 am and until 2 or 3 pm (and YES, even in LOW SEASON). So, if you don't have the money to hire a private guide and vessel, I suggest going with a company of the likes of Seacanoe, which manages small groups of people and does a reasonably good job to avoid the crowds (they can do better and hopefully they listen to our suggestions. Actually, they are the reason why I rate the experience as I do, but if I had been with the larger groups we saw, my experience would have been plainly disastrous!).
2. If you don't listen to the suggestion above and end up in a 100+ people ferry trying to access tight and dark caves along with 50 other canoes, please note that you will be getting into a potentially dangerous situation where panic could cause plenty harm due to the lack of space to move and breath. Crowds of human beings in tight places are avoided as the plague in any other normal circumstance, but this common sense is not applied at Phang Nga and there is no order/organization at all when entering/leaving caves. BE VERY AWARE and do not expose yourself or your kids to a situation as the one described above, 50+ canoes entering a small cave at the same time, unsustainable tourism at its most EXTREME representation.
Lastly, as my overall experience in Thailand tells me, if you want to enjoy the beauties of nature in this country and do it safely, avoid crowds at all costs! and that means waking up very early, YES, 4 am to get ready and be out before the sun rises, and going with conscious, smart private guides or very small/manageable tour groups instead of the large, desensitised tourism companies that abound. Traveling smart in Thailand does not mean necessarily that it will be more expensive, but that you have to work harder at planning and building up the right solution for you. Happy and safe travelingll!
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