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“A great experience, if you're prepared for typical tourist fare”

John Gray's Sea Canoe
Ranked #2 of 196 Tours in Phuket Town
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Recommended length of visit: More than 3 hours
Owner description: After 12 years designing and developing one of the World's most highly awarded Ecotourism companies, John "Caveman" Gray goes his own way by forming "John Gray's SeaCanoe" with 18 of his most loyal and experienced guides. "After 12 years in Phuket, the experiment ran its course and I was packing for Polynesia," says Gray, "but when all these guides showed up, I had no choice but to stay and do another start-up."
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Level Contributor
146 reviews
6 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 162 helpful votes
“A great experience, if you're prepared for typical tourist fare”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 2, 2012

This is a chance to get out and see the fantastic sights of the Bay, and to have a relaxing experience. The 'natural history' is very much on the weak side,and l'd personally see this as a Disney-like experience... Nice, comfortable, but lacking reality. The guides are friendly, and they do a good job with limited English, but management could do a far sight better in improving the story line of the tour. Sadly, I think the company relies too much on the kudos they get from foreign tour books, but that can only last so long. Improved info on the natural history of the area, info on hong formation, flora and fauna of the area to add context will help. This tour is good for people with kids or those looking for a bog-standard "western" tour company, but it could be much improved on authenticity/depth/scope. Thankfully, the sights leave you positive on the whole experience ( and the food is great!)

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3 Thank Pomacentrus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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Zurich, Switzerland
Level Contributor
36 reviews
20 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 25 helpful votes
“Complancy at it's finest.”
1 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 2, 2012

I would not recommend the tour. What could of been a promising day turned out to be a big disappointment. It is obvious that this company has become very complacent with what they do.

First of all we spent 8 1/2 hours from our hotel (which was close by the pier) to the return. Of that time we spent less than 1 1/2 hours in canoes. They also overbooked the day and required extra plastic chairs in the middle of the boat floor to carry everyone. We had close 40 people on a boat that should have carried significantly less.

The tour guides did very little to entertain the people on board and the majority of the time was spent sitting in silence waiting for the next stop. We only stopped at 3 caves.

The kratong making was also very disappointing in that instead of our canoe guide walking us through the process of making one, he just did it himself as we watched. Because the shipped was oversold we ended up down in the kitchen to watch him. This allowed us to see the spot where food was made and we were shocked. The kitchen was very dirty and had insects crawling everywhere including cockroaches. The food itself was very disappointing as I expected spicy Thai food yet we only got bland food that you would find in any cheap buffet.

Visited December 2011
Helpful?
6 Thank Altybe
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Bath, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
59 reviews
31 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 75 helpful votes
“The Reviews were right: this tour's the best!”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 2, 2012

We initially learned about John Gray Sea Canoe from a Lonely Planet DVD about Thailand, and immediately checked them out on TripAdvisor. The glowing reviews convinced us that this was the one tour that we absolutely wanted to take while we were in Phuket. As our tour date approached, I read a couple of recent reviews that referred to problems with crowding during high season, and had a few bad moments of 2nd-guessing my decision. I'm glad we followed through and went on the tour!!!
Our tour left on New Year's Day and included a crowd of approximately 40 people, ranging in age from 60s down to a couple of 4 or 5-year olds. While there were a lot of of us, we never felt 'crowded' or like our experience was in any way diminished by being part of a larger group. Each pair of two people was assigned their own guide, who was responsible for paddling and navigating their kayak. It's true that some locals (eg, not full-time John Gray employees) were guiding some of the kayaks, but they were very competent and friendly, and if you had any questions that they couldn't answer, any of the numerous John Gray employees were happy to help you. The guides also made an extra effort to ensure that you weren't part of a crowded pack of tourists, so the kayak departures were staggered to space out the exits from the boat, entries to the hongs, and returns to the boat, and we were very impressed at how well this was timed and organized. We did visit one hong that was entered by another tour group, but we were already on our way out when they arrived, so there was no actual crowding. We followed the time schedule and list of activities described by other reviewers, so I won't bother to repeat it. As everyone has mentioned, the food is outstanding, there is more than enough for everyone, and everything is carefully planned and timed in such a way you don't feel like you are fighting a crowd at any time. As far as what to bring goes:
Most people arrived in tshirts and shorts, with bathing suits on underneath, or else they brought them along with them. The boat ride from the dock out to the hongs takes around an hour, and they let you know before you get there when it's a good time to change into swimwear if you aren't wearing it already. There are two toilets on the boat, and, while they are not anything fancy, they get the job done, and you can do your changing in there if you haven't worn your bathing suit under your clothes.
I did read an earlier review that suggested the bathrooms were 'dirty' but we did not find them to be dirty at all. They are very basic western-style toilets that are flushed (as many toilets in Thailand are) by pouring in a pot of water from a barrel standing next to the toilet. Since the boat is moving, this water (which is clean) does get splashed around, so it's not the driest place, but it is not at all dirty. If you are expecting a clean, dry sailing yacht, then, yes, you may be disappointed, but for a boat full of people who are swimming and getting wet, the facilities are perfectly appropriate.
'Dry bags' are supplied to put anything (cameras, phones, clothes, towels) in you wish to keep dry.
You eat a 'light' (they called it 'light' but we thought it was more than enough!) lunch on the boat, and soon after, deploy into your kayaks with your guide to start exploring the hongs. The kayaks are small but surprisingly stable and do get splashed with seawater, so plan to get wet. After you explore a few hongs, you will be taken to a secluded area and given an opportunity to try paddling your own kayak (much harder than your guides make it look!) or just go swimming (life jackets are supplied for the kids as well as anyone who is not a strong swimmer or simply wishes to have a little extra security). When that's finished, you get back onto the boat to work with your own guide to make your own kratong while dinner is being finished up. By the time the kratongs are made and dinner has been eaten, it will be dark, and you will be taken to the cave where you will light the candles and release your kratong. Again, only a few kayaks went out at a time to give each group space and privacy for exploring. It is inside this cave where the guides turn off their headlights and demonstrate the phosphorescent qualities of the algae in the water - magical. You will want to have towels for drying off and dry clothes to change into for the hour-long ride back to the dock - it's a long, uncomfortable ride in a wet bathing suit!

The guides are very friendly and knowledgeable, and they make a point of emphasizing the importance of being eco-friendly (eg, take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints.) They are very good with the smaller children, too, which - if I had smaller children - I would have appreciated very much.

My favorite part of this trip was coming out of the caves (which you travel through to get into the hongs) into the secluded jungle-like enclosures of the hongs. It's a very otherwordly, slightly surreal feeling to be on the open ocean one minute and inside a secluded jungle-like mangrove the next, watching monkeys and birds chase each other through the trees.

What I liked least was the length of the van ride from our hotel to the dock (to and from) but that certainly had nothing to do with John Gray Sea Canoe! I can't recommend this tour enough!

Visited January 2012
Helpful?
2 Thank Carolyn O
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Melbourne, Australia
Level Contributor
68 reviews
28 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 47 helpful votes
“A wonderfully enjoyable day in every way.”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 31, 2011

First up - thank you Trip Advisor community. We found this trip on TA and, as it was so highly recommended, took it and we are so very glad we did. Many people we met on our holiday were disspointed with their trips to James Bond Island etc, mostly because of crowds. On this trip we mostly had hongs to ourselves or shared with just one other boat. Our guides were just lovely and clearly took pride in the knowledge they imparted about the area. Some past reviewers mentioned being disspointed that the "offerings" that were made had to be picked up but if you accept that even in this the tour company are looking after this precious environment you can enjoy the offering to its fullest. On top of all the marvelous experiences we had we were fed two fabulous meals and eating out on the boat as the sun set was magical. The only (very very slight) negative I'll mention is that you only get a short swim, we would have liked to spend a bit more time in the water.

Visited December 2011
Helpful?
2 Thank Trace969
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Seattle
Level Contributor
12 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 16 helpful votes
“Probably better off season...”
3 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 29, 2011

John Gray's Sea Canoe came very highly recommended - mostly by other travelers we met. Most of them would suggest that if we were going to visit the Hong's - this was the outfit to go with.

Our experience was mixed. To be sure - the Hongs were great and worth seeing and it's well worth the extra time to have dinner on the boat, make the floating offerings, and set them adrift after dark. John Gray's staff was great - the boat captian was full of personality and everything was very organized - even during a surprise rain storm. Oh - and the food was surprisingly good.

The downsides were largely due to the effects of high season (we're visiting in late December.) First of all - the Hongs were *way* over crowded - so much so that we hit traffic jams in most of the caves which made already tight spaces even tighter. Once we got into the Hongs - there were many many canoes in there and it all felt a little like being on the Small World ride at Disneyland. However - the worst thing about being on this tour during the high season was that they're so overbooked that they use fisherman from the local villages as extra guides. This meant that my family had two guides (two of us in each boat) who didn't speak *any* english. Some of the other folks on the tour got to learn a lot about the amazing scenery. I couldn't even get an answer to how high the tide would rise. Kind of a bummer.

Visited December 2011
Helpful?
1 Thank EdelgardenSeattle
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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