Thailand’s coastal scenery is among the most breathtaking in the world and visitors who stay on islands such as Phuket or Koh Samui should make a point of taking at least one boat trip during their stay. In the first of a series of dedicated blogs, our Villa Expert recommends some of the best boat trip destinations in the Andaman Sea, and the Gulf of Thailand …
When you are lying by the pool at your private villa on Phuket or Koh Samui, looking out over azure seas peppered with picturesque offshore islands, you may wonder what the spectacle looks like from another perspective – the sea. Fortunately, marine tours and private charter boat trips are easily booked on either island, and the range of scenic locations and underwater sites to explore by boat is almost as vast as the myriad choices on land.
To help you decide which marine marvels to add to your must-see holiday hit-list, we are running a series of blogs that focus on a number of top marine attractions. The first in the series in Koh Hong in the Andaman Sea.
Though less well known that some of the larger islands closer to Phuket, Koh Hong is one of the most spectacular sights in the limestone studded Phang Nga Bay. Easily reached in less than an hour by speedboat from Phuket, Koh Hong is actually part of a modest, eponymous archipelago of 12 dramatic limestone karsts, all of them carpeted in tropical vegetation. Koh Hong stands out from the crowd thanks to its long, powder white west coast beach and stunning turquoise lagoon, encircled by towering, textured limestone cliffs.
Koh Hong’s namesake lagoon is true natural wonder. Formed by thousands of years of natural erosion, an almost neon green lake fills part of the island and remains sheltered from the open seas by high rugged limestone walls. The lagoon has only one entrance and is graced with a soft sandy bed that is shallow enough to stand in parts, especially during low tide. A cluster of mangroves are huddled at one end and blue egrets occasionally swoop past in search of a meal. Tour boats can enter the lagoon and slowly cruise its perimeter while passengers snap photos and marvel and natures architecture.
Having cruised the lagoon, the next stop for most visitors to Koh Hong is the idyllic stretch of beach that lines the island’s west coast. Although this part of the island can get quite busy, especially during high season, it’s still definitely worth a visit to take in the contrast of pure white sand and emerald waters. Arrive early and you may find only a handful of fellow sun seekers on the sand.
The beach is also part of the Phang Nga National Marine Park, so rangers are stationed in the bay to keep an eye on visitor numbers and ensure it remains as pristine as possible. For budding explorers, a Nature Trail behind the beach follows the base of a limestone mountain through a stretch of somewhat chaotic tropical jungle.
Sailing (or kayaking) north from the beach around Koh Hong’s at-times crumbling limestone coastline, it’s almost impossible to stop pushing the shutter button on your camera. The island’s striking, multi-coloured cliffs open into caves and inlets, with gnarled, rock stalactites hanging precariously above the relentless ocean – itself the cause of a significant erosion that appears like a tight belt around the base of the rock when the green waves recede.
Those with a keen eye for wildlife may spot an one of the 88 different bird species known to inhabit the area, darting between the trees or taking flight in search of prey. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, colourful fish, dart about in shoals, endangered dugongs hide in the mangrove and starfish quietly prowl the soft sea bed.
Beyond Koh Hong the Andaman Sea is cluttered with intriguing limestone shapes rising form the water. Cruising past these craggy limestone monoliths is a little like touring an ancient ruin, except these unique, historical edifices were made entirely by nature’s hand.
Occasional signs of habitation in the form of bamboo platforms built into the caves are used by local collectors harvesting much sought after swift’s nest, which has been consumed in Asia for over a thousand years. The bird’s nest still fetches high prices in places like Hong Kong today, where just one kilo of the prized white variety is worth around THB 50,000 (USD1,500).
Getting to Koh Hong
A number of tour operators offer day trips from Phuket to Koh Hong and private charter vessels are also available for guests that prefer the freedom to visit the island on their own schedule with the added comfort offered aboard a luxury motor or sailing yacht. Charter websites include asia-marine.net, asiayacht.com and boatlagooncruises.com and villa guests can also ask their villa manager for recommended boats or tours to suit their individual needs.
by Wayne Hue