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SEA CANOEING
Phang Nga Bay, just north of Phuket Island, is a staggeringly scenic area. Four hundred square kilometres of calm, milky-green waters from which rise 40 limestone islands sculpted over millions of years by sea and rain and wind into fantastically beautiful natural monuments. Already famous as a cruising destination, Phang Nga is now offering still more exotic adventure travel.
As recently as 1990, aerial surveys first revealed the existence of hidden worlds inside many of the islands. These so-called hongs, or "rooms", are collapsed cave systems, most of them accessible only through caves at low tide.
The vertical walls of limestone harbour lost worlds, worlds open to the sky high above and filled with jungle flora and fauna, microcosms untouched by humankind since the beginning of time.
A daytrip spent exploring a few of these hongs, navigating in purpose-designed sea canoes, prom ises what could be among the most vivid memories you ever take away from a holiday. If you have the time, the three-day and two-night or the seven-day and six-night excursions are better still. You can sleep either on the mother boat or in tents on the beach.
The caves themselves are fascinating, and the different hongs present a whole variety of experience. In some, you will find lush jungle mysterious and silent but for the call of birds and monkeys. Enormous palm trees, fronds extending seven metres or more from the trunk, tower by cave entrances. In others, mangrove swamps conceal labyrinthine waterways, channels populated by an assortment of intriguing animals, everything from amphibious fish to lizards and crabs.On one island, you can take your canoe through a series of five hongs, each of them connected to the next by a different little cave.
For the really adventurous, there are night penetrations of the hongs. Try this on a moonless night, and experience an almost awe-inspiring communion with nature.
Since the hongs were discovered in Phang Nga, others have been located among the limestone islands of Ang Thong Marine National Park, in the Gulf of Thailand. Already, commercial sea-canoeing operations are making these mysterious worlds accessible to the visitor. Geologically similar to those on the Andaman side, these have one other feature -instead of having either mud or sand floors, the Ang Thong hongs are carpeted with coral.

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