Phang Nga Bay National Park, a half-hour drive north of Phuket, hosts great trips by sea kayak. The scenery is stunning, with limestone karst towers rising from the bay of more than 120 islands. These craggy rock formations were the backdrop for the James Bond classic The Man with the Golden Gun. Sadly, due to unfettered commercialism, they are completely overrun with teeming tour groups dropping litter and packing the narrow paths. Sea kayaks are a perfect way to avoid these crowds and explore the many breathtaking caves and chambers that hide beneath the jagged cliffs. All tours include the hour-plus ride to and from Phang Nga, the cruise to the island area, paddle-guide, kayak, and lunch.
John Gray Sea Canoe (124 Soi 1, Yaowarat Rd., Phuket Town 83000; tel. 07625-4505; http://phuketdir.com/johngrayseacanoe/index.htm) is the most respected, low-impact, eco-tour operator and a pioneer of sea kayaking in the region. At the time of this update, their main trip was a "hong by starlight" tour (3,950B adults, 1,975B children), which runs from midday to 10pm and includes kayaking in the hongs and a seafood buffet in Phang Nga Bay. Their day trip is now only available for private charter (29,500B for a group of four). A guide will paddle you dexterously in and out of the caves -- which is frustrating if you actually like paddling -- but the caves are stunning, and there's free time for paddling on your own later. Multiday and more adventurous "self-guided" tours are also offered.
The folks at Paddle-Asia (9/71 Rasdanusorn Rd., Tambon Rasada, Phuket 83000; tel. 08189-36558; www.paddleasia.com) make Phuket their home and do trips throughout the region, with a focus more on custom adventure travel, not day junkets. They have great options for anyone from beginner to expert, and on any trip you'll paddle real decked kayaks, not inflatables. A highlight is their trip to Khao Sok National Park, a 3-day adventure in which you may even spot amazing jungle wildlife. Due to tragedies in this park in rainy season, Thai authorities are considering closing it during storms, so stay abreast of the weather, especially in monsoon season. In Phuket, Paddle Asia can arrange offshore trips to outlying islands, kayak surfing on Kata Beach, or custom-made adventures ranging as far as Laos.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.