Kayaking in Ao Thalane (Most Scenic Date We’ve Had)

Mangrove tree in Ao Thalane

As our last date night was back home, we decided to finally make time for it on Thursday. Did you know that couples with kids do go on dates in the morning? We actually do it quite often. This one happens on a morning as well. The local Daisy Chains Montessori Kindergarten in Ao Nang gladly takes in children for just a day, so Kristaps drops the little ones off already at 8:15 and rushes back for our 8:30 pick-up.

The day before we decided to go on a kayaking tour. This is something that is too stressful for us to experience together with kids, however, the guide said he occasionally gets full families. There will be a separate post on the parental anxiety when travelling with kids. It’ll cover the usual and unusual sickness worries, heightened perception of risks to be bitten by dangerous fauna, kidnapping, earthquakes/tsunamis, traffic accidents to the parents, losing kids in public places without speaking local language and no English speaking person around etc… in short, all the  worries that we are experiencing as parents while on the road plus how (if) we cope with it.

Our pickup is already full to the brim
Our pickup is already full to the brim

Kristaps arrives back at the hotel just in time for our pick-up. There was an awkward moment when it turned out there was no more space for us in the back of the pickup truck. The driver later explained that normally they fit up to 12 people there, but this morning there were ‘lots of larger people, good food you have there’, so the 10 Europeans occupy all the available space.

Our mangrove kayaking guide Pong
Our mangrove kayaking guide Pong

The guide usually gets Chinese tourists which are somewhat smaller than Europeans. Good for us – we get to ride shotgun in an air-conditioned cabin! Another bonus was the chance to chat with the guide as the ride is approx 20minutes (30km).  The highlights from the guide’s stories:

  • The guide said he was lucky to escape the 2004 tsunami as he had to go to Bangkok. However, there he noticed a strange thing which he only later connected to the disaster. He was having a meal with a friend near a natural pool, and all of a sudden noticed that all of a sudden the pool water level dropped significantly and then rose again sharply. This was most likely due to an earthquake.
  • The casualty numbers were not as high as the tsunami happened in daytime. However, they could have been even lower if many people would have realised there’s a tsunami coming and they need to get away from the sea. Instead what happened was this. According to our guide, before a tsunami, the water goes away from the beach as if on a strong low tide, just much more pronounced. Many people saw this as an opportunity to take a stroll on the beach (tourists) or pick up seafood (locals) from parts of the seas that normally are not accessible. When the waves came, many didn’t escape.
  • We have a post about the Tiger Cave Temple and monkeys. When we visited the site, the monkeys were only in the lower third of the cliff. 20 years ago the monkeys would only live atop the cliff, never come down and run away when seeing people. Now, unfortunately, they’ve gotten so used to food given by tourists that it has changed their natural behaviour.
  • We’ve noticed a funny breed of crab, apparently the ‘fiddler crab’ on the beaches. It’s distinctive feature – one of the two main claws is distinctively larger than the other one. The larger one is for fighting and holding females while mating. The smaller one is used for feeding.

When we arrived at Ao Thalane, we had a bit of time to kill. We were offered some drinks, including a pretty terrible instant coffee. Shortly, after some masterful demonstration of how to use a dry bag and how to navigate the kayaks and off we went. The day was so bright and sunny that we covered ourselves with sunscreen real well. The Thai sun is definitively not something to be messed with. The whole group was rather efficient and we quickly arrived at the mangroves ‘bushes’.

On the way to Ao Thalane mangroves
On the way to Ao Thalane mangroves

This is an excellent trip to take on sunny and hot days as the route mostly goes under the wonderful shade of cliffs and mangroves. The exposed part was rather short, approx. 25 minutes of the total 2h paddling time.

The guide said we were lucky today as the tide was high and provided us with the ideal water level. We could take the ‘circular’ route rather than be coming back the same way as going in.

Karst cliffs at Ao Thalane mangroves
Karst cliffs at Ao Thalane mangroves

The cliffs are truly a magnificent view. As we come from a very flat country, we are still feasting our eyes on most karst cliffs that would probably beat our highest “mountain” easily (ours is 340 meters above sea level).

Crocodile cave at Ao Thalane mangroves
Crocodile cave at Ao Thalane mangroves

There are lagoons, caves and arcs, stalactites and stalagmites, well, the pictures speak for themselves.

A macaque monkey family at the Ao Thalane mangroves
A macaque monkey family at the Ao Thalane mangroves

We saw a macaque monkeys family, which was nice. But a reminder again – they have the unfortunate habit to look for food from people; never ever feed a monkey in Asia, they are able to fend for themselves. The guide told us that they would literally jump on peoples boats if they saw something of interest.

We also passed the cliff where according to the guide Leonardo Di Caprio jumped off in the movie Beach.

The total tour time was 2 hours, it was not very difficult. We complimented two senior couples on their stamina at the end of the tour as we were not able to paddle past them in a straight stretch of sea. But I think they might have gotten a bit offended that we thought them to be so old =) sorry =)

The kids were picked up on time and had had a good time. Even learned some Thai words, but couldn’t remember any of them afterwards because of the difficult pronunciation. Some pool time and early to bed as tomorrow we’re going on a private longtail boat tour (half day again) to the famous Four Islands: Thap, Chicken, Poda and Phanang.

Accidental haggling still counts as haggling

Kristaps accidentally got lucky with the tour price. When he approached one of the many tour agencies in Ao Nang, the first price he got was 1000 Baht (25 EUR / 30 USD) for each of us. This is quite pricey even for the tourist prices. So he stepped back on the street to do some googling and found a year-old Tripadvisor post that mentioned the tour price of 400 Baht. With this new-found “weapon” he went back to inquire if there are tours that cost this much. All of a sudden the price for the same tour dropped to 500 Baht. The only reduction – no lunch which we wouldn’t want anyway because of the lack of time.

This only shows the importance of haggling in Asia. This even applies to instances where you see a sticker price of an item. For Europeans this might appear as a set price, however, for Thais, it most likely is just a paper for tourists. In the case of our tour “agency” (which usually is nothing more than a table on the street usually, but generally trustworthy), the “tourist” prices for the tours were neatly laid out and laminated on an advertisement print. Don’t let this fool you, everything is negotiable.

We both really need to get better at this haggling game.

Can you do these tour on your own?

In case of kayaking, definitively yes. We enquired in Ao Thalane right at the coast, and the locals would rent us a double kayak for 700 Baht (our costs was 1000 Baht for both). However, you would have to get here and wouldn’t have a guide. In this case, we probably would go with an organized tour but will consider this strategy in some less difficult locations.

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