I’m not sure there’s a better way to start the day than among the floating palaces at Phuket Boat Lagoon.
Boat workers busy themselves doing whatever boat workers do, ferrying supplies up and down the docks in push carts. Their dress code is ‘sailor casual’ – polo shirts, shorts, sandals – and inspired me to make an anonymous drop in the suggestion box at my office; certainly management will see the goodness of this.
After being tagged with colour coded wristbands (red for Krabi), guests hydrate, caffeinate, and mosey to their sea chariot. Ours was the big three-engine model, capable of shuttling 35 unladen people, and it was nearly at capacity. Being in close quarters with strangers was initially awkward, but everyone relaxed quickly and took to flopping about wherever it happened to be comfortable. For me, that meant the boat’s bow, where the heat from the sun is countered by the always cooler-than-expected breeze.
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Our guide, Tuk Tuk (a suspiciously common name for Thai guides) explains the day’s itinerary four times while the boat navigated the channel that serves as the Boat Lagoon’s on-ramp to the sea.
The shaded rear of the boat got the game plan first, in both Italian and English, then he moved to the front of the boat to repeat it all again. In two languages. While I’m sure he’s knowledgeable and entertaining, it was low tide and the birds picking edibles out of the mud had my full attention. Besides, if I knew what was happening, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
The first surprise didn’t stay hidden for long. The sea is rougher than normal, and the man at the controls believes it’s better to power through the chops rather than throttle-back. I haven’t been in charge of a boat since sailing the bathtub as a toddler, so I defer to his judgment. The worst of it didn’t last long, and we were soon at our first stop: Koh Kai.
Chicken Island, the English translation for Koh Kai, is named for a rock formation that looks like a chicken’s neck and head. It surveys the sea conditions in both good weather and fowl (sorry, couldn’t resist). With not much else to do or see, this is a drifting stop; everyone stays onboard and gets their fill of pictures while cruising slowly past.
Five minutes later and Koh Poda confirms that you picked the right place to spend this holiday. The beach is stunning in the way that beaches in travel brochures are stunning. But this is real. White sand, clear water, and shade if you want it. Snorkelling gear is provided, just move down the beach (away from the boat landing area) and indulge your inner fish. Follow the path into the trees for a snack or beverages at the Poda Café, soak up some sun, or walk towards the cliffs for monkey sightings.
After an hour, it’s time to say, “Goodbye, paradise. Hello, more paradise.” The second non-stopping stop is West Railay Beach on the Krabi mainland. Look closely, the towering cliffs are alive with rock climbers. Even (or especially) from sea level, they look certifiably insane. We ooh. We ahh. We beach at Ao Nang for lunch.
The Phra Nang Kitchen overlooks the sea and is our host for the midday feast. All the guests gather around a big table, family style.
I’m surrounded by eating, laughing, sharing, pleasant Italians; the vibe is conducive to an enjoyable dining experience. Soup is scarfed, curry slurped, rice munched, stir fried vegetables … actually, I didn’t touch the greens.
The Best Is Always Saved For Last
The leisurely lunch over, we boarded the boat for Koh Hong – our final destination. Just as perfect as Koh Poda, but more intimate and secluded, it’s the kind of place you never want to leave (the guide counts heads before taking off, so don’t get any crazy ideas). Of all the beaches in the area, this easily tops the list of favourites. The usual beach activities apply here, with one unusual addition: For a massage from the local residents, take a seat in the water while guides summon masses of tropical fish to swarm around for bits of bread. The kids like it, if nothing else.
Some tours pack in as many stops as possible, but this one took a unique approach. While you don’t get to cross as many sights off your travel Bingo (or housie) card, the hand-picked locations are the absolute best – and you actually get time to fully appreciate each one. Being a self-confessed Krabi junkie, it doesn’t take much to impress me. I got my fix, and my new Italian friends went home with an addiction that will have them returning again and again.