The best way to see Thailand's mesmerising hongs

Welcome to the world of hongs – sanctuaries within limestone karst islands of the Andanman Sea. Hong means room in the Thai language and these unusual 'rooms' are in fact sinkholes within rugged karst cliffs only accessible through sea caves. 

Tours and excursions

Phang Nga Bay on west coast of the southern Thai peninsula has been flooded by the sea over time, leaving limestone karst plain fully submerged. Today however, this beautiful part of Thailand is famed for being home to some of the most striking karst formations in the world. Toothy karst peaks rise dramatically out of the sparkling sea and inside some of them you'll find hongs and their unique lagoons. Phuket is the main base for excursions and most hong tours start off on a day charter.

What time of day is the best to go

Hongs can only be reached through sea caves and even then access depends on tide movement. During high tide the entrance – and sometimes the whole cave – will be underwater, so tours are scheduled for low-tide admittance. Many of the caves have low entrances and deep water throughout, so access through the sea cave is limited to short periods of around an hour or so around the low tides. 

See also: Beyond Phuket: Six of the best lesser-known Thai islands

How to access the hong

To access the hongs tour companies, such as John Gray's Sea Canoe, usually use inflatable ocean kayaks that they keep onboard the day charter. In the majority of cases a sea kayak will hold two guests as well as a guide, and in groups of three (all wearing head torches) the assemblage paddle into the cave and through to the hong. Sometimes the cave tunnel that leads to a hong can be both narrow and low and visitors have to lie flat in their kayaks to get through. 

What to expect

A hong is essentially a secret garden, hidden from prying eyes and offering those lucky enough to visit a beautiful and peculiar landscape to explore. It is thought that the hongs, which can be more than 300 metres in diametre, may have once had a roof, but today they are open to the sky letting in plenty of sunlight, which allows the luscious vegetation to grow. Bird, crab and insect sightings are common and occasionally lizards, snakes and even leaf monkeys (who survive inside the hongs by eating plants) can be seen.

Reading the tides

Local people have known about the hongs for a long time, collecting birds' nests and trying their hand at fishing inside the unique ecosystem. Today however, the hongs are mostly used for tourist excursions when convoys of canoes and kayaks venture there each day. Since the tides dictate when groups can enter hongs, tours also usually incorporate time spent relaxing or playing on the surrounding beautiful beaches, most of which are encircled by sheer karst cliffs.

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Thailand

Evening rituals

Although most tours return in the afternoons, John Gray's Sea Canoe stays out until evening, offering guests an emotive experience that concludes in almost-complete darkness. During the afternoon guests make lotus-shaped vessels decorated with flowers and candles as an offering to the Goddess of Water, a nod to Loi Krathong (Festival of Light) held during full moon in November. Guests and guides work together to create the intricate arrangements in preparation to let the offerings float away inside the last-visited hong – as a sign of symbolism and respect to Thai culture. 

Advertisement

Waiting for sun set

As the sun begins to set on another day the John Gray's Sea Canoe charter is often the only large vessel peacefully navigating the sea. Guests can take in the glorious colours that dusk brings as the suns rays flicker across the crystal blue water and craggy karst cliffs. Once the sun has set the group visits one more hong with their colourful floral offerings. Like the other hong visits, the group kayaks through the sea cave into the hong. Inside everyone lights their candles and places their flower arrangements into the water. Then the guides ask everyone to stop talking and turn off their head torches. With only candlelight and starlight the hong somehow seems even more magical. 

For more information, visit www.johngray-seacanoe.com.

The writer paid for her own travel.

See also: Asia's most stunning floating hotel
See also: Rehab in Thailand: Where you can heal in paradise

Comments