Mangrove mazes and island caves: Paddling Southern Thailand

One of the best ways to explore the waters between Phuket and Krabi is by canoe or kayak. Get up close to jagged limestone cliffs and explore ancient caves, mangrove forests and intricate waterways. Whether you’re staying in Phuket, Koh Phi Phi or Krabi, these are some destinations you won’t want to miss.

Photo: Ao Talen

Ao Talen

Paddle along beautifully tangled mangrove forests to a local fishing village. The maze of waterways leads you through dense swamps and towering limestone karsts. Watch for wildlife like eagles, kingfishers, egrets, monitor lizards and mudskippers.

Photo: Koh Yao Noi / Madeleine Deaton

Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai

Situated halfway between Phuket and Krabi, these undeveloped islands are easily accessible from both directions. Koh Yao Yai is the less developed of the two. We recommend you get a personal canoe tour together to explore cave paintings and numerous small islands on your own, away from any crowds.

Photo: Krabi / Brandon

Ao Leuk

Ao Leuk is in the northern part of Krabi, bordering Phang Nga province. The water is green, the jungle dense and the caves dark and mysterious. Start at Tham Lod, with its rocky tunnel through a karst. Watch out for massive stalactites and stalagmites. Head on to Tham Hua Phee Toh, or Big Headed Ghost Cave in Thai. Rumor has it that an extra large human skull was once found here. Spooky…

Photo: Krabi / Lin Voyage

Koh Panak Cave

You can only enter Koh Panak’s tidal sea caves and lagoons at certain times. Don’t worry, if you go with a guide they’ll know when to start paddling for your life. To make it even more magical, the rocks of Koh Panak Cave glitter in the dark. Don’t touch anything, though, the rocks are super sharp. Keep low and paddle under the limestone onto a beautiful sandbank on the shores of the lagoon.

Photo: Koh Hong / Jim Winstead

Koh Hong

The towering limestone formations are an amazing sight as you approach the island. The lagoon enclosed in the middle of this island seems like it’s in a room, or hong in Thai, with the sky as the ceiling. The clear water of the lagoon is emerald green with lots of tropical fish, making it a favorite snorkelling spot. It is well known though, so we suggest going early in the morning when crowds of tourists thin out.

Photo: Koh Tapu / Michaela Loheit

Koh Tapu

Before The Man with the Golden Gun was released in 1974, this area was barely known outside of the local fishing villages. After the movie, well, Koh Tapu is now better known as James Bond Island. Situated 40 meters west of Khao Ping Kan, or the “Leaning Mountains” in Thai, it’s still a breathtaking sight, so if you do opt for a tour it’s likely you’ll stop here.

Photo: Pileh Lagoon, Koh Phi Phi Leh

Koh Phi Phi Leh

With Maya Bay and Pileh Lagoon among the sights, Koh Phi Phi Leh is still one of the best places for paddling. Most people will tow kayaks over from Koh Phi Phi Don on longtail boats, but if you’re really adventurous (and fit) simply kayak over to Maya Bay on your own. It will take around 1-1.5 hours. But with other boats, wind and the open ocean to navigate we’d leave this for experienced paddlers only.


Most tour companies offer hotel pick up and boat transfer to the destination, where you’ll paddle around on your own or with a guide. We recommend booking a small group or personal guide to take you off the much-paddled path. These companies offer a variety of tours in locations all around Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi:

Sea Canoe

Paddle Asia

Andaman Sea Kayak

Read more Fun articles:

Paradise with a Punch – Experience Muay Thai on Koh Lanta

We dare you: Phuket’s 40 meter jungle free fall

View From the Top: Reaching Thailand’s island viewpoints

Koh Chang Ink: Squid fishing with the pros

5 badass Koh Samui and Koh Tao dive sites that won’t leave you flippered-off

10 Thai island experiences for thrill seekers