Thailand was always an exotic and distant destination in my youthful imagination. When I first arrived in the Kingdom, it certainly lived up to that image.
Culturally, Buddhism lies at the core, as witnessed in calm and respectful nature of the people. Stay clear of the tourist hot spots and Thailand retains its charm. Of course, food is an essential element in Thai life. Aromatic, fresh, flavorful and as distinct as the people, one could spend a lifetime sampling local and regional culinary specialties.
After many years of discovering the country by land and sea, I remain a fan. The blend of culture, physical geography and diversity is what leads many to return year after year.
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Enjoyin' the Ride
The Grateful Dead sang "I might be goin' to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoyin' the ride." I don't think I'm on the same trajectory but the ride from the seat of my Feathercraft Wisper collapsible sea kayak is pretty enjoyable. And when that is dropped in the northern Andaman Sea surrounded by empty islands, both Burmese and Thai, the setting is perfect.
January, 2018: Ian Taylor and I met up for another paddle. We based ourselves at Green Banana, on Aow Lek, Koh Chang, Ranong. This location is perfectly situated as it lets us run over to the mainland and explore the mangrove forests, paddle up to the Burma border or run south around a host of other island choices. And the best thing is knowing that we always return to Mama's amazing food and a welcoming family.
When Ian departed, he left his kayak and Astried Huebner had the opportunity to discover sea kayaking. From the mangroves and hidden beaches of Koh Chang to the open Andaman Sea, this is an ideal environment to discover the sport.
This year did not include a lot of miles - only 550 km - but it was filled with highlights.
Day Tripper :: Up Close and Personal
The worst storms in over two decades struck southern Thailand in December 2016 and January 2017. Waiting for Ian Taylor to arrive, I logged over 400km in the north Andaman Sea, paddling in wet, windy conditions. The ensuing flooding, unseasonable winds and inclement weather that ravaged the south showed no signs of relenting. This lead us to the unusually rational decision to establish a base camp at Green Banana, Aow Lek, Koh Chang and paddle daily.
Our focus was the UNESCO Man and Nature Biosphere Reserve south of Ranong town and its 32,000 hectare mangrove forests, canals and fishing communities. Forays into the mangrove canals were timed around appropriate tides. Mangrove forests are fascinating. So many species of trees that grow in salt water; incredibly diverse wildlife and endless exploration potential. We enjoyed "shore lunches", featuring Ian's home cooked and dehydrated Chili con Carne in new and fun locations and judiciously balanced paddling with fishing and photo days.
As always, we were welcomed by local fishermen, who became accustomed to seeing us in strange places. From the shrimpers of Sai Dam Island and eel fishers of Khlong Ngao to the crabbers of Jak Island, we were always met with a smile and an invitation to eat. Best of all, we knew that no matter what the weather delivered, a dry and friendly home awaited.
Nearly 1,000 km later, I am becoming more familiar with the nooks and crannies that are abundant on this coastline.
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'Round Ranong :: Sea Kayak Thailand's North Andaman Coast
The focus of the 2015/2016 sea kayak trip was to discover the nooks and crannies of Ranong Province. I have logged hundreds of miles in the North Andaman Sea but there are always missed spots. Circumnavigating islands simply because I could, finding freshwater to drink, learning where the fish were plentiful and which empty beaches provided the best camping. Nearly 1,000 km later, I feel that I can truly say I am getting familiar with this coastline.
For my 2014/2015 sea kayak trip, I decided the theme would be "Chasing Sunsets". Ironically, the weather was unfavourable, marked by strong winds, rolling seas and cloudy skies. In time, I did manage to see some panoramic sunsets. Although the mileage was shorter than in past years, the adventure was rewarding, as always. A highlght was spending Christmas and New Year riding empty waves with good friends on Koh Phra Thong.
Sea Kayak Thailand :: Border to Border III
Paddling the Andaman Coast of Thailand for the third time with Ian Taylor. Launching from Aow Yai Beach, Koh Phayam, in December 2013, we made our way down the entire length of the coast to within a few km from the Malaysian border at Langkawi.
Sea Kayak Thailand :: Border to Border II
Paddling the Andaman Coast of Thailand for the second time with Ian Taylor. Launching from Aow Yai Beach, Koh Phayam, December 2012 - "Doomsday", we made our way down the entire length of the coast to within a few km from the Malaysian border at Langkawi. Over the course of 20 days, we covered 570km and experienced new beaches, islands and wonderful welcoming people.
Sea Kayak Thailand :: Border to Border
The morning of December 20, 2010, was a perfect day to start an expedition. The starting point was Koh Phayam, near the Thai/Burma border. The destination was Ko Tarutao, near the Malaysian border. Although the wind was gentle and the swell was calm, the tide was against us from the outset and it quickly demonstrated its power. Ian Taylor and I crossed slowly to the mainland, commencing the journey. We made our way south along the sparsely populated coast of Ranong Province, past Khao Lak, north of Phuket Island, into Pha Nga Bay and across to Krabi. Ian fell ill, victim of a virus and stopped there. I continued solo to southern Thailand, paddling completely around Koh Tarutao and within a few km of the Malaysian border. "Border to Border" lasted 40 days. It was filled with lots of ups and the occasional down over the 685km I paddled.