One of my favourite areas to explore in Phuket is its northeast coast, a more wild and rural area with dense mangrove forests along the coast and fabulous views to Phang Nga Bay.
And one of my favourite things to do in Phuket is standup paddling, or SUP. So I was excited to find out that a tour operator called Paddle Phuket runs SUP tours through the mangroves on Phuket’s east coast – an intriguing fusion of our favourite things to see and do.
Run by the Thai-New Zealand couple Tan and Kate, Paddle Phuket offers SUP tours and rentals. Our group of five first contacted them via their Facebook page, and Kate was quick to respond and arrange our booking. We were asked to make a small deposit to book the tour, paid by bank transfer or PayPal.
When the big day arrived, we met Khun Tan along the main road leading to Ao Por pier, just east of the Heroines Monument. He was easy to spot with his pickup truck loaded with colourful inflatable SUP boards. We followed him in our cars down some local winding roads further east until we reached a small local pier. Though we travelled in our own vehicles, those who need transport can arrange it with Paddle Phuket.
I’ve lived on Phuket for 18 years, but I’ve never been to this little end-of-the-road pier before. It’s only a 30-45-minute drive from Phuket’s busy tourist beaches, but the panorama looks like a completely different island. Right away we could see magnificent views across Phang Nga Bay and a lush landscape of mangrove trees hugging the coastline. The water is not clear on this side of the island but on the day of our visit it was as smooth as glass. Perfect SUP conditions!
Mangrove Jungle Journey
After a short briefing by Khun Tan and scarfing down some fruit and tasty sticky rice snacks, we selected our SUP boards and paddles and set off. Khun Tan led us through a maze of mangrove-lined inlets, with only the sound of birds and insects intruding upon the silence.
As we paddled deeper into the mangroves, the waterways narrowed and at some points along the way we had to kneel or almost lie down on the boards to navigate through the intricate arches of mangrove branches. These tricky bits really put our paddling skills to work, but we all made it through!
Then we paddled out towards the bay, where the water got choppier. Some of us gave ourselves a good soaking after falling off the boards in the waves. At this point, Khun Tan offered us some options on where to go next. One choice was to paddle out into the bay a bit further, then over to a small local beach, or we could continue exploring the mangrove inlets.
We chose the latter, and spent the rest of the tour gliding along the smooth water through the mangrove forest maze – we made sure to keep Khun Tan within view because we’d probably never find our way out on our own!
We spent more than two hours out on the water, but were so engrossed by the tranquil, picturesque surrounds as we paddled that the time slipped by far too quickly and soon we arrived back to the pier. It was one of those perfect mornings of discovery that made even jaded-old-me fall in love with Phuket all over again.
Khun Tan’s friendly, low-key guiding style was a good match for the relaxed vibe of the tour. And from start to finish, Khun Tan kept snapping away with his GoPro camera, so we were free to focus on the paddling and didn’t have to worry about bringing our own cameras or phones. Within a day everyone in our group received by email a link to the collection of all the digital photos he took.
Exploring the lesser-known tropical landscape of Phuket’s east coast is a big highlight of the mangrove SUP tour, but some of these added touches by Paddle Phuket made the trip all the more memorable. Recommended!
Phuket Mangrove SUP Tour
Contact: Paddle Phuket
Location: Near Ao Por Pier, east coast of Phuket
Tour time: Half-day tour, start time varies with the tides
Cost: 1,650 baht per person (as of March 2018), including SUP board and paddle rental