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We are often asked how we became the world famous Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers? The truth is it just kind of happened. Surprisingly, originally we were just 2 normal people, who got paid to go snorkelling every day in some of the world’s top snorkel sites, just everyday normal people just like you. Then we went and got lost.
A few years ago, Chris and me were working in the beautiful Similan Islands. We had known each other on the islands for years but always worked with separate companies. It was our job to take groups of snorkellers around the islands and try to come back at the end of the day with almost the same number of people that we started with. It was probably one of the best jobs in the world.
Then one day Chris comes up to me for a chat on the beach. “Hey,” he said, “you know I’ve got a long-tail boat?”
“No.” I said
“Yeah well I have. I got it when I was helping out at the Koh Ra eco-camp a few years back. It’s has been sitting in Thaplamu harbour ever since. Do you fancy taking it out for the day next time you have a day off?”
“Yeah sure, where are you planning on going?”
“I was looking at Google Earth the other day, there is over 70 square kilometres of mangroves just past the pier, I don’t know anyone who has ever been there! But I was thinking we could go up river and explore the mangroves a bit.”
“Yeah ok. It sounds fun. Let’s do it.”
“Great. Call me when you next get a day off. Better go, my boat will be here soon.”
And with that Chris turned away and started walking back to the beach. After a few steps he turned back to me and said,
“Oh by the way, do you know how to drive a long-tail boat?”
This surprised me a bit as I assumed, he was planning to hire a captain for the day. “No, not really. Only in theory. How about you?”
“I tried it before a couple of times before. Last time I got it stuck between 2 trees near Koh Ra and had to swim back. You will pick it up quick enough. I mean how hard can it be?”
And off he went to find his snorkelers. Leaving me standing there laughing. How hard can it be indeed.
A few days later I found out exactly how hard it was.
I have driven many kinds of boat over the years, but nothing really handles the same way as a long-tail boat. First of all, the engines are often cannibalised from old cars and have their own personalities, meaning if you don’t treat them just right, they probably won’t even start, and even then, you will probably only get one speed.
Also, you have a big, long and very heavy tail which is difficult to get used to. It is very ungainly, which makes getting out of small harbour towns where you are surrounded by 7 million Baht speedboats not an easy task. In the end we managed to get out without causing too much damage or mayhem, and turned up-river, into the unknown.
As we got deeper into the mangrove forests Chris said, “I wish we had some kayaks. There looks like there is some amazing kayaking in here. Imagine all the wildlife we could see if we were kayaking and didn’t have this engine noise.”
“Yeah” I agreed, “we could put together an amazing kayaking tour in here.”
We spent the full day exploring in the mangroves and came back as the sun was setting into the sea. We didn’t plan to come back so late but we had an interesting incident with two trees, a snake and a sandbar, which rather extended our expedition. But we both agreed that the mangroves and the surrounding scenery were beautiful. Even with the snakes.
That night in the bar, everyone who saw our photos and videos from the day said it looked “Awesome” and made us promise to take them with us the next time we went. So, we did. This time with Chris’s friend Ollie, who was a bit cleverer than we were and packed sandwiches.
Other than the sandwiches we had also managed to find a couple of old kayaks, which we ‘borrowed’ for the day from a friend who was out of town. With the quiet kayaks we found a whole group of monkeys this time! And several more snakes. Also, we almost didn’t get the boat stuck at all this time! We did get lost though. Very lost. But the when we did manage to find our way back to the main river, after 5 hours of kayaking, the boat was still anchored where we had left it and we had another interesting story to tell in the bar that night.
So that’s it really. It all started to snowball from there. We would take a day off work to get lost in the mangroves, emerge and go for a beer and a burrito at the Rusty Pelican with a story to tell. We would entertain the disbelieving regulars in the bar with our stories of getting lost in the jungles and then when they begged, or paid for the next round, take them with us a few days later so they too could get lost kayaking in the mangroves. It was great fun. As we got more and more requests, we found we were taking more and more days off work, and getting lost less and less each time. So, in short that is how 2 bumbling Englishmen became known worldwide, as the famous and mysterious Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers.
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