We are often asked how it all started. How did we become the world famous Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers? The truth is we don’t really know, it just kind of happened. This might surprise you but originally we were just 2 normal people, who got paid to go snorkelling in some of the world’s top snorkel sites, normal everyday people just like you. Then we went kayaking and got lost.
It all started a few years ago when me and Chris were working in the beautiful Similan Islands. We had known each other for years on the islands but never actually worked together at that point, always with separate companies. But it was our job to take groups of people snorkelling around the islands and try to come back at the end of the day with approximately the same number of people that we started with. I think we would both agree that it was one of the best jobs in the world.
Then one day Chris comes up to me on the beach for a chat. “Hey,” he said, “you know I’ve got a long-tail boat,”
“Nope.” I said.
“Yeah well I have. I got it when I was helping out with an eco-camp on Koh Ra a few years back and it has been sitting in Thaplamu harbour ever since. What do you say about taking out for a spin next time you get a day off?”
“Yeah ok. Where you thinking of going?”
“I was thinking we could go up river a bit, explore the mangroves. I was looking at Google Earth, there is over 70 square kilometres of mangroves there, and I don’t know anyone who has ever been there!”
“Ok cool. Sounds fun. Let’s do it.”
“Great, just let me know when you get a day off. Better go, my boat will be here in a moment.” And with that Chris turned away and started walking back to the beach. But after a few paces he turned back to me and said, “Oh by the way, do you know how to drive a long-tail boat?”
I was a bit surprised, I assumed he was planning to hire a captain. “No not really. Only in theory. How about you?”
“I tried it before a couple of times. Last time I got it stuck between 2 mangrove trees in Koh Ra and had to swim back to the pier. You will pick it up quick enough. I mean how hard can it be?” And off he went to find his snorkellers. I couldn’t help but laugh. How hard can it be indeed.
A few days later we found out exactly how hard it could be.
I have driven all kinds of boats over the years, but nothing really handles the same as a long-tail boat. First of all, the engines are often cannibalised from old cars and therefore have their own personalities, meaning if you don’t treat them in just right, they probably wont even start at all, and if they do you will only get one speed. Also, you have a tail. A big, long and very heavy tail which is difficult to get used to. It is also very ungainly, which makes getting out of small harbour towns where you are surrounded by 7 million Baht speedboats quite a tricky task. In the end we managed it without causing to much damage or mayhem, and headed up-river, into the unknown.
“We could do an awesome kayaking tour around here.”
As we got deeper into the mangrove forests Chris turned to me and said, “I wish we had some kayaks. I bet there is some amazing kayaking in here. Imagine all the wildlife we could see if we were kayaking and didn’t have this noisy engine.”
“Yeah,” I said “Bet you could put together a great mangrove kayaking tour in here somewhere.”
We spent the whole day exploring the mangroves and came back as the sun was setting over the sea. We didn’t plan on coming back so late but we had an interesting diversion involving two trees, a snake and a sandbank, which rather prolonged our expedition. But we both agreed that the mangroves and the surrounding scenery were beautiful. Despite the snakes.
That night in the bar, Moe and everyone else who saw our videos and photos from the day said it looked “Awesome” and made us promise to take them there the following week. So, we did. This time with Chris’s friend Ollie, who was a bit cleverer than we had been and packed sandwiches. Other than the sandwiches we had also managed to find a couple of battered old kayaks, which we ‘borrowed’ for the day. With the quiet kayaks we found monkeys this time! And more snakes. Also, we almost didn’t get stuck at all! We did get lost though. Very lost. The kind of lost where you are not even sure which way is up. 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 story to tell that night in the bar.
So that’s kind of it really. It snowballed from there. We would take a day off work to get lost in the mangroves, emerge with a story to tell and go for a beer and a burrito at the Rusty Pelican or somewhere. We would then entertain the disbelieving regulars in the bar with our stories of getting lost in the jungles and then take them with us a few days later so they could get lost for themselves. It was great fun. As the requests got more and more, we found we were taking more and more days off work, and getting lost less and less each time. So that in short is how 2 bumbling Englishmen became known worldwide, as the famous and mysterious Khao Lak Mangrove Explorers.