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JULY 31, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 4

Illustration for TIME by Izhar Cohen.

How to See Paradise with the Help of a Paddle

When the Inuit first explored the Arctic in their kayaks, they faced freezing temperatures, angry polar bears and the risk of being crushed between shifting ice flows. By comparison, kayaking in Asia is a much more pleasant affair. The highly mobile craft—now made of fiberglass and plastic rather than the traditional sealskin—is a handy vehicle for exploring Asia's tiny islands and hidden beaches, and a growing number of adventure travel companies are offering trips that don't require exceptional courage. You need not be an experienced oarsman to get in on the fun: a few minutes training on the first day will teach you all you need to paddle a kayak safely and comfortably with a guided group. And kids, as long as they like water, are welcome.

If you're a novice looking to get your paddle wet for the first time, consider heading to Thailand for what National Geographic Traveler magazine has called one of the world's top 25 adventures: paddling with Sea Canoe ( in Phang Nga bay, near Phuket. Lined with mangroves and filled with bizarre limestone crags that reach up to 300 m in height, the bay is home to kingfishers and other seabirds and a trove of aquatic life. Nearly silent kayaks allow paddlers to get close to wildlife without frightening it away and to explore the narrow confines of sea caves. You can choose a day trip ($83) or an overnight adventure featuring camping on beaches and dining on the catch of the day. Sea Canoe also offers kayak journeys in Vietnam, the Philippines and Fiji.

How to See Paradise with the Help of a Paddle
If you're a novice looking to get your paddle wet for the first time, consider heading to Thailand

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Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, 140 km east of Hanoi, covers more than 1,500 sq km and boasts some 3,000 islands. Like Phang Nga, Ha Long is dominated by limestone and blessed with clear water. In addition to Sea Canoe, Buffalo Tours mounts expeditions around the bay; go to or call (84-4) 828-0702. Southeast Asia Liveaboards ( features six-day journeys to Burma's isolated Mergui Archipelago. There are so few human inhabitants here that wildlife can easily run wild; it's unusually common for kayakers to catch glimpses of monkeys, pigs, parrots, hornbills and sea eagles. The trip costs $800, including meals and ground transport.

Kayaking has yet to take off in the Philippines, but with 7,107 islands offering all sorts of tropical seascapes, it's perfect for paddlers. The islands sport thousands of kilometers of spectacular coastline, home to fishing villages, pristine beaches, coral reefs and mangrove swamps. At the moment, the Calamian Islands north of Palawan have the most developed tours, with trips operated by Sea Canoe and Ocean Trek ( While kayaking was born in the Great White North, it has found a perfect home in the Wonderful Warm East.

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