Mother Nature Presents: Bioluminescence + John Gray’s Tour in Phuket: our experience.
Note before starting: please note that the photos of the bioluminescence unfortunately didn’t come out in the best quality because of the nature of this phenomenon. We apologise but we how it can get you at least the drift.
Bioluminescence. Such a big long fascinating word.
It all started when I saw a photo of it, and I’ve been obsessed about it ever since. (The cover photo courtesy of ichef.bbci.co.uk)
In a few very simple and non-scientific-at-all words, this phenomenon consists in creatures that, during the night, sparkle. / From Latin: BIO (life) LIMIN (light).
We all know about flickering fireflies, or glowing jellyfish or anglerfish in the deep sea.
Well, there is also another way to see it without having to wait in the forest endless nights nor to have to be a professional diver.
There are some little atom-like organisms called dinoflagellates (bioluminescent plankton) that populate that water in some bays of the world, like in South of Thailand, Tasmania (Australia), and Puerto Rico (Caribbean).
They have been there for millenniums, single-cell creatures as old as time! They are so small that a thousand of them can fit in a drop of water.
What this plankton does: it captures the sunlight during the day and at night, if disturbed, it releases it; as a consequence, it sparkles. It is like a solar-charged defence system.
We were lucky enough to see it happening during our trip in Thailand, on an island near Phuket.
Now I guess your question will be: HOW DO I SEE IT TOO?
Here below, a cartoonified representation of my excitement….
To find the bioluminescence your best bet is to go with experts. They know the best places and hidden caves where to see it at its best.
We chose John Gray’s Sea Canoe Company. It is so far the best rated kayak company in that area of Thailand and its tours are rated at mostly 5 stars everywhere. Let me tell you a bit about the tour.
HONG BY STARLIGHT TOUR
The tour that includes the bioluminescence is named Hong by Starlight.
They pick you up from your hotel in Phuket (we had to pay some extra as we were staying further up, in Khao Lak) -and by the way you don’t have to get up at 5am with this one as it leaves at midday-yay!
Once on the boat, they will serve you some simple and DELICIOUS lunch and off you go exploring Phang Nga Bay’s marine geology.
Each two or three passengers will be assigned to one expert guide and they will paddle you through caves (from here the name “Hong” -Room) and places you would think only exist in movies today.
A characteristic of John Gran’s Tours is that they are environmental friendly: nothing goes wasted, they recycle, and the guides collect floating rubbish that some reckless tourists or sailors threw in the sea, helping to keep those waters as clean as they can.
The afternoon goes very smoothly: you discover beautiful caves with your guide and then you’ll swim or paddle yourself near a small beach (it will most likely be hot and you will most likely look forward for that moment).
After your swim/paddle, back on the boat you will make a floating “Kratong”-flower- together with your guide.
These are traditional Buddhist home made sculptures that believers release in the sea during the Loi Kratong ceremony (See our article about it) LINK
This is the one we make that day
Though Loi Kratong is a once-a-year festival, this John Gray’s tour will reproduce it the act each night for you.
Funny NOTE: most of the guides there are actually Muslim, as the South of Thailand is more Muslim than Buddhist. The act has no religious meaning for them, it is just a “spiritual”/recreational moment for the tourists to immerse for a little in an old – I would add, cute – tradition.
Now, I am a sunset hunter, and I must say, the sunset we saw on that boat in that bay was a show I will carry with me for a while
BIOLUMINESCENCE PART OF THE TOUR
Finally, after a beautiful nice day, the part I had been waiting to see…(please remember Agnes’ face)
The bioluminescence moment came.
You jump again on the kayak with your guide, armed with you Kratong, and paddle into a cave you visited during the day, that now, with the dark, looks completely different (and a bit scary if I may). At your own time, you will than release the Kratong and your guide will pick a quiet spot in the cave where the bioluminescence will show its best in the complete darkness.
It is quite magical. Our guide was actually really cute, to show us better he literally immersed himself in the shallow/muddy waters (Low tide’s fault, plus, it’s a cave) and moved his shirt to show us how many there were around.
Now let’s get to the FAQ
- Does the staff speak English? All the crew members were locals however all of them could speak at least basic English, and the guide’s’ English was honestly really good even though they kept apologising about it.
- Do you have to tip your guide at the end? You don’t have to, but I would bring some change if I were in you, if your guide will put some effort into it, you will feel like giving them something at the end.
…Little Curiosity… Another thing about this company is that they aim to take out young people from the streets and teach them skills and values and give them a chance in life. We found this very noble.
- Do you get to swim in the Bioluminescence? To be quite honest with you, here is how it is: you don’t.
You paddle in the cave with your guide- and as I said, inside is muddy and has very low tide. You cannot swim in there.
Outside the cave, it won’t be dark enough yet to see the bioluminescence, and the lights of the boat cannot be turned off. And trust me, I was one of those: oh, I will do it no matter what, I don’t care… nah!!
I mean, you can still try, and swim, but also beware of the creatures that populate those waters.. i.e. in the day a jellyfish can be seen and avoided, but with the dark… are you willing to take THAT risk?