When I got a call from my friend asking me if I would like to go rafting in Phang Nga, I immediately thought back to the last and only other time I had partaken in such an activity. As I recalled it was a very enjoyable and relaxing day, gently cruising down a river standing on a raft fashioned from several lengths of very thick bamboo and using another piece to gently prod at the riverbed in order to manoeuvre the raft and get to go in the general desired direction, while taking in pleasant scenery and listening for the call of birds and monkeys. So, with this in mind I envisioned a similarly relaxing day albeit in a different location, and naturally, I jumped at the chance.
My friend had organised the trip through The Traveller Thailand, a tour company who I later discovered are extremely adept at putting together rather exciting tours involving elephants, ATVs and rafts. But even at this point my idea of a ‘raft’ was still one of a long, flat, slow-moving one made from bamboo. We were picked-up at 8.30 and we headed into neighbouring Phang Nga and to the Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary. When the guide Matt, introduced himself, I knew there was going to be more to this trip than I had previously thought. With a mischievous glint in his eyes he told me it was going to be fun, lots of fun.
Matt explained about the artificial dam up-river that makes it possible to raft all year round. He said that when the dam is opened the water will rise sufficiently for us to be able to travel the 8km down-river. OK, I thought, but why do we need more water? He then passed me a life-jacket and a helmet.
Guiding us through safety procedures and instructions on how to handle and steer the boat, he cleverly found ways to involve everyone, finding excuses to demonstrate procedure and splashing water over everyone with his ore. He told us that because the guides’ English isn’t too good, they may get confused and tell us to paddle the wrong way. I soon learnt that this was simply a ploy, to pretend to go the wrong way in order to deliberately collide head-on with boulders!
But there was definitely method to the madness. In order to navigate certain parts of the river Matt deliberately collided the raft with boulders and sometime rocks on the river bank to bounce it off in the other direction, effectively spinning it around and down the river. Of course there were times when we simply headed straight for a boulder lying directly in our path in an attempt to get over it. It sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, but it was very funny either way.
Matt told us the dam had been opened as we continued to concentrate on his instructions. A few minutes later I became aware of the river – it had risen by over a foot and was now flowing rapidly. In the distance we could hear screaming and laughing; I looked up-river and saw a number of rafts hurtling towards us from another camp. Spinning rafts zipped by in a flurry of splashes. We launched and we were off. Gently at first, the raft bobbed up and down as we picked up momentum, slowing gently as we moved over submerged boulders and then surging as we cleared them. We gradually picked up speed before the raft dipped sharply as we hit the first rapid, turning and hitting a boulder; we were told to paddle forward, we spun round to the right and we were successfully through.
By the time we had finished my face had actually started to ache with all the smiling and laughing. Thoroughly wet, exhausted and literally crying with laughter, we were picked up and driven back to the camp to enjoy a superb set Thai meal for our lunch.
It was indeed a fun and drenched day out rafting in Phang Nga, to be repeated!