Towers loom above me, their sheer rock walls soaring up from iridescent tropical waters. I paddle in close and crane my neck up at limestone giants that stand at attention like guardians of a mysterious aquatic world.
Ang Thong National Marine Park, 31 kilometres northwest of Koh Samui in southern Thailand, spans an area of 102 km². This includes 42 lush, mountainous islands harbouring wildlife, emerald lakes, deserted beaches and all sorts of nooks, crannies and caves that can seize the imagination. Famously, Ang Thong was Alex Garland’s inspiration for his novel The Beach (now infamously known as the book that became that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio).
Low tide at Ang Thong unlocks secret passageways and kayaking gives you the freedom to explore them. As water levels drop, entrances into the seemingly impenetrable fortress are revealed. One arch is so low that I have to lie down in my kayak and blindly slip into the darkness, propelled by my hands moving along the rock. Suddenly the space opens up. Sunlight faintly trickles in from a small hole. I blink and let my eyes adjust. I’m in some sort of chamber and above me I spy a narrow tunnel that leads upwards, its terminus not visible.
Where does it go? I wonder, letting the fantasy of a hidden paradise blossom in my mind. I’m content to leave this question unanswered; often times the mystery is more satisfying than the reality.
When I look at this photo I get a taste of what I experienced kayaking in Ang Thong. ‘The sublime’ is to feel our smallness in the natural world, to feel overwhelmed by its power and greatness. In turn, this feeling of wonder and humility grants us a connection to that world.
And through this photo I also relive the joy of kayaking – I remember the childlike excitement of everyone getting out onto the water, the first few nervous strokes and wobbles, how people playfully splashed each other before setting off like a paddling of ducks, the bright bellies of the kayaks gliding through the crest and dip of every wave.