A Painful Paddle to a Private Island Paradise

“Hey, look at that island in the distance! We should totally rent a kayak and paddle out there! It will be so much fun.”

koh yao noi views

After spending two hours canoeing on a lake in Bali, I now consider myself to be an expert in all sports that require you to wave sticks in a body of water. Looking out towards the tiny island of Koh Nok, I estimated that it would take no more than five minutes of fierce paddling to get there.

Somehow managing to convince Dave that this was an excellent idea and that we would have an amazing time, I dragged him over to the nearest kayak shop to enquire about prices.

We decided to take the cheapest and crappiest option as renting a kayak is apparently ridiculously expensive. As I gazed out across the ocean, I couldn’t help but notice Koh Nok looking a lot further away than I had imagined. Ignoring Dave’s claims that it would take hours to get there, I confidently claimed that it would take just 10 minutes. We were experts now.

kayaking phang nga national park

Throwing our cameras, money and everything else that is important to us into a dry bag, we encountered our first problem when we realised that the kayak was essentially a floating slab of plastic with nowhere to keep our stuff. A kayak that looked extremely likely to topple over from even the slightest movement.

Dave decided that the logical thing to do would be for me to look after the bag and attempt to keep it balanced on top of the canoe because clearly he is insane.

Somehow we managed to clamber on top of the violently rocking kayak without knocking anything into the water and then, as we were handed our oars, I focused on our target and I began to row.

I rowed like I’d never rowed before. I rowed as if my life depended on it. I rowed like nobody was watching.

Unfortunately, for both me and him, Dave was temporarily watching until his screams alerted me to the fact that the amount of salt water I had thrown in his face had blinded him.

Swinging myself around to see if he was ok, and nearly knocking our bag into the depths of the ocean in the process, I was horrified to discover that we had barely even moved from our starting point.

I was exhausted. We had been paddling for 10 minutes and had travelled about 3% of the total distance. We should be there by now!

For the next hour I cried, I grunted and I screamed. I was soaked in sweat, I felt like my arms had been ripped from their sockets. I thrashed wildly in the sea, desperately battling the tides. Every time I tried to rest, the waves would take me right back to the start again.

I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t rest, I had to keep going.

koh nok by kayak

An hour later than I had anticipated, we finally arrived at Koh Nok.

We pulled up to our island paradise and dragged our kayak across the beach, trying to avoid hitting the hundreds of people sunbathing there.


We hadn’t realised that Koh Nok is a popular lunchtime stop for the many boat tours of Phang Nga Bay, so we got to share our tiny island beach with hundreds of tourists. We found a small patch of beach in the shade and laid there glaring at everyone else.

It was definitely not worth the pain and torture of getting there.

Fortunately, just as all the tours arrive at the same time, they also left at the same time too.

An hour after arriving, we watched the last tour boat race away from the island and as we looked around, the beach couldn’t have looked more different than when we had arrived.

It was paradise and we finally had it all to ourselves!

koh nok beach
koh nok beach

For the next hour we sunbathed on our private beach, we swam in the warm shallow sea and I had a panic attack when I ran excitedly through the trees only to come face to face with an enormous komodo dragon. This is the one time I am not exaggerating. It was about 6 foot long!

It was definitely time to leave.

canoe on koh nok

I had hoped that the journey back to Koh Yao Noi would be easier but it was much, much worse. With a strong wind forcing us sideways we were constantly battling to keep facing forward while simultaneously paddling sideways so we didn’t end up on the other side of the island

Had you been there and closed your eyes, you would have thought a game of tennis was going on from the noises I was making…

Fortunately, the tide was out when we finally arrived back, meaning that we had a whole 20 metres less to paddle. Believe me – it makes a difference. As we gingerly crawled off the kayak and collapsed on the rocks below, I knew we were thinking the exact same thing:

Never again.

About the author

Lauren Juliff

Lauren Juliff is a published author and travel expert who founded Never Ending Footsteps in 2011. She has spent over 12 years travelling the world, sharing in-depth advice from more than 100 countries across six continents.

Lauren's travel advice has been featured in publications like the BBC, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Cosmopolitan, and her work is read by 200,000 readers each month. Her travel memoir can be found in bookstores across the planet.


  1. Nicole
    June 14, 2012

    Haha…this had me laughing out loud! I can so totally see you two paddling and paddling and getting no closer! I’m glad you made it, it looks beautiful. Except of course for the Komodo Dragon!

  2. ash
    June 14, 2012

    That looks like a pretty far paddle! Gorgeous scenery though!

  3. DebbZ
    June 14, 2012

    Whoa….I feel exhausted just by reading this post. I’ve never tried kayaking before, it sounds fun :)

  4. June 14, 2012

    Wow, Lauren, that’s a hard job to paddle :) a good post :)

    Love the low angle photo with a boat.

  5. June 14, 2012

    Haha Gosh I love that you thought it was so close! This is something I would do but I couldn’t describe as well as you! Great story and at least you learned a lesson right?

  6. Toni
    June 15, 2012

    And this is the exact reason I will never travel with you hun lol. Only you. The scenery must definitely have been worth it though?! And where’s the dragon?! :p

  7. Ian [EagerExistence]
    June 15, 2012

    Naww… Kayaking is one of my FAVOURITE sports. I can go for days!! No pic of the dragon?

  8. Waegook Tom
    June 15, 2012

    HAHAHAHA! I can just imagine you sitting there glaring at the other people on the beach!

    Really funny post Lauren. See, this is what happens when you try to be active. It’s just not worth it. Better stick to cocktails and punching Chinese women.

  9. Erik
    June 17, 2012

    Too funny…. The things we do as travelers when we can’t get an idea out of our heads :-)

  10. Susan @ Travel Junkette
    June 17, 2012

    Haha, awesome. I love kayaking! I’m currently spending my second summer up in Alaska working for a sea kayaking company. It’s very different though – a lot of measures to keep you from getting wet, as it’s a little bit colder up here! Glad you got to enjoy a bit of paradise.

  11. Arianwen
    June 18, 2012

    This is exactly the sort of ‘genius’ idea I would have! Then I’d also be too stubborn to admit defeat and would row the whole way there if it almost killed me! Well done! The photos are beautiful. Looks worth it to me.

  12. Juliann
    June 20, 2012

    I would have never made it across. I would probably still be drifting somewhere in the ocean. Thanks for taking us along with you and doing all the paddling.

  13. Ali
    June 25, 2012

    Definitely looks pretty, but I would’ve been in agony too! I’m glad you made it though!

  14. Rob
    January 29, 2018

    Haha, looks can be deceiving! But on the bright side that beach is beautiful. I hope you will give kayaking another shot?!

    • February 5, 2018

      I have in many places around the world! Most recently, in Tonga!

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