Sea kayaking to Emerald Cave seems like a dream come true, and if you watched our video in our older Koh Mook post I can see how you’d think it is. The views were absolutely stunning, the journey through Emerald Cave was one-of-a-kind, and the weather was perfect.
Well, that’s because you’ve only seen what we wanted you to see. The magic of amateur cinema.
In an effort to be more “authentic” with everybody, I’m trying my hand at an “Honest Confessions” post. Yes, it’s sort of a recap of an old post, but with much more detail and much more personal humiliation for people to either laugh about or relate to (I’m good with either).
So here’s what I didn’t tell you about sea kayaking to Emerald Cave. The embarrassing bits. The “insider’s look” if you will. Let’s get started.
Our one goal on Koh Mook was to see the famous “Emerald Cave”, and while you can pay for a boat tour, kayaking sounded so much more adventurous and fun – so much more “blog-worthy”.
Our campsite was on the complete opposite side of the island as the cave and we’re by no means expert kayakers. Also, we were malnourished and dehydrated due to lack of funds. But people who had seemingly never even been inside of a kayak before were doing it, so why couldn’t we?
We got some very brief information from the Thai woman renting us the kayaks, of which we maybe understood about 50% – and that’s a generous guess. I was in the habit of just nodding when I didn’t understand something for fear of making the person repeat it 10 times over. Not a great habit to fall into. But I figured, you kayak until you see Emerald Cave – how much more do we need to know?
We hopped into our individual kayaks and headed out. The first thing I noticed was that the outdated kayak didn’t have a seat-back. Well that’ll make for a comfortable ride considering I have absolutely nothing to lean on. “Engaging core muscles! Beep boop. Core muscle failure.” It wasn’t long before I was feeling the burn in my tummy (welcome to my gut blaster workout), so we took a break on an empty beach for a while thinking naively to ourselves,
“We’ve got plenty of time!”
Ah, young Kristin.. there’s so much I wish I could tell you..
We paddled out again and when we reached the North horn of the island, the scenery grew increasingly more beautiful with sheer cliff faces and deep, blue water. Amazing, glittery fish swam along beside me. Ah! It was like something out of the finest travel magazine. I felt like Pocahontas. Queen of the water. Princess of the paddle.
Unfortunately, that feeling quickly diminished when my kayak started getting smacked head-on by giant waves. I was paddling like a maniac only to realize I was hardly even moving.
“Ugh, is that rock in the distance STILL only the size of my thumb?”
(Thumb measurements are about the extent of my sea-navigation skills). Not to mention, I was starting to get distracted by the burning smell coming off of my unprotected skin. Not literally of course, but I could definitely feel things heating up. I wasn’t wearing an ounce of sunscreen. Dumbbbb.
One hundred thousand hours later we rounded the North part of the island. Emerald Cave must be close now, right? Not really, but another degree of sunburn later, we arrived at a hidden beach surrounded by cliffs and thick jungle. With only 2 other kayakers in sight, we took a break, put on some sunscreen (it seemed like a good time now that most of the damage had already been done), and snorkeled around through clear water and small, underwater cave openings. Pretty neat, but we were running out of daylight and still had to kayak back to our campsite.
We packed up again, and headed for Emerald Cave. It was pretty easy to spot as there was a huge line in the water where you could tie off your boat, but I was none to pleased with the fact that we were jumping out of our kayaks and swimming through pitch-darkness for 70 feet to get to the lagoon. Anyone who has read my Koh Rong article knows how I feel about water that I can’t see in. To be fair, I knew in advance that the plan was to swim, it just seemed much scarier once we got there. But when in doubt, just do it, right?
The whole way through the darkness I was whimpering and mumbling, “Ican’tIcan’tIcan’t” like the Little Engine that couldn’t.
I was a giant baby. I’ll admit it. But at least I was doing it – and coping in my own, weird way.
We reached the end, saw the lagoon enclosed by cliff walls, and swam back. I was almost equally scared the second time. Especially when I realized we were swimming over top of a school of fish so large, it looked like a black mass.
“Feeding grounds,” My shark-fearing brain thought.
I awkwardly climbed back into the kayak – ever tried to climb into a kayak in deep water? Not easy. – and we started the trip back home.
We hadn’t even reached the North side of the island when my arms started giving out on me. I mean, really giving out. Not just me saying,
“Hmph! I hate this! I give up.”
Trust me, I didn’t want to give up. If I took a break that only meant I’d be pushed back further from the end goal, and I wanted more than anything to reach that end goal – the end goal was bed.
Francis started encouraging me, drill-sergeant style, telling me I couldn’t quit. “There’s no room for failure!”. He didn’t say those exact words, but a variation of them. I mean, we really couldn’t just quit. We were in the middle of the ocean with the only land mass in sight being a straight, vertical incline. So I kept paddling. I paddled until my arms felt like they’d fall off. Until my stupid dainty wrists that always gave me so much trouble at the gym started screaming at me. Until I couldn’t even clench my fingers around the paddle.
After what seemed like forever – rounding the North side, and passing our first beach stop – we saw lights. Our campsite! It was almost completely dark now and I was near tears my body was so beat up. I started paddling harder. We were only a mile out – I could do this!
Then, the worst happened. My kayak came to a screeching halt. The tide was out – FAR out – and we had run aground. We’d have to walk the rest of the way back – with our stupid kayaks in tow.
Agh! Can this nightmare just be over?
The kayaks were way too awkward to hold over our heads, so we got out and started dragging them behind us, which proved to be extremely difficult. The texture of the ground can only be explained as “sludge” with the occasional sharp rock thrown in for good measure. Our feet were constantly getting sucked under and it felt like we were making no progress at all. Especially me, hanging out in the back going much slower than my broad-shouldered husband. Now and then he’d run back to help me along with mine, until he decided, (probably because he wanted this day to be over sooner rather than later) to just give me the paddles and he’d try to drag both kayaks. That would have worked great except, by some strong, unlucky force, his foot got stuck in the sludge and his sandal broke. Yes, broke.
Soldiering on, Francis continued to cut his feet on sharp rocks and giant hermit crabs – seriously, curse those softball-sized spike-covered things! – until we made it to the site.
We were disgusting, we hadn’t eaten in 12 hours, and our shins were covered in big, gross blisters from the sun. Not to mention, we were now coated in sludgy mud from the hike back. We were total wrecks. We quickly rinsed off and went straight to bed. I felt like I had aged 30 years as I slowly and painfully lowered myself down onto the ground to go to sleep.
The next morning over breakfast – as I hid behind big sunglasses and long pants, trying not to ruin anyone’s appetite with my skin – the owner asked us if we brought the kayaks back last night. We told her “yes”, and inside our heads we were thinking, “Well we’re here aren’t we? Of course we brought them back!”. She then proceeded to tell us presumably the same thing she told us before we left – except this time we actually heard it,
“You could have dropped the kayaks off at the beach on the other side. We have a driver to take them back.”
This is the part where you laugh at us for being so stupid. Had we just listened, we could have cut the trip in half, saved Francis’s sandals AND been back by dinner. Fortunately, we were eating when she told us, so we were in high spirits and able to laugh it off. If she had told us that the night before, I probably would have gone crazy and killed a giant hermit crab.
But as painful and horrible as that journey to Emerald Cave was and as humiliating as it is to know we could have handled it so much better, it is strangely still one of my top 5 favorite experiences of our travels. Mistakes don’t ruin a story – in fact, they often make for a better one, and certainly a more memorable one. And sure, you’re probably all thinking I’m a huge whiny baby now (justified), but at least that’s more real and relatable than me claiming to be a beastly she-hulk who paddled 8 miles into strong current with no problem.
Realness at the cost of my pride. That’s what I’m going for.
However, even though mistakes are super fun, please do learn from ours. Listen to other people. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Otherwise, you might end up like us – with 2nd degree burns and a broken flip flop.