To the islands
From Page 5 architecture of their own roots, I climb on to a rock ledge. A kingfisher is working a careful beat, flitting between two trees with a flash of iridescent blue.
A heron arrives to stand knee-deep and statue-still in the shallows. Schools of tiny fish pass, leaping out of the water in little flying arcs. On the mud flats exposed by the retreating tide, fiddler crabs scuttle back and forth waving their pincers in a show of mock hysteria.
It is then I notice the lagoon’s most remarkable creature: a walking fish. Barely 10cm long, mudskippers are fish with specialised gills that use their pectoral fins as primitive legs. They scamper about on exposed rocks and mudflats, pausing from time to time to check out the neighbourhood with their bulbous eyes, which stand on stalks on the top of their heads.
In this strange secluded place it seems entirely natural I should find a creature still poised at a remarkable evolutionary moment. About 370 million years ago, when a distant relative of the mudskipper clambered out of the sea and began to struggle across the rocks on its fins, life on dry land began. Mudskippers are the reason that most of us don’t have scales or dorsal fins or change sex when the gender balance goes astray.
Later, back on the boat, at anchor in the middle of my secret lagoon, I make my notes. Looking over them now I can see it had all been a bit much for me. Like the fiddler crabs, they verge on the hysterical: ‘‘ This is where pirates hide, where fish are born, where mermaids live, where sea monsters convene, where myths are written, where sea gypsies shelter, where tempests retreat . . .’’
OK, I got carried away. But why should I apologise? I have penetrated to the secret heart of the one of the world’s great hideaways. Later, back on my terrace, with a fluffy bathrobe and a martini, shaken not stirred, I watch the islands floating in the moonlight and wonder why there are never any former KGB operatives around when you need one.
Phuket’s hongs attract about five million visitors a year and Phang Nga Bay is a popular day trip from the peninsula. Some hongs , particularly in high season, get a lot of traffic, which rather spoils the point of visiting them. Excursion boats, often carrying large groups, tend to stick to the same lagoons at the same times. Your hotel should be able to arrange a private tour to the hongs by local boat or by speedboat to avoid the crowds. Both can carry a kayak should you want to paddle into the lagoons. Bangkok Airways connects from Bangkok to Phuket. More: www.bangkokair.com. Six Senses Hideaway is a luxury resort on Yao Noi island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. More: www.sixsenses.com.