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Paddle Thai: Sea Kayaking Thailand's Southern Coast
Considering the meteoric rise of tourismand consequent overcrowdingThailand's reputation as "The Land of 1,000 Smiles" may seem more like strained expressions of tolerance rather than welcoming grins. However, if you head to Thailand's southern coast, hop on a sea kayak to escape the sunscreen-drenched hordes. Once water bound, you will count your own smile among the thousand as you paddle along the coastlines and satellite islands of the aptly-dubbed "Pearl of the South."

Phuket, off the mainland's western coast, is Thailand's largest and most-visited island. The nearby Phang Nga region is considerably less traveled. Mangrove forests, hundreds of uninhabited islands, and sheer limestone cliffs beckon. At low tide, slip through the narrow mouths of the area's sea caves, called "hongs" after the Thai word for "room." These caves remained largely undiscovered, even by local fishermen and their wide boats, until narrow kayaks began cruising the waters in the late 1980s. The western Krabi Province comprises one of the most diverse and interesting of Thailand's coastal environs with mangrove inlets, primeval islands, and white-sand beaches waiting to be explored. While on the western end of the southern coast, also visit Ko Tarutao National Marine Park, a 61-island archipelago with stunning beaches, calm bays, countless deserted islands, and very few fellow tourists.

The premier spot in the southern end of the Gulf of Thailand, just off the eastern coast, is the 247-square-mile island of Ko Samui. Pristine beaches, aquamarine waters, and lagoons lined with drooping palm trees mirror the Thailand depicted on countless postcards. The surrounding islesparticularly Pha-Nganhave enough deserted beaches and coral reefs to keep you drowning in tropical bliss for as long as you can stay. Angthong ("Golden Basin") National Marine Park, northwest of Ko Samui, is another prime sea kayaking spot. Forty small islands are scattered over 250 square miles of azure water rich with protected coral beds, short-bodied mackerel, crystal-clear bays, and to-die-for unpopulated beaches.

Thailand's coastline, dotted with narrow inlets and rocky outcrops, make it ideal for sea kayak exploration, but you need not be an experienced paddler to make use of this liberating mode of transport. Inflatable and open deck kayaks make piloting these boats far easier than it might seem, and Thailand's calm waters are perfect for novices to get their sea legs.

Mush through the Gates of the Arctic
by Paul McMenamin

Exploring the Arctic tundra by dogsled could very well be the paramount polar wildlife experience. And what better place than the 8.4-million-acre Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, one of the largest wilderness areas in North America and the most remote and nortern of all U.S. national parks. The only sign of civilization in this land are the tracks left behind by other dog teams and their sledsand these linger only until the next snowfall.

Alaska's Brooks Range runs through the parks, with two peaks, Frigid Crags and Boreal Mountains, forming the "Gates" from the central Brooks Range into the high Arctic. In these latitudes above the Arctic Circle, around-the-clock sunlight affords perfect conditions for viewing the moose, caribou, dall sheep, bears, wolves, and foxes that inhabit the park.
During April, local outfitters run challenging combination dogsled-ski trips through the Gates. The trip usually begins with a ski-plane flight from Bettles, Alaska, to a winderness outpost at Eroded Mountain. Over the next nine days, you travel north through the dramatic Koyukuk River Valley. Dog teams carry all communal gear and heavy personal items while tour members take turns skiing and mushing. Camps are made in heated-wall tents along the trail.

At the Gates, take to your skis, cut north across virgin powder, and make camp to enjoy fantastic views of the Gates, Hanging Glacier Mountain, and nearby frozen waterfalls. The next day, travel down to the confluence of the Koyukuk River and Erine Creek, where the ski plane waits to take you back to Bettles.

Practically Speaking
This trip is a true wilderness adventureone of the most unique commercially guided tours in the world. It is demanding, but any intermediate skier with some wilderness experience should be able to handle the conditions. No moutaineering skills are required, though you must bring your own expedition-grade equipment.

The longest day's run goes approximately 15 miles, and daytime temperatures average 20 degrees. Prices are approximately $2,000 for ten days, eight of which are spent in the wild

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