Jamie's Phuket Blog

Jamie's Phuket Blog - Discover The Real Phuket

Exploring more islands in Phang Nga Bay

Yes, it's another trip just over the bridge from Phuket into Phang Nga province. We have done lots of exploring in our neighbouring province, which is about 8 times the area of Phuket and, in general, much quieter, more rural and with way less tourism. For sure there are some popular places like the Similan Islands, James Bond Island and there are lots of hotels in the Khao Lak area, but Phang Nga is mostly green and peaceful with quiet roads and lots of beautiful scenery.

Back in August 2015 we explored down some quiet roads just over the bridge and to the east, in an area called "Klong Kian". A very nice day out discovering a new area so close to Phuket. Early in 2016 I saw photos taken from a new viewpoint in that area, so we went again and found Samet Nangshe Viewpoint, which I'd classify as a "must see"! A couple of months ago my wife and a friend and our kids went up the same road to the viewpoint and found that a new restaurant had been built in the mangroves at a village called Hin Rom, which we'd visited in 2015, but the restaurant was not there at that time. My wife also noticed that there were boat tours on offer, so our little plan for this day (we did this trip on 5th November 2016) was lunch and a boat trip to some islands we'd never visited before.

Update - trips like what we did here can now be booked with my friends at Easy Day Thailand

From our house near Phuket Town it took a bit more than an hour to reach the village of Hin Rom. Nothing special at the village, just a (rather dirty) fishing village, but it seems they have a new village co-operative running the restaurant and tours from the village. The final stretch of "road" down to the restaurant and boat jetty is a bit dodgy looking ...

Road to Hin Rom Jetty

We were surprised to find other people already there, but it was a Saturday. I thought this place was our secret! First stop was lunch. There is a simple looking restaurant there, but my wife told me the food was very good last time. One group of about 10 was already there and a German family appeared too - they were staying at a small homestay right by the restaurant. We ordered food and I wandered off to take a few photos before our trip.

Hin Rom Restaurant

Hin Rom Restaurant

(above) Restaurant at Hin Rom

Hin Rom Jetty Panorama

(above) Boats at Hin Rom jetty with a view out to sea. Quite a few boats there, and I wondered how many visitors they would get, given that the boat trip idea is very new. As I sat in the restaurant again, 5 brand new jeeps arrived full of tourists (they looked Scandinavian). Seems that a tour company has made contact, and has money to burn on new cars too!

Tourists at Hin Rom

We let them all go before us. We did not see them out on the water. Our food took quite a long time to appear, as they had only 1 cook working, but the food was certainly good. Very fresh seafood. While we waited we checked out the various options for boat trips. They offered a bunch of different islands and caves. You can do James Bond Island and Panyee village from there, although it's a bit far - better to do these well known sites from other starting points. We've done it a few times, you can read more here or here. The boat prices we thought were a little high, but the guy was up for negotiation and we settled on 3 different islands including some caves for 2000 Baht. My friends with the Easy Day Thailand tour company are offering a new tour in this area, probably combining a boat trip with some other nearby attractions to make a full day. The islands we chose were all new to us. There are so many islands in the bay .. I would love to have my own boat and explore all of them.

On the boat departing from Hin Rom

(above) And we're off ... my daughter and her friends on the longtail boat heading out from Hin Rom.

Longtail Boat Crew

(above) And our longtail boat crew were very friendly!

So, the first stop was a cave. The island is called "Koh Sa Ang" according to the locals. It's marked as "Koh Sawang Yai" on Google Maps. There were photos of a cave next to the restaurant, and I was not expecting too much, but actually this was quite an impressive cave. The longtail boys said they had only found it recently, not sure if that's true. A sign outside said "flamingo cave". I can't seem to find any mention of it on the web, so maybe this is true and it's only been found recently. Some wooden ladders have been built to get into the entrance a few meters above the sea. You have to climb out of the longtail onto the rocks and up a few wooden rungs.

Longtail outside Flamingo Cave

(above) Getting the boat tied up outside the cave at Sa Ang island.

We were the only people at the cave and I was happy that we were all given head torches to wear, which did indicate that there would be some darkness up ahead! Here we all are ready to explore the cave ...

Going Caving in Phang Nga

And it was impressive! The photo below shows the outer chamber, just inside the entrance, with enough natural light for a photo, even with a phone camera.

Flamingo Cave

Having been prepared for something underwhelming, this was a nice surprise. Aside from the size of the cave, there were lots of interesting and beautiful limestone formations - stalactites and stalagmites, plus rimstone dams which are like natural bowls forming stairs down steep slopes. You can see this behind the kids in the photo above. The torches were needed as we ducked through a very low passage into another large chamber behind the first. It was warm in there, and we were all sweating by the time we came out. Some beautiful limestone formations, but very hard to get a photo with a headtorch and an iphone! One of the formations did look a bit like a flamingo. We were all pretty impressed by flamingo cave!

In between the islands, our longtail boat chugged along in the way that only longtail boats can. The view in the Phang Nga Bay area is always good, no matter where you look. A little video below with a few scenery shots from our boat. I really must remember to take more video!

From the flamingo cave we longtailed a little south to Koh Hong. We could only pass by (slowly), as the lagoon here is roped off - no boats allowed. This is a place to visit on a canoe trip. A boat was there from John Gray Sea Canoe and many people were paddling around the sheer cliffs of the island. Up to now we've not done a canoe tour, but it's on the list!

Kayaking at Koh Hong

Rock wall at Koh Hong

(above) Canoe and rock walls at Koh Hong .. Note : there's another island called Koh Hong further south and closer to Krabi, which we visited earlier this year while on a trip to Koh Yao Yai island.

Next stop was another cave! These limestone islands are full of caves. The island (according to Google Maps) is called Koh La Na. The entrance to the cave is at the north of the island. The longtail boat headed into a dark hole and we landed on a small beach inside the cave maybe 15 meters inside the island. It was a bit smelly at first. I believe this is normal in some limestone caves. The cave, they said, is called Tham Kaew, meaning glass cave, apparently due to all the shiny wet limestone inside. We donned headtorches again to look around ...

Tham Gaew Cave

(above) Tham Kaew Cave - another quite spectacular little place and again, hard to take a photo in the dark!

Tham Gaew Cave

(above) The kids found a cool spot to hang out. We do like to explore and do trips with our kids. They seem to enjoy it most of the time!

After a boat ride and a couple of caves, the question from the kids was "where can we swim?" And the answer was the next island, just north of Tham Kaew Cave. This island is called Koh Chao Talay Tai, which means "island of the people of the southern seas". There was a small beach. When we arrived, another longtail with a couple of tourists was just about leaving, so we had the place to ourselves for a while and hung out here for about half an hour. Kids went for their swim ...

Diving into the Sea

A little beach just for us. For 30 minutes we were Lords of all we surveyed :)

Koh Chao Talee Tai

And we found a guitar on the beach. Sort of. I was tempted to bring this lump of driftwood home.

Driftwood Guitar - Deserted Beach

Time to head home! The boat trip with cave visits and the beach stop was a little over 2 hours. I think very good value for our group of 7. A very nice afternoon. Phang Nga Bay is a huge area, and even with all our exploring there is more to see. Can I sell my house and live on a boat? We were back at the little restaurant before 5pm, grabbed a couple of cold Cokes (should have taken some water on the boat, we were thirsty!) and drove home. We even got a nice sunset through the rubber trees. Another fun day exploring new places. After so many years, I am always happy on days like this. Happy to find something new. Happy to see everyone happy!

Sunset 5th November 2016

(above) Sunset on the way home, 5th November 2016

Other places to visit in the area (Phang Nga)

James Bond Island and Panyee Village
Khao Lak
Old Takua Pa Town
Buddha Cave Temple
More about Phang Nga Province

A trip like this one with some canoeing included too can be booked with my friends at Easy Day Thailand.

Location Map - Hin Rom and Islands in Phang Nga Bay

Phuket Wake Park

The Kathu area of Phuket is where I live. It's not far from Patong Beach (just over the hill on the way to Phuket town) and if you wish to get away from the most touristy beach in Thailand, get on a bike and ride over that hill past the temple on the hill, down to a quieter, largely residential area with a lot of history (Kathu was the center of the tin mining industry, and the famous Phuket Vegetarian Festival originated here). The daily Kathu market is worth a visit and you'll find temples in and around the village.

But there's more! If you turn left at the lights next to the Caltex gas station, you pass the market and are heading towards Loch Palm Golf Course and the old Kathu village when you will see a left turn to Kathu Waterfall (Nam Tok Kathu). There's actually a fair amount of new houses around this area - Kathu is getting quite popular! The road up to the waterfall winds along for several kilometers. It's all residential with houses old and new, and lots of small shops and restaurants. Along the way you pass the entrance to the Phuket Wake Park. It used to be called Phuket Cable Ski - but was rebranded with new owners (Russian, I believe) a couple of years ago. There's plenty of parking, and a wakeboard shop outside too.

Wake Park Entrance

Shop at Kathu Wake Park

I first blogged it back in 2007 (this is an updated post), we used to bring our little kids just to watch, but as our kids have got older it's become one of their favourite things to do. It's quite a big set up, with a 400 meter long artificial lake surrounded by hills and palm trees. There's a restaurant too and I can get a cold Chang beer while I watch our kids. You can try wakeboarding, water skiing or kneeboarding. Lessons are available, or (like our kids) you can just learn by trial and error! They are quite good now, but not doing any jumps yet :)

Phuket Wake Park - Cable Ski

(above) Phuket Wake Park in Kathu

Wakeboard Park in Phuket

Wakeboarding - Cable Ski

(above) My kids at the Wake Park

Pick up Service

(above) When people fall off, there's a pick up service - just swim to the side and wait :)

We tend to go at weekends, which are busier, lots of kids of varying levels of ability. The serious dudes tend to be there outside the busy hours, but every time I have been there, we've seen some more experienced folk too, doing flips, jumps and other fancy stuff. Never tried myself, not my cup of tea and I am a bit big these days ... though I have been rafting on the Zambezi and raced bicycles downhill at 80 kph in the Pyrenees... when I was younger! Quite happy to watch my kids now, they like to try all kinds of sporty stuff.

The prices are reasonable I guess - 650 Baht for 2 hours or 1150 Baht for a whole day (adult rates - kids are 350 Baht / 550 Baht). There are also long term rates. We normally let the kids do 2 hours and they are tired enough after that. There are some boards, helmets and life jackets for free rental, though I guess they are not the best ones! There is some better gear you can pay to rent. Our daughter does have her own wakeboard now.

• More information: Phuket Wake Park Website

There are a couple of other wakeparks in Phuket which opened a little more recently. The Anthem Wakepark we have visited a few times, a bit more expensive, certainly seems to cater to what I might call the "international school crowd", but has good facilities and an indoor climbing wall too. And there's another one near the airport.

Phuket Cable Ski (Phuket Wake Park) - Location Map

View Phuket Wake Park in a larger map

Koh Yao Yai Island Trip

Koh Yao Yai is a large island between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay. It's about 25km from one end of the island to the other. We'd never been there until last week, although we have taken several trips to Koh Yao Noi, it's smaller neighbour to the north - our most recent trip was in 2012 - see Beautiful Day at Koh Yao Noi. The whole area is full of small islands, and I've often wished to have a boat of my own. We really should explore more. For a couple of days in mid 2016 we joined our friends from the Easy Day Thailand tour company for a 2 day trip with 1 night at Koh Yao Yai. Easy Day Thailand can be contacted here for trips to any islands around Phuket. And there are lots of islands!

Our trip started on a grey Sunday morning. A trip right at the start of the low season in May always has a chance of rain! We drove to Bang Rong pier in the northeast of Phuket to meet the group for our speedboat transfer to Koh Yao Yai and a morning tour of a couple of other islands. Yeh, weather did not look too promising, but it seemed that the skies to the east looked brighter.

Boatman at Bang Rong

(above) At Bang Rong pier, Phuket

We were all ready, speedboat loaded with bags and beers before 8am. I've said it before - an early start, despite the pain of waking up early, is worthwhile. We sped out of Bang Rong to the Northeast, passing Naka island on the way to Koh Yao Yai. And the weather brightened up, as it often does. If you happen to visit Phuket in low season, don't let a wet or grey morning put you off!

Speedboat near Phuket

(above) Another speedboat passes us on the way to Koh Yao Yai. Skies looking much nicer. Our first stop was the pier at the north end of Yao Yai island where a pick up had been arranged with the hotel to collect all our bags. Then we carried on to Koh Lao Bi Le, also called Koh Hong. Not to be confused with another island called Koh Hong, further north in Phang Nga Bay.

Entering Koh Hong

Lagoon at Koh Hong

On the west side of Koh Hong is an almost hidden lagoon reached by a narrow gap in the limestone cliffs of the island. A longtail boat or speedboat can enter (slowly) and take a quick look around. There is no beach inside, just cliffs and mangroves. So we took a quick look around. And then headed to the more beachy east coast of the island. We got there before 9:30am and it was quiet, just a couple of boats already there.

Floating Pier at Koh Hong

(above) Floating pier at Koh Hong. Walking on this was like walking when very drunk. A general rule of tourist hotspots .... get there early to avoid the crowds. When we arrived, there were about 10 people at the island. An hour later, at least 100.

Koh Hong near Krabi

Beach at Koh Hong

(above) Our kids and friends enjoying Koh Hong. We did strap on masks and snorkels, though the water here is not super clear. Plenty of little, colourful sergeant major damsel fish in the shallow waters. So we had a little swim and when the little beach started to fill up with people, we left about an hour later.

Koh Hong Island near Krabi

(above) The beach and shallow waters at Koh Hong

The next stop was Koh Lao La Ding, about 3km north of Koh Hong. This was already fairly full of boats, with a small beach in between limestone cliffs. We opened our cheap takeaway lunches here although it was not yet 11am. The island seems to have a nickname "Paradise Island" if you book a tour from Krabi... to be honest I think Koh Hong is nicer, but ...

Koh Lao La Ding

The next stop was supposed to be Koh Pak Bia, which features a long sandbank which joins a larger and smaller island. But it was high tide, and a very high tide at that. So the sand was all covered. With no sand to land on we detoured towards Koh Yao Yai. The whole area is just full of beautiful scenery. I really wish I had my own boat!

Island scenery near Koh Yao Yai island

The very northeast tip of Koh Yao Yai is a long, thin point of land called "Laem Haad" meaning "Beach Cape". It's just sand, palm trees and admittedly some buffalo poop! If you are at the Koh Yao Noi pier just over the water, this looks like paradise. At high tide much of the beach was not there, but it was still pretty! We just stopped for 20 minutes before heading to the Koh Yao Yai jetty.

Laem Had, Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai has several piers. The one in the north of the island is 25km from the main pier in the south which can handle a car ferry from Phuket Town. If you start from Bang Rong pier, you will get to the northern pier, and the same boats will also stop at Koh Yao Noi - the pier for the smaller island is just over the water less than 2km away. With our main baggage having already been picked up by the hotel earlier in the day, we loaded ourselves into several songthaews for the short trip to the hotel.

Koh Yao Yai Taxi

I knew that Koh Yao Yai is not quite as developed for tourism as Koh Yao Noi, and having been to "Noi" several times, and knowing it to be quiet, I did wonder about the quality of our hotel. Koh Yao Noi has several fancy hotels and quite a lot of smaller bungalow resorts. Yao Yai has less hotels, although when I looked at Agoda, I was surprised to see so many (see Koh Yao Yai Hotels on Agoda). Easy Day Thailand had booked the Thiwson Resort, not at all expensive with rooms from about 1300 Baht (actually a few fan rooms are cheaper than that). I was interested to see what we'd get ....

Thiwson Resort

(above) We arrived at Thiwson resort at about 12:30, but couldn't check in until 2pm. So I wandered to the front of the resort for a look. That'll do. And you can see below, our kids soon found some kayaks! And some of us found some cold beers :)

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai island

I was into full relax mode (beer, sun, beach) even before we checked in to the rooms. The beach at the front of the hotel .. I think it's "fake". There's a wall facing the sea and between the wall and the resort is filled with sand. At high tide the sea level was near the top of the wall. But it looks great! Rooms were slowly made available for the group. Some rooms are right near the sea and there are several rows of rooms with the fan rooms at the back. My wife and I were sent over the road and up a slight hill to our room. What? U Kidding? Ah, but we had another pool there, just for half a dozen rooms. And a sort of view too.

Pool at Thiwson Resort

(above) Pool outside our room. Once we had the room, it was air con on, lie down, cool down and take a nap time. By about 4:30pm we were back by the sea and the tide had gone way out. The kids took a walk on the low tide sands to where a large longtail boat was left high and dry.

Low tide at Koh Yao Yai

Dad and friends started emptying the several ice chests full of beer :) Late afternoon turned to evening and there were dark clouds over in Krabi (about 20km east) plus some rumbles of thunder. We figured it would not come our way. But later, just as I finished a shower, me and some of the kids had to run down from the hillside rooms as the rain started. No worries, the restaurant at the hotel is well sheltered and has roll-down plastic shutters. And the rain did not last long. We enjoyed a fairly long night of food and drink. The room we had was comfortable, big bathroom with open air shower, the bed was comfy, aircon maybe not quite good enough, I like cold aircon and this one struggled. I think if we went back I'd try for one of the beachfront rooms.

Next morning. Here's a lesson for you. I woke up pretty early, about 7:30am. But way too late for a sunrise photo. Should have thought about that, set an alarm and had a couple less beers! But no worries, because my friend Ingo was awake early! Thanks, Ingo! And here's what I missed. These photos taken at about 6:15am. If you are on the east coast of anywhere, get up early!

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

(above) Sunrise from Yao Yai island (at Thiwson Resort). Looking across to the Krabi coast and all the islands in between. I had a morning dip in the pool, dragged the rest of the family out of bed and we enjoyed breakfast with that great view to the east. The Thiwson resort looked great in the early morning light. Not a fancy place, but a deal at low season prices!

Thiwson Resort at Koh Yao Yai

Thiwson Resort Pool

(above) The kind of pool you could sit in all day. Let me say again : What a view!

Breakfast was followed by yet more kayaking. I am not sure if the kayaks were free to use, but the kids (and some adults) used them anyway!

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai

Before lunch a few of us more intrepid explorers took off in a songthaew for a quick drive around Koh Yao Yai island to get a taste of what the place looks like as we'd spent all our time at the resort. I would like to come again and do the same as we've done at Koh Yao Noi - get the boat over and rent mopeds and explore at our own pace. This little tour we did here was only just over an hour. First stop was just a kilometer along the road to the south of the resort.

Looking East from Koh Yao Yai

And then about 20 minutes of small concrete roads, occasional houses, small settlements, no big town. Trying to snap photos from the back of the songthaew. One thing was clear - it's very quiet here! I'd like to return and drive around at my own speed along these country roads.

Koh Yao Yai Road

(above) Quiet road in Yao Yai. We carried on to the main pier in the southwest of the island about 20 km from our resort. Boats come in here from Phuket Town and it is possible to bring a car over, not that you need to. We watched boats coming and going for a while. If you like "people watching" this is a good place!

Jetty at Koh Yao Yai

(above) Getting off a boat at Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai Traffic

(above) Koh Yao Yai traffic. Not much, but we nearly hit this one when it slowed suddenly and our driver was not exactly out for a Sunday drive, he wanted to get back for lunch I think!

From the pier it was a short drive to Loh Paret beach on the west coast of Koh Yao Yai. Looked busy compared to other areas. The 5 star Santhiya Resort is here. A bit out of my price range. And we found that the very nice, new looking Blue Bay Resort seemed to be 100% Chinese. And busy. The beach between those 2 resorts was a bit dirty. Just where our taxi parked there were several small restaurants and snack stalls. And there's another nice looking resort here called Yao Yai Resort.

Koh Yao Yai West Coast

(above) Loh Paret Beach on the west coast of Yao Yai Island. From here, another quick drive back to Thiwson Resort on the east coast for lunch, a cheeky lunchtime beer and then transfer back to the northern pier and back home to Phuket. We have to visit again and explore some of the side roads. There's a fishing village right in the south of the island and we'd maybe try a different resort such as Yao Yai Village or Elixir Resort. But we had a very nice 2 days visiting islands, relaxing, having a drink or 2 and I was glad that we finally got to Koh Yao Yai!

Koh Yao Yai links and related Phuket Blog posts

Tours - Ask my friends at Easy Day Thailand
Hotels at Yao Yai (Agoda.com)
Thiwson Resort
Koh Yao Noi Island Trip

Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi Islands - Map