Phang Nga Bay Tour - Doing it our way!
Recently when I had family visiting (mum, dad and a traveling cousin) we had some time to explore. Cousin Simon was only here for a few days in between Singapore and Cambodia and one trip on his wish list was a Phang Nga Bay tour. We've been before of course, quite a few times actually, but earlier this year in March we found a new way of doing it, starting from a restaurant called Samchong Seafood which is only about 20km drive from the Sarasin bridge that connects Phuket to the mainland. Takes about 1 hour from our house. On that trip in March we had lunch and then went to James Bond Island, then on to Koh Panyee, the stilted Muslim fishing village. We took the boat for about 4 hours. I had an idea that if we maybe went to Panyee first, and then on to James Bond Island, we might be able to avoid the crowds - since there are lots of afternoon "James Bond Island" tours. The plan was to hit Scaramanga's hideout at about 5pm and hope all other tourists had gone home. Also hoped for a nice afternoon light for photos.
NOTE 1 : You can book a tour like the one described here with a few extras via my friend's tour company - ask Easy Day Thailand for information on Phang Nga Bay tours and other trips in the Phuket area.
• Contact Easy Day Thailand
NOTE 2 : We made a more recent Phang Nga Bay trip in February 2015. Another great day out! This time we had lunch at Dairy Hut Seafood near Phang Nga Town and took a boat from the Phang Nga Municipal Pier. See : Phang Nga Bay Revisited for trip details. And we did it again in 2017 - a rainy day, but still great - see : Phang Nga Bay Rainy Day Trip.
Samchong Seafood is worth looking for, very local, good food, super quiet location on a wide mangrove creek. The view below is looking from the restaurant to the small Muslim village on the other side of the water ...
And a similar view interrupted by a "Formula 1" longtail boat. I don't see these little sports models in Phuket, they seem to be local to Phang Nga and they can really move!
And here's my dad at Samchong Seafood. Possibly my favourite recent photo of my dad, photoshopped with loving care. And he's not making a silly face, which is unusual :)
Right, let's get on the boat and out into Phang Nga Bay... from the restaurant to Koh Panyee is about 7 miles/11km, takes around 30 minutes on the longtail boat. Water was calm, but weather started to look a bit gloomy. My hoped for magical evening light was not appearing, but never mind, Koh Panyee was the first stop. Although we have been several times, it's a great place for photos, so I never get bored. We wandered around all the side streets including the path down to the school which was just ending for the day ...
Koh Panyee (also written Koh Panyi) is a real odd place. It's what I would call a micro-society. Don't ask what that means, I just made it up. A place where everyone knows everyone, where there is no trouble, where people can always find a friend. It also has the tourist side, every day while the tours arrive there are stalls selling souvenirs, necklaces, shirts, shells, sarongs and much more. There are also local shops selling normal local things, though most things have to be brought from the mainland, since there's no place here to grow vegetables and (amazing!) there's no 7-11 here :)
I am amazed sometimes why a town would exist here. Everything is built raised on wooden stilts, there's no livelihood here except fishing, and you can do that without living in such an odd place. I like it here. The view below is looking along the east side of the town. Boats everywhere. You can't get anywhere without a boat. Many things about Panyee remind me of a place I used to live called Utila, a small island off the coast of Honduras. Fishing mixed with tourism, lots of boats, a unique people.
Here's one of the local McLaren F1 longtail boats arriving at Koh Panyee...
I enjoy revisiting a place. You can never see it all first time, there is always something new to discover. I walked around with our daughter, while my wife went with our son. We met up after a while when both kids were asking for a drink and we found the same shop to buy one. Our kids like these kind of trips. They're 9 and 5 now, but we have been taking them out on boat rides since they were babies. When people ask me "what can we do with kids in Phuket?" - I say "anything" - kids will love it, love seeing something new. Please don't come all this way to Phuket and leave the kids in the hotel "kids club". Take them with you. They will learn and you will enjoy watching them learn. Thus endeth the Phuket parenting lesson for today.
Meanwhile, at the main jetty on Panyee island, I found a list of rules. Please do not bring alcohol onto the island unless you have 5000 Baht to spare. And a goat.
After about one hour we left Panyee village and headed for James Bond Island, about 4 miles south. Weather was now looking distinctly unwelcome. Rain to the east, rain to the west, but somehow we stayed dry. On the way, we took the usual route through a stalactite infested cave on the west side of which is a sheltered area used by all the seacanoe companies as a base.
I realised that taking wonderful photos in tropical afternoon light would have to wait until next time. But not many people can say they have been to James Bond Island with NO other tourists there. We owned that island! We arrived a little before 5pm. The national park desk was closed already and when we walked over the rough-cut stone steps to the main beach, we found all the souvenir stalls had closed too - well, one was open and he managed to convince my mum to buy a bracelet. The man selling drinks was still there so cousin Simon and I had a Chang beer which I think is actually not allowed in a national park ;)
It's very odd to find yourself at a major tourist attraction and be all alone. Frankenstein wrong. Alone .. good! Tours run at set times. If you visit on your own, it's not so hard to avoid the crowds. As mentioned above, some friends of mine run a travel company called Easy Day Thailand, and they can do a tour rather like the one described here, based on this blog - want to get to James Bond Island with no crowds? They can do it for you. Tell them you want to do Jamie's Phang Nga Bay Tour!
Here's my mum and dad at a deserted James Bond Island:
The island is not really called "James Bond" of course - that's because scenes from the 1974 film 'The Man with the Golden Gun' were shot here. The island is called Khao Ping Gan, named after a leaning rock on the island, and the one that's in all the photos, the tower, is called Koh Tapu, which means "Nail Island". The lack of light on this day means we'll have to do this trip again sometime... High season is here now, so sunny evenings should be more common than September, but who can trust the weather? It was rather gloomy at 5 in the afternoon on that day but the scenery was still great. And being on the island with no crowds was a breath of fresh air. It's easy enough to avoid the crowds if you try.
By the time we left, it was well after 5pm, and as we chugged back in the longtail boat, it was close to sunset. I think we got back to the restaurant about 5:45pm, and the kids were crashed out by the time we got home, poor wee lambs. We'll do this again sometime and hope for a perfect orange sunset. Best I could manage was this view from the boat on the way back ...
• Book trips with Easy Day Thailand
• More about James Bond Island
• More about Koh Panyee
• More in Phang Nga Province
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