James Bond Island
Perhaps the most famous island in Phang Nga Bay, James Bond Island is effectively two towering limestone karsts known as Koh Khao Ping Ghan and Koh Tapu in Thai. James Bond Island gained its name, and subsequent popularity, after being featured in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun in the early 1970s. James Bond Island is one of the must-see destinations for those visiting southern Thailand.
James Bond Island itself is a nature lovers' dream. The Island is covered in lush, verdant vegetation and it's interesting to note that succulents and cactus varieties actually grow out of the limestone.
A steep pathway has been cleared through the centre of the island, making exploration easier. The pathway also gives way to some spectacular peekaboo views of Phang Nga Bay. There's a small summit halfway up, which is wonderful for photographs. This area tends to get crowded with visitors, so it's best to practice patience if you want to capture a decent digital image.
Although James Bond Island is quite small, there are lots of things to see and explore. The limestone karsts are filled with nooks and crannies to crawl into and take photographs from. However, do exercise caution and be careful as the morning mist can cause the limestone karsts to become very slippery.
Local vendors have set up selling the usual fare on the island's east coast, where people admire the unusual shape of Koh Tapu ('Nail Island'). There are very basic restroom facilities and the vendors do sell water and other refreshments. Arriving early to mid-morning at James Bond Island is best, as it tends to become quite crowded and overrun with day-trippers in the afternoon.
A popular activity on the way to James Bond Island is stopping to sea kayak through the various limestone karsts and caves that dot Phang Nga Bay. While this is generally included in any package tour to James Bond Island, it's also possible to sea kayak on a solo tour of the bay. Simply speak with the long-tail boat driver, and he will be able to help arrange this activity.
Koh Panyi is a charming fishing village consisting of stilt houses over the waters of the bay. The village is fully functional and is even home to a school as well as a floating football pitch and a charming mosque.
When visiting Koh Panyi, it's highly recommended to break free from the crowds and wander the back areas of the village. Here, visitors are able to catch a glimpse into local life and how the residents of Koh Panyi spend their day-to-day lives. Wandering the back areas of the village is a real eye opener. Visitors can see laundry being hung out to dry, young
children riding their bicycles across the wooden plank bridges, and the elderly sitting around having a chat while drinking Thai iced tea.
It's important to take note of the signs hanging overhead as the back areas of the village turn into an intricate maze. The well-placed signs, written in English, serve to help visitors find their way back to the pier for departure.
The local residents of Koh Panyi are Muslim, and it's estimated that about 360 families live in the settlement. The history of Koh Panyi is an interesting one. The stilt house village was actually built by Indonesia fishermn, and then settled by two seafaring Muslim families from Java. Today's local residents of Koh Panyi are the descendants of those two families.
While most of the local residents of Koh Panyi earn a living from the fishing trade, the island itself thrives on tourism. Throughout the day, Koh Panyi hums with the sound of boats coming to and from the island. The boats drop tourists off to dine on fresh seafood at the restaurants closest to the main pier, while locals board long-tail boats and go about their daily lives.
It's an interesting scene that further enhances the charm of Koh Panyi. Do make it a point to stop here while exploring Phang Nga Bay as the village is really interesting and gives an authentic taste of life in Thailand.
Samet Nangshe Viewpoint
Showcasing breathtaking views across Phang Nga Bay, Samet Nangshe is a local viewpoint that has gone from being an unknown hilltop to one of the most popular tourist attractions, centred in the tiny village of Tha Yu, tambon Khlong Kien, in Phang Nga province.
'Discovered' by a Thai photographer, Samet Nangshe has risen in popularity on social media and is currently one of the most visited locations outside of Phuket. The views from atop Samet Nanghse are outstanding, while the location is filled with unique photo opportunities.
Samet Nangshe consists of two viewpoints - a lower viewpoint and a higher one. Each offers spectacular views of Phang Nga Bay and the towering limestone karsts that jut out from the water. Although the viewpoint is stunning at most times of the day, it's particularly beautiful at sunrise.
If you're interested in sleeping atop Samet Nangshe, you can rent a tent for approximately 150 baht. There is an entry fee to ascend the hill to the top of the viewpoint. Parking is available, and the family of the land owner sells some local snacks and refreshments at the bottom of the pathway.
A wide variety of Phuket tour operators have daily tours to Phang Nga Bay. Most provide transfer from hotel and guesthouse accommodation, while boats leave from Bang Rong Pier, near Ao Po. However, if you're looking for more of a slow-moving local adventure, it's highly recommended to make your own way to Phang Nga Bay.
Drive yourself, stop off on the way to buy fresh fruit from a roadside stall, and once you're in Phang Nga, negotiate a day rate with a long-tail boat driver who'll be happy to ferry you to both James Bond Island and Koh Panyi. On the way back to Phuket in the late afternoon, stop off at Samet Nangshe for the viewpoint's sensational views.
For the most accurate and detailed map of Phang Nga Bay and its islands, beaches and resorts, pick up a copy of IMAGE asia's Andaman Explorer map or visit www.phuketmarine.com
Koh Panyi is a wonderful place to experience a more local, unique way of life. There are plenty of charming sites and local snacks to indulge in.