One of these days I want to buy a boat and go exploring. We have done several trips in Phang Nga Bay with friends and family. Our last one was back in September 2010. I had planned that trip as an afternoon excursion, renting a longtail boat and aiming to reach James Bond Island late in the afternoon when all the tours had gone home and hopefully with the bonus of some golden afternoon light – it half worked.
We were the only visitors on this otherwise crowded tourist attraction, but on that day the light was poor, with dark clouds and some light drizzle. So I said “we have to try that again” and time has ticked by, and it’s been more than four years since our last Phang Nga Bay trip. Well, earlier this month my cousin and his family who live in Singapore came to Phuket for a few days. I had a day off last month and the weather looked good, so we decided that Phang Nga Bay had to be visited again. So, we headed up to Phang Nga in two cars as there were nine of us altogether. We set off late morning and stopped off first at Wat Suwan Kuha temple which is just before Phang Nga Town. Wat Suwan Kuha features lots of monkeys outside and a big reclining Buddha inside along with many other Buddha images and behind the Buddha cave is a larger cave.
After the stop it was time for lunch. We played it safe and went for lunch at Dairy Hut Seafood which is just past Phang Nga Town. Then we backtracked a few km just before Phang Nga Town if coming from Phuket there is a right turn and a sight saying “Phang Nga National Park” which leads down to the Phang Nga municipal jetty. Arriving at the jetty, longtail boat drivers leap into the road to flag down cars.
We arranged with the boat boys to take our group to Panyee village first and then James Bond Island (real name Koh Khao Ping Gan). The jetty is up a mangrove river about 7km north of Panyee, about 20 minutes by longtail boat. Payee is a stilted village built around a large limestone karst. I find this place very interesting, once beyond the row of restaurants and souvenir stalls. It’s what I think of as a micro-society, a place slightly removed from reality, a little isolated from the rest of the world, although these days there are hundreds of tourists visiting every day. Thus even more reason to find some backstreets.
Everything is built around the rocky island called Koh Panyee which towers above the village. Since our last visit there have been a couple of changes ... the mosque has been rebuilt with shiny golden minarets, and the island has a floating football pitch. We walked through narrow streets passing the mosque to the west side of the island.
The back streets of Panyee village are narrow and (to me) full of interest. At every step I wonder what it’s like to live here. I imagine it’s a very close community where everyone knows everyone and doors are always open. Life will have changed a lot over the last 20 years with tourism generating a lot of income, but it’s still a fishing village at heart.
The mosque when we last visited looked rather sad. It now looks much healthier. Panyee is Muslim, like much of the Phang Nga coastal area. Although the stallholders selling souvenirs look a little bored, I see a lot of smiles here, I think it’s an easy lifestyle. Crossing over from where we landed, past the mosque I found what I wanted to see – the floating football pitch. It wasn’t there when we visited in 2010 although there was a concrete recreation area attached to the school.
We all enjoyed a run around. The kids realised that you’d get quite wet playing here, as you’d need to jump into the sea to retrieve the ball any time it went out of play. We spent about an hour at Koh Panyee and I think I would happily spend half a day there taking photos. It was nearly 4pm when we started heading towards James Bond Island, which is about another 7km south. We went via a small island where several sea kayak companies have their bases and on a busy high season day you can find hundreds of tourists on a little kayak tour (part of a day trip package) – not for serious kayakers. Our longtail picked a path through the kayaks and through a small cave. All of these little islands are beautiful. We got to Koh Khao Phing Gan (the proper name for James Bond Island) about 4:30pm. The tall rock that sticks up from the water is called Koh Tapu, which means “Nail Island”. I wonder how many years until it falls over? I’m sure the base looked fatter in the movie. In the late afternoon light, this area is gorgeous. Photo A was taken at nearly 5:30pm, by which time we had this “crowded” tourist attraction to ourselves. Even the souvenir stall holders had gone. I had not noticed before, maybe it was the light, but you can see Koh Panyee from here, 7km to the north – what a view.
We sped back to the Phang Nga pier in about 25 minutes from James Bond Island, passing Koh Panyee with the sun sinking low. Perfect day!
Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: sunrise-divers.com