It seems to be almost obligatory for visitors to Phuket to take a boat trip around Phang Nga Bay. It is easy to see why – towering limestone cliffs and weird rock formations, as well as mangrove swamps, a village on stilts and a beach where they filmed part of a James Bond film (Man with the golden gun). All manner of craft cruise the waters – motorboats, yachts, kayaks and the local long tail boats – allowing holidaymakers to enjoy the scenery and the tropical climate.Imagine, if you will, a Norwegian fjord surrounded by jungle and you’ll get some idea of the setting!
Landscape of Phang Nga Bay
Part of the Ao Phang National Park, Phang Nga Bay is a stunning landscape of tall limestone karsts. It is surrounded by towering cliffs, with luxuriant vegetation and numerous caves, many of which have collapsed and run right down to the water. The bay is studded with islands and coral reefs, and mangrove forests are abundant, although often submerged at high tide.
Part of the pleasure of touring the bay is looking out for strange rock shapes. One of these is the so-called Elephant Rock, named for its supposed resemblance to an elephant, although you may struggle to see the likeness. Another feature is the Grotto Cave, a narrow passage that smaller boats line up to squeeze their way through.
The whole bay was surrounded by massive rocks and mountains
The so-called Elephant Rock (I couldn’t see the likeness myself!)
The Grotto Cave. There was a ‘traffic jam’ of boats waiting to squeeze their way through here
Typical rock formation around the bay
Panyee – A Village on Stilts
In the middle of the Bay is Panyee Village, a village built on stilts at the bottom of a rocky island. Panyee was built by Indonesian fishermen in the 18th century and is still home to around 200 families. Tourists can walk around the school and the maze-like market that sells all manner of commodities, including spices and souvenirs.
There are several restaurants in Panyee, and limited overnight accommodation is available.
Panyee Village, built by Indonesian settlers 200 years ago
James Bond Island
A particular feature of Phang Nga Bay is the tall limestone outcrop of Koh Tapu. It is more commonly known as ‘James Bond Island’, because it featured in the film Man with a Golden Gun. It was this film that first turned Phang Nga Bay into an internationally known tourist destination. The island itself is out of bounds to boats but can be viewed from the beach of nearby Koh Ping Kan.
Visiting Phang Nga Bay
Most tourists visit Phang Nga Bay with an organised excursion from the nearby resorts of Phuket or Krabi. However, visits to the smaller islands are possible, and some have overnight accommodation so that people can explore the marine life through snorkelling or scuba diving. Canoe hire is available for those who want to explore the caves and the mangrove forests.