Exploring Phang Nga Bay
Phuket, Thailand is full of many sights, sounds and experiences, but perhaps none as well-known and recognizable as Phang Nga Bay. When travelers arrive in Phuket, the emerald green waters of the bay and the limestone karsts – formations in the water – are generally the first things they notice as they land and most people can’t wait to get to the bay and start exploring.
About Phang Nga
Phang Nga Bay is located to the northeast of Phuket, between the island and the southern tip of Thailand. While the most notable features of the bay are the limestone cliffs and islands, there are caves, collapsed cave systems and other features worthy of taking notice.
While much of Phang Nga is a national park and most of the 40 islands that jut out from the water are uninhabited, it’s still a popular tourist destination, with dozens of tour groups exploring the bay on boats and in kayaks and canoes each day. The best views are from the water; while many of the islands have sandy beaches and places to picnic, the water is not ideal for swimming because of the sediment and silt that’s brought in from the rivers that feed the bay. The buildup of sediment makes the floor of the bay somewhat mucky, and makes swimming difficult. The silt and sediment also make snorkeling or diving difficult, as it reduces visibility, but it’s possible to fish in Phang Nga.
Despite the limitations on actually getting into the waters of Phang Nga, though, there are plenty of other ways to explore this spectacular natural wonder.
James Bond Island
Fans of James Bond will immediately recognize Phang Nga Bay from the film “The Man with the Golden Gun,” particularly the island of Koh Pingkan, more commonly known as James Bond Island or Nail Island. This formation appears precariously balanced on a point, and was an important part of the climax of the film – it housed a laser beam intended to destroy Bond and anything else in its path. Visitors today need not fear the laser, but instead can take a guided tour to the island and explore the surrounding area.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Ko Panyi, a small Muslim fishing village on one of the islands of the bay. Most of the buildings in the village are built on stilts over the water, and there are a few bungalows for rent if you want to experience authentic island life. Koh Panyi welcomes tourists and many guided tours include stops here, as well as James Bond Island.
While the guided tours of the bay and the well-known spots are certainly well worth the time and money, for a truly breathtaking experience, rent a sea kayak or canoe and paddle around the islands and explore the hongs, or rooms. Over the years, water seeping through the limestone cliffs creates caves, and when the cave systems collapse, they create open air rooms within the center of the island. When the tide is right, you can paddle through the collapsed caves into the hongs, which generally feature lagoons surrounded by lush tropical foliage. Even if the prospect of paddling through a collapsed cave is more adventurous than you feel prepared for, it’s worth renting a boat to explore the bay. The cliffs and islands protect the bay from the waves and wind during monsoon season, making it a smooth and serene paddle most of the time.
When you’re considering a vacation to Phuket, it’s nearly impossible to miss Phang Nga Bay – and why would you want to? The easiest way to explore this landmark is on a tour; most tour companies will pick you up at your hotel and transport you to the boats, and most provide meals or refreshments throughout the day, allowing you to sit back, relax and take in the breathtaking scenery. For the ultimate in luxury, charter a yacht or sailboat with a full crew to attend to your every need. No matter how you choose to explore Phang Nga, though, it’s bound to be a highlight of your trip and an unforgettable experience.
Writer Amy Flynn writes about Southeast Asia for several travel sites. She spent a year teaching English in Phuket after college, and has explored almost all of the 40 islands of Phang Nga Bay.