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Phang Nga Bay ‘unbonded’

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Phang Nga Bay ‘unbonded’

by Nori And Scott Brixen




There are over 100,000 photos tagged #jamesbondisland on Instagram. Guys with six pack abs, women testing the limits of their bikinis, Muslim ladies in swimming hijabs, kids doing the ‘happy beach leap’ – all posing in the same spot with that famous limestone spike behind them. They look happy. It’s all good fun.


What these images don’t capture is the long line of people waiting for their chance to be shot, the mob of insistent souvenir sellers crammed on the narrow isthmus or the jumble of boats waiting to zip the tourists back to Phuket. In the high season, dozens of boats daily make the trip to Thailand’s extraordinary Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island is a highlight.


Thailand will receive 39 million international visitors this year, with approximately 5 million visiting Phuket, the Kingdom’s largest island. In 2016, a major expansion saw Phuket International Airport’s capacity double to 12.5 million passengers a year. Phuket is already a world famous resort island – in the same league as Bali or Oahu – and it’s only going to get busier. Was it still possible, we wondered, to find empty beaches and unfrequented islets?


When in Phuket, we usually base ourselves in the Northwest (Bang Tao and Mai Khao beaches). The area is only 10/20 minutes’ drive from the airport and is less developed than the grungy/glamorous beaches of the Southwest. We’re fans of the Anantara hotel chain and their Vacation Club Mai Khao property has spacious 2 bedroom family suites that were perfect for us. The hotel is designed for families. The Turtle Bay shopping centre is across the street. And a very long, effectively private beach is just a short walk (or cycle) away.


With over 40 islands strewn across 400sqkm of the Andaman Sea, Phang Nga Bay is big enough for everyone. But most tourists will visit the same ten islands on US$40-50 tours that vary only on the type of boat and the order in which the islands are visited. We had given the Anantara’s activity manager what I thought might be an unachievable assignment: deliver an adventurous and exclusive feeling visit to Phang Nga Bay, one of Phuket’s (and indeed Thailand’s) most popular excursions.


Most tours to Phang Nga Bay leave from Ao Po Pier, located on the Northeast of Phuket. Our boat was instead departing from Boon Chu Pier in Phanga Nga, the mainland province just across the Sarasin Bridge. I couldn’t locate the place on Google Maps, which I interpreted as a good sign. After forty minutes of country driving, we crossed a small bridge over a muddy river and saw the sign: Boon Chu Pier Long Tail Boat Service.


First impressions weren’t positive. The reception hut was an authentic backwater construction, the kind of place where guys named Duffy hunt gators and drink Bud. There were angry looking red ants on the wooden walkways and trash stuck in the mudflats below. But this was Thailand and you can’t judge a boat by its pier. Our jovial guide, Mr. Witoon, had been well-briefed by the hotel.


“I understand,” he smiled, “that you want to go to different places, right?”



“You don’t want to be around lots of other boats?”


“Yes! No! I mean, we prefer to be on our own. And we’re happy to hike, climb, swim, whatever.”


“No problem,” he said with confidence.


Our boat was a wider version of the classic Thai long tail, with a tarp canopy that shaded six rows of bench seating. It could have carried 30 people; instead it was just the six of us, Witoon and the captain. We had a cooler box full of bottled water and some pineapples and watermelon for slicing later.


For an hour, we motored along the curving, vein-like waterways of the estuary. First, along the narrow Klong Tha Yu and then into the main Klong Bang Lam channel. We passed several villages with whole neighbourhoods built out over the water, the simple wooden homes raised up on rickety stilts. In each, the tallest (and most colourful) building was the village mosque.


As we approached Phang Nga Bay, the horizontal monotony of the calm brown river and the flat-topped mangrove forest was disrupted by towering ridges that thrust straight out of the depths. These jagged karst islands ranged across the water like a naval fleet, imposing grey hulls rising high above the waterline. The island ahead of us was a wall, and we were heading straight for it.  


Then I spied it: a keyhole in the rock, white light spilling through from the other side. As we neared the cleft, it expanded to a roughly rectangular passage dripping with contorted stalactites. Just tall and wide enough for our boat to pass through. But then I saw a path leading up from the tunnel.


“Sure! You can walk up there if you want to. There is a very nice cave. But it’s steep so the boys may be too scared,” our guide warned.


Full Story: https://expatlifeinthailand.com/travel-and-leisure/phang-nga-bay-unbonded-2/



-- © Copyright Expat Life in Thailand
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