Phang Nga Bay - the Andaman's best eye candy

James Bond Island is on all the brochures

James Bond Island is on all the brochures

By Mark Bentley

If you head to the south of Thailand to where the mainland meets with the Andaman Sea, you will realise fairly rapidly that you’re entering a region with beauty you may have thought was reserved for picture postcards and travel documentaries.

Indeed, beyond the southern provinces of Chumpon, Ranong and Surat Thani are scattered literally hundreds of islands where such beauty is not only real but omnipresent, and where human hands have yet to cast significant influence. Of those islands that have been developed, most have retained the essence of their natural appeal. Even the populated islands are in close proximity to quieter, untouched destinations which can be reached easily by boat and appreciated in their raw, unadulterated states.

Phang Nga Bay is an unspoilt paradise located between Phuket and the west-side of the Malay peninsula, where 67 virtually deserted islands sit in 400km² of spectacular natural beauty. The bay forms part of Phang Nga province, which is bordered by Phuket and Krabi provinces.

Phang Nga’s unspoilt beauty takes visitors back to a time when all of southern Thailand was uninhabited thanks to its protected status as the Ao Phang Nga National Park, which is has enjoyed since 1981. While neighbouring Phuket has suffered the ravages of rampant commercial development, eco-travellers can rest easy in the knowledge that Phang Nga is not about to suffer the same fate.

The bay’s beauty is typified by vibrant, turquoise sea waters in which sit stunningly unusual karst islands formed by thousands of years of fault movements. Some of these peaks stand at lofty heights of up to 300 metres and the majority is enhanced by a thick covering of lush green vegetation. More than 40 of these structures, which are essentially comprised of limestone, are dotted across the bay, creating unique and genuinely awe-inspiring views.

The smaller structures can only be admired from afar, while the larger ones are big enough to allow for exploration. Networks of caves located at the bases are significant features of the geological evolution of these islands, with many able to be entered by kayak. Inside, unusual rock formations can be seen, while a flashlight might help you to catch sight of the birds and bats which call the caves home.

Koh Phan Yee village boasts fantastic views

Koh Phan Yee village boasts fantastic views

Inhabitants are few and far between in Phang Nga Bay. The small island of Koh Phan Yee has settlements that are over 200 years old, with residents who are simple people, fishing for a living and dwelling in bamboo houses which sit on stilts in the waters immediately offshore from the island’s beach. These primitive sea gypsies who are known locally as Chao Leh, are devout Muslims, and their community is believed to have descended from two families who first migrated here.

While natural beauty should be Phang Nga’s greatest claim, the islands here are perhaps best known for their tenuous Hollywood connections. The 1974 Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun included a number of scenes featuring the island hideout of Scaramanga, which were filmed on Khao Phing Kan, one of the bay’s larger islands. This island is now referred to as ‘James Bond Island’ and forms the focal point of many boat tours of the bay.

Khao Phing Kan offers zero in the way of tangible evidence of its once famous encounter, although the distinctive karst structure sitting in the bay off of the island’s beach serves as a good photograph backdrop for the hoards of tourists wanting a souvenir of their trip there. Additionally, there’s a wooden sign in English and Thai saying ‘James Bond Island’. Scaramanga’s hideout is nowhere to be seen however.

Boat trips from Phuket and Krabi offer tourists the best opportunity to see Phang Nga’s most notable sights, with typical itineraries including stops to check out Tham Lawt (caves) and James Bond Island. The sea gypsy village at Koh Phan Yee is also included on most trips and is generally the stopping point for a lunch break, with the locals providing the food and dining facilities.

Tourists taking holidays in neighbouring destinations benefit from awesome coastal scenery however the atmosphere of commercialism in resorts such as Patong in Phuket can diminish the experience. A trip to the unspoilt wilderness of Phang Nga Bay with its breathtakingly spectacular views will reassure you that many of Thailand’s finest natural sights continue to remain unaffected by the tourist dollar.

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