Some of the Andaman coast’s most exceptional scenery is found in Phang Nga Bay, located between Phuket and the province of Krabi. In fact, Phang Nga is a province of its own, most notable for the awesome karst pillars that jut out of the ocean and landscape across this region. So exotic is this location that it was famously featured in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun and is one of the must-see destinations on any tourist’s itinerary in the area.
The best way to see Phang Nga Bay is by boat and numerous tours leave Phuket and Krabi on day trips to this incredible natural wonderland that provides a feast for the camera lens. You can also drive to the small settlement of Tha Dan, near the town of Phang Nga, and catch a longtail boat tour to the highlights of the bay. James Bond Island received its name after the filming of the movie took place here in the sixties. There’s a fee for landing on the island (usually included in your tour price) and most people alight so they can have themselves pictured with the famous needle of karst in the background that rises dramatically out of the sea.
Tham Lawt is nearby and also included in the itinerary. It’s a large cave which has now been commandeered by the kayaking companies that have capitalised on the beauty and suitability of the area for paddling. Tours by kayak can also be arranged from numerous travel agents in Phuket and Krabi and it can be a fun day out, paddling through these water caves.
Perhaps the most intriguing sight in Phang Nga Bay is the Muslim fishing village of Koh Phan Yee, which is entirely stilted and clustered beneath a karst cliff and surrounded by water. This village has been here for two centuries, deliberately placed for defensive purposes and its proximity to the sea. The 200 families living here supposedly descended from just two families that migrated from Java. As you approach the island, the turrets of the island’s mosque add to the beauty of this remarkable village.
Even today, fishing remains the chief activity but the village makes its fortunes by providing lunch to the boatloads of visitors. The precariously narrow piers that dissect the village are now loaded with souvenir shops and there are plenty of comfortable restaurants serving fresh seafood. You’re welcome to wander around the small village, visit the school, and peer into the lives of these sea-bound people, though it’s polite to support the local economy by buying something, and try not to be too intrusive. There are a couple of basic homestays as well, but staying over isn’t popular.
Phang Nga Bay is part of a 400 square-kilometre national park, created in 1981. The geological features are an incredible site, formed by fault movements which pushed massive limestone blocks up into patterns. The result is over 40 islands of towering karst that create this unique and breathtaking scenery. Sheer cliffs, overhangs and caves typify the topography and after millions of years they’re covered in verdant vegetation.
There are a number of tidal canals and channels that penetrate the mainland and can be explored by boat, creating a scene of utter confusion and manifold massifs. In the upper reaches you’ll discover some magnificent mangrove which supports a range of aquatic and wild life.
If you do decide to hire a car and find your way to the north side of the bay before catching a longtail boat, you have the opportunity to visit the enchanting Sa Nang Manora forest park. Although the bay itself can barely be seen or appreciated from the road, the landscape is still full of karst obelisks and is most impressive. The park itself is free and boasts a fairytale-like scenery of cascading waterfalls and numerous hiking trails that criss-cross the streams and waterfalls.
South of Phang Nga Bay are two inhabited islands, Yao Noi and Yao Yai, which have a number of resorts and bungalows on them and offer a peaceful retreat from Phuket. Boats leave several times a day from Phuket and Ao Thalane (Krabi) and once here you can find day tours to Phang Nga Bay.