Thursday, January 7, 2010

Phang Nga Bay

On our second day in Thailand, we caught an early bus and rode for about 1.5 hours to a tiny inlet where we caught a longboat that would take us out to the Phang Nga Bay sea caves, to James Bond Island, and for lunch at the floating Muslim village of Koh Panyi. As we made way towards the huge limestone monoliths, known as Karsts, they appeared to rise from the water far off in the distance The scenery was beautiful, passing through mangrove forests said to be the largest in Thailand. There are more than 40 limestone islands rising 1000 feet out of the water that were breathtaking. But it was not a peaceful ride – the longboats are loud, I was starting to wonder if the decibel level was some sort of outboard motor alpha-male status – sort of “mine’s louder than yours.” And if you sit in the front of the boat you will get wet; we were all drenched by the end of the day.

Sea Caves

You have to time your visit according to the tides in order to be able to enjoy the cave formations. Our kayaking guide took us in and out of nooks and crannies carved out by centuries of water from the bay. At times, we had to lie on our backs to give us enough clearance to get into the cave areas. This is certainly a high destination spot for tourists – if you’re looking for quiet solitude you won’t find it here. We had to wait our turn to get into some of the caves and experienced kayak-jams. This area is definitely a commercial enterprise with several sea canoe outfitters and a floating “7-11” that you could stop by and quench your thirst (see photo). Even having said that, I would recommend this stop on the way to James Bond Island. It was nice to get off the longboat and see a bit more of nature up close and personal.

If you are planning a trip to Phang Nga Bay and would like to do a bit of background reading I would highly recommend checking out Bangkok Babylon by Jeffrey Hopkins, and the story of “Caveman” John Gray. Gray formed one of the original sea canoe companies to take tourists out to the caves. Very interesting story and gives you a much better take on the ins and outs of doing business in Thailand.

Koh Phing Kan aka James Bond Island

This area of Phang Nga Bay was made famous in 1974 with the James Bond movie Man with the Golden Gun. Knowing that it is part of a national park, I had envisioned a quiet moment to sit and reflect on the beauty of the islands. I should have known better. The stop for taking pictures is crawling with tourists – like a bunch of ants on an anthill. The longboats and speedboats pull in and out at a quick pace to let off boatloads of tourists with cameras in hand. You practically tumble out of the boat into rows of tourist stalls selling their wares – James Bond Island t-shirts, postcards, beads, jewelry – “You buy? You buy?” as they follow along beside you.

We took our photos and we will be able to watch the movie and know that we were there, so I suppose that’s a good thing, but with so much tourist traffic on the island I have to wonder what the long term effects on the island will be …

Koh Panyi - Muslim Fishing Village

The boat took us from James Bond Island to the Muslim Fishing Village of Koh Panyi where they had a meal already prepared for us. This village is built on stilts and has about 1200 residents. The meal was decent and clearly they cater to the tourist trade with our tour boat being one of many arriving in during the lunch hour.

With much of the day behind us we headed back to shore by longboat. There was one more stop for the day – the Monkey Temple. Check back in tomorrow for more about our visit there and to the wat in Phuket.

Till next time, sayonara.

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