How to Visit the Incredible Phang Nga Bay & James Bond Island
Visiting Phang Nga Bay is a must for everyone who travels around Thailand. This area is the most wonderful example of the Southern’s Thailand landscape. The scenic limestone mountains rise straight from the sea up to 350 m high, like the famous of Phang Nga Bay in James Bond Island. Inside many of them, there are tunnels and sea caves visitors can pass by boat or explore by foot. It’s definitely an impressive location. Most people visit Phang Nga Bay as a day trip from Phuket or Krabi. However, all those tours first arrive by bus to Phang Nga Province. To shorten the trip we decided to come to Phang Nga by ourselves for 1 night and do a long tail boat tour from here. Read on to find out more!
Phang Nga Town
Phang Nga is a small, quite town right at the center of Ao Phang-nga National Park. The landscape around the town is wonderful. There are some cool things to do in Phang Nga, but the main reason of coming here is as a base for exploring the Phang-Nga Bay.
Exploring Phang Nga Bay
The tour starts usually around 8 AM when you are picked up from your hotel. We insisted on starting earlier, already at 6AM to avoid the crowds. It was a great idea.
Starting at the pier, you will firstly pass by a large area of mangroves. In this spot, there were several rivers flowing into the sea. The mangroves are impressive, and so the area is protected and preserved. Your boatman might agree to take you in few of the small rivers. However, the navigation through the mangrove requires skilful piloting and is possible only during high tide.
Khao Khian or Writing Hill
Khao Khian or Writing Hill is a shallow cave that contains coloured drawings of people, crocodiles, dolphins and sharks estimated to be about 3,000 years old! You can admire them right from the boat.
Panyi is a century old fishing village build on the sea. The sights, sounds, and smells on Panyi are typical of Thai villages. Dock at the floatable pier and navigate through the labyrinthine of alleys. There are countless shops and vendors selling all kind of stuff: clothing, souvenirs, food. It looks like a bazaar built on water. The whole village is Muslim and there even is a big mosque: the only building built on the solid ground.
Most tours stop here for lunch.
↬ Note : We arrived at Panyi around 10AM. The village was still sleepy and everything was closed. Unfortunately, we experiences rather a cold welcome. Nobody would answer our greetings, people would push us while walking. It seemed like the whole village is only tourist-money oriented. As they were not ready to sell us anything, they didn’t bother to be polite ?We are not traveling to judge… however we are sadden of how tourism stripped some places of their authenticity and pushed people to see visitors only through $$$ bills…
Tham Lot is a limestone grotto sculptured by centuries of Asian weather and sea water. The cave is large enough for boats to go through. There are also stalactites hanging down from the roof. Most likely you will just cruise through it. During the day, it’s a popular place to canoe & explore the nature around. There were kayak vendors on the site at the early hour we were there.
James Bond Island
This is the most popular place to visit in Phang Nga bay. It became famous since the Hollywood production “The Man with the Golden Gun”, starring James Bond. The island real name is Khao Phingkan meaning two hills. There are two islands connected by a tiny central beach. But one of those two hills is split in two, and leans against the other. A Nail Islet looking like a spike placed into the sea, it is perhaps the most photographed object in the whole marine park.
↬ Info : There is a Phang-nga Bay Marine Office here and each visitor must pay 300 THB (9EUR) entrance fee for James Bond Island.
Visiting Phang Nga Bay was on top of our bucket list for a long time. Especially Martyna who did the researches and was extremely excited to see this place in real. Most tours visit the same spots while cruising around the bay. We decided to pay extra and start very early to avoid the crowds and be able to explore more places for longer…Unfortunately, for the first time ever during our trips, we met a person who lied to our faces, took our money and didn’t deliver what we agreed upon. ?We wrote about it next so you can avoid the same disappointment and get a better experience ?
AVOID MR KEAN TOURS
We were approached by a man named Mr. Kean right after we set foot off the bus at the bus station in Phang-Nga town. He seemed very nice, knowledgable and decent. As our initial plan was to go to the pier to find a boatman there, we decided to trust Mr. Kean and book a tour for following morning with him. He understood our idea of starting early, wanting to explore more and independently. He gave us a map on which he circled the places we will go to, put the price and hours of the tour. We were suppose to be picked up at 6AM and finish the tour at 12.30PM.
As we were planning to go to Krabi straight after, he even suggested that we can leave our backpacks at his office at the bus station so we wouldn’t have to come back to the hotel to pick them up. It all seemed just perfect.
We payed a lot of money for the trip: 2500 THB (75 EUR), without lunch. But hey: it’s dreams coming true, worth any money. Or so we thought…
The Experience You Don’t Want to Relive
The day started great. The sun even came out that morning, which was unlikely for a rainy season! Sure, our boatman spoke zero English, but we managed to communicate as much as necessary. First, we passed by the impressive Writting Hills and Tham Lot cave. We got to the James Bond Island right after and we had it almost all for ourselves. We stayed there for an hour, exploring and taking pictures.
It was just after 9AM as we got on the long tail boat again and thought we will go to the next location. We had the map on which the day before Mr. Kean had circled spots we will visit. However, the boatman just turned around and started cruising back ?it was just after 9AM. We were suppose to cruise for another 3H. We told him to go further, but he continued saying ‘James Bond and back’. Completely confused we called Mr. Kean convinced that he will just explain the tour to his boatman and we will continue exploring.
Mr. Kean however told us that the furthest his boat goes is James Bond Island and we are done cruising Phang Nga Bay for the day! We told him that we payed for the boat until 12.30PM and have a map with the places he promised to take us to. He pretended that it was a misunderstanding and it was our fault. But we had his hand writing with the plan on the paper! We argued on the phone, until he just hanged up! We tried calling him again and again, but he wouldn’t pick up… The boatman didn’t care and continued driving back. We were asking him to go further. Martyna started crying and even begging him. It was ridiculous. We were IN Phang Nga Bay. All the islands were in our reach. And yet we could explore them!
We have never been so disappointed before. The dreams, weeks of preparation was all ruined by one man…
But that wasn’t over yet. The boatman, following the instruction of Mr. Kean, stopped at the Panyi Village. We told him we want just 10 min to see it. It was barely 10AM and if we couldn’t explore Phang Nga Bay, we wanted to get to Krabi as soon as possible. However, returning to the boat, the boatman was nowhere to be found. We waited for nearly 40 min before he came back saying that he was having breakfast…
As soon as we left the village, the motor on the boat broke down. It took another 30 min to get it running again. ‘Yes’, Martyna told the boatman “Karma is a bitch”.
At the end, we came back to the bus station around 11.30 and straight got a bus to Krabi.
Mr. Kean hid himself somewhere at the station during that time. We picked up our backpacks from his office and waited for him for a while. But he was not there. A coward, not wanting to face people who wanted to tell him who he really is: a liar and bad person.
We repeat again: AVOID MR. KEAN who will approach you at the bus station in Phang Nga town. You can google his name and see for yourself that we were not the only ones to get scammed. We just wish we would have checked ourselves before booking a tour with him…
How to book a long tail boat in Phang Nga
The best option is to rent a scooter and go to Sarakul Pier. There you can ask the boat owners directly to take you on a cruise.
↬ Note : We suggest you NOT to book at this pier as it’s more expensive. Also that’s where our unfortunate tour with Mr. Kean started.
Alternatively ask the owner of your hotel for help. All tourists arrive to Phang Nga wanting to visit the bay. Most hotels have their own boats or know good boatman that are reliable.
↬ Note : When we arrived at our accommodation and told the owner we booked a boat with Mr. Kean, he warned us that Mr. Kean doesn’t provide good tours. He said ‘With Mr. Kean you go. And come back. No more’. However, it was too late to change as we already payed the full price…
What you need to know
When to visit?
You can visit Phang Nga Bay throughout the year. The sea is rather shallow with an average depth of a few metres only. The waves never reach more than one meter high even in the monsoon months from May to October. However, you will have more chance for blue skies and better weather from November to April.
How long does the tour last?
Typically the tour lasts 3-4 hours.
Should I choose a private boat or a tour?
Answer to that really depends on your budget and amount of people you travel with. Boats can accommodate up 10 people, so if you are in a group, it’s the perfect choice.
The private boat will be more expensive, but if you get a good deal and a good boatman (not like us), you will be independent of where you travel, how long you stay at each spot and where to go next. You have also more chance of arriving at the place with lesser people around.
We payed for a private boat we payed 2500 THB (75 EUR). It included pick up and drop of from the hotel to the pier and should include lunch (ours didn’t).
At the Sarakul Pier, you should find private boats for 1500 THB (45 EUR) including lunch.
A tour on a boat with up to 10 other people costs around 800 THB (24 EUR) per person.
↬ TIP : There is 300 THB (9EUR) extra charge at James Bond island as a ticket to the marine reserve of Phang Nga Bay.
What to bring
Wear light clothing, swimwear and flip flops. Take towels, hat, biodegradable sunscreen, sunglasses and snorkel gear. Pack a few snacks and water in reusable water bottle. And take cash for tickets at James Bond island.
Remember to pack a camera with plenty of memory card and extra batteries.
↬ TIP : It’s forbidden to fly drones in Phang-Nga Bay.