Many people have been to this island that experienced a near miss with the tsunami over the Christmas of 2004. It is hard to imagine that this piece of paradise was subject to great tragedy. When we first visited in 2007, we were amazed to find that the island has almost fully recovered. The diligence and tenacity of the people certainly deserves our admiration.
Oh so what’s there to say about this overbuilt resort island? For one thing, it can be both affordable and rather pricey. You see, we were staying in a rather expensive resort by island standard at that time (Banyan Tree). And if one had made tour bookings with the resort you’d be literally paying through your nose so to speak.
So off we went down to the local streets at Patong and started shopping. And there it was – a day activity bringing us out to the islands from the late morning until the evening. All for a royal price of 1,300 baht/pp. A little bargaining actually got it down to 1,000 baht! We were sure we saw the lady taking our booking rolling her eyes when we told her where to pick us up!
Nature at its best?
Having being picked up at 11am, we drove with the cast of about 10 other folks in a small mini-van towards the northern end of Phuket. Crossed into Phang-Nga and onto a pier in the park. We were far from the sea at this point, as it was the estuary that we were at.
Boarding long tailboats, it was a good thing we were all given life vests. Since the vessel is long and narrow and seem to toss from side to side when there are strong waves. All of that concern dissipated as we “cruised” along the estuary towards the open sea.
A little wet from the spray at times, we marveled at the limestone mountains passing us by. What a sight it would have been if viewed from the air. We did not have the opportunity to do it this time, but would recommend it. It would definitely be a worthy experience!
First stop – Hong island. The tailboats came up to this large pontoon boat and we transferred to canoes paddled by a local. Two of us with the paddler per canoe and we relaxed as he brought us right up to the limestone structures set in the water. As we floated under we thought that we saw what seemed like “birds’ nests”. For those not in the know, this is a delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Look it up! The scenery is enchanting, especially on a nice sunny day. Remember to bring your sun tan lotion – it can be really hot if you are out at noon time!
The highlight of the canoeing was to access the interior of the island. And that, can only be accomplished by paddling under the rock of limestone! Once you are in, you will find hidden coves of mangroves, an entirely different ecological system. Mangroves are one of few plants in the world that thrives in salt water. We got to canoe ourselves amongst the mangroves – getting to see some local residents up close. These mangroves within the island are home to a multitude of wildlife such as mud skippers and small sea crabs.
Mangrove seeds are long and sharp and fall straight into the sea and embed into the muddy sea floor. They are said to have special cells that excrete the excess salt from their system.
Phang Nga bay is very crowded. Numerous boats bringing loads of tourists (such as us) disgorge people on the popular spots in the bay. You just have to be patient and wait for that moment to take your photo.
Do you recall the James Bond movie (Doctor No), with Ursula Andress wading out of the sea in a state of semi nudeness? Well, it was not in Phuket… but in the Caribbean. Even we were a little confused by it.
But that did not stop many a tourist from posing in front of that iconic limestone tower karst at Khao Phing Kan. So funny to watch! Ok, perhaps it was only us that are confused…
Actually this place is nicknamed ‘James Bond’ island because of another movie (The man with the golden gun). And the island is filled with shops and peddlers of all kinds… not quite the bond movie setting.
Of course, one cannot walk away from this tour without taking dozens of pictures and posing in many ways in front of the landmark of a mistaken movie? Indeed, it seems wondrous for a crag of rock that stands alone in the sea.
Onward we pressed after our camera escapade, as we were bought to a water village. Called Panyee, it is inhabited by Indonesian settlers who came by sea more than 200 years ago. These people are said to have moved due political reasons and subsist today through fishing and tourism.
If you look at it, Sumatra is not that far from the Thai peninsula. Hence, it is not surprising to see more than 3,000 people living in their own community on a village of stilts in the middle of the sea!
On this island you will find the local school and places of worship (the locals are Muslims). We had our lunch there, it being the place to have seafood – fresh from the ocean! After lunch, we explored the village – walking to the local school to view the boisterous children.
In fact, if you think about it the southern part of Thailand has a large population of Malay ethnicity. Once part of Malayan sultanates and kingdoms, the region was only fully incorporated into then Siamese control in 1909.
Overall, this is a must do if one comes to Phuket. You cannot say you’ve been here without getting out to the islands! Some tips to remember:
- Bring sunscreen, lots of it and make sure it is water proof
- Put on a hat or cap where possible, unless you are in the water
- Drink up! Even if you are not under the blazing sun you dehydrate
- Never take off your life vest until you are on land. The tailboats can be precarious
- Most important tip: fully devote yourself to the journey and enjoy the islands!
This island tripping was made in February 2007