When you visit Thailand, if you are looking for a spot of absolute sheer paradise, then a must-see place is the Phang Nga Bay. It features evergreen forest islands, green shaded shallow waters, fabulous coral reefs, and a vast amount of species from different kinds of animals, plants, and marine creatures. The cave systems and vertical limestone formations comprise incredible sites.
Phang Nga Bay is located in the south of Thailand in Phang Nga province bordering the Andaman Sea. It lies between the Northern tip of Phuket and the mainland of Malay Peninsula in Southern Thailand. The Bay itself is approximately 400 kilometres squared.
It is a place of alluring beauty and what most would call paradise. Phang Nga Bay has been under protection as part of Ao Phang Nga National Park since 1981.
The Bay is renowned for being an exciting diving spot. The waters surrounding the bay itself is fairly shallow. The features of the marine include an amazing untouched coral reef protected by the Ao Phang Nga National Park, sea grass beds, and a huge amount of different mangrove species, let alone all the other species you will encounter.
Things to see in Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay is also famous for its signature limestone cliffs and masses of cave systems. About 42 small islands are scattered around the Bay.
The wildlife is astonishing in Phang Nga Bay. Yes, it is possible to see an odd shark swimming around the bay area at times. Of course, there are restrictions in place and boat tours will guide you through the safe zones only. Mainly you will be exploring the Bay in either a kayak or sea canoe. So that you are safe, and they will always provide you with a life jacket.
During the best months of the season, you will find many photographers, videographers, and divers heading to the Bay just for its sheer beauty and to photograph some of the best images of the vast amount of different species of wildlife, and marine life. The scenery is simply incredible here.
Phang Nga Bay became known internationally when one of the islands of the Bay was featured in the famous James Bond movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ back in the 1970’s. James Bond Island was home to the villain Scaramanga (played by Christoper Lee) in the film.
Since then, James Bond Island and Sea Gypsy Village became the most popular spots in Phang Nga Bay. Together they have attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world each and every year.
James Bond Island
The real name for James Bond Island is Khao Phing Kan or Ko Khao Phing Kan. You can find it in the north-west part of Phang Nga Bay. This is a major tourist hot spot due to being highly commercialised since the James Bond movie.
The island is basically a limestone tower karst that includes two forest covered mini islands with very steep shores. You will find when you visit here, two fantastic white sandy beaches, and a number of caves you can explore. Most of the popular excursions offer cave exploration by sea canoe or kayak. There’s no another way to access the caves. Many of the caves will only be accessible when the tide is low. So depending on what time you head out there, you might have a chance to reach some of the caves. Otherwise, it would be very dangerous at high tide, and the caves become flooded.
What to do in James Bond Island
James Bond Island is located in and amongst many other small Islands that form quite a fascinating area and view, and when you head over there to see for yourself, you will just want to explore every part of the Island.
The water around James Bond Island is a shade of green, and usually shallow. The island beautiful evergreen trees, and a multitude of different species of fish, many types of reptiles, flowers, and abundant marine life. You can even spot some sharks around the area. The climate here is a tropical marine climate, varying from 23-32 degrees usually throughout the whole year, and rainfall is 50/50 throughout the year, but of course in rainy season, there will be more floods and higher water levels, so sometimes going through the caves may not be an option.
On one side of the island, you will find a small office, where tourists will head to pay their tax when visiting the island (all part of the national park fees). However, depending on which tour company you go with, some do include this.
The James Bond Island features the famous 20-metre vertically challenged high rock formation which is named Ko Tapu, about 40 metres from the shore, that’s become a world famous landmark. There is an interesting legend story behind this formation of rock… But that will be for you to find out when you head out there for yourself.
Sea Gypsy Village
Koh Panyee is another beautiful island. It is a small fishing village known as the Sea Gypsy Fishing village, situated on the edge of the water. The majority of the village sits on stilts. Thai people also spell it as Ko Panyi, as they have a lot of alternate spellings, take that into account.
There is around 1500 local Muslim Thai people who inhabit the Island. And only one policeman who works on the island. The only places on the Island that aren’t on stilts are the graveyard and some rocky spots.
As you can imagine, the fresh seafood here is quite something else, fresh crab, lobster and so forth. If you enjoy your seafood, you will be looking forward to lunch here. It also has some side stalls which sell handcrafted items, necklaces, stones, and decorative items.
How to get there
Sea Gypsy Village can be reached from the main Bay by long tail boat, or speed boat. Due to the water being pretty shallow, you won’t see big ships heading here.
There are options with some of the tour companies to stay on this Island overnight if you wish to. As mentioned above, to reach Koh Panyee you can rent a longtail boat for 3-5 hours. This is on average anything from 1500-2000 baht for the boat hire and driver. Or slightly higher if you want a full tour with a guide, snorkelling equipment, etc.
The bigger your group, the less per head it will cost, and the boat fits a maximum of 10 passengers usually. Don’t get in an overloaded boat in high season. This has been known to happen, and it can obviously be dangerous just in case something does happen. Speed boats are slightly more expensive but take much less time to head out there. So, in essence, you will stay on the islands slightly longer.
Phang Nga Bay boat tours
Getting to Phang Nga Bay would also require a boat from one of the piers. This depends on where you are heading from, be it if you are coming from Phuket, or from the northern parts, and Phang Nga itself. There are plentiful companies out there that lead excursions for both groups and private tours.
A typical tour of Phang Nga Bay would usually cost in the region of around 1200 baht – 3500 baht for the whole day in high season. This would include a trip to see the famous James Bond Island, as well as lunch at the Sea Gypsy Village – Koh Panyee. Sea canoeing/kayaking around the bay is included. Usually, these day trips last anything from 8-12hours, and you are provided with water, snacks, snorkelling equipment, kayak or canoe. This is a very popular day trip when you head out to Phang Nga Bay. Phang Nga Bay is huge, it features many surrounding Islands, and few are habituated, but most are untouched.
Phang Nga Bay has one main resort, the Phang Nga Bay Resort, if you are planning to stay over, so you can spend a few days exploring around all the islands in the Ao Phang Nga National Park, it may be a good idea to book a night or two here. The price can vary depending on the season, but you would be looking to spend around 1500 baht a night.
Ao Phang Nga National Park
Ao Phang National Park located in the Phang Nga Province covers all the islands inside. To get to Ao Phang Nga National Park, you can either hire a speedboat, or kayak, or long-tail boat. There is an entrance fee that you’ll be asked to pay to help protect and maintain the National Park (apparently). Throughout the year, the price to enter the park is 200 baht.
Ao Phang Nga National Park is a place of profound beauty. You can immerse your day spending hours just floating around in a kayak or on a canoe, and take things at your own pace. Just keep in mind the low and high tide times, if you intend to check out the water caves if you are on your own. Most of the time you will have a guide or two nearby just in case something happens and doesn’t go to plan.
Exploring the monkey caves, and the sea caves and going through the mangrove bushes is an experience in itself, it highly advisable to take a camera or Go Pro if you have one to record the sheer beauty of the place for memory.
James Bond Island Tour
A tour to James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan/ Ko Khao Phing Kan) would cost anything between 1200 baht to 4000 baht, all depending on how tailored you want it. Be it a private tour, longer duration, overnight stay, and camping on a beach. This tour is pretty much the same as all the other tours that are related to Phang Nga Bay, but more commercialised. It is purely due to the name – James Bond Island and the iconic sentiment it has. You can head there by speed boat, traditional long tail boat or a small charter/cruise boat.
Ao Phang Nga National Park tours
There are a vast amount of tour companies that offers many different packages to explore the National Park. These range from half day tours, full days and overnight stay. Bare in mind you can not actually stay on most of the islands in the National Park without being part of one of the tours. However, you can stay on neighbouring close by Islands such as Ko Panyee. This village is quite a tourist trap in the day, so be prepared to be hustled by the touts on the Island.
If you decide to do the eco- tourism sea canoeing, then there are options to canoe for the day and set up camp on one of the beaches. This is another fantastic experience and highly advisable if you have the time. Camping on the beach out in the Ao Phang National Park, hearing the waves crash by at night, watching the sunset, and the unbelievable stars on a clear night, is fascinating. Bear in mind, prices do vary, as they can be very busy, so book in advance with this one, especially in high season.
If you are looking for a decent price to explore Ao Phang Nga National Park, the best idea is to book online. Of course, you can wait till you get to the park headquarters and haggle the prices there. But in most cases,online booking websites has done this job for you already.
Tips on travelling around Phang Nga Bay
To sum up Phang Nga Bay, in Ao Phang Nga National Park, that features all of the 42 islands, including James Bond, and the Gypsy Sea fishing village, are an experience that is a must if you are planning to visit Thailand. Tropical marine climate year round, iconic features, species of certain things that you will not find anywhere else in the world are easily reachable here. A huge amount of different tours to choose from to suit your day.
If you’re coming from Northern Thailand, there will be travel brochures in every travel agent shop. They usually show off James Bond Island on the front. During the high season, prices are much more expensive due to how many tourists are attracted to this special place. This is also true if you are booking a tour from the South of Thailand, i.e. Phuket. You will be paying more, and the duration won’t be as long, as it takes longer to reach the islands. It is always best to do some research prior, into what, how and how long you want to be visiting this beautiful place for.
The only downside to visiting this place is that it is such a tourist hotspot. The travel touts know this, so they try to push the prices up on various things, such as the tours themselves, lunch, if not included in the tour, handcrafted items that the inhabitants sell and so forth. A good tip is that you can always haggle your way in Thailand, and if it doesn’t suit you, walk away.