Located northeast of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay (Not Koh Pha Ngan) consists of 400 kms² of spectacular natural beauty. In sharp contrast to the over development of Phuket, Phang Nga Bay is almost entirely unspoiled.
Except for a few fishing villages, the bay is devoid of human habitation and has been for millions of years. In the absence of human presence, nature has flourished and Phang Nga Bay is a wonderful window into a time when all of southern Thailand was wild.
The most stunning feature of Phang Nga Bay is undoubtedly the dramatic limestone cliffs, which rise straight up out of the turquoise sea. These awe-inspiring formations, known as karsts, reach heights of up to 100m and are covered with lush vegetation that provides a home to a wide variety of tropical birds and animals. The bases of these cliffs are honeycombed with amazing caves and aquatic grottos, known as hongs (rooms) in Thai.
The most famous feature of Phang Nga Bay is Koh Tapoo, better known as James Bond Island because of its starring role in the flick The Man with the Golden Gun. This is the most common stop for tour boats heading to Phang Nga Bay and is often extremely crowded, especially during peak season. It can also be irritating being hit on by dozens of people selling tat. Even so, it’s worth making the stop.
The other main tourist stop in Phang Nga Bay is Koh Phan Yee, which is home to the largest human habitation in the bay. Muslim fishing people, descendants of migrants from Java hundreds of years ago, have built a permanent village on stilts jutting out from the island. It now includes a mosque and a government school.
Tour boats from Phuket stop here at lunchtime and the entire village gets inundated with up to 3,000 tourists in one hit! The villagers make a part of their living providing lunch and selling handicrafts to them, but once the tourists leave the village returns to its normal, quiet self.
Phang Nga Bay also has quite a bit to offer besides the well-travelled islands, though. Koh Hong is known for its extensive network of caves, which are only accessible by sea kayak; Koh Kien is definitely worth a look for its amazing ancient cave drawings; while the bay itself is attractive because its sheltered position means that the water is calm almost all year round. The natural protection provided by the islands makes this a perfect haven for wildlife, and snorkelling and diving options are excellent.
Touring Phang Nga Bay
There are a few different ways to enjoy the sights of Phang Nga Bay; the most common of which is to join one of the many tourist excursions that visit the bay daily. This can also be a fun way to meet people.
Trips usually involve being bussed to Phang Nga and then boarding a boat to see the sights. More convenient boat tours can be arranged from Yacht Haven or Boat Lagoon marinas on Phuket, though they tend to more expensive because of the distances involved.
If you are in a group of up to 20 people, hire a large longtail boat for the day from the pier at Bang Rong. The owner will usually be very knowledgeable and can take you to places others don’t see; plus, split between many people, the cost should be low. This way, you can avoid contact with the tourist scene and really lose yourself in the pristine waters and stunning islands.
Watermark Charter is a luxury cruise experience that takes tourists on private tours all around the Andaman Coast. Visit beauty spots such as Phi Phi, Koh Hong and Phang Nga Bay in style upon your own millionaire’s yacht, but without the prohibitive price tag.
Another popular option is to visit Phang Nga on a kayak or sea canoe. This is the only way to get inside most of the grottos and sea caves and is the most tranquil and peaceful way to see the bay. There are several companies around Phuket that offer kayak rentals and expert guides for the area.