Whilst we have all seen the photographs, nothing can prepare you for the scale and magnificent scenery of Phang Nga.
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our Southern Thailand Road trip may 2022 and the main story can be found here.
After a rainstorm, standing at the Samet Nagshe Viewpoint, the clouds started to dissipate, and the wonders of this region were slowly revealed. I have travelled extensively in my life and this is one of the most incredible scenes of nature’s extraordinary works of art, that I have ever seen.
It was hard to describe the view looking from the mainland over the mangroves and out over the bay and we were transfixed with these incredibly shaped islands. Each one unique and different in shape and size.
Formally a barrier reef during the Permian epoch, (298-252 million years ago) the formations were the result of geological movements and fractures. Wind, ocean currents and sea corrosion have shaped the islands that we see today. Sometimes looking top-heavy, these limestone karsts are being continuously re-sculptured and with 2 recent collapses Hat Noppharat and at Prasat Hin Pun Yod and assessments are continuously being caried out by the authorities.
During our stay on Phuket, we were constantly hounded by touts for boat trips. Their tours sound idyllic with a high-speed boat, tour guide, lunch, snorkelling and sightseeing all included. However, there will be 20-30 people crammed into one of these monsters. We are individuals who care about the environment and try to support Sustainable Tourism and not just extracting as much as you can without respect for future generations.
Everywhere we went we were offered boat trips, even at the viewpoint. We were looking for a private trip and was willingly offered with, these people over here! On our way to the viewpoint, we had seen a simple sign for boat trips and followed this little road to its end at a small, village/community pier. These are fishing folk and have built a small pier to support their community offering long-tail boat trips around Phang Nga Bay.
Business was not brisk and we returned the next day to meet our private boat and captain. It was not a wooden boat as requested but still a traditional style fibreglass version, colourful, had a roof and forward-facing seating. Once comfortably on board we made our way out through the dense mangrove channels, into Phang Nga bay. It was a wonderful day; the sun was shining and the cloud formations spectacular.
The sea was calm, and our local longtail boat captain set a good pace and we were soon cruising past these incredible formations. Each island is different in size and shape, almost all are well vegetated and the natural sea erosion at the base allows the boat to be underneath some of these overhangs. Erie limestone stalactites hang down in bizarre shapes and one hopes that they won’t choose today to slip into the sea.
The scenes in Phang Nga bay are truly sensational and with few boats out and these were mostly the traditional Thai longtail which add a scenic touch as they make their individual ways amongst the islands. We were slightly brought back to reality as we entered a bay with several large vessels which turned out to be the mother-ships for canoeing. With a well-seasoned guide we were shoe-horned into a very simple inflatable. Terrified of losing my phone, it stayed securely in a plastic bag in my pocket, so sadly no photos of this amazingly scenic part of the trip.
Sitting on the floor if an inflatable is not the most comfortable at my age but I started to relax and understand the incredible natural beauty of this lagoon. We paddled serenely under the cliffs and through the mangroves. The depth in the lagoon is only about 1 meter but still enough to kill a phone! The tour lasted about one hour and we were soon back at the mother ship and re-boarded our longtail.
One of the highlights of the Phang Nga trip was the fishing village of Koh Panyee, built almost entirely on stilts, the old town is delightful but newer areas appear to be occupied by large fish restaurants to appeal the daily onslaught during the dry season. The village also came to fame when local kids, so inspired by the 1986 FIFA World Cup built a pitch from scraps of wood and fishing rafts. Now rebuilt Panyee FC train on their floating pitch and are one of the most successful soccer clubs in Southern Thailand. There is a rather lovely YouTube film made by TMB Bank on this achievement https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU4oA3kkAWU
Our delightful cruise continued through the endless beauty of Phang Nga. The water remained calm and only the wakes of the longtail boats broke the serenity as they ferried their occupants on their journeys of splendour.
Our final stop was at Ko Khao Phing Kan which has become famous as the James Bond movie due to the role that it played in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun” and subsequently in Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith. The highly recognisable limestone karst of Ko Ta Pu (or Ko Tapu) lies about 40 metres from the island and is instantly recognisable. At 20 meters high with a diameter of just four meters at the base and eight at the top. It is quite precarious! Now the subject of thousands of selfies every day, it is a wonderful sight to see and again we were fortunate that there were few boats there when we visited.
You will need to have kept the National Park Entry ticket that you purchased when you went canoeing and this is checked as to disembark. The first beach is rather lovely again with overhanging cliffs, there are a few steps and then the wonder of Ko Ta Pu is revealed! Whilst smaller than I had expected, it is an amazing site to see and naturally take some shots. There are sadly souvenir shops on the island and you can walk easily to the second beach at the rear.
All things must come to an end and we slowly left Phang Nga behind us and followed the hidden creeks through the Mangroves back to our community pier.
We were extremely fortunate in being able to visit Phang Nga before tourism to Thailand resumes. These areas of incredible natural beauty will, sadly, become highly visited again soon. Whilst a speedboat is economic, do look at hiring a traditional long-tail boat and supporting local sustainable tourism. Whilst the sights are spectacular, they will again become crowded. With your own boat you can cruise around and enjoy the natural spectacular as well as creating some most memorable Instagram shots!
Responsible/sustainable tourism: It is challenging but we try to be responsible in the way we travel and support sustainable local business wherever possible. The majority of the long-tail boats in Phang Nga belong to fishermen who have a right to be in this area and their traditional styled boats do add a feature to any scene. Sadly, as tourism returns these islands will once again be filled to their maximum and nature will suffer. However, we do all want to see the sights!
Kim Waddoup enjoyed a lifetime in the tourism business and is an active ‘Silver-Ager” living in Thailand. He writes for his age group with high varied articles covering subjects relevant to retirees living in, or visiting Thailand. Any questions or comments on this post? Please do feel free to contact me through our ‘Contact Form’ or directly [email protected]