Tripadvisor is definitely your friend when planning a vacay. However, more often than not, the amount of information can be a little overwhelming though. One of the things I wanted to do while in Phuket was to take a cruise around the picturesque Phang Nga Bay. I know many people go to Phang Nga Bay to see the “James Bond Island” (Ko Tapu), but since I never saw The Man with the Golden Gun I wasn’t super interested in that.
I am so glad that I went on the trip to Phang Nga Bay. It turned out to be one of my favourite parts of my holiday!
Watch the summary video I did here:
Organising a tour to Phang Nga Bay
From reading internet forums we knew not to bother booking online (unless you’re a big group, have kids, etc). We walked up to one of the many tour stalls on the corner of the road from our hotel and inquired about tours there. The first tour-stand we stopped at seemed like a great deal! We talked for ages and when I was ready to pull out my Bhat the tour desk operator said that tour left from Phi Phi Island so if we wanted that tour, we need to book another trip to Phi Phi. That seemed dodge so we walked off saying we’d think about it.
I inquired by the hotel and they wanted to charge THB 3000 (ZAR1100/ USD85) per person. Nah. Walked another 2 minutes to another tour operator (they are literally on every corner) and found a tour of Phang Nga Bay for THB1400 (ZAR570/ USD42) each. It was a whole day tour by speed boat and included lunch and hotel transfers courtesy of the 2 Sisters Tour Company. We probably could have got the same tour for cheaper but we were happy with the price. We chose the speedboat in order to see more of the islands. If I do decide to take this trip again, I would consider choosing the big boat.
Tip: Do not accept the price written on the brochures. I’m not even sure why they are there as the actual tours are much cheaper. For example, the brochure that we had has the price of THB3500 per person. I’m not sure if that’s what they charge in peak season. Anyway, try your luck and bargain the price down.
We paid the tour operator and she gave us a receipt and pick up time. We booked the tour quite late (8pm) for the next morning. The brochure recommended bringing a hat, sunscreen, shorts, sensible shoes and a towel.
The pick up
Many of the more expensive tours start earlier to avoid the crowds. Our budget tour started around 8am. I was a bit nervous that something would go wrong and they wouldn’t pick us up. I didn’t even have to worry. Our shuttle driver was 10 minutes early and approached us just as we finished up with breakfast. We had to show our receipt which included our room number (thankfully as my name was spelt so wrong they would have never found me otherwise!).
We were in Patong and were the first people that were picked up. Then we experienced a really long drive as we had to pick up the rest of the group to get to the pier. It may have been about an hour and a half but it felt like an eternity. We passed by some areas we would not have seen otherwise (the not so touristy spots). I found myself dosing off.
Finally we arrived. We were offered juice, tea, biscuits and anti-nausea tablets. We were trying to guess the nationalities of the rest of the group to check if it was safe to skinner (gossip) in afrikaans. It wasn’t! Our fellow South Africans spotted us a mile away in our branded MaxEd water shoes from Mr Price Sport.
We took some pics as we waited for the other shuttle to join us.
Once the other shuttle arrived, we all hopped back into the shuttle and drove 2 minutes to the actual pier (Mhak Prok Pier). Everyone seemed excited to jump into the speedboat. We opted to sit under the shade, close to the motor of the boat. There were 2 reasons (1) shade (2) the rain clouds were looming.
Disclaimer: I may have the names of these places mixed up!
(1) Sightseeing around Panak Island (Koh Panak)
Everyone was very excited to see the first island but we didn’t stop there. We just slowed down which was a pity as it looked like quite an interesting place to explore.
(2) Ice-cream cave, Kaew Island
How exciting! I wasn’t expecting to explore a cave but that’s exactly what we did.
The speedboat docked and we had to jump out. My water shoes really came in handy as I could walk in the water and easily navigate the rocks in the cave. Some other guy kept having to take off his expensive Nikes as he didn’t want them to get wet!
(3) Canoe at Hong Island
This was my favourite part of the day! The speedboat docked in the middle of the ocean and we jumped into little canoes manned by a rower that was already paid for by the tour company. I was disappointed I wasn’t canoeing myself but after trying to row I realised I would get us nowhere fast! The rower was friendly, strong and really nice. He rowed us all along the bay and scared the other tourists close to us by making this weird sound and shouting “crocodile!” He took us on to an island and very close to the mini-James Bond Island. There were tons of tourists around but everyone seemed in great spirits.
At one point he told us to lay flat as we went through a small nook on our way back to the boat. I dropped my sunnies in the water and he went back and fished it out for me (in my books he was definitely getting a tip). To seal the deal (the tip), he grabbed a leaf and made a heart out of it and took a pic of us.
Back at the boat we got to live out our rich-kid fantasies of jumping off a boat into the middle of the sea. The water was warm but deep! Tip: leave your wedding ring at home as my husband’s one is now laying at the bottom of the ocean somewhere around Hong Island.
(4) James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan)
Ah, finally the famous James Bond Island. Ko Tapu, the limestone rock has mythical origins but a scientific origin that is equally interesting.
There was a walk that you could take up the cliff that is probably amazing. I cut my finger on a shell quite deeply and was left trying to stop the bleeding for most of the time I was there. That was a bit of a downer but luckily the tour operators had plasters handy.
(5) Panyee Island / Koh Panyi (Muslim Village)
It was overcast and hot. We all grabbed some drinks on the boat but we were really looking forward to having lunch. The lunch was fully halaal as we were going to have it at Panyee Island, also referred to as the “muslim village.” The whole village is built on stilts and was quite a sight to behold. The village was established in the 18th century by nomadic Malay fishermen and the size of the village is restricted due to dangerous water conditions in the rainy season (read more here). The village boasts a soccer team that built their own floating soccer pitch you can check out in the video below.
We had lunch on the island and were given time to walk around the touristy market.
We had a look at the impressive mosque and also walked pass some of the homes and observed the way in which they preserved fish and even caught some sort of mud-fish. I didn’t have much extra Bhat left but if I could go back, I’d buy something just to support the village.
(6) Lawa Island
Our last stop couldn’t come sooner! I was having fun but I so badly wanted to take a cold shower. They told us we had about 45mins to chill and swim. After taking a dip, we chilled in the shade and took some pics.
The water on that side of the world is warm and very salty. It’s very easy to float in but the warmth makes it difficult to swim for extended periods.
It took a quick 5 minute trip to get back to the harbour. I wish the trip back to our hotel in Patong didn’t take so long but we had to drop off the others at their hotels. All in all, we had a great time and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Next time maybe I’d have a clearer idea of the islands I want to see as I really enjoyed the canoe and I know some day tours offer more of that.