Exploring the splendour of Phang Nga Bay include some of the best-known sites in Thailand such as James Bond Island, Ko Hong Island, Tham Lot Island, Suwan Kuha Cave, Thanbok Koranee National Park, Panyi fishing village and much more.
Sailing boats of every description take tourists to these magnificent sites daily, but there are certain areas that are a no-go-zones due to the massive erosion in the bay area. However, views from the comfort of your boat are possible and you'll still see plenty of hidden treasures to keep you busy all day long.
I doubt that there's any one area around Phang Nga that doesn't epitomise the sheer scenic splendour of southern Thailand's awesome landscape. There are tonnes of towering limestone stacks rising skywards from the bay's calm shallow waters.
There are as many as forty of them, with a few stretching as high as 350 metres (1,150 feet). The Karst scenery continues all the way inland where you will see cliffs soaring above hidden valleys with some of them cascading into river inlets.
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Ko Khao Phing Kan, also famously known as James Bond Island is perhaps the best and most spectacular of all the islands in the Phang Nga Bay region. Look at the photo near the bottom of this page and you will notice the limestone cliffs that make up the whole island, seem to have split in half between the beach.
Locals believe they are two lovers. Well then, perhaps the smaller island nearby in the shallow waters, must surely be their child. This tiny island is called Ko Tapu and gets its name from talu, meaning to pass from one side to the other.
A boat ride to the mighty limestone enclave at Ko Hong Island situated 25 kilometres north-west of Ao Nang and within an archipelago of islands known as Mu Koh Hong in Phang Nga's National Park, is a great opportunity to explore the vast network of lagoons, abysses and tunnels that run underneath the island.
You can take a canoe around the sheltered lagoon inside the island, do some snorkelling amidst coral reefs in both deep and shallow water or simply relax on the beach. There's also a 400-metre hiking trail around part of the island.
About 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Phang Nga Town is Suwan Kuha Cave, know locally as Wat Tham. One of the most impressive images inside the cave is a 15 metre-long golden reclining Buddha. Climb the steps behind the Buddha and you'll see small shrines where locals light incense and say their prayers.
There are also several other Buddha images as well as a rather large chedi which contain bones from a family of local governors who apparently lived in the region about 160 years ago. This family arranged for the shrine to be built in the cave.
Suwan Kuha Cave is situated within a limestone mountain which forms part of a much larger complex of caverns with the largest being that of Tham Yai, a cave measuring 20 metres x 40 metres that share its space with some sea swallows and several bats.
All this amidst twisted stalactites and stalagmites. Outside of the cave, there is a temple and some stalls selling snacks, cool drinks and fruit. And did I mention the presence of monkeys who, along with several locals try hard to sell you food for them? Watch out for monkeys who may try to steal your snacks.
Travel by road to the cave from Phuket should take about one and a half hours as you pass rubber plantations and several Buddhist temples and mosques along the way. About 10 kilometres (6 miles) before Phang Nga Town, look out for a sign directing you to Raman Waterfall National Forest. Follow the road for about 500 metres until you come to a parking lot leading up to the cave.
If you travel about 50 kilometres (30 miles) south-east of Phang Nga Bay you'll stumble upon Thanbok Koranee National Park in Ao Luk district. This park is open every day from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm and is an exquisite region to explore at your leisure. It is well known for its series of miniature waterfalls set amidst some equally beautiful limestone scenery. Not far from the park in the same domain is Tham Hua Gralok, also known as skull cave.
Inside you will find countless prehistoric cave paintings believed to be accomplished using black and red pigment from a collection of some strange looking animals as well as humans. Cruise inside one of the openings and you should be pleasantly surprised to find a labyrinth of narrow tunnels and eerie caverns containing prehistoric paintings as well as Buddhist shrines and a lot of discarded seashells that were left behind by prehistoric men.
Two interesting caves to explore are those of Tham Lot Nua and Tham Lot Tai in the Ao Phangnga National Park. To get there, head south for about 6 miles or 10 kilometres from Phang Nga Town toward Tambon Khok Kloi until you reach Ao Phangnga. Once there, go to one of the piers near the park office where you'll find all sorts of boats for hire and plenty of capable locals willing to take you there.
It's probably best to take one of the long-tailed boat tours on offer as they take up to eight people at a time. I find this a more interesting option as you get to meet a lot of like-minded people. Otherwise, you can always select a boat to suit your needs from one of the rental agents at Tha Dan Pier or Bo Tho Pier and go it alone. Charter companies often negotiate prices.
It's entirely up to you.
If you decide to go it alone, travel along the Tha Prang Canal for about 20 minutes until you see the Tham Lot caves. On the way, you'll pass a number of mangrove swamps. Tham Lot is actually a 50 metre (165 foot) long sea tunnel beneath a limestone cliff that has a stream flowing through its narrow passages.
The main attraction here are the stunning stalactites hanging from its roof and the impressive stalagmites rising from the floor. Tham Lot Nua is the larger of the two caves with longer twisting passages that are only navigable during low tide.
A most spectacular and very pleasant location to enjoy great local cuisine while on your voyage of discovery around Phang Nga Bay is to take a tour that offers a stopover at Panyi Fishing Village. This village was established at the end of the 18th century by nomadic Indonesian fisherman, but now, there are about 300 Muslim families living here.
It is built entirely on stilts above the water alongside a gigantic limestone cliff. The inhabitants make their living selling all sorts of fish products including fish paste, dried shrimp and shrimp paste, but the real treasure is to enjoy the tasty food served at the restaurant. It was part of my tour. The village has a school here and a plot of land with a mosque and burial ground.
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