Jamie's Phuket Blog

Jamie's Phuket Blog - Discover The Real Phuket!

27 May 2016 

Samet Nangshe Viewpoint - Wow!

There are lots of great views around the Phuket area (see Hills and Viewpoints for more). We have a mix of hills and ocean here (the name "Phuket" comes from the Malay word Bukit which means Hill), and if you climb a hill you can get some great seaviews. The highest hills in Phuket are over 500m above sea level, but just a few kilometres from the sea. I do like finding new viewpoints, and earlier this year, I saw an amazing view on Instagram, posted by a Thai photographer. I could see that it was in Phang Nga, just north of Phuket island, and I recognised one of the small islands in the view, as I'd taken a photo of the same island last year while exploring a corner of Phang Nga province that we'd never looked at before. So I figured the photo must be taken from a hill in that general location. Over the last few months I have seen many more photos taken from the same viewpoint, and some showed a sign saying "Samet Nangshe Resort". Really? A resort? We'd just been there 6 months earlier and I'd not seen any resorts under construction. Well, this had to be checked out!

We drove over the Sarasin bridge into Phang Nga province and took the same road as before towards the small village of Klong Kian and then started looking for the viewpoint. We saw several signs saying Samet Nangshe, so we quickly realised this place was being promoted a bit, at least locally because I'd not seen any photos taken by foreign tourists, only Thai people. I was expecting a tiny sign and a little dirt road which our (not 4WD) truck might struggle to climb, but we soon found what we came for and were surprised to find it looking quite busy. A large carpark off the road and quite a few little stalls selling drinks and snacks. And there were several cars already parked there. Looks like a local landowner has decided to make some cash from the view! You don't see any view from road level. A dirt trail, which is wide enough for a car (but we only saw people walking), snaked up the hillside. It was a hot afternoon so we bought some bottled water and then paid a 30 Baht "entry fee" (no extra charge for the foreign guy) at a bamboo kiosk at the bottom of the path. It only took a minute of walking uphill to see the view.

Samet Nangshe View

It was not a hard climb up, but not too easy either! It was a hot afternoon and the track is quite steep. Here's my wife and daughter stopping for a breather ...

Path up to Samet Nangshe Viewpoint

I do wonder if they might make a real road up here sometime. The dirt path is fine for walking and you can see there are steps carved into the dirt, though I wonder what this will look like in the rainy season! We moaned a bit about the heat and the steep path, but couldn't moan too much as we had companions for the walk, much smaller than us ...

Kids walking up to Samet Nangshe Viewpoint

(above) Kids walking up the path to Samet Nangshe Viewpoint. OK, if that little one can do it, let's walk! Actually it's only a 10 minute walk, probably less if you are very fit and healthy. Then you reach a small open area, with a stall selling drinks, and a view ...

View from "Level 1" at Samet Nangshe

Ah! So there is the "resort" sign I had seen on Instagram! And certainly no sign of any resort or hotel here. That is quite a view. Phang Nga Bay is full of small islands, we have done many trips in the area by boat, but it all looks different from up high. I would like to take a helicopter flight over this area, that would be amazing. My family were quite content to see the view from here, but ... just before reaching this viewpoint the path splits and a sign points the other way and says it's only 200m to a higher viewpoint. We could see this higher viewpoint from where we stood. I'm going for it! Anyone else? Just me? Sure it was a bit hot walking up, but nothing serious. So I left the family and headed up. Not too tough really, only another 10 minutes, but it was steep and I was breathing hard near the top. And on a very hot afternoon too.

But, wow. Sometimes you do get these WOW moments. No matter what photos you have seen, or how much traveling you have done before. Wow!

Samet Nangshe Viewpoint

View from the top .. and there is no way a single photo can capture the full view. I realised this already, as I had seen photos, but the reality is more. And this is the start. We'll come here again, because the view is looking east. And the photos I saw of the sunrise were spectacular. I want to see that sunrise. Phang Nga Bay is a beautiful place.

Samet Nangshe View Panorama

(above) And looking slightly more to the north across Phang Nga Bay. Wow. One more wow! The view here was fantastic. No way to show everything with one photo, and even though I had seen photos, the real life view was a fantastic thing to see. Nice to know that I can still be impressed by our local scenery. We will return! To get here in time for sunrise we'll have to leave home about 5am. I think an early morning will be very much worth the effort. Of course we said the same thing about Khao Kai Nui viewpoint (also in Phang Nga) that we visited 4 months ago. The Monks are not naturally early risers!

Related links on Jamie's Phuket

Phang Nga Bay Tour
Khao Kai Nui Viewpoint
Exploring Phang Nga Province
James Bond Island
Tours with Easy Day Thailand

Samet Nangshe Location Map






17 May 2016 

Koh Yao Yai Island Trip

Koh Yao Yai is a large island between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay. It's about 25km from one end of the island to the other. We'd never been there until last week, although we have taken several trips to Koh Yao Noi, it's smaller neighbour to the north - our most recent trip was in 2012 - see Beautiful Day at Koh Yao Noi. The whole area is full of small islands, and I have often wished that I had a boat of my own. We really should explore more. Last Sunday and Monday (May 8 - 9 2016) we joined our friends from the Easy Day Thailand tour company for a 2 day trip with 1 night at Koh Yao Yai. Easy Day Thailand can be contacted for trips to any islands around Phuket. And there are lots of islands!

Our trip started on a grey Sunday morning. A trip right at the start of the low season in May always has a chance of rain! We drove to Bang Rong pier in the northeast of Phuket to meet the group for our speedboat transfer to Koh Yao Yai and a morning tour of a couple of other islands. Yeh, weather did not look too promising, but it seemed that the skies to the east looked brighter.

At Bang Rong Pier, Phuket

We were all ready, speedboat loaded with bags and beers before 8am. I've said it before - an early start, despite the pain of waking up early, is worthwhile. We sped out of Bang Rong to the Northeast, passing Naka island on the way to Koh Yao Yai. And the weather brightened up, as it often does. If you happen to visit Phuket in low season, don't let a wet or grey morning put you off!

Speedboat near Phuket

(above) Another speedboat passes us on the way to Koh Yao Yai. Skies looking much nicer. Our first stop was the pier at the north end of Koh Yao Yai island where a pick up had been arranged with the hotel to collect all our bags. Then we carried on to Koh Lao Bi Le, also called Koh Hong. Not to be confused with another island called Koh Hong, further north in Phang Nga Bay.

Entering Koh Hong

Lagoon at Koh Hong

On the west side of Koh Hong is an almost hidden lagoon reached by a narrow gap in the limestone cliffs of the island. A longtail boat or speedboat can enter (slowly) and take a quick look around. There is no beach inside, just cliffs and mangroves. So we took a quick look around. And then headed to the more beachy east coast of the island. We got there before 9:30am and it was quiet, just a couple of boats already there.

Floating Pier at Koh Hong

(above) Floating pier at Koh Hong. Walking on this was like walking when very drunk. A general rule of tourist hotspots .... get there early to avoid the crowds. When we arrived, there were about 10 people at the island. An hour later, at least 100.

Koh Hong near Krabi

Beach at Koh Hong

(above) Our kids and friends enjoying Koh Hong. We did strap on masks and snorkels, though the water here is not super clear. Plenty of little, colourful sergeant major damsel fish in the shallow waters. So we had a little swim and when the little beach started to fill up with people, we left about an hour later.

Koh Hong Island near Krabi

(above) The beach and shallow waters at Koh Hong

The next stop was Koh Lao La Ding, about 3km north of Koh Hong. This was already fairly full of boats, with a small beach in between limestone cliffs. We opened our cheap takeaway lunches here although it was not yet 11am. The island seems to have a nickname "Paradise Island" if you book a tour from Krabi... to be honest I think Koh Hong is nicer, but ...

Koh Lao La Ding

The next stop was supposed to be Koh Pak Bia, which features a long sandbank which joins a larger and smaller island. But it was high tide, and a very high tide at that. So the sand was all covered. With no sand to land on we detoured towards Koh Yao Yai. The whole area is just full of beautiful scenery. I really wish I had my own boat!

Island scenery near Koh Yao Yai island

The very northeast tip of Koh Yao Yai is a long, thin point of land called "Laem Haad" meaning "Beach Cape". It's just sand, palm trees and admittedly some buffalo poop! If you are at the Koh Yao Noi pier just over the water, this looks like paradise. At high tide much of the beach was not there, but it was still pretty! We just stopped for 20 minutes before heading to the Koh Yao Yai jetty.

Laem Had, Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai has several piers. The one in the north of the island is 25km from the main pier in the south which can handle a car ferry from Phuket Town. If you start from Bang Rong pier, you will get to the northern pier, and the same boats will also stop at Koh Yao Noi - the pier for the smaller island is just over the water less than 2km away. With our main baggage having already been picked up by the hotel earlier in the day, we loaded ourselves into several songthaews for the short trip to the hotel.

Koh Yao Yai Taxi

I knew that Koh Yao Yai is not quite as developed for tourism as Koh Yao Noi, and having been to "Noi" several times, and knowing it to be quiet, I did wonder about the quality of our hotel. Koh Yao Noi has several fancy hotels and quite a lot of smaller bungalow resorts. Koh Yao Yai has less hotels, although when I looked at Agoda, I was surprised to see so many (see Koh Yao Yai Hotels on Agoda). Easy Day Thailand had booked the Thiwson Resort, not at all expensive with rooms from about 1300 Baht (actually a few fan rooms are cheaper than that). I was interested to see what we'd get ....

Thiwson Resort

(above) We arrived at Thiwson resort at about 12:30, but couldn't check in until 2pm. So I wandered to the front of the resort for a look. That'll do. And you can see below, our kids soon found some kayaks! And some of us found some cold beers :)

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai island

I was into full relax mode (beer, sun, beach) even before we checked in to the rooms. The beach at the front of the hotel .. I think it's "fake". There's a wall facing the sea and between the wall and the resort is filled with sand. At high tide the sea level was near the top of the wall. But it looks great! Rooms were slowly made available for the group. Some rooms are right near the sea and there are several rows of rooms with the fan rooms at the back. My wife and I were sent over the road and up a slight hill to our room. What? U Kidding? Ah, but we had another pool there, just for half a dozen rooms. And a sort of view too.

Pool at Thiwson Resort

(above) Pool outside our room. Once we had the room, it was air con on, lie down, cool down and take a nap time. By about 4:30pm we were back by the sea and the tide had gone way out. The kids took a walk on the low tide sands to where a large longtail boat was left high and dry.

Low tide at Koh Yao Yai

Dad and friends started emptying the several ice chests full of beer :) Late afternoon turned to evening and there were dark clouds over in Krabi (about 20km east) plus some rumbles of thunder. We figured it would not come our way. But later, just as I finished a shower, me and some of the kids had to run down from the hillside rooms as the rain started. No worries, the restaurant at the hotel is well sheltered and has roll-down plastic shutters. And the rain did not last long. We enjoyed a fairly long night of food and drink. The room we had was comfortable, big bathroom with open air shower, the bed was comfy, aircon maybe not quite good enough, I like cold aircon and this one struggled. I think if we went back I'd try for one of the beachfront rooms.

Next morning. Here's a lesson for you. I woke up pretty early, about 7:30am. But way too late for a sunrise photo. Should have thought about that, set an alarm and had a couple less beers! But no worries, because my friend Ingo was awake early! Thanks, Ingo! And here's what I missed. These photos taken at about 6:15am. If you are on the east coast of anywhere, get up early!

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

Koh Yao Yai Sunrise

(above) Sunrise from Koh Yao Yai island (at Thiwson Resort). Looking across to the Krabi coast and all the islands in between. I had a morning dip in the pool, dragged the rest of the family out of bed and we enjoyed breakfast with that great view to the east. The Thiwson resort looked great in the early morning light. Not a fancy place, but a deal at low season prices!

Thiwson Resort at Koh Yai Yai

Thiwson Resort Pool

(above) The kind of pool you could sit in all day. Let me say again : What a view!

Breakfast was followed by yet more kayaking. I am not sure if the kayaks were free to use, but the kids (and some adults) used them anyway!

Kayaking at Koh Yao Yai

Before lunch a few of us more intrepid explorers took off in a songthaew for a quick drive around Koh Yao Yai island, just to get a taste of what the place looks like as we'd spent all our time at the resort. I would like to come again and do the same as we've done at Koh Yao Noi - get the boat over and rent mopeds and explore at our own pace. This little tour we did here was only just over an hour. First stop was just a kilometer along the road to the south of the resort.

Looking East from Koh Yao Yai

And then about 20 minutes of small concrete roads, occasional houses, small settlements, no big town. Trying to snap photos from the back of the songthaew. One thing was clear - it's very quiet here! I'd like to return and drive around at my own speed along these country roads.

Koh Yao Yai Road

(above) Quiet road in Koh Yao Yai. We carried on to the main pier in the southwest of the island about 20 km from our resort. Boats come in here from Phuket Town and it is possible to bring a car over, not that you need to. We watched boats coming and going for a while. If you like "people watching" this is a good place!

Jetty at Koh Yao Yai

(above) Getting off a boat at Koh Yao Yai

Koh Yao Yai Traffic

(above) Koh Yao Yai traffic. Not much, but we nearly hit this one when it slowed suddenly and our driver was not exactly out for a Sunday drive, he wanted to get back for lunch I think!

From the pier it was a short drive to Loh Paret beach on the west coast of Koh Yao Yai. Looked busy compared to other areas. The 5 star Santhiya Resort is here. A bit out of my price range. And we found that the very nice, new looking Blue Bay Resort seemed to be 100% Chinese. And busy. The beach between those 2 resorts was a bit dirty. Just where we parked there were several small restaurants and snack stalls. And there's another resort here called Yao Yai Resort.

Koh Yao Yai West Coast

(above) Loh Paret Beach on the west coast of Koh Yao Yai. From here, another quick drive back to Thiwson Resort on the east coast for lunch, a cheeky lunchtime beer and then transfer back to the northern pier and back home to Phuket. We have to visit again and explore some of the side roads. There's a fishing village right in the south of the island and we'd maybe try a different resort such as Yao Yai Village or Elixir Resort. But we had a very nice 2 days visiting islands, relaxing, having a drink or 2 and I was glad that we finally got to Koh Yao Yai!

Koh Yao Yai links and related Phuket Blog posts

Tours - Ask my friends at Easy Day Thailand
Hotels at Koh Yao Yai (Agoda.com)
Thiwson Resort
Koh Yao Noi Island

Koh Yao Yai and Koh Yao Noi Islands - Map





16 April 2016 

Phang Nga Bay Revisited

If anyone asks me for a list of "must see" places in the Phuket region, Phang Nga Bay is top of the list. The bay is actually very big covering all the sea and many islands in between Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi and I have seen only small parts of it. One of these days I want to buy a boat and go exploring! We have done several trips in Phang Nga Bay with friends and family. Our last one was back in .. wow, I had to double check. It was back in September 2010, I did not realise it was so long ago! I had planned that trip as an afternoon excursion, renting a longtail boat and aiming to reach James Bond Island late in the afternoon when all the tours had gone home and hopefully with the bonus of some golden afternoon light - it half worked. We were the only visitors on this otherwise crowded tourist attraction, but on that day the light was poor, with dark clouds and some light drizzle. So I said "we have to try that again!" and time has ticked by, and life has moved on, and it's been more than 4 years since our last Phang Nga Bay trip. Well, earlier this month my cousin and his family who live in Singapore came to Phuket for a few days, I had a day off on Saturday February 7th 2015 and the weather looked good, so we decided that Phang Nga Bay had to be visited again. And everyone had a great day out.

From our house it takes just over an hour to drive to Phang Nga Town. We live just outside Phuket Town. If you were driving from the north of Phuket island, it would be a shorter drive, if you started at Kata beach for example, it would probably take at least 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours - remember it can take well over an hour to get from one end of Phuket to the other! We do this trip without signing up for a tour, we drive ourselves, we negotiate a boat, we find a place for lunch ... doing it yourself in a foreign land is not for everyone, but it's not exactly brain surgery. There are lots of tours doing this area, but many are cheap, rushed and crowded. My friends at Easy Day Thailand can do a tour which is based on the way we do Phang Nga Bay - more personal and trying to avoid the crowds by avoiding the peak times (contact here).

We headed up to Phang Nga in 2 cars as there were 9 of us altogether - my wife and I, our 2 kids, my daughter's friend, my wife's cousin's son, my cousin and his wife and their son! We set off late morning, no particular rush and stopped off first at Wat Suwan Kuha temple which is just before Phang Nga Town. Glad to see the entry fee is still 20 Baht (and no dual pricing). Wat Suwan Kuha features lots of monkeys outside and a big reclining Buddha inside along with many other Buddha images and behind the Buddha cave is a larger cave.

Wat Suwan Kuha Entrance in the rock

Monkeys outside Wat Suwan Kuha

(above) Entrance to Wat Suwan Kuha and monkeys outside the temple

Reclining Buddha at Wat Suwan Kuha

Wat Suwan Kuha - Buddha Images

(above) Inside Wat Suwan Kuha temple

After the stop it was time for lunch. Now, back in 2010 we ate at a place called Samchong Seafood, which is on a mangrove river which leads out into the bay and we rented a boat from the jetty next to the restaurant. In the last few years I have heard from several independent sources that this restaurant has gone downhill. Our friends at Easy Day Thailand don't use it now .. and although I will reserve judgement until we go check it again, on this trip we played it safe and went for lunch at Dairy Hut Seafood which is just past Phang Nga Town. We've eaten here a number of times, and it's always been good, as it was this time too! Then we backtracked a few km - just before Phang Nga Town if coming from Phuket there is a right turn and a sight saying "Phang Nga National Park" which leads down to the Phang Nga municipal jetty. Arriving at the jetty, longtail boat drivers leap into the road to flag down cars. We negotiated a boat for 1600 Baht, actually a little more than I was expecting and my wife and I both thought the drivers were a bit of an unfriendly bunch, reinforcing our idea to give Samchong a try again some day, as the longtail driver we had there was really nice. However - 9 people, 1600 Baht .. yeh, let's not worry too much at that price! I am not sure a "tourist" could get exactly the same deal and even if you maybe pay a little more, I'd suggest doing a trip with Easy Day Thailand, with a guide along with you to explain things.

Phang Nga Pier

(above) at the Phang Nga pier

Longtail Boat Boys in Phang Nga Bay

(above) Our longtail boys for this trip were a right couple of charmers.

We know you can also get a "local" boat from here to Panyee village, and we'd like to try that sometime. We arranged with the boat boys to take our group to Panyee village first and then James Bond Island (real name Koh Khao Ping Gan). The jetty is up a mangrove river about 7km north of Panyee, about 20 minutes by longtail boat. Panyee is a stilted village built around a large limestone karst. I find this place very interesting, once beyond the row of restaurants and souvenir stalls. It's what I think of as a micro-society, a place slightly removed from reality, a little isolated from the rest of the world although these days there are hundreds of tourists visiting every day. Thus even more reason to find some backstreets.

Koh Panyee from the water

(above) Koh Panyee from the water - the mosque is just about the only building built on solid land. Everything else is on stilts.

Koh Panyi Village on Stilts

Everything is built around the rocky island called Koh Panyee which towers above the village. Since our last visit there have been a couple of changes ... the mosque has been rebuilt with shiny golden minarets, and the island has a floating football pitch! We walked through narrow streets passing the mosque to the west side of the island.

Koh Panyi - Street View

Buying Ice Cream - Koh Panyee Village

(above) The back streets of Panyee village are narrow and (to me) full of interest. At every step I wonder what it's like to live here. I imagine it's a very close community where everyone knows everyone and doors are always open. Life will have changed a lot over the last 20 year with tourism generating a lot of income, but it's still a fishing village at heart.

Koh Panyee Mosque

The mosque when we last visited looked rather sad. Now looking much healthier. Panyee is Muslim like much of the Phang Nga coastal area (and also much of Krabi and a fair amount of Phuket!). Although the stallholders selling souvenirs look a little bored, I see a lot of smiles here, I think it's an easy lifestyle.

Crossing over from where we landed, past the mosque I found what I wanted to see - the floating football pitch. It wasn't there when we visited in 2010 although there was a concrete recreation area attached to the school. The story of the Panyee football team is now well known thanks to a video made by a Thai bank. You can find the video and more photos on a blog page I wrote in 2010 about Koh Panyee. And what a spectacular place to kick a ball around!

Koh Panyee - The Floating Football Pitch

We all enjoyed a run around. The kids realised that you'd get quite wet playing here, as you'd need to jump into the sea to retrieve the ball any time it went out of play! We spent about an hour at Koh Panyee and I think I would happily spend half a day there taking photos. It was nearly 4pm when we started heading towards James Bond Island, which is about another 7km south. We went via a small island where several sea kayak companies have their bases and on a busy high season day you can find hundreds of tourists on a little kayak tour (part of a day trip package) - not for serious kayakers! Our longtail picked a path through the kayaks and through a small cave. All of these little islands are beautiful. I want a boat!

Through the cave

Cruising through the mangroves

We got to Koh Khao Phing Gan (the proper name for James Bond Island) about 4:30pm. Rather shocked to find we were a bit early .. still a couple of groups of Chinese here!

Last tourists of the day

We got there after the national park staff had left, so in theory we'd not need to pay the entry fee .. except our boat boys had collected 900 Baht from us in advance. Did we see that money back? Ha! The last trip in 2010 we'd also got there late and not paid any fees, and nothing to the boat dudes. I could tell these 2 young guys did not want to be the last ones back to the pier, but .. tough! This is the Monk family you are driving and we do it our way! We stayed until the last Chinese group had gone and the light was very nice this time. Would have been even nicer at high tide .. have to plan that next time :)

At James Bond Island

The tall rock that sticks up from the water is called Koh Tapu, which means "Nail Island". I wonder how many years until it falls over? I'm sure the base looked fatter in the movie! In the late afternoon light, this area is gorgeous. The photo above was taken at nearly 5:30pm, by which time we had this "crowded" tourist attraction to ourselves. Even the souvenir stall holders had gone. I had not noticed before, maybe it was the light, but you can see Koh Panyee from here, 7km to the north - what a view!

Panyee Village

(above) Panyee village as seen from James Bond Island. Touristy or not, it's pretty frikkin' spectacular! And if it can be called "touristy" then it's only for a few hours per day. We must do this again sometime soon, and not wait another 4 years! We stayed as long as we could on Scaramanga's island, but for sure the boat boys were worried they'd be getting back late. I was snapping photos up until we left just after 5:30pm.

Koh Tapu

Now I only wish I had a better camera ... Well, it's my birthday soon :) These pictures were taken with a Panasonic Lumix G1, not the most modern camera. Actually a couple of these photos were taken with an iPhone. I am really considering splashing out this year on a Canon 7D or something of a similar quality. Anyone got a spare?

Anyway .. we sped back to the Phang Nga pier in about 25 minutes from James Bond Island, passing Koh Panyee with the sun sinking low. Every time we've done this trip it's been a great day out. We drove back to Phuket, straight into Phuket Town for dinner at Kopitiam at about 8pm. Perfect day!

Koh Panyee Sunset

(above) Not far off sunset as we dash past Koh Panyee on the way home.

Book Tours with Easy Day Thailand

Phang Nga Bay - More Information

Our Phang Nga Bay trip in 2010
James Bond Island
Koh Panyee
Exploring Phang Nga Province