Ao Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay has to be on everyone's "must do" list when visiting Phuket. The scenery in the bay is stunning with limestone cliffs and rocks climbing from the water, mangroves and jungle topped pinnacles. If you had your own sailing boat you could cruise around for days. Some parts are quite remote and can be reached on multi day kayak tours, but most people visit on a day trip or half day tour, and they come in their hundreds on a daily basis. However you do it, Ao Phang Nga is undeniably beautiful, just you may need to carefully frame photos to keep the people out of the picture.
If you want the place to yourself, wake up really early, drive your car up to Phang Nga and hire a longtail boat. We drove up last Sunday, me and my wife, 2 kids and my mum. A really early start was not on the cards, but we were there by 10am at the National Park Pier. Not early enough to beat the crowds but Phang Nga Bay is still a great place to visit. Note - this post was written in 2007 and we've done several Phang Nga Bay trips since...
Phang Nga Bay - More Info
(Update) We made a couple of great trips into Phang Nga bay in 2010 - hiring a longtail boat from a restaurant called Samchong Seafood, and heading to James Bond Island and Koh Panyee Village. We actually decided on an afternoon trip, had lunch at the restaurant and took a longtail out from about 2pm - 6pm. For more detailed info on those trips and places click the links below:
• Phang Nga Bay Tour - doing it our way!
• Samchong Seafood Restaurant
• James Bond Island
• Ko Panyee Village
(above) Longtail boats in Phang Nga Bay
(above) This rocky islet is supposed to look like a dog, it's called Khao Ma Chu.
Best to let the pictures do the talking, worth a thousand words and all that. We hired our own longtail for 1500 Baht (note - this was in 2007) and chugged around for about 4 hours. I think we hired Thailand's slowest longtail, but no matter, it was ours and that sure beats being on a tour. It was a hot day, and we were glad we had taken some bottles of water on the boat, though we were also able to get refreshments at Koh Panyee, the village on stilts (not floating), half of which is now tourist restaurants. If you stop at Panyee, walk through the restaurants and souvenir stalls and you can wander around the village. You will probably get lost in the maze of narrow walkways. My mum paid a kid 20 Baht to help her find the restaurant again :)
(above) Me and Mum on the longtail boat
(above) View of Panyee village
(above) Closer to Koh Panyee - it's a Muslim island.
We also stopped at the very well known James Bond Island. Here you may need to pay a National Park fee of 200 Baht. Lots of steps up and down along a narrow path take you to a small beach with a view of Koh Tapu, the rock that sticks up in many postcards. Don't let the photos fool you, it's normally pretty crowded! Lots of stalls selling jewelry and shells and tourist tat. Look the other way and it's great.
(above) Views at James Bond Island
(above) Also James Bond Island! Loads of souvenir stalls.
The main island you land on is actually called Khao Ping Gan (spell it how you like). The name refers to a leaning rock which is quite impressive. There are also a few little caves you can climb into. The kids enjoyed the caves. The famous little island that sticks up is called Koh Tapu ("Nail Island"). Smaller than most people expect, but very picturesque nonetheless. Now, where did I put my golden gun?
(above) The leaning rock at Khao Ping Gan
(above) Views through the caves at James Bond Island
Actually, "James Bond Island" is the only crowded place aside from the restaurants at Koh Panyee - As mentioned above, we have done the trip again and one time we got to James Bond Island around 5pm and were the only visitors! It's a beautiful area. I find Panyee very interesting once you get beyond the restaurants and stalls. Tours that are done "our way" to Phang Nga Bay can be booked via some friends of mine at Easy Day Thailand. This is certainly a must-do if you are in the Phuket area!