A day of beach lounging in Phuket is fine, but about all I can take. We were up for something a little more exciting. Patong Beach is littered with different tour options and after some exploring we came across a boat cruise to neighboring islands for just under 1000 baht.
While I’m generally not a fan of organized tours, there are times when they will take you places you just cannot get to on your own. This cruise would take us to a secluded beach island, through the iconic mountain islands of the Andaman Coast to kayak through a cave system, to the “floating” village of Koh Pannyi, and finish at James Bond Island. Not a bad deal for $30.
A gaggle of masseuses tried to lure us in as we walked to the van outside our guesthouse just before 10:00. It drove us clear across the island. We spent about 30 minutes waiting in a crumbling wooden shop and lounge area as others arrived for the same trip.
One thing became clear as we stared off the decaying wood into the shadowy crags of Phang Nga Bay: a storm was coming.
And because of this, the store was making a killing on their sales of waterproof bags as people, fearful of both the Andaman Sea and the looming rain bought them up for 300 baht a piece.
Thirty minutes after our departure, we were on a island with nothing in sight but a beach and a jet ski rental. Not far from here were the dark silhouettes of the mountain islands towering in the distance. Though the sky over them was becoming a noticeable black as storm clouds moved in. In a fortuitous fluke, the rain didn’t last long and was passed by the time we left that island and went toward the mountains.
These Andaman coastal islands, cliffs overgrown with tropical trees on faces so steep, you would wonder how they got there in the first place, are truly a spectacle to behold and unlike any kind of geography I had seen before.
After passing through dozens of these and coming face to face with a fleet of friendly fishing boats, we were off to go kayaking.
The Andaman Coast, particularly in this area, almost appears as a partially-submerged mountain range. And because it lies on the fault of 2 micro-tectonic plates, there is a large amount of geologic activity, including numerous caves.
One by one we climbed off the back of the boat into inflatable kayaks with a single guide; Bobby and I in one, David and Craig in another, and Morgan, Megan and Christy all squeezed into a third. Each boat essentially taking its own path, we cut through the cliffs into a few different caves and then back out again.
While my camera was absolutely useless in the low light of the caves, it was amazing to see their shallow floors teeming with small fish. Many times the walls were so close that we actually had to push the boat away ourselves.
Here and there Bobby and I ran into the others until the guide seemed to get the hint that we all knew each other and stayed close to them. I was kind of hoping that we would have gotten to steer the kayaks when I heard we would be kayaking, but the guide certainly knew the best spots to go.
We passed several other boats, private and tours, on the way back to ours. Many of them were very impressive. Though, I guess if you have the free time to cruise around the Thailand coast for leisure, you may be able to afford a nice boat.
When we got back to the ship, we came upon the crew entertaining themselves (and us) by doing trick jumps off of the stern.
From there it was onward to Koh Pannyi, commonly known as the “floating village.” It is actually a primarily Muslim fishing village built off the tip of the island, Koh Pannyi. Because the island is almost entirely a sheer cliff, the village begins on a small piece of land and expands outward, supported completely on stilts.
One impressive feat of a story is that the schoolchildren (yes, there is a school and a newly opened medical center here) wanting a football field, actually built a floating one themselves. One of the only free-floating parts of the village and only a few ropes, keep it from floating away. We passed it on our first loop of the island.
Coming back around on the other side, past some oddly-placed petroglyphs well over 5 meters out of the water on the cliff and a mountain top rock formation that looked peculiarly like Scooby Doo, we docked on a side of the village obviously intended for visitors.
A whole line of newly-built, identical huts that served as shops/restaurants. Problem is, no one was actually there besides a lone shopkeeper. And, there was no way to access the other piers or the rest of the village from this one we had docked at.
While most of the people from the boat just browsed the shop and relaxed on the pier, we asked our guide if there was any way to get to the rest of the town. He motioned for us to follow him and brought us through a couple doors in the back to one of the village’s actual “streets”, a mixture of wooden and cement pathways in between the tightly-packed buildings.
We parted ways here and Christy followed me in a random direction to see the town while everyone else went to try and find that floating football field.
A surprising number of cats populated the paths as Christy and I walked down random off-shoots and dead ends. And there was a lot of variation in the buildings. Some were barely held together and open to the elements, while others were quite ornate and looked like they belonged in an upper-class American suburb.
Aside from the fact that you will very quickly reach the edges of the city, there is otherwise no discernable pattern or reference to the layout of the streets and walkways. Because of this, Christy and I certainly saw a good deal of the town, but we unable to directly find our way back to where we had come in.
She was getting worried that the boat would leave without us, however, the boat’s guide knew that we were still there, so I wasn’t too concerned that he would go. Besides, I was having too much fun exploring.
We finally found a door out to the docks, but it was unfortunately not the one we were docked at. And, as previously said, there is no way between these docks for whatever reason. So, we went back into the streets and tried to figure out how many piers down we were.
Luckily a local pointed the way to us and we made it back. Sure enough, no one had left yet and the boat was just beginning to board.
One last stop for the day: Koh Khao Phing Kan. More commonly known to English speakers as James Bond Island. It’s where scenes from the Bond film “The Man With the Golden Gun” were filmed.
Having never watched a James Bond movie in my life, that novelty was lost on me. Still, signs of the film’s production were everywhere. Many spots in the island look very smooth and almost carved out of the rock. But, a closer look will show you that it’s a concrete made to look like the limestone the island is made of. This hold true for “carved” stairways throughout the island and a cave wall.
Less than 100 meters from where we docked were people selling trinkets. Though some did look quite nice compared to what I had seen in other markets around the country, I had no need or desire to by anything. Unfortunately, the one thing I did want – a water – was locked up in an untended cooler.
Ringed in the center of James Bond Island is a shallow bay out of which Koh Tapu (“Spike Island”) climbs out 20 meters high. A curious product of erosion, this limestone monolith island is thinner at the base and widens toward the top.
We had near a half hour on the island and made it a point to get away from the boat crowd, taking a semi-secluded (though still movie-engineered) path along a cliffside to a quieter part of the island.
Here, it seemed, people had a campfire recently. Stalactites were hanging down to shoulder level, prompting some to climbing and hang from them.
Finally, the signals resounded through the limestone crevices and the guides came around to rope in their herd.
So back about the boat, the guides were leading the entire crowd in songs and dances. All of this over an evening snack made for a great end to the night as we skimmed the shadowy mountain islands back to Phuket in the sunset.