The uneven stone staircase circling one side of Ko Khao Phing Kan Island, more popularly known as James Bond Island to the flock of sightseers visiting Thailand, was jammed with tourists. I patiently waited as they gingerly descended, one slow person at a time, waiting my turn to climb and see one of Phuket’s famous icon, the strange Ko Tapu Islet.
For more than an hour, our media group from Tigerair Philippines traversed the right-hand driven highways of Thailand en route to the jetty which would take us to James Bond Island. The isle’s name evokes tuxedo-wearing spies, shiny guns, fancy cars, sultry women and exotic locations. I’m definitely excited for the last two.
A small jetty near the highway served as our gateway to Phang Nga Bay. Thick mangroves line the river’s shore. I saw a bridged trail leading towards the heart of the watery forest but the island was waiting for us. I begged off the temptation of exploring its inner recesses and headed towards the boats instead.
A group of kids, sprawled on colorful plastic mats greeted us with warm smiles. On their hands, custom-made cardboard frames to hold tourist photos taken by their buddies to be sold back to selfie-loving visitors for a hundred or so baht. Our photos have yet to be taken; so we first grabbed the requisite life vest, headed towards the makeshift port and there, finally had our photos taken.
And then we rolled, or more appropriately, glided, across the still waters en route to the Phang Nga Bay; our narrow Ruea Hang Yao, the traditional Thai long tail boat, propelled by a powerful engine. Mangrove forests line both banks of the marsh, its stillness, broken only by the roar of our boat.
Some minutes into the ride, a towering wall of roughly hewn rock formation blocked our way. From its base, an awning mouth engulfed us into semi-darkness, a portal to Thailand’s Ao Phang Nga National Park.
The panorama changed from mangrove-filled swamplands to the open water of the bay. Here, towering karsts rise up like giants on our sides. Clinging with hardy vegetation, it soars into the sky, unmindful of the noisy boats navigating its sparkling green waters.
Intense with concentration, our boatman steered and propelled our long tail boat onwards. Speaking broken English, I tried to start a conversation. But like most Thais I’ve already met in my brief stay in Phuket, he was also unfamiliar with the western language. We made do with smiles and hand signals.
The boat ride to James Bond Island took more than an hour but every minute of it was beautiful. I can’t help but compare the landscape across Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay to our very own Palawan Peninsula; emerald waters, thick mangroves, limestone cliffs and all.
The only difference, the boats plying the waters of Phang Nga Bay are longer, have no outrigger support and have extremely powerful engines. It was curious to note though that although their roads are right-hand driven, their waters are still left-hand driven.
Our long boat at last slowed down and converged with other colorful vessels littering the entrance to James Bond Island. Docking at the small jetty, we alighted, and like all self-respecting tourists brought out our cameras, ogling and aiming it at the exotic rock formation near the port’s mouth.
Ko Khao Phing Kan Island got its western moniker, James Bond Island, when the famed British secret agent visited it for one of his exciting escapades in The Man in the Golden Gun. Most 90’s kids like me probably haven’t even heard of the film, let alone know who Roger Moore is, since it was filmed way before the Brosnan-era Bond period in 1974. Heck, I wasn’t even born then.
Like most tourist traps, Phuket’s James Bond Island has its share of souvenir stalls selling all sorts of expensive thingamajigs for unsuspecting tourists. The wares range from the usual ref magnets, key chains, shirts, jewelries to the more exotic shells made into necklaces and whatnots.
A curious formation stands at the center of the island, which probably gave it its curious name, Ko Khao Phing Kan Island. It literally translates to hills leaning against each other. The wall, which I first thought to be man-made is a natural phenomenon. Tourists pose and cameras snaps at this area like there’s no tomorrow.
At the far side of the island, the famous islet of Ko Tapu looms like an inverted rock formation. Why doesn’t it fall off? I heard one of the tourists exclaim before aiming a cellphone camera to the islet which graces not a few souvenir shirts and ref magnets. The karsts’ narrow base and massive peak really begged the question to be asked.
Ascending the stairs off the island’s west side, one can see a more panoramic view of the curious rock formation. The path though is quite narrow and can only accommodate a single person at a time. It took a few minutes of waiting before I was able to ascend to the view deck.
Most of my companions went back after taking snaps of the karts-littered view, but I saw that the path went on. I followed the rough track and was surprised to find it descending towards another beach at the back of the island.
The sand wasn’t much, being composed mostly of crushed shells and small rough pebbles, but the view is breath taking. Traditional long tail boats were docked along the shore, bringing in more tourists. A cave-like formation line the outer edge of the beach, part of the rock formation that make up James Bond Island.
I spent a few quiet moments along one of the logs strewn below a tree and soaked in the view before going back up and into the other side of the island. By the time I arrived at James Bond Island’s docking area, it was time to go. Our ride to the island seemed longer than our stay.
But it was alright, we were after all heading for lunch. And it’s not gonna be on any ordinary restaurant either. Our boat headed to Koh Panyee, a Muslim fishing village located in the middle of Phang Nga Bay. The island is home to about two thousand people and they have their own mosque right on the island.
Floating villas of restaurants are located on one side of the island. It’s common for tourists visiting the bay to check in for lunch. The sky forebode of rain as we arose from our boat and stepped down the floating gangway that led to the restaurants.
And a feast was instantly served as soon as we entered our restaurant of choice. Platefuls of white rice, crabs, shrimps, squids, fishes were laid down on our table; in its center, a bowl of very hot and spicy tom yang soup. Everything looked mouth-watering and tasted as superb as it looked.
We were supposed to explore the culture of the people living on Koh Panyee Island, but the rain started to fall. With no other choice, we all went back to our boat and started to leave the majesty of Phang Nga Bay. Visiting only two of the forty two islands in the bay, we barely scratched its surface. But from the little that I saw, it is indeed Thailand’s promise of paradise.
James Bond Island
Address: Phang Nga Bay, Phang Nga, Thailand
GPS Coordinates: +8° 16' 27.47", +98° 30' 2.51"
View Location on Google Maps
Koh Panyee Island
Address: Phang Nga Bay, Phang Nga, Thailand
GPS Coordinates: +8° 20' 8.41", +98° 30' 8.01"
View Location on Google Maps