Herb and I awoke bright and early (the first time in weeks it seemed) and headed straight for Phuket Town, starting point of the long bus ride off the island, around the Straits of Malacca, and down the coast towards Thailand’s most famous rockclimbing mecca, Krabi.
We had to get started early enough to leave time for a midway stop in Phang Nga – a sleepy little town known mainly as the jump-off point to James Bond Island, the villain’s hideaway in the classic film The Man with the Golden Gun.
Luckily we reached the bus station just moments before a departure – and were even fortunate enough to get seats, a less common occurrence than you might think on the “regular” Thai buses.
From the moment we set foot in Phang Nga, the change in environment was almost overwhelming: sharp, magnificent cliffs towering all around – and little else at all. Unlike anywhere we’d visited thus far, Phang Nga had a distinctly small-town feel: gone were the brightly-packed neon lights of Bangkok, Bangla, and Haadrin. There was no English and no bustle, just one little road with a few shops catering only to the local Thais. Every few minutes we’d hear someone utter “Falang.”
At last, it felt like we’d found the REAL Asia. Maybe Phang Nga isn’t quite as touristy as we were led to believe 🙂
After booking a 3-hour longtail boat to the island, we found ourselves with a couple hours to kill so we grabbed a taxi to some nearby caves.
Here, it was almost weird how extremely bad the service was: everyone completely ignored us, to the point that we couldn’t even figure out who worked there. And even when we asked about entry they just sort of pointed and grunted. With no clearly marked office or signs, we wandered up on our own – but when we got to the entrance it was clear we needed a boat to get in. After all, it was a water cave. So we were pointed right back to where the first guys had ignored us.
We tried a bit harder to explain what we wanted and they begrudgingly demanded 500baht each – as much as our entire 4-hour longtail boat trip.
So we shot some photos of the nearby wild monkeys and headed back to the bus station on foot.
It was a nice sunny day anyway (finally!), and we were absolutely starving so we figured we could grab a bite on the way back.
The tour to James Bond Island itself started with a brief car ride to the docks – right after the driver stopped on the way to pick up a few bags of dead chicken parts, of course.
Apparently, running personal errands while on the job is a perfectly acceptable practice in Thailand. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gotten into a cab, the driver started the meter, then went straight to a gas station for a fill-up…while the meter kept right on running
When we reached the docks we were greeted by a toothless boatman who ushered us aboard and promptly set off through the mangrove forests and out towards open water.
It wasn’t long before all signs of civilization had disappeared, and we were out in the wilderness…
…The truly spectacular wilderness. Mangrove forests and towering cliffs on either side, with a scene not unlike Halong Bay opening up in the distance – the karst peaks jutting out of the water reminding me almost instantly of my stay in Yangshuo several years earlier.
Yet surprisingly, James Bond Island itself was really pretty lame. We gave it a quick loop and headed straight back.
My highlight of the day, aside from a giant monitor lizard we spotted crawling along the cliffs (but sadly failed to photograph), was an unexpected stop at the incredible floating village of Koh Pannyi.
But I’ll leave that for next time 🙂