Final full day in Phuket, and time to go see the one thing everyone has told me to – James Bond Island. My super discounted tour was with a company called Phuket Team Canoe, and would take me through the Phang Nga Bay, stopping at Panak, Hong and Lawa Island.
The bus to Ao Poh Behine was full, and while speaking to everyone it was clear I wasn’t the only one to get a discount – though I was the only one to get it for less than 1200. We were also given colourful string to denote what tour we were on to wrap around our wrists.
The itinerary for this trip stated we would be canoeing through Panak Island first, but as the tide was currently high, our guide promised we would be coming back, and instead would head straight for Khao Phing Kan and Ko Tapu – the native-yet-rarely-used-even-by-the-locals names for the James Bond Island (Tapu is the tall islet, Kan is the island you take photos from as its illegal to approach Tapu anymore in an attempt to preserve it).
As such, we got to spend a good hour and a half just sailing in Phang Nga Bay, with me keeping a weather eye on the ocean to make sure my motion sickness doesn’t wreck me (again). Thankfully the ocean is really calm, and any unease gets dealt with via food and sticking to the front of the boat watching the horizon.
Now, I openly admit that I do not like James Bond movies. Don’t know why, but there’s something about them thats turns me off every single time. As such, I’ve never seen The Man With the Golden Gun, and cannot fully appreciate this island because it of. Regardless, the island is still a very beautiful place to visit regardless of movie knowledge.
Along with the iconic island in the centre, to the side is 2 very different types of cave. Along the island edge, the water and weather have worn the stone down and created tunnels along the shore than you can clamber through, while on the right, there is the cave the island’s natively named for – where a slab of limestone appears to be leaning on another creating a fantastic effect.
If you go further along the shore, you can also walk up the hill and get a better view of the island – there’s a beach along this side as well, but at this point I had to head back as to not miss the longboat back to our main boat.
Given the time, once we were back on board the ship didn’t immediately head off, but instead got out the plates and food for lunch. This tour has been excellent for the refreshments up until this point (biscuits, fruit, juice and tea), and lunch doesn’t disappoint. You’ve got both western and thai dishes up for grabs – chicken legs, noodles, rice, onion and pineapple fritters, spaghetti bolognaise, sweet and sour chicken, tofu – I honestly can’t believe the options I’m getting on a boat (though with no less than 2 stomach incidents in the past week, I make a point to stop eating before I’m actually full just in case).
Now that the tides started to ebb, our first stop is Hong Island, filled with caves that are best accessed via canoe. As a solo traveller, I sadly get left behind along with a family as they run out of boats, but head along once the first wave gets back (and as an advantage get to enjoy the caves while they’re empty instead of full of my tour).
Hong essentially means ‘room’, and the islands in Phang Nga Bay are full of them. This island in particular has had the limestone eroded away to create large rooms in the island that are only accessible tide permitting through small tunnels (hence the need for canoes). The hongs themselves are beautiful, with steep walls teeming with foliage, and quite a few rocks with unique shapes. In the centre of the island, one rock in particular has taken the shape of a pirahna’s head.
The second canoe stop is on Panak island, which would have originally been our first stop. The tide has come out so much now, that the canoe’s are only used to get to the shore, and we’re walking on foot to the central ‘lagoon’ that will now be dry. I take this to mean we’ll need shoes, and discover a little too late that although the lagoon may be the dry, the very dark tunnel is still flooded – at some points up to my thighs. At least my Keen’s are designed to handle water (and considering the winces from the barefoot, probably worth it), and the canoe guides had torches to help avoid the very low and sharp hanging rocks.
The centre is naturally very muddy, although still retains the high walls and heavy foliage of Hong Island. The main attraction here though, is the mangrove treets. They’re everywhere, and with the water gone, the roots are on full display – creating pretty spectacular sculptures that more than a few try to climb.
The final stop is a beach on Lawa Island, where we can swim but not snorkel. As a final hurrah, those in swimsuits and a tiny dose of bravery jump from the second floor of the boat into the ocean to swim there rather than canoe. I’m itching for the water, so once the adrenaline crazed Australians and father’s with hyper kids have cleared the jump point, I fly in too, and make the long trip towards the shore.
Its a different experience swimming in the ocean with no extra gear. For once thing, if you’re tired you can’t float, and as you started in the deep you have no idea where the ocean floor is and can’t rest until you reach it. Add to this having to avoid the many canoe’s in the water and the current, and by the time I made it to the beach I was exhausted and just a bit proud. I still managed to make it there before most of the canoes did.
Of course, once there were people on the beach, the monkey’s of Lawa got to work. They were pacing the sands and in the nearby trees waiting for food. Some had brought it with them, some were buying it, but they had the attentions of everyone. They must make a killing on fruit considering how many tour boats hit this area. With no food (or indeed any way to carry money to buy some, I make small talk with some of the people on my tour until the food runs out and the monkeys start getting agitated, and then head back into the water.
However, now that I don’t have the goal of the beach, I’m realising this is not a great place to swim. The floor has an almost undescribable feel – 3 parts mud, 1 part fur, 2 part seaweed and 1 part very sharp rocks. Those in the water joke it half feels alive, and can’t argue with them. For all I know I did step on something living – it certainly wasn’t a comfortable surface to be stepping on. Was actually kind of glad when I heard the whistle and saw the canoes getting ready to come back. Ended up in a bit of a race with the Australian boys while swimming back to the boat, which I inevitably lost, but was a great way to end the trip (do not realise just how far things are in the water when you have to swim to them…).
When we get back to the pier, its a bit of a botch job to find the right bus – I only get there with the help of the tour mates already inside banging on the window – and its a very quiet trip back to Phuket as everyone’s half asleep. Half in the van were on my trip, the other half on a snorkel trip. Thankfully, I’m more or less recovered by the time I get back to the Backpackers hostel and after a few hours, head out to go see something I’d spotted the night before – the Indy Market.
This is a very teen-oriented market place in Phuket Town, where you can buy clothes, shoes, makeup, contacts, hair accessories, jewellery and all kinds of collectibles. Its only open on Thursday and Fridays and only been around since 2010, but is a pretty popular place for the youth of Phuket. They also have the options of live music, and quite a few food options. I could have easily spent a lot of cash here just on clothes and accessories (the jewellery here was fantastic), but I was just here to look, so settle on just getting dinner before heading back.
My flight to Singapore is in the early afternoon, so I really only have the morning to get packed and see the last few things before I go – kind of sad as I saw a museum tonight I wouldn’t have minded going to see. Oh well.