During our time in Phuket we were lucky enough to experience the surrounding islands by boat, courtesy of our hosts. The islands are limestone tower karsts part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, off the Phang Nga Bay northeast of Phuket. This was the best way to explore the jurassic style islands and weave through the most picturesque scenery. The sea breeze causing carnage with our hair and loving every minute. We also managed to choose the most gorgeous day, however, it was extremely hot and the sun was relentless. Some of us slightly underestimated the number of times suncream reapplication was required.
Shiny, sweaty and sun-creamed up.
Postcard-like hanging cliffs and intricate cave systems seemed to protrude from the sea, which was a mesmerising colour – even a vibrant turquoise at times. Simply being in the rib was so refreshing, let alone feeling like you were in the realms of a historic movie setting.
Well, in fact we were…
Recognise this rather unsettling rock? Any 007 fans?
We visited the infamous Ko Khao Phing Kan or ‘James Bond Island’ which was the hideout setting of Bond’s antagonist in the 1974 The Man With The Golden Gun. Amongst the tranquility, it was a hotspot for tourists desperate to follow 007’s tracks (or wake?) and recreate his sense of adventure. Although not a huge fan myself, I could not help but be impressed by the setting’s geological structure: standing unnaturally, seemingly sturdily, and top heavy. The sea has carved out and eroded the limestone cliffs, creating unusual shapes and hidden crevasses, perfect for the film setting, but even better for intrepid tourists.
Nestled deep in the mangrove labyrinth, we were taken by our guide to a hidden cave only identifiable from the outside due to a rickety jetty. We had to climb natural steps and scramble over rocks to get inside the cave which was perched surprisingly high above the water. It was huge: the open body of the cave, naturally weathered over time, extended up with large masses of limestone intrinsically carved acting as support beams and imposing stalactites hanging from above. It was significantly cooler inside, much to our delight. There were multiple ‘pathways’ stemming from the main hollow, the majority leading into darkness and many big enough to stand up in.
When inside the cave, our guide insisted on taking a photo of me with my camera so I could appreciate the sheer scale of the interior. I wasn’t sure what was really happening at the time, but he mastered the camera without a second thought and I was handed back a photo of me, looking rather puzzled, against the impressive limestone backdrop. You can fathom the size and height of the cave from the photos below: we were dwarfed by the rocky ascent.
There were rock towers everywhere. These are meant to be lucky: the taller your tower, the more luck you have.
The main ‘attraction’ of the day was undoubtably the ‘Sea Gyspy Village‘.
For over 200 years the Floating Panyee Island Village has been home to a Muslim community which thrives off the sea. In recent years it has opened up to visitors, so has been commercialised to some degree. This said, the way of life for this community is largely traditional and we really got a sense of the simplicity and unique customs embedded within the settlement.
A fresh seafood filled lunch with the most stunning backdrop. Although Esme, ironically our host for the week, did later suffer from severe food poisoning… we won’t go into details.
For me, it is such a huge part of travelling to fully commit to local food and try EVERYTHING.
But yes, there are pros and cons to this mentality.
The inhabitants teach budgies to sing and compete them. Although small they were loud, and tuneful, adding to the sense of charm and vibrancy of the island.
An abundance of dried fish and other sea creatures (again, I am not 100% sure what all of them were) were for sale from stalls lining the walkways. The island was fully dependant on what the sea provided, although nowadays it also thrives on tourists visiting the intriguing area.
The locals loved trying to explain what their produce was, comically involving lots of exaggerated gestures and ‘fish faces’, but despite their best efforts we departed non the wiser. The children were unsurprisingly used to tourists traipsing around and inquisitively peering into their homes. The boys pictured were in the midst of a much heated discussion over their sweets – far too important to take notice of our presence.
The structure of the island is best described as a chaotic jigsaw of colour, which somehow seems to work really effectively. Despite being on stilts and ‘floating’, when on the island it felt very secure and solid. This may have just been wishful thinking.
The history of the floating settlement is fascinating: it is largely believed that Malaysian immigrants founded the island, especially given the evidence of the language first used. Although there was a ‘history board’ on the island, the English translation was somewhat questionable. All adding to the fascination and intrigue surrounding this mysterious place.
The island has certainly expanded with time and now is even equipped with a pubic health centre, decadent mosque, restaurant, school and even a floating football field.
It is a real clash of tradition and modernisation grounded in strong religious practice.
We ended the day by stopping off at Naka Beach. Thailand’s beaches lived up to their reputation. Stunning. So clean and peaceful.
We were never ones to miss out on that cliche ‘traveller’ photo on a beach swing.
I highly recommend doing a boat trip around these islands if you get the chance. It is a world away from Pantong (an experience in itself!) and the bustling daily life of Phuket island.