Aqua bays dotted with sheer limestone karsts and jungle heavy mountains carved up by rivers leading to some of Thailand’s finest underwater treasures, that is Phang-Nga. A province in Southern Thailand too often overlooked for its better known neighbour, Phuket.
Four of the country’s most renowned conservation areas converge here. The Similan and Surin Islands, which draw divers from around the glove, Khao Sok National Park that is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world and an abundance of wildlife, as well as the pristine beaches around Khao Lak.
Add to that the diverse cultures that co-exist in Phang Nga and the communities that subsist on harvesting Nypa palm fronds to use in thatching, practice fishing, and play host to any tourists.
Some of the main attractions, include the following.
Ao Phang Nga National Park
Since its establishment in 1981, an extensive section of the bay has been protected in the Ao Phang Nga National Park, which is home to the largest remaining primary mangrove forests in the country. The bay is crisscrossed with shallow tidal channels and peppered with 42 individual islands and many towering limestone karsts – the most famous of these being Khao Phing Kan, better known as James Bond Island due to it being featured in The Man with the Golden Gun 007 film.
Within the shallow marine waters and forested wetlands of Ao Phang National Park are over 28 species of mangrove. These consist of coral reefs and seagrass beds that are home to 88 species of birds, 82 of fish, three amphibians, 18 reptiles and 17 mammals. Also occurring here are the black finless porpoise, the white-hand gibbon and the dugong. Many of these species are endangered or globally threatened.
Samet Nangshe Viewpoint
The Samet Nangshe viewpoint offers one of the most popular panoramas in Phang Nga. Located on a hilltop just a 30-minute drive from Phuket, it provides unsurpassable views across Phang Nga Bay. Far enough away from civilisation to avoid light pollution, the Milky Way is often visible from there at night. The 180-degree vistas are particularly special as the sun rises between the limestone karsts and beyond the chain of islands that stretch as far as they eye can see.
The Koh Panyee floating village
Koh Panyee is a remarkable village made up of hundreds of huts, shacks, restaurants and houses built on stilts over the shallow sea. It’s unclear how many wooden and concrete piles hold up this exceptional community with its impressive informal engineering. Initially, fishing was the sole industry for this Muslim community, but today many of the locals service the tourism industry. The village has its own school, a mosque, health care centre, many tiny souvenir shops and a handful of restaurants where you can enjoy a fresh seafood lunch. Koh Panyee is a popular option for tourists on the James Bond Island tour, who stop to eat and shop for handicrafts in the village.
Phang Nga Hongs
It wasn’t too long ago that aerial surveys revealed the hong – or rooms in Thai – that lie inside some of Phang Nga’s islands. These hidden spheres are rich in unspoiled flora and fauna, often with a collapsed cave systems that opens to the sky and surrounding towering limestone walls. Try sea-kayaking through the caves and into the mysterious hearts of these rocky outcrops.
Phang Nga Bay Activities
There are unlimited activities to keep you busy whilst staying in Phang Nga, including fishing, snorkelling, sea kayaking and rock climbing. The many restaurants serve local cuisine, and there are unique shopping experiences. Trekking and rafting in Khao Lak is a popular activity that takes you on an exploration of the rivers and in search of the wildlife and bathing water buffalo that can be viewed from your bamboo raft.
Phi Phi Don is home to several tropical beaches where you can relax, while Phi Phi Leg has numerous coral gardens that are shallow enough to be enjoyed with a snorkel and fins. A jungle safari in Phang Nga has experienced guides taking you out in search of monkeys and other wildlife.
Where is Phang Nga Bay?
Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay is an inlet in the Malay Peninsula, around 24 kilometres northeast of Phuket in the Andaman Sea. The closest airports are Krabi and Phuket, both good centres from which to explore and access, the Phang Nga province.
Getting to Phang Nga Bay
There are several launching sites on the Phang Nga province mainland, including the Ka Sohm Pier in Takua Thung district just south of Phang Nga Town. Most visit the area by long-tail or speedboat on a day trip, join a canoe tour or charter a long tail boat or yacht. Phang Nga itself has no train station, but the State Railways of Thailand operates a daily train service from Bangkok to Surat Thani, and from there it’s a two hour bus ride.
Best time to visit?
Phang-Nga is very seasonal and from mid-October to mid-April is when most visitors arrive to enjoy the clear waters, white beaches and colourful reefs. There are fewer arrivals between May and October, when you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the abundance of attractions, without the crowds.