Have you seen pictures of limestone cliffs sticking out in the middle of turquoise waters? That is exactly the kind of picturesque landscape we saw on our day trip to Phang Nga Bay (pronounced “pa na bay” by the locals).
But to book this trip out of Patong Beach was a lesson in haggling. We started off by approaching a tour desk located right across from our hotel (and recommended by our hotel). The quoted price in the brochure was 3,600 baht (or approximately CAD $140) per person for a full day trip. The price quickly dropped to 2,500 baht as soon as we looked at the first price tag with disappointment.
We decided to go down to the beach and see if we can score a better deal. There turned out to be dozens of tour desks lining up the streets of Patong Beach town and funny enough we saw the exact same brochure with a printed price of 3,200 baht for the exact same tour. The lady at that desk said she would give us a discount so that the final price would be 2,000 baht. Seeing how the prices were highly inflated, we decided to keep going.
After approaching a few more tour desks, we finally came across one that sounded reasonable – 1,500 baht (or CAD $58) per person for the day trip. The nice Thai lady even gave us her cell phone number in case the driver didn’t show up in the morning to pick us up from our hotel.
But we had nothing to worry about. Our tour the next day could not have gone any smoother. We got picked up from out hotel and were driven to a private pier, where the tour company (Sea Star) had tea, coffee and snacks set up for us while our tour guide by the nickname of Joker gave us an overview of our upcoming action-packed day. We then boarded a brand new speedboat that the company bought just a week prior and set off.
The landscape of Phang Nga Bay and its surroundings is simply beautiful. It is exactly how we imagined south of Thailand would be. Our first stop was a peculiar cave, which all the other tour boats have only slowed down to look at. But our tour boat actually docked beside the cave and we climbed out of the boat to explore. It was really dark and we were given flashlights. But soon enough we came to a clearing, which turned out to be a small lake full of greenery all around and catfish swimming in the water. Our guide told us that the stalactites in this cave take ten years to form one centimeter! And the giant stalagmite in the middle of the cave takes even longer! And for some reason it was covered with tiny shiny stones so that it looked as if it was a diamond. We were really lucky to explore this cave both because of the awesome tour company that we scored and because of the calm waters that allowed our speedboat to dock beside it.
The next stop was our favourite and the reason we booked this day trip in the first place. The speedboat took us to Hong Islands for some canoeing. Hong means “a room” in Thai, and the islands were named that because if you swim underneath the rocks in low tide, you end up in an open area that looks like a room. Here we boarded small canoes operated by the fishermen from a nearby village that took us around these islands. Many of the rocks have various interesting shapes and are named after them. There was a giant limestone cliff that looked like a piranha fish and another that looked like a Buddha. Inside one of the rooms we saw a rock that looked like a mummy. Another island is nicknamed the Scooby Doo Island because it’s got a piece of rock at the top that looks like Scooby Doo. Our favourite “room” was when we canoed under a limestone arch and ended up in a clearing with an open ceiling. It looked very much like the lake we encountered in the cave that we visited right before these islands, except we were literally in the middle of the bay.
After the canoeing, our speedboat took us to see perhaps the most popular island, called Khao Phing Kan. It has been made popular by the 1974 James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”, and has since been nicknamed the James Bond Island. It was as we expected – full of tourists eager to snap their Instagram photos. It was hard to find a good spot to take a picture without other people ending up in your shot. Nevertheless, it was a must-see and the nature around it was beautiful.
For lunch we were taken to a nearby floating Muslim village called Koh Panyee where we were fed with some delicious food. The houses here sit on stilts, giving the impression that they are floating on water. Our guide told us that the village started out with only a couple of thousand people, but has since grown tremendously because of tourism. We suspect that the entire “floating” concept is no longer maintained out of necessity, but instead to cater to the tourists’ desire to visit something historic and unusual.
The afternoon was spent snorkelling and relaxing at a beautiful, white sand island. While snorkelling we were surrounded by so many yellow fish with black stripes that were not afraid of us at all. Many brushed by us as they swam around.
The day trip turned out to be a big success. The tour company took really good care of us, constantly providing us with water, pop, fresh fruit and cookies after each attraction. Our guide spoke really good English and really enriched our trip by giving us snippets of information about each island. The weather was hot, but the breeze on the speedboat made us comfortable. And the landscape is truly unforgettable and worth every one of the 1,500 baht.