Lots of people that come to Phuket take guided tours of the popular island or "hongs" nearby the main island. These normally involve a bus ride to the pier, a speedboat to the destination, some sightseeing, a return boat ride, and finally a bus ride back to the villa.
I have never been to James Bond Island which is one of the two most popular tours in the area. For those of you that don't know, James Bond Island is the newer moniker given to Ko Tapu since it was used in the movie, "The Man With The Golden Gun". Not my favorite James Bond movie, but the scenery is sure nice.
Ko Tapu at 007 Museum
You get the idea.
Anyway, I didn't feel like being locked into a tour boat. Why not just get in the car, drive up to the area, and rent our own long tail boat for a more custom experience?
I left with Khun Por, the estate manager, in her car at 9AM. You can see our starting location of The Coolwater at the bottom of the map. We planned to drive all the way north past Phuket Island into Phang Nga. You can see some of the stops we selected on the map as well. One of these stops is the Ao Phang Nga National Park where we can rent a long tail boat for a three hour excursion that includes James Bond Island. The plan was to tool around the area until about 3PM when we would rent the boat. That way we would arrive at James Bond Island in the late afternoon after most of the tours have left the area, allowing us to enjoy the island without the crowds.
Driving north, we crossed the bridge from Phuket to Phang Nga before 10 and started to check out the sites. We found that literally all of them were very close to each other. None more than 20 minutes from any other. But it doesn't matter - the drive is beautiful.
Phang Nga is a magical place studded with steep rocky mountains known as karst formations, just like Phi Phi Island and the others you see out in the Andaman Sea. Many, if not most of these formations have caves, and of those caves, many have been turned into temples.
Our first stop at Wat Suwan Khuha is one such cave temple. Very impressive. One thing I notice about Thailand, if there is any beautiful or impressive natural formation - it will be converted into a temple. This one was surrounded by stands where you could buy food and souvenirs. There were monkeys all over the place, ready to accept your unused snacks or to just scrounge the trash in general. I found myself pretty charmed by them.
On the way to our next destination, we passed a few rubber plantations and stopped at the side of the road to look. You can see in the picture that they cut a slice into the tree and carve a track for the sap to follow until it falls into the attached bucket. Khun Por says they collect the sap about three times a day. The trees grow for a seven year cycle before they cut them down and start with a new batch of trees.
One common thing about all of the places we went to was that there were no crowds at all. But at Raman Waterfall Forest Park, there were literally only three other people in the park, two of which arrived as we were leaving.
The park is beautiful. It has a nice open park at the entrance where you walk past a gazebo up a short trail that runs parallel to a stream that contains seven waterfalls. It is heavy with foliage that provides a welcome respite from the sun. The path itself is made of rock and well-maintained, as is the entire park.
Khun Por decided that the next staff outing for The Coolwater will be held here. Good choice.
Next we drove to Phang Nga town where grabbed some lunch at small restaurant called Mr. Satay. You'll never guess what they served - satay and only satay. Three kinds, pork, chicken, and shrimp. They were all excellent. I wish I could give you a web site or Google Maps location, but they are not marked. I can say they are on the West side of the main street (Hwy 4).
Two other stops in Phang Nga Town worthy of mention are Khao Chang and Somdet Phra Srinaganndra Park The park is especially nice - a meticulously manicured area that integrates the beautiful mountains of the area with some lakes and grassy areas. There are great paths, one of which goes through a cave of sorts that passes under one of the large rocks. The cave is not dark as the openings on either end are very close to each other. There are lots of places to picnic and we found we wished we had ordered our lunch to-go and eaten it here.
After our short stay in Phang Nga Town, we went for a casual drive to the north. We took Highway 4311 up until it we turned left on Highway 4 and returned south back to town. This is a nice one hour drive through the lush rainforest-covered mountains. Besides the wonderful scenery, we noticed that there were no tour vans on these roads and all of the traffic was the local residents.
Along the way, we stopped at Wat Khiriwong on Highway 4. It was not a planned stop, but it was too quaint to pass by and we had the place to ourselves - and the temple dogs - and the monkeys. Most of the photos above are from there. There is some sort of garden behind the rocky hill next to the place, however the entrance was closed when we arrived. Such a peaceful and quiet place. I will be sure to stop there the next time.
So you're probably wondering where the pictures of James Bond Island are. Well, we never got there.
By 3PM we were back in Phang Nga Town having returned from our loop north. That is when we got a phone call from a last-minute guest that wanted to stay at The Coolwater. It was time to call it quits and head back to the villas. We arrived home by 4PM.
This was a great time. A very easy and peaceful drive. Almost no tourists in the area for most of the trip. A chance to experience the local lifestyle in beautiful surroundings.
We're looking forward to our next journey north and hope we get to take a long tail boat that time.
Some of you may wonder how we knew where to go in Phang Nga. Just like you, we looked on the web. We found this article by John Everingham at true-beachfront.com. It has a lot more information than I give you here and also suggests some other drives. Check it out.