I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I thought Phuket (particularly Patong Beach) was awful. But nonetheless, I was glad to go to Phuket, if nothing else so I could leave it. After a week in Thailand and endless recommendations from other tourists and locals alike, we knew that we couldn’t leave Phuket without going to James Bond Island.
And I’m glad we did, because taking a day tour to the island is maybe the best $36 I’ve ever spent. Though in Chiang Mai, we had a successful experience getting a private driver to take us where we wanted to go, in Phuket we went with a pre-packaged tour. If nothing else, so they could fill our day with something better than Thai hookers and frat boys.
Booking the right tour
Since Phuket is such a popular tourist destination, there is no shortage of tour companies online offering a wide array of day trips to the Phang Nga Province, which is north of Phuket. We went with a company called Phuket Tours Direct, which offered at least five different tours that included James Bond Island, along with different activities. The price was heavily affected by the kind of boat you went on, whether longboat, cruise boat, or speed boat. And one of the most expensive tours even included snorkeling.
Given the fact that I don’t even know how to swim, much less snorkel, and we were trying to do Thailand on a budget, we went with the traditional longboat tour, which was 1250 Baht or around $36. Do note, though longboats (especially the ones pictured online) are slender and look like they fit only a few people, there were probably around 40-50 other people on the boat, which was massive and wide. So it was slightly different than I expected, but effective transportation nonetheless.
Pick up (and drop off)
One of the only things I didn’t love about the tour is that a huge chunk of time was lost at the beginning and end of it, picking people up and dropping them off all over Phuket. But that’s the downside of convenient pick up at your hotel; you have to pick other people up, too. That being said, I didn’t feel like the tour was cut short because of it. It was just exhausting at the beginning and end. I also felt Phuket Tours Direct did a good job of trying to shorten that time by picking everyone up in small groups before getting on the shared longboat.
Despite the fact that our goal was to see James Bond Island, I loved almost everything else we did more than James Bond Island. Here is what we did on the James Bond Island Tour.
First, our hilarious and sweet guide (named Happy) took us to Suwannakuha Temple, also known as Monkey Temple. Like many Thai temples, it is adorned with large gold statues of the Buddha and striking altars. Unlike most Thai temples, it’s in a cave and it’s crawling with monkeys. As a general rule, I love any place where monkeys roam free. And this was no different. There were monkeys outside, inside, on top of the Buddha, and hanging out with the tourists.
But it’s important to remember that these monkeys do not fuck around. If you have food, you’re going to get robbed. It’s unwise in general to have loose items visible that they can snatch and run away with. I even felt uneasy putting Honky the gnome near them, because I was sure he was going to become decoration up in the caves somewhere.
The longboat tour in Phang Nga Bay
After Monkey Temple, all the small vans convened at the pier to board the longboat. It was around 4 people per row and at least 10 or so rows. The longboat is powered by a very loud motor, so the closer to the back you sit, the louder it is. We also got some rain at the end of the tour, so even though it was covered, it was hard to escape the downpour if you were sitting on the outer edges. But the weather in Thailand is like a ride a Disneyland. You just have to roll with it.
The longboat was our transportation to every other part of the tour. And along the way, we got to see the gorgeous landscape of Phang Nga Bay. Though James Bond Island is arguably the most famous, the entire bay is full of similar monolithic limestone rocks protruding from the water. It was beautiful, even in the rain.
Lunch at Koh Panyee Island
We stopped at Koh Panyee Island for a buffet lunch (which was included in the cost of the tour). Koh Panyee is a small island where a Muslim community has built a village on stilts in the water. The traditional fishing village is home to less than 1,500 Muslims who have been living there over 200 years. Visually, it’s one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen. The entire village is basically floating on wood and concrete on the water.
Upon docking, we sat down to an already served lunch that included soup, chicken, vegetables, fruits, rice, and seafood. There was something for everyone. Then, we had some time to explore the village before continuing on the tour. The rest of the village was accessible through the back of the restaurant on the pier, leading to winding streets lined with vendors. Obviously, tourism has become just as important to the economy of Koh Panyee as fishing. Though small, it’s a place where you could easily get lost, so it’s not a bad idea to make a mental note of landmarks every time you make a turn. If all else fails, turn right three times and you’ll end up where you started. (Hopefully. If not, I’m sure Kh Panyee is a lovely place to live.)
James Bond Island
The tour’s namesake, James Bond Island, is definitely not to be missed. It’s a spectacular sight to see, even though it’s full of people. As you can imagine, there are dozens of tours and private boats there at any given time. The island’s actual name is Khao Ping Kan. The James Bond moniker comes from the fact that the island was famously featured in The Man with the Golden Gun.
We were dropped off on one side of the island and had to walk to the port on the other side. But don’t let that deter you. It would take all of 10 minutes to get to the other side if you hurried. In the middle of the island, there is a small beach that overlooks the massive 70 foot rock that seems to be balancing in the middle of the ocean.
You can spend your time on James Bond Island swimming or hanging out on the beach marveling at the landscape. If you do choose to swim on this particular tour, you might want to consider bringing a change of clothes, because there’s no way your clothes will dry before it’s time to go. You can also buy souvenirs and handmade crafts from the numerous stands that face the beach.
Canoeing under limestone at Talu Island
James Bond Island was pretty interesting, albeit very crowded and touristy. But my favorite part of the tour was the canoe excursion which took us under the limestone caves at Talu Island. In order to get on a canoe, we had to move from our longboat to a large barge. From there, a constant stream of inflatable canoes manned by skilled guides would come pick people up and drop people off.
Our little canoe made its way under several of the limestone caves in the area, some of which were extremely narrow and low-hanging. At least twice, we had to completely lie down on the canoe to avoid hitting ourselves on the rock above. Some parts of it were very crowded with other canoes, including people selling coconuts. Other parts were calm and serene, where you could only see a little slice of the sky between the towering rocks all around you.
The experience was like the Thai version of riding a gondola in Venice. With a trusty navigator steering us the entire way, we only had to relax and enjoy the view. It’s good to tip your guide at the end of the trip for maneuvering you around the area safely. You’ll realize just how bad you are at canoeing when you see one of these guys in action.
So if you want to escape Phuket and see some unforgettable sights, get away to Phang Nga Bay. Honestly, if I had known what I know now about Patong Beach, I would have taken this tour three days in a row.