Guests can experience the beauty of Phang Nga Bay with tour operator Sea Cave Canoe. // (c) 2013 Deborah Dimond
Like many travelers, I had always wanted to visit Thailand, and there was no better place for my first visit than Phang Nga Bay. Located in the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and mainland Thailand's southern Malay Peninsula, the bay is distinguished by its limestone karsts jutting out of the emerald-green water.
In 1974, the bay and its islands gained notoriety with an appearance in the James Bond film "The Man With the Golden Gun," and they later reappeared in the 1997 Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies." Ko Tapu, an island in the bay, which is also part of the Phang Nga National Park, has been referred to as James Bond Island ever since the film's 1974 debut.
There are several ways to see Phang Nga Bay. Visitors can arrange hotel packages and tours to the region through several operators, including Sea Cave Canoe. On offer are several day trips from Phuket that include snorkeling and longtail boat tours. On a recent visit, I explored the bay on an inflatable canoe, one of the best ways to explore the islands' impressive karsts and interior bays, which are inaccessible by larger vessels.
A representative from Sea Cave Canoe picked up our group by bus from Phuket for an approximately one-hour drive to the other side of Phuket Island. The tour operator provides direct pick-up from most Phuket hotels. For our purposes, as we traveled to Phuket by cruise ship, they picked us up right at the dock and drove us to Sea Cave Canoe's pier to board a small cruise boat packed with canoes for our adventure.
Onboard the cruiser, guests were given snacks and drinks while local guides explained the excursion and encouraged us to taste the local fruit. When we arrived in Phang Nga Bay, we were given a brief history of the area before the canoes were launched.
The tour began with one of the most intriguing (and scary) caves first - dubbed the "bat cave" by our guide, Jimmy, who never tired of pointing out the hundreds of bats clinging to the roof and walls of the cave. For me, the first ride through was terrifying but, on the way back, secure in the knowledge that the bats weren't going to fly straight at me, I snapped a few photos of the clinging masses.
On the other side of bat cave was our first hong (room), which is an open pool on the interior of the karst, full of emerald-green water, mangroves and monkeys. Some smart guests had grabbed handfuls of bananas for the journey and generously shared their snack with the monkeys, which made for a great display of animal hierarchy.
After a tour of the hong, we headed back through the bat cave and to the boat, where we loaded the canoes and headed to our second destination. Oyster cave and its beautiful lagoons and hongs was equally impressive, and our guide stealthily maneuvered our canoe to get the best views for pictures and also jumped out to take a photo of us in the lagoon.
When we arrived back at our boat, there was a stunning display of Thai food awaiting us. Even though we had not paddled for a single moment and had just been enjoying the scenery, we were starving, and the tom ka kai soup did not disappoint - nor did the stir fried rice, fried shrimp, fried green beans or the sweet and sour sauce.
Our next stop was Lawa Island for a relaxing hour on the beach. Fattened up from our delicious lunch, several guests decided to swim to shore, and our canoe guides graciously carried our bags and towels by boat to the island and set up our stuff on the beach. It was first class all the way.
At the end of the tour, we boarded our bus back to Phuket, where we were dropped off at the pier to return to the ship - in time for a little shopping before we left Phang Nga Bay.