Ten days ago, I returned to Thailand from a three-week visit to North America; the next morning, I was back at the airport for a 80 minute flight down to Phuket for our three-day National Dealer Meeting. During the second day, 25 of us went on a six-hour excursion to Phang Nga Bay. We left our hotel on the east side of the island (point A) just after 10 a.m. for a one hour, 30 mile van ride to the Yacht Haven Marina (B) where we boarded the June Bahtra 3 (also known as Jit Jai), a 60 foot long, traditional Siamese Junk. The skipper took us southeast through the channel that separates the island of Phuket from the mainland and then he headed north into Phang Nga Bay.
Phang Nga is a province in southern Thailand on the west side of the Malay peninsula and directly north of Phuket. The two provinces are connected by a bridge on highway 402.
Phang Nga Bay is a 150 square mile bay in the Andaman Sea that contains the Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park. The park consists of a large number of limestone islands, the most famous of which is Ko Tapu (C). Now known as the James Bond Island, Ko Tapu is a 66 foot tall, needle-shaped island that was featured in the film The Man with the Golden Gun.
Caves, archaeological sites, and many native species of birds, reptiles and mammal make the islands in Phang Nga Bay a popular tourist destination. Over the years, mildly acidic water has dissolved the limestone base of the islands creating caves and what are known as karst overhangs. Many people head out to the islands on boats from which they then launch canoes or kayaks to paddle near the limestone cliffs and explore the caves. The coral reefs and native fish also attract scuba divers and snorkelers.
After we sailed past Ko Tapu, we transferred to a smaller craft that took us to Ko Panyee (D), a community established in the late 1700s by Muslim fishermen from Indonesia. Since non-Thais could not own land, the Muslim fishermen constructed homes on stilts near an island in Phang Nga Bay. Back in September 2011, I wrote about this island after seeing a short video (reposted below) made by TMB, a local bank that challenges its people and its clients to “Make THE Difference” by “Thinking Differently”. As we approached Ko Panyee, the golden dome of local mosque, built on the nearby island, glistened in the mid-day sun. The mosque is clearly a focal point for the approximately 1,700 residents of this settlement.
At the entrance from the boat dock into Ko Panyee is a sign spelling out “The Rules of Panyee Village.” Fines are specified for:
- Littering — 500 baht (about $17)
- Riding a bicycle in the market between 11 a.m. and 3:00 pm — 500 baht
- Bringing a dog into the village — 2,000 baht (about $68)
- Bringing a meat pig into the village — 2,000 baht
- Bringing alcohol into the village — 5,000 baht ($170) AND one goat!
We spent an hour or so sampling some of the local foods and sweets as we walked through this sea-based community. We also visited the floating soccer pitch that was originally built by local youngsters and that is the focus of the inspirational TMB film. The field is remarkably stable thanks to a series of interlocking floats that surround it.
During our return to the June Bahtra 3, the sea taxi took us through a natural, karst tunnel formation in one of the islands. Once we were back on the June Bahtra 3, the crew provided a late buffet lunch. We then relaxed as the junk leisurely cruised back to the marina. As the sun set over the Andaman Sea, we joined the rest of the meeting participants for a delicious seafood feast at the Lotus restaurant (E) on the western shore of Phuket.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.