“The name’s Bond… James Bond!”
Heidi and I maxed out our final days in Thailand. We took tours to Phangnga Bay (James Bond Island) and Koh Phi Phi, met some new friends, witnessed an immense fork lightning storm and by chance discovered Phra Nang. I’m not sure my writing skills are worthy enough to describe the incredible time we had but I’m up for the challenge and where I struggle to paint a detailed picture, I’m hopeful the photos will do Thailand better justice.
Being a ‘Bond’ fan, I couldn’t contain my excitement when we booked onto our tour of Phangnga Bay, also known as the ‘James Bond Island’ due to the location being used for the filming of ‘The man with the golden gun’. The trip was an early start but I was raring to go.
As the mini van did the usual rounds of pick ups, to our surprise we were greeted by a familiar, friendly face. Danielle, who was the lady sat next to Heidi on our rough, overnight bus trip to Chumphon had booked onto the same tour. We then spent the next 2 hours catching up on each other’s journeys and crazy stories. Every now and then we’d be interrupted by our tour guide Ruddy who would fill us in on the day’s plans, which he insisted on repeating twice for good measure.
The tour started with a Longtail boat, that went past the Floating Village and through the Mangroves, where we weaved through a low cave. At this point the tour split, as half went off to Kayak through the Mangroves and the unlucky other half – which contained Griff and I – had to watch and enjoy the views from a larger docked boat. When booking the tour we were never offered the option of Kayaking and if we had, we definitely would have taken the opportunity.
The views of the limestone cliff formations around Phangnga Bay are incredible and I imagine they have inspired many fantasy writers and artists over the years. The highlight of the tour, was the famous eroded limestone cliff from the Bond movie; ‘The man with the golden gun’. The island that overlooks the impressive, rock formation is a huge tourist trap and you have to hustle for a great photo opportunity. I wasn’t going to miss out, so I stormed forward, with the sea up to my waist, soaking my shorts, t-shirt and bag. A bit fanatic? Probably! But I feel content in the images I captured. Luckily the day was hot and humid, so my clothes dried quickly.
The Longtail boat took us back to the Floating Village for a buffet lunch, which was inclusive in the tour. Danielle, Heidi and myself all assumed that the lady offering Coca Cola and Sprite was part of the buffet. We were wrong. Whoever said; “the best things in life are free”, is a liar because my can of Sprite cost me about £2!
After lunch the Longtail returned us back to our mini van, which proceeded to the next stop on the tour. Here we visited the Monkey Temple. The temple is cave and as the name suggests, monkeys occupy the inside and literally hang around the entrance. Stupidly, I left my glasses in the mini van and the dark, slippery climb within the cave became quite dangerous and I was glad when we exited to go feed some monkeys.
Feeding monkeys never gets tiring, as these curious little fur balls are quite unpredictable and provide some brilliant photo snaps. One of the guys on our tour decided to place a banana on Danielle’s head, which I think for most watching was a nervy 30 seconds before a cheeky swinger snatched it off her head.
The final stop on the tour was to a Waterfall where we spent about 45 minutes swimming and launching over selves off rock-faces about 8 metres high. We had a great time on the tour and we arrived back to Ben’s House just in time to watch an impressive folk lightning storm from our balcony. I have never witnessed a lightning strike that was so close. One of the lightning folks must of fell about 100 metres away. Exciting show but scary stuff!
Koh Phi Phi
Our tours were coming thick and fast. We had 2 more booked on back to back days. Koh Phi Phi Islands tour was next, followed by a speed boat tour to Hong Island.
The Koh Phi Phi tour was also by speed boat. The boat collected us at the Nopparat Thara dock and sped off towards the Bamboo Island. There we had a good hour to enjoy the sunshine and trialled Heidi with snorkelling in shallow water where there were little amounts of fish. (For reference to Heidi and her phobia of fish, please check out the article; Waterfalls, Tiger Temple and the Floating Market)
From there the speed boat whisked us off to Monkey Bay for some real snorkelling action. With Heidi’s new found confidence she bravely entered the water. After a few erratic moments, Griff settled down to enjoy the experience of having sea life swimming around her. I wish my knowledge of fish was better so I could name the fantastic things we had seen but I can confirm that snorkelling has only fed my hunger to try scuba-diving.
The next stop on the tour was to the famous Maya Bay on Phi Phi Ley. Maya Bay was the filming location for Danny Boyle’s directed movie ‘The Beach’, which is based on the book with the same name by Alex Garland.
Just like the James Bond Island, Maya Bay is infected with tourists. Probably a hypocritical statement but it’s true. Though the bay itself has lost none of its beauty and for any keen photographers, there’s plenty of great shooting points, especially if you’re not shy in getting wet.
After Maya Bay the tour ventured to Phi Phi Don for a break and some lunch. There we were given another hour to eat, shop and browse the largest island in Koh Phi Phi. Griff and I actually got lost while browsing and only by chance found our speed boat just in time to head to our last snorkelling point. On the way, our tour guide kept pointing to the sky and shouting “Seagull! Seagull!”. I thought he’d gone slightly mad as who would be interested in seeing a Seagull? It was only until later when talking to a fellow traveller, that I’d realised he was saying “Sea Eagle”.
The final snorkelling point was the last stop on the tour. Before I had a chance to put on my mask, Griff was in the water. Kudos to her for hitting her fear head on. The weather started to chuck down but it didn’t matter too much as we were in the water.
We had a great day out visiting Koh Phi Phi and the bad weather didn’t dampen our spirits. While on the tour we had met a lovely couple from Indiana called Ben and his wife Nikki who were on holiday with their 3 other friends, Adam, Ramie and Keri from the States. Ben was American but Nikki was from Cardiff, which they must had noticed my Welsh towel while we were on the boat. We roughly arranged to maybe meet everyone for drinks in the evening in the ‘Centre Point’, which is a bar area on the Ao Nang beach front.
Later that evening we did meet up with the gang. Everyone was great company and very welcoming into their group. This was refreshing and a huge relief for both Griff and I, as even though we love being in each others company, there’s a limit to conversation and personal space when you are spending 24 hours a day with each other. Up until the Krabi tours, we had struggled to meet people and we had put it down to that we were a couple. But from talking to Danielle and the American gang, everyone was experiencing a similar issue with making friends. We got the impression that people only seemed to mix in the dorm rooms of hostels or on booze cruises. Once they are in their “Special” groups it becomes hard for anyone else to join their circle. This wasn’t what I was expecting while we travelled. Luckily for us we’d found a group who were up for a laugh and conversation. The night went by fast and ended around 1am. A few shots were consumed, which with some great negotiation skills by Keri who managed to get 3 free shots for everyone at a Heavy Metal bar. Though I wouldn’t recommend Thai Heavy Metal to anyone, it’s definitely no Iron Maiden.
Ben and Nikki told us the story of how they met and how many plane journeys back and forth Wales and the States kept a long distance relationship strong. The story was good to hear seems Heidi and myself will be apart for a short while in 2012 but nowhere close to the distance that they where travelling. We also found out that Nikki had attended the same university as Griff and I, and at the same period of time that we were there. For some lectures, Nikki would have been in the next room to us and we had shared the same lecturers. How bizarre that 7 years later we all would meet in Krabi. In all, we had a brilliant night out and since then we have kept in touch with Ben and Nikki, and will either see them in Wales over the forthcoming festive holidays or hopefully State side in the near future.
Heidi and I were both tired and I was slightly hungover from our late night drinks. We slowly ate breakfast as we waited for the tour to Hong Island to collect us from Ben’s House at 8:30am. 8:45am approached and I started to get slightly worried, the lady at reception kindly called the tour operator where she got no answer. We had booked the tour about a 5 minute walk from the hotel, so I ran down to find out what was going on while Heidi waited just incase the mini van arrived. The office was closed and didn’t open until 9:30am. Next door to the tour office was a guest house, which was some how connected to the tour operator. I spoke to the lady there who then called the tour guide directly, which they told her that he was on his way to collect us. I ran back to tell Heidi the good news. 9am rolled on and still no sign of the mini van. Again, I ran back to the guest house to find out where he was, which I got a confused answer of he’s on his way. The time was now 9:15am, we were both beginning to lose hope. Our receptionist came out to ask if we wanted her to call the tour operator again. We gladly accepted her offer and waited as she grilled the person on the other end of the phone in Thai. I’m not sure exactly what was said but we were told to head to the tour operator where we would get a full refund as the tour had decided not to go due to a lack of numbers. Disappointed and I was still a bit hungover we trudged down to the tour office to get our money back in full with a lot of apologies. While in the office we were greeted by the familiar face of our tour guide from Koh Phi Phi. He recommended that we charter a Longtail boat to Phra Nang and have an explore of Railae Bay. With nothing else planned and we were already packed for a day of adventure, we took his advice.
To charter the Longtail was only going to cost us 1/5 of what the tour to Hong Island had cost. On the journey over to Railae Bay we briefly met a friendly and very helpful couple called Mike and Shelly who were off to climb some difficult looking limestone cliffs on Phra Nang. They had been regulars to Phra Nang and explained to us all of the great locations to visit. We swapped stories and emails before we parted ways on Railae Bay. On another note, for anyone who’s interested in photography or looking for a photographer then take a look at Mike’s fantastic work at www.sakasphoto.com
Railae Bay was unbelievable and the weather was gorgeous, which also helped when taking in the moment. Mike and Shelly had recommended that we head to Phra Nang beach, as that was their favourite spot. So we followed the signs towards the beach. Along our way we discovered a muddy, clay hill climb that would take us up to Phra Nang’s view point and to the lagoon. The climb was slippery and steep with ropes to help you clamber up the jagged rocks. This was not the sort of climb you should do without the correct footwear but before I could even consider, Heidi had strapped on her rucksack and was heading up in flip-flops, so I followed suit.
The climb was tough and even though I would consider myself to be fitter than the average person, I was struggling and sweating heavily. The flip-flops were causing all sorts of problems and making things difficult. Along the way we passed other climbers on their descent who warned us that the climb down to the lagoon was steeper and more treacherous.
Reaching the view point was worth the pain and struggle. Our hands and legs were orange from the clay. But it didn’t matter as we had a breath taking view of Phra Nang.
Wisely, I recommended that we heed the other climbers warnings about the descent to the lagoon and not attempt to venture down in such inappropriate foot wear. I think Heidi was slightly disappointed but I was proved to be right as we slowly ventured back down the hill. About half way down the straps on my flip-flops broke. The rocks were too sharp to go barefoot, so I had quickly fix the straps to a point that they were wearable. This proved extremely difficult as every 4th or 5th step a strap would pop back out. Finally after a lot of commotion, we made it to the bottom. The climb down was horrendous and relief washed over me as I stood there covered in orange clay and dripping with sweat.
Though the sweet is never as sweet without the sour and around the corner was the jewel in Phra Nang’s crown. We had made it to the beautiful Phra Nang beach. Within seconds I’d parked my towel and was in the clear blue water changing it to a murky orange, trying to look less like a Valley Girl on a night out in Cardiff who’s been too slap happy with fake tan.
We took our time catching some sun, relaxing in the sea and watching the very skilled Cliffhangers. If you’re into serious rock climbing then Phra Nang is the place for you.
Later in the afternoon we took a stroll to the Bat Caves. Again, this is a climb you shouldn’t do without the proper footwear but luckily for me, my flip-flops held up. The cave has great views over Phra Nang beach and you’ll see the odd bat flying above your head. There’s also a tunnel that leads through the cave to the other side of the limestone, which overlooks Railae Bay but don’t attempt to venture in without a torch as it’s pitch black for a decent part of the trek.
Phra Nang was the most adventurous day we had had so far on our travels of Thailand. What had started off as a disappointing morning turned into an excellent day out and we now had a lot more spare cash from the refund.
That evening we felt content that we were leaving Thailand with a bang and were excited of the prospects of our trip through Malaysia.
You can read more of my journey here:
From W5 to Bangkok
To Ayutthaya and back again
Waterfalls, Tiger Temple and the Floating Market
Koh Samui Archipelago
Krabi: Thailand Transport and Ao Nang
Krabi: The final days in Thailand
The highs and lows of Langkawi