Well, this is about my fourth attempt at writing what is proving to be an increasingly difficult blog due to wifi connectivity issues ( a previous completed iteration was lost when the network crashed). Hopefully this goes better.
Yesterday quite simply was magnificent as we set out on a speed boat tour of the Ao Phang Nga National Park. What a stunning piece of the world it is too. We purchased our tickets for this tour through our provider at the resort we are staying at.At a cost of 3,500 baht per adult and 1,750 baht for our six year old child, we probably could have got it cheaper elsewhere (various add-ons etc at the hotel), but being first timers to Thailand and not having this opportunity again for quite some time we elected to play it safe and book through a reputable provider. As it turns out 8,750 baht (or roughly $365NZ) was a bargain for the experience we had and worth every penny.
The Tour Provider
Our tour provider for this experience was the Phang-Nga Exploration Co Ltd and they were brilliant! We were the only couple to have a young child on the trip and the tour guides and crew could not have been better. Once Harrison warmed to them he was off! The cost of our tour included transfers to Phuket Marina to and from our resort, guided .speed boat tour from 0830 to 1730 around various islands of Phang-Nga bay, lunch, refreshments throughout the day, National Park admittance and a truly fantastic experience that I would love to do again. All in all, the price was a bargain for what you got.
Our guide for the day was Mercy, or “sexy Mercy” as she liked to be called. A fun and bubbly person, she was warm throughout, joked plenty, was knowledgable and put everyone at ease with her personality. The driver and engine man were equally friendly although spoke no english, however it was clear they enjoyed what they did and helped the day run smoothly. They even let Harrison aid in driving the speed boat for a 40 minute leg of the trip which added to his experience, brought a massive smile to his face and a resounding cheer from everyone else on board once we reached our destination.
Harrison took such a shine to the crew he specifically requested a photo with all of them at the end of the journey and they were only too happy to oblige. I thoroughly recommend this tour company for the experience they provided.
The first stop of the tour which really was just a chance to break up the speed boat tour a bit. The island is very small and was densely packed with tourists, market stalls and bars. Really, it felt over-crowded and was definitely not my personal highlight of the tour, but nice to go to nonetheless.
While on this island we had a chance to quickly explore as well as do a bit of snorkelling. The young fella has always been a bit of a water baby and once he mastered the breathing apparatus he was off! He really took to snorkelling and loved looking at the little tropical fish that were swimming around. The water was perfect – very warm and very clear!
Next up was Hong Island and this was my personal highlight as we were taken by canoe around and through this magical place. The island itself is a high, and hollow, island comprising steep limestone (?) cliffs carved out by tidal activity over thousands of years. As you canoe through it you pass under cliff ledges and through spacious (and sometimes narrow-isa) caves. Greenery grows from the cliff walls and creates quite a picture of contrast as the sun strikes the tree leaves against the shadowed cliff backgrounds.
You are requested to provide a tip to the local canoe guides at completion of your roughly 30 to 40 minute journey through the island. Tip rates are anywhere from 20 baht to no more than 100 baht. We tipped the full 100 baht for a couple of reasons – when converted back it’s not much for us but means the world to them and secondly, the experience merited it.
Panyi Village is a small stilted muslim fishing village built in the middle of the bay and beneath a back drop of high steep sloped islands. This was our lunch stop and we were spoiled for choice with traditional Thai cuisine such as Thom Yum and Pad Thai as well as a rather tasty fried chicken dish accompanying it.
After lunch we had a bit of an explore through the back streets where there are a number of market stalls selling such things as brightly coloured sarongs/scarves and wind chimes made of sea shells. Buildings range from an extravagant mosque to prettily decorated local housing which contrasted against the often weather-beaten and sometimes decrept structures you would probably expect from a place like this. The locals are friendly and were happy to pose for photos. Our son was amazed at how different living conditions were to what he is used to and it was a very educational experience for him.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find the floating football field that had been constructed and have to say I was a little disappointed as I’m sure that would’ve made quite the sight!
Tapu Island and Khao Ping-Gan
The part of the trip the tour was named after – the James Bond island segment. With me holding an interest in landscape photography, this is the part of the trip I was looking forward to most from a photographic point of view, and what a sight it is! The only disappointing thing for me as that although the tour is named after this segment, it felt very rushed (in comparison to other locations). I would’ve liked to have more time to explore angles and really get to know the island but it was not to be – perhaps next time I am here I will charter a private boat.
The island as I have said is quite the spectacle. The tall limestone tower is an obvious photograph but if you turn around there is equally good opportunity with various cracks and fissures throughout the islands rock structure.
A magical part of Earth!
Khai-Nai was our final stop before heading back to the marina. This was our chance to unwind on the beach with a couple of cocktails and a swim in the water at the end of what was an incredibly hot day (in the 40’s – easy).
Our son made friends with three Australian ladies who were playing with him in the water while myself and mum sipped away on our Margherita’s while lounging in deck chairs – thanks ladies, he had a blast and hasn’t stopped talking about his new friends who he is longly referring to as “the girls”.
While this was a nice stop, it is probably the part of the tour that I would’ve happily shaved 20 minutes from for a bit of extra time at James Bond island.
So all in all, a great day out and well worth the money. You get far less for much more in other parts of the world (including our own New Zealand unfortunately). Truth be told, besides the initial outlay and a small tip for the canoe operators and tour guides at the end of the day, you don’t actually have to spend a cent more if you do not want to. I will definitely be back Ao Phang Nga.
In summary, this is what we all thought of our day out amongst the beautiful islands ……..