The Best Way to Explore Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay

Back in 2013, I had to go to Singapore for a conference, so it only seemed natural to tack on some vacation time while all the way over in Asia. My sister joined me the week before the conference, and we went to Thailand for a few days to enjoy some sunshine and the breathtaking beaches of Phuket. Even better, though, I had also found an amazing speedboat tour of beautiful Phang Nga Bay, and it turned out to be the highlight of our trip! If you’re ever in Thailand, this is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Phuket Sail Tours

As a sailor, I’m fairly particular about the boats I go on, and even more so when outside of the U.S. where safety standards aren’t quite so, well, standard. Also, since we were visiting Phuket during monsoon season, I wanted to be sure the boat company we chose wasn’t going to be reckless and attempt to go out in dangerous weather should any arise. So, I did an awful lot of research before settling on our tour, which was offered by Phuket Sail Tours, a small, family-run business with locations in Phuket and Krabi.

All my pre-trip communications with them assured me that they were 100% committed to passenger safety, and since they patiently answered all my questions, I could tell they were also committed to providing excellent customer service. Their online reviews were top-notch, too, so we went ahead and booked our tickets for their Exploring Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat tour.

Getting to Phang Nga Bay

On the day of our tour we were picked up at our hotel verrrry bright and early by the boat company’s transfer service, and it was about an hour’s drive from our hotel at the southwestern tip of Phuket to their dock in Ao Por in northeastern Phuket. 

Since Phang Nga Bay is on the east side of Phuket, it’s fairly sheltered, so even when the monsoon winds are blowing, the Bay is still relatively calm. It was a hazy morning when we set out, but it was at least not raining and it managed to stay that way all day (though it didn’t exactly get beautiful and sunny either). 

We were greeted by Captain Mark, an Australian, who is actually the owner of Phuket Sail Tours (and our captain for the day!) The crew provided us with breakfast and coffee on the boat, which was a welcome treat, especially since it was far too early to eat before our hotel pick-up. We set out before 8:00 am, and with some food and coffee in our bellies, we were ready for our adventure!

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Heading out into Phang Nga Bay!

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And…we were immediately stunned by the beauty of the Bay and the incredible rocks we saw in every direction. Phang Nga Bay is located where there was once a massive coral reef millions of years ago. The limestone from this reef was pushed up through the water by plates shifting in the earth, forming the spectacular rock formations you can see jutting through the Bay. And, as you may be aware, limestone erodes fairly easily, which means a lot of the rocks have formed caves and other interesting nooks and crannies over time.

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One of the most recognizable (or at least famous) rock formations you’ll see in Phang Nga Bay is that which stands in front of James Bond Island, named as such for being a fiming location in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. 

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James Bond Island

We went past James Bond Island on our tour, but we didn’t stop. The photo opp was worthwhile, but judging by the crowds we could see from the boat, I’m happy we didn’t actually go ashore! Also, you can definitely get better views of the island from your boat. Phuket Sail Tours does seem to try to keep you far from the crowds when possible, and it certainly makes for a more relaxing and enjoyable day.

What You’ll See and Do

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The exact order of your stops will depend a lot on the tides to ensure you can visit as much as possible, as safely as possible. 

Snorkeling

Our first stop of the day was to go snorkeling in Krabi. We got off the boat and walked onto a sparkling white sandy beach. Despite being a less than sunny day, the water was still a gorgeous teal color and clear enough to let us see all kinds of beautiful fish! 

Our guide had several bananas he had cut in half, and he gave each of us a half to hold. Within seconds of putting the banana under water, tons of fish started swimming our way to have a nibble! Can’t say I’ve ever heard of fish liking bananas, but hey, first time for everything. We spent about half an hour snorkeling, which was really more than enough time to give us a sense of some of the pretty critters hanging out below the water’s surface. 

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Our snorkelling spot – check out that clear water! Great for seeing all the fish.

Cave Paintings

Once we were back on the boat, the crew passed out towels, which was great because we were able to save our own beach towels for later so they’d be nice and dry for our trip back home. Then, we headed off to Kao Kee-un, also known as Drawing Mountain. Here, we were able to check out some spectactuar cave paintings that are close to 2,000 years old. According to our guide, these were left here by sea gypsies. Can you see the fish and people in the paintings???

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Ko Panyi, the “Floating Island”

Next up, we headed to our lunch stop at the fishing village of Ko Panyi (also koh panyee), which is known as the “Floating Island”. It does not, in fact, float, but all the buildings are up on stilts and there are just wooden walkways over the water that serve as sidewalks in this interesting little village.

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Approaching Ko Panyi
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This is a popular lunch spot. There aren’t a lot of choices in the middle of the Bay!

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Ko Panyi is a Muslim Village, and that’s their beautiful mosque in the background.

We had a fantastic lunch here (probably the best Massaman curry I’ve ever had), and then we had a little time to wander through the village. There are lots of vendors scattered about who sell fish, clothes, jewelry, and souvenirs to the many tourists who visit, and you must be sure to take some time to check out their soccer field, which actually IS floating on the water!

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This cute video explains how their floating soccer field came to be and will give you a better sense of what life is like in this little village of 2,000 people.

Canoeing

After lunch, we set out to do some more exploring. We were separated into groups of two and then piled into canoes with local guides. They took us through some caves, and eventually we were able to paddle inside some ‘hongs”. Hong means ‘room’ in Thai, and that’s essentially what they are.

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You canoe through a cave opening and once you reach the other side, you’re basically inside the middle of a rock that’s completely eroded in the center, forming a water-filled room. And the best part, your guide does all the paddling so you can just relax and enjoy and take in the scenery!

Hidden Lagoon

And because paddling inside some hongs wasn’t already cool enough, we headed to another island, Phank Island, where we were actually able to walk through a cave into hong. Here you can see what mangrove trees look like when the tide is completely out and the hong is empty of water. And if you’re lucky, you might even seem some crabs and mudskippers lurking around, too.

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You can walk inside here when the tide is out, but when it comes back in these roots will all be under water!

Swim Call

Our last activity of the day was to jump off the boat and enjoy a bit of time swimming in the Bay. It still wasn’t sunny, but it was warm and unbearably humid so it was incredibly refreshing to hop in and cool off before we started our journey back to the dock.

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On our way home, the crew offered us some snacks, including tons of delicious fresh fruit and some super yummy chicken satay. And though all the snacks, water, and soda are included in the ticket price, you can also buy beer from them for the bargain price of about $1.50! I had one on my way back to the dock, as it seemed a fitting way to wrap up an incredible day seeing Phang Nga Bay!

So, if you are planning to visit Phuket at some point and want to see a ton of amazing places in as short a time as possible, please do yourself a favor and check out this tour with Phuket Sail Tours. It might actually be my favorite tour that I’ve ever taken, and there really wasn’t a single moment that I didn’t enjoy. You will see and do A LOT, and I guarantee you’re going to sleep like a rock once you get back to your hotel after this full day on the Bay. 

Have you been to Phuket and had a chance to see Phang Nga Bay? What was your favorite part of this beautiful and fascinating part of the world???

Plan Your Own Visit

Where to Go

  • Phuket Sail Tours: Ao Por Centre, 80/17, 18 Moo 6, T. Pakhlok, A. Thalang, Phuket 83110 Thailand

When to Go

  • Anytime! The Phang Nga Bay Speedboat tour is offered year-round, even during monsoon season.
  • The bay is sheltered, but trips can still be interurpted or even canceled due to weather that the captain deems unsafe. They suggest that you book the tour at the beginning of your visit to Phuket so that you’ll have an opportunity to reschedule for a later date in the event of a cancellation.

Tips for Visiting

  • Depending on where you’re staying in Phuket, your transfer to the Phuket Sail Tours office could take quite some time on the morning of your tour. We were staying at the southern tip of the island, and it was nearly an hour’s drive to the tour office. 
  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, bring some pills with you so that you’ll be comfortable. Personally, though, I thought the trip was very smooth, and even my sister (who IS prone to sea sickness) did fine on this trip. 
  • Since you’ll be walking in caves and some other muddy areas, I highly recommend wearing sandals with sturdy straps or water shoes so that you can walk around without slipping out of your shoes. You’ll remove your shoes every time you board the boat, but you’ll want them each time you get back off.
  • It’s incredibly hot and humid in Thailand and you’re going to do some swimming, so you might want to bring an extra change of clothes in case you sweat through your first set or get them wet from your bathing suit. There is a canopy on the boat which helps create some shade, but you’ll want a hat if you plan to sit in the sun. And don’t forget sunscreen!
  • The crew had some drybags for holding phones and cameras while transferring from the boat to each of our stops, but you may want to invest in a waterproof cover for your phone or bring a small drybag of your own. It IS a boat trip, and I was paranoid about dropping my phone every time I got off and on the boat!
  • The tour includes plenty of water, soda, fresh fruit, and other snacks, and you can buy a can or two of super cheap Thai beer on board, too, if you like. You won’t be hungry or thirsty during this tour!  

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