So I searched around for ways to visit Phang Nga Bay from Phuket and there were numerous tour companies offering different types of excursions: Canoeing, Speedboat, Long-tail boat, Junk Boat etc.
From what I read, the best way to see Phang Nga Bay was to take a canoe to go into the caves at the islands. However, canoeing with young kids seemed like a bad idea if I had to do the canoeing myself. I knew for a fact (from my Secondary School / Juior College camp days) that I sucked at canoeing.
I had actually set my eyes on the June Bahtra junk boat cruise because, well, the junk boat looked super cool. But then I read from one of the booking sites that children aged 3 and below were not allowed.
So eventually we settled for the day trip by Andaman Leisure Phuket which combined speed boat and canoe (that came with canoe boys) with a minimum age requirement of just 1 year old. Plus children above 1 but below 4 (MY fell within this range) could join the tour for free!
The tour started with a pick-up from our resort, Marriott’s Mai Khao Beach. The pick-up time was 7.30am, which allowed us time to have breakfast at our resort before setting off. We were waiting at the lobby till 7.40am and getting worried that our pick-up had not arrived yet, but the resort staff assured us that Andaman Leisure Phuket usually arrived at about 7.45am. The van had to make its rounds to other resorts around Mai Khao Beach and turned out our resort was its last stop.
We arrived at Royal Phuket Marina and our guide, Sunny, called out our names once we alighted from the van. Andaman Leisure Phuket conducted numerous tours to various destinations around Phuket, and Sunny was going to be our guide to Phang Nga Bay that day. He gave us stickers to identify which group we belonged to.
We had about 45 minutes to grab some coffee (provided in the waiting area) or shop around the marina or join the crazy long queue for the toilet before the tour started at 9am.
At 9am, we were gathered in our groups and I was pleasantly surprised by how small and cozy the group was. There were less than 20 people in our group – just 3 families (glad we weren’t the only ones who brought our children), a couple and a solo traveller. Sunny brought our group aboard our speed boat and briefed us on the day’s activities.
As the speed boat left Royal Phuket Marina, we were free to help ourselves to the drinks provided in the cooler box. And occasionally, Sunny brought out some fresh fruits.
Adults could sit inside the speed boat or at the front, but children were not allowed to go to the front. Hubby and I took turns to go out to sit at the front, where we could see the limestone cliffs ahead as the speedboat approached Phang Nga Bay!
The speedboat weaved its way through the numerous islands around Phang Nga Bay.
The limestone cliffs were quite a spectacle. Since the kids were not allowed to the front of the speedboat, Sunny told them they could stand on the seat to look outside so that they didn’t miss out on the view. He even helped to hold on to the boys as they peeked out from the side of the speedboat while I went around taking photos.
We arrived at our first stop, Panak Island, where we would be exploring two mangrove caves. We entered the first cave via an inflatable canoe.
Our family was given a choice: whether all four of us wanted to go on the same canoe, or we wanted to take two canoes with one adult and one child each.
We opted to split into two canoes so that we could take photos each other.. Haha! And the canoe boys paddling our canoes, knowing we were a family, stayed closed to one another.
The canoe boys wore a torchlight on their head, so they could shine light inside the dark cave for us to see the stalactites.
The canoe was very stable and moved slowly through the cave, allowing us ample time to soak in the scenery.
The canoe boy also highlighted to us the creatures living in the mangrove swamps. He paddled right up to the roots so that we could observe the mudskippers and crabs.
After we completed the first cave by canoe, the second cave required us to walk in on foot. We had to walk through knee-deep water – which was too deep for the boys to walk on their own. The cave was also quite dark and had low-hanging stalactites, which made it very easy for us to knock our head (or the kids’ heads) if we weren’t careful.
Knowing this, the experienced canoe boys actually picked up our boys and carried them through the cave for us, while shining the torchlight at the cave ceiling to guide hubby and I.
Thanks to the canoe boys, we made it through the cave without any bumps on our heads! 😀
At the other end of the cave was a mangrove forest.
Our canoe boy went to catch a little crab to show us. MF was super amused by it, while MY ran away when asked to touch / hold it.
James Bond Island
From Panak Island, the speed boat brought us to our next stop: James Bond Island.
James Bond Island was like the most famous icon of Phang Nga Bay. Simply because it was used as a film location for a James Bond movie. I don’t watch James Bond movies, so I can’t say I was super looking forward to visiting James Bond Island.
The speed boat parked at the ‘back’ of the island and we had to walk through a path with steep steps to get to the ‘front’ of the island.
Along the way, we could see the super famous piece of rock that appeared in all travel guides and posters about Phang Nga Bay.
We reached the ‘front’ of the island where there was a big ‘James Bond Island’ sign where we took a mandatory been-here-done-that photo.
Yup, gotta take more been-here-done-that photos.
Before I came to James Bond Island, I read that it was just a touristy piece of beach lined with kitschy souvenirs shops. So I came with low expectations. But actually there was more to James Bond Island than that piece of beach and lone piece of limestone jutting out from the sea.
The boys had fun climbing into the caves on the island.
And you got to appreciate the islanders’ sense of humour when you see this.
After we made our way back to the speed boat, the boat circled to the front of the island for us to take some photos from the sea. And the boys couldn’t help exclaiming, “We were there! We were there just now!” Lol… Kids.
Lunch at Panyee Island (Sea Gypsy Village)
Then came to the part of the tour I was looking most forward to. No, not the lunch. I mean yes, I was looking forward to lunch, who am I kidding. But I was super looking forward to visiting a sea gypsy village!
As the speed boat approached the village, we all climbed up to our seat to look out at the colourful ‘kelong’.
The boat circled the whole island for us to have a glimpse of the village and Sunny pointed out to us the village’s only recreational facility: a floating soccer court.
Sunny also highlighted that the village was a Muslim village (you can’t miss the mosque) and looked at all our attire and heaved a sigh of relief that nobody came in bikinis only (apparently it has happened before).
He also pointed out the power generator to us.
And he talked a bit about the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, sharing with us that the sea gypsy village was spared the full brunt of the Tsunami because of the thick forest (see those trees in the photo below) surrounding the village which acted as a barrier.
We arrived at the row of restaurants and saw tourists pouring out from their rides and I thought it was going to be a crowded lunch.
But our boat docked at a quieter jetty in front of Sunny Restaurant, and we couldn’t help laughing that the restaurant and our guide shared the same name.
Unlike the crowded restaurant we saw earlier, the 15-or-so of us were the only ones at Sunny Restaurant. I loved being away from the crowd!
Lunch was super awesome. There was SO much food and we could eat as much as we liked.
The fried chicken was sooooo good. Look at how tender and juicy it was.
The boys ate so much that I was worried they would get sea sick later on. But they didn’t. *phew*
And I have to mention the toilet. Usually when you come to villages like this, you don’t expect nice toilets. But the toilets here were super nice and clean!
We were given ample time to have a relaxing lunch. There was no rushing at all. We even had time to shop a bit (there was a souvenir shop at the back of the restaurant) before boarding our speed boat again.
After lunch, we went on to Hong Island for our second canoe excursion.
We were assigned the same canoe and canoe boy that we were with at Panak Island earlier.
Hong Island was like super gorgeous. So yeah, I’m just going to photo-spam you.
The canoe boy brought us through the caves and ‘rooms’ of the island.
Along the way, they brought our attention to certain parts of the cliffs which had taken special shapes. At one point, they pointed to the island below and asked us if we could see the dog. I was like, “No, I don’t see a dog. It looks like an elephant to me.”
And they were like no no no.. Look higher! Up there! And I was like “Ohhhhhhhh…..”, they were not referring to the shape of the entire island. Rather right at the top was indeed a rock that looked liked a dog.
Then we passed by another island which looked like a giant monster. MY and I did our best monster roar!
We paddled around through the caves, checking out the cave system.
And again the canoe boy stopped at a point and showed us the ‘chicken’.
There there.. can you see the chicken? We wouldn’t have noticed it if the canoe boys didn’t point it out.
As we made our way back to our speed boat, I felt a bit sad that the canoe part of the trip was officially coming to an end. As the canoe boy dropped us off back at the speed boat, we gave him a tip and said our farewell.
Back on the speed boat, we went back to Panak Island – the first island where we did the canoeing at the start of the trip.
But this time, the speed boat brought us around while Sunny showed us the other caves that we were not able to explore.
Slowly, we made our way back towards Phuket and away from Phang Nga Bay, and I thought our day trip was coming to an end. And we were all like, “Bye Bye Phang Nga Bay! We’ll miss you!”
The boys even decided they had enough fun for the day and dozed off.
But turned out, we weren’t going back to Phuket yet.
The speed boat brought us to a beach (sorry forgot the name) where we could go swim in the sea.
We arrived before the crowd and managed to rent some beach chairs. (They cost something like 200 baht for two chairs.)
I ordered a Mai Thai and MF ordered a banana smoothie as we sat around watching more boats come up to the beach.
Initially MF was a bit scared to swim in the sea. He just stood by the beach and observed what people were doing.
Then he decided he also wanted to try swimming in the sea. So we went back to the boat, changed into our swimming costume and grabbed a life jacket for him.
And after swimming, it was back to the speed boat where we returned to Phuket, bidding farewell to Phang Nga Bay for real this time.
When we were back at Royal Phuket Marina, there were a lot of minivans waiting to send guests back to their various hotels around Phuket. Please look for your guide to check which minivan to board. Sunny checked the list and directed us to the same minivan that had brought us to the marina. The other guests on our van were on other tours, so we had to wait for everyone to be back before the minivan drove us back to our various resorts at Mai Khao Beach. We were the last stop for the minivan once again, so by the time we got back to the Marriott’s Mai Khao Beach, it was about 6pm.
Tips for Visiting Phang Nga Bay with Andaman Leisure Phuket
- Bring your swimming costume and your own towels if you would like to go swimming. Towels were not provided.
- Drinks were provided.
- Bring loose change (100 baht notes) to tip the canoe boy and guide. It was recommended to give 100-200 baht to each canoe boy and 100-200 baht to the guide.
- Besides money for tips and maybe some drinks and bench rental on the beach, you really do not need to a lot of money with you for the trip since it has already been pre-paid. It is recommended that you do not bring valuables. So I suggest you don’t bring your whole wallet with you. Just bring some change and put it with your handphone in a waterproof cover that you can hang around your neck at all times.
- The same canoe boy would bring you around on both canoe excursions. You do not need to tip the boy at the end of the first excursion. But you need to bring your tips with you on the second canoe excursion so that you can pass it to the canoe boy at the end of the second excursion.
- You may want to wear your swimming costume before the start of the trip as the toilet on the speed boat to change is very cramp. However you should wear proper clothes over your swimming costume as lunch is held at a Muslim sea gypsy village, and it’s not very polite to go there in just your swimming costumes.
- If you have many days in Phuket, do check the weather forecast to choose the day with the best weather at Phang Nga Bay to do the trip. We heard from our BonAppetour host that the water in the area will get very choppy if the weather is bad. We were there on a good day and the rides were very smooth.
Information on Phang Nga Bay Excursion with Andaman Leisure Phuket:
- 3500 baht per adult
- 1750 baht per child aged 4 and above
- Free for children under 4 years old
Minimum age requirement: 1 years old
For Booking: Visit Andaman Leisure Phuket’s official website
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