The southern province of Phang Nga is home to inviting beaches, delightful islands and dazzling seascapes. Sandwiched between Krabi and Phuket, Phang Nga offers a different experience to it’s better-known near neighbours. If you’re looking for a beach holiday or island getaway with more of a local feel, consider staying in Phang Nga.
With a diverse range of experiences to be enjoyed and destinations to visit, the province of Phang Nga is as suitable for family holidays as it is romantic breaks. Cruise through the incredible scenery at Phang Nga Bay and stay on the twin islands of Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai. On the mainland, enjoy the family-friendly charms of Khao Lak. And if diving or snorkelling is your thing, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Similan Islands and Surin Islands.
Phang Nga Town
Although few foreign tourists stay overnight in Phang Nga town, the small provincial capital is an easy-going location to spend a night or two and a good option to break up the overland journey between Krabi and Phuket. Staying here is also convenient if you are arranging an independent tour of Phang Nga Bay or would like to travel on to Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai.
Phang Nga Bay
Perhaps the most famous location in the province, Phang Nga Bay is a highlight if you are travelling to this corner of Thailand. With vertiginous limestone karsts and a myriad of islands, the scenery here is stunning. Most visitors to Phang Nga Bay travel on day tours from either Krabi or Phuket, but it’s straightforward enough to arrange your own longtail bay from the pier close to Phang Nga town.
Phang Nga Bay was made world famous in the 1970s when it featured in the James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun. The hideout of Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee) is the island of Ko Khao Ping Gan. This island is now commonly referred to as ‘James Bond Island’ and a popular tourist attraction. Jutting out from the sea nearby is the needle-shaped limestone karst of Khao Tapu (Nail Mountain). When Scaramanga and Bond duel on Ko Khao Ping Gan, it is Khao Tapu which can be seen in the background.
Most tours of Phang Nga Bay also include a stop at the floating village of Ko Panyee. While visitors are welcome to visit Ko Panyee, please respect the local customs of the predominantly Muslim community.
A village was first established here by nomadic fishermen at the end of the 18th century. Although tourism now brings welcome additional revenue, fishing remains the mainstay of Ko Panyee. The village features a mosque, school and even a floating football pitch. There is now an improved pitch attached to the school, but the floating pitch remains in situ. The inspiring story of the original football team is recounted in the video below.
For a fabulous view of Phang Nga Bay, head to Samet Nangshe viewpoint on the mainland. Keen photographers or anybody seeking sublime sunset and sunrise views can take the option to camp here overnight.
Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai
The twin islands of Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai can be reached by longtail boat or ferry from Phuket and Krabi. But for an even more scenic route which takes you through Phang Nga Bay, you can also take a boat from Tha Dan pier (around 10 minutes drive from Phang Nga town).
The Thai word for island is ‘ko‘ (also written as koh). Noi means small, yai is big and yao is long. So, Ko Yao Yai translates as the long big island and Ko Yao Noi is the long small island.
Both of the Yao islands are much quieter than nearby Phuket and Krabi and the beaches are not as impressive. But the real draw here is the lack of tourists, the views out to Phang Nga Bay, and the sabai sabai island lifestyle. Hire a bicycle to ride along the traffic-free roads and enjoy the serenity of these delightful twin islands.
Cape Kudu (Ko Yao Noi)
Six Senses (Ko Yao Noi)
9 Hornbills Tented Camp (Ko Yao Noi)
Santhiya (Ko Yao Yai)
Family-friendly Khao Lak is one of Thailand’s most appealing beach destinations. Located just to the north of Phuket, staying in Khao Lak is a great option for anybody seeking a relaxed beach holiday. Backpackers or budget travellers may find it too quiet, but for families or couples, Khao Lak is a good choice. It’s also the perfect base to explore a host of nearby attractions including the Similan Islands, Surin Islands, and Khao Sok National Park.
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The Similan Islands are a group of islands which are part of the protected Mu Ko Surin National Park. While visitors can visit some of the islands on tours, others remain off-limits to protect marine life including endangered green turtles who hatch their eggs on the isolated beaches in the archipelago.
Ko Similan is the biggest island in the group and at around 40 miles away from Khao Lak, is a great option if you are interested in snorkelling or diving. While most tourists travel here on a day trip, serious divers can also choose a live-aboard and experience some of the best dive sites in Asia. Amongst the array of marine life frequently seen here are moray eels, leopard sharks, and sea turtles.
As part of a National Park, the Surin Islands enjoy similar protection to the Similan Islands. However, unlike the Similans, one of the islands here is inhabited. Ko Surin Tai is home to the Moken community. Sometimes referred to as ‘Chao Leh‘ (People of the Sea) or ‘sea gypsies’, the Moken are renowned for their affinity with the sea and were here long before the area was designated a National Park. As with the Similan Islands, this area of the Andaman Sea is a haven for divers and snorkelers.
Ko Phra Thong and Ko Ra
If you’re seeking an island destination off the beaten track, look no further than Ko Phra Thong. The island is home to a small seafaring Moken community and while you will find beaches here, the most striking feature is the inland savannah-type landscape which is so unusual for Thailand. Stay at the aptly named Moken Eco Village to explore more of Ko Phra Thong and the nearby Ko Pling islands and Ko Ra.
Visitors can take the opportunity to ride on a kabang, a traditional Moken houseboat. This is not only a unique way to travel, but also a good way to support the local community through responsible tourism.
Although most foreign tourists whizz through Takua Pa en route to or from Khao Lak or Khao Sok National Park, the small town makes for an interesting stop.
Similar to Phuket Old Town, you will see a number of Sino-Portuguese buildings in Takua Pa. They were constructed when Chinese and European merchants migrated here to make money from the area’s tin mining industry. Many people in this area of Thailand have Chinese heritage and, as with Phuket, the annual Vegetarian Festival is one of the traditions which continues to be celebrated with gusto in Takua Pa.
Visit on Sunday afternoon in the high season months (November-April) to visit Takua Pa Walking Street in the Old Town area. And make time too on any day of the week for a boat ride through ‘Little Amazon’ (see below).
From November-February, sea turtles swim ashore on the quiet beaches of Phang Nga to lay their eggs. To learn more about these remarkable creatures and even have a chance to release a turtle to the sea, visit the Phang Nga Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Centre.
If you’re interested in ethical elephant experiences, Phang Nga Elephant Park is a small, family-owned facility not far from Khao Lak and Phang Nga town. Like all elephant centres in Thailand, the Covid-19 situation has created its own set of problems for the elephants and the people who strive to look after them. Hopefully, the team at Phang Nga Elephant Park will be in a position to continue the good work they do to look after the elephants in their care.
Travel north of Khao Lak to the town of Takua Pa where you can find the ‘Little Amazon’, a stretch of waterways and mangrove forests. This is a low-key, but enjoyable area to explore with the chance to see an array of birdlife in addition to the monkeys and snakes you can spot in the treetops.
Travel to Phang Nga
The nearest airport to Phang Nga is Phuket. Flying to Krabi is another option. Plans are in progress for an airport at Phang Nga province to ease pressure from Phuket and Krabi. The original opening date was scheduled for 2025, but that may now be delayed.
Journey time by road from Phuket airport to Khao Lak is approximately one hour. From Phuket bus station to Khao Lak is around 2 hours with a similar length of journey if travelling from Krabi.