W1702 – James Bond Island

In my last post, W1702 – Towering inferno, I described an extremely long, hot and tiring day spent in Kuala Lumpur, on tour from Port Klang in Malaysia. From there we thankfully had a day at sea to rest and recuperate before arriving at our next port, Phuket in Thailand.

We sailed into Phuket just as the sun was rising, and I managed to catch this view of a tropical looking tiny island in the golden morning light:

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In Phuket Carol and I were booked on an exciting sounding shore tour, travelling by speedboat to go and view the dramatic islands off the coast of Thailand made famous in the 1974 James Bond film, The Man with the Golden Gun.

We had a coach transfer of around 45 minutes from the port where our shop was docked to a lagoon where the speedboats were located. There were two coaches making this tour, and we were divided amongst three speedboats. The speedboats were quite large, with a small open area at the front of the boat for a few passengers, with the majority of passengers sitting side-on under a big canopy towards the rear.

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The speedboat left the Marina area quite slowly, but once out into the open sea they opened up the throttle and we were soon speeding along, bouncing over any waves. After some time we started to approach the islands, which are limestone tower karsts, and we slowed right down to gently glide past one of them very close, so that we could see the intricate shapes and caves formed by the sea eroding the limestone rock. The island was heavily wooded, and our guide said that monkeys lived there and could sometimes be seen from the boat, but none were visible for us:

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Once we reached the end of the island we picked up speed again, and sped over to Khao Phing Kan, which together with the islet Ko Ta Pu, are collectively known as James Bond Island ever since they featured in the film The Man with the Golden Gun.

Khao Phing Kan consists of two forest-covered islands with steep shores, located in the northwestern part of Phang Nga Bay, 6 km from the mainland. The Thai name for Khao Phing Kan reflects the particular shape of the island which appears as if a flat limestone cliff tumbled sideways and leaned on a similar rock in the centre of the island.

Ko Ta Pu is a Shingle rock about 21 metres tall with the diameter increasing from about 4m near the water level to about 8m at the top. It lies about 40m to the west from the northern part of Khao Phing Kan. In The Man with the Golden Gun it is Ko Ta Pu which conceals the solar panels.

We gently backed into the small beach that separates the two halves of Khao Phing Kan, and we had to clamber over the stern of the speedboat and then wade a few feet in the warm sea to get ashore:

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On shore there were a row of stalls selling souvenirs, these were run by locals from a neighbouring island, who travel to the island each day. On the other side of the spit of land separating the two halves was another beach, and it is off this beach that Ko Ta Pu lies:

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After a while on the island it was time to wade back to our speedboat, and soon we sped off past other small islands towards our final stop, Koh Panyi island, the island from which the stall traders on Khao Phing Kan had come from. The settlement at Ko Panyi was established at the end of the 18th century by nomadic Malay fisherman. At this time that the law limited land ownership solely to people of Thai national origins, and therefore the settlement was mainly built on stilts within the protection of the island’s bay, providing easy access for the life of a fisherman. With the growing tourism industry within Thailand brought greater prosperity to the community, purchase of land on the island itself became a possibility, and the first infrastructure items were built there – a mosque and a freshwater well:

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One feature resulting from the lack of flat land on the island that was immediately visible as we approached was the floating football pitch. Inspired by the 1986 FIFA World Cup, children first built a floating football pitch from old scraps of wood and fishing rafts. After making it to the semi-final of an inland tournament, all the village were inspired to take up the sport, so they built a brand new floating pitch which is the one that we could see. Our guide pointed out that the locals who use it must be skillful players and keep the ball on the pitch, otherwise they would have to dive into the sea to retrieve it:

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We climbed ashore from a small floating jetty, and were soon led through the maze of houses, shops, and cafés above the water. Most houses we saw looked quite basic, and in one the flooring looked very suspect:

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We were led through the maze to the Muslim school which is attended by both girls and boys in the mornings, where the guides told us more about the community and their way of life. Despite the recent rise in tourism, life in Ko Panyi is still primarily based around the fishing industry as tourists only visit in significant numbers during the dry season. We were then given some free time to wander around the village, and in particular the ‘high street’ of shops:

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After walking the ‘high street’ for a while we came across a jetty which allowed us to view how the village was built up on stilts over the water – and of course mud, which added it’s own aroma. I also noticed some mudskippers below:

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It was soon time to re-board our speedboat for the journey back to the lagoon. We sped along at a good rate which was very exhilarating, although I don’t believe it was at 60 or even 90 miles an hour that I overheard fellow passengers say later on the ship when talking about our tour! We sped past the other little islands, across the open sea and then up the river to the moorings:

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We then re-boarded our coaches for the return journey to our waiting ship. On both the coach journeys the most striking thing we noticed was the absolute profusion of wires and cables everywhere – I had thought India was bad for this when I travelled there a few years ago, but this was on a whole new scale:

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Later we set sail for two days at sea before we would reach our next country, Sri Lanka. Here we had two ports of call on consecutive days, and my next post will be about my adventures in the first of these, Hambantota.

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