Why Phang Nga bay is not really that great (but just nice)
Somehow we thought it would be possible to stay somewhere at the beach around the bay and enjoy waking up amidst the beautiful lime-stone rocks. It turned out Phang Nga city is not at the beach/bay at all and it is actually quite far to get to the bay. Of course this is a blind expectation, but there is one thing that makes staying in the area of Phang Nga bay even less attractive. Especially for travellers who just want to do their own thing.
Phang Nga bay is ‘touristicized’. There, we said it. Travellers wanting to follow their own moods and schedules try to avoid offered tours – that are well overpriced anyway – and find a way of their own to get to that beautiful place. We tried to look for a boat or fisherman and make a deal to charter the boat, but it seems that taxi-drivers are part-time boat-captain and vice versa. In other words, it is one big organized pile.
An organization like that means steady prices to hire a boat for a few hours, which can be good and bad. As we were negotiating with our taxi/jeep driver, who drove 20 km an hour in the middle of the highway until we agreed upon a price, the price started at 2000 Baht / 48,72 Euro* for 3 hours. That meant around 500 Baht / 12,43 Euro* per person. Budget travellers would agree that is far better than the 1,400 Baht / 34,81 Euro* p.p. the tours offer, but die-hard budget travellers would disagree for only three hours.
At this point we tried to get the price down as 3 hours seemed not enough for us, although the driver told us it is really enough. In the end we agreed on 1800 Baht / 44,75 Euro* for 4 hours. Of course at this point we still thought we could follow our own plan in the bay..
We cruised on the bay, like many other boats full of mostly Asian tourists, and thought it was time for some action. We told the ‘driver’ we would like to rent a canoe, explore and swim some. He brought us to floating canoe stations, but what we saw there was just awful in our eyes. Hordes of selfie-tourists were being toured by someone paddling the canoe. Somewhere in our minds, we saw medieval pictures of high-lords and women being catered. It just felt weird.
We asked if we could just rent a canoe without a guide and perhaps take it further than only the area around the floating stations. They looked at us as if we were crazy and told us it was not possible. The guy really needed to be included and it was dangerous to paddle ourselves. There it went, thrown out of the window, our adventurous escapade. You should never compare places and expect things to go exactly like they did last time, but we hoped to get a similar experience as we had in El Nido, Philippines. Just wandering around in an area full of limestone rocks and enchanting islands.
One of the negative sides of tourism is that you really can not just wander around an area without walking into a wall of ‘rules’. For example, businesses that claim you can not do this or that without paying. The freedom is gone and holiday tourists take the throne and bite in the ace that businesses set out. For us, it just did not feel right. It felt like our freedom of doing what we like and enjoying it was being taken away by profit-motives and we felt num of all the stimuli we were exposed to (people selling everything; tours, food, bracelets etc.).
Khao Sok, where we searched and cooked our own food, the people living there in the jungle for so long were slightly surprised with us. When doing some tasks, it was like they already expect you not to know how to do it. For example, how to make a fire or how to use a machete. Because other tourists – ‘more luxury tourists’ – simply do not do that and are not interested either. For example, the only input they get from those foreigners are branded clothes, connected (on the internet), making photos all the time or just lazy (probably because they are on a holiday). This is a bit short in explanation, but in the end it could result in structural problems against tourists being generalized or not accepted.
In the end we anchored at a small beach and swum a little there. The water at this time was not very clear though. After that we went to take a look a the famous James Bond island, but only around the island and not on it. You need to pay if you want to get on the island. We partly went through a mangrove forest until our boat could not fit anymore and visited Koh Panyi fishing village. All in all, it is a beautiful place to just go around and we really enjoyed it, but it is not as ‘quiet’ as you may think looking at images on the internet. To summarize this whole story, we were just disappointed.
Koh Panyi fishing village in Phang Nga: a grim reality
Travel guides and many websites have written about the ‘authentic’ Koh Panyi fishing village and some may even offer tours. Panyi is a muslim fishing village that is geographically unique as it lies in the middle of the bay, leaning on Koh Panyi. It is said that this village is authentic and the real life of fishermen can be seen here.
This village is far from the idyllic fisherman’s village where they just live their life – not being too dependent on tourists buying souvenirs. If you wander around for a while you can find some parts of the village that shows the daily life a bit more. But authentic? No not really, at least to us it was not. So we were a bit disappointed, but we could have expected it not to be so authentic anymore as they are exposed to so much tourism.
*currency at time of traveling