Thursday, March 1, 2007

Koh Similan in Phang-Nga

Koh Similan

Lying 80 kilometres northwest of Phuket, Koh Similan is the main attraction of the Similan group of islands, all of which are in Similan Island National Marine Park. There are nine islands in the group, each having a name and a number (the first island in the group is called ‘Koh Bon but also goes under the name “Koh Nung” – “Island Number One”). Most of the islands in the group are uninhabited, but all are accessible from Koh Similan. Like the rest of the park, Koh Similan is a major draw for people interested in diving. The waters around Similan offer up to 30 metres visibility, and there is a lot to see beneath the waves. Aside from a huge variety of coral, the underwater seascape offers large granite boulders with gaps in rock where more experienced divers can swim through. Hat Khao Lak beach offers the best diving in the Similan islands. Similan Island also boasts a long curving bay with white sand beaches and clear water - an ideal destination for snorkelling. Koh Similan is also an excellent location for hiking and offers treks to the tops of granite outcrops to take in the island’s superb views. There is also an extensive range of wildlife on the island including spiny lobsters, sea fans, plume worms and a large variety of species of birds.

Details: As it is in a National Park, there is a 200 Baht admission fee to Similan.

How to get there: To get to the Similan Islands boats leave the piers in Thap Lamu sub-district and Ta Kua Pa District. The 40-kilometre journey takes three hours.

To book accommodation or to arrange food on Koh Similan contact the Royal Forestry Department:

Tel: (579) 0529, (579) 4842

James Bond Island in Phang-Nga

James Bond Island

What does it take to put a tourist destination on the international map? Great beaches, crystal clear water, clement weather? Not really… You are certainly best off trying to get it into a James Bond movie! The 1974 film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ is remembered for three things; a gun (made up of gold jewellery), an arch villain (Scaramanga), and those odd shaped little islands where Scaramanga set up base.

Although on the tourist circuit they are collective know as James Bond Island, there were in fact two islands featured in the movie. Koh Khao Phing Kan in Phang-Nga Bay was the bad guy’s base and cone-shaped (broad at the top and narrow at the bottom) Koh Tapu where he hid what we would call today a ‘weapon of mass destruction’.

Although there is no doubt that James Bond Island is a ‘must see’ destination, you are probably aware of what you will get. Most people reach the island by tour and although there are some genuinely beautiful sights to be seen, the tours usually involve you being dropped of on a beach to be confronted by swarms of vendors trying to palm off tasteless souvenirs! Classic! The tours do often include a lunch at Koh Panyi which is a step in the right direction.

Our advice: Do it… despite everything, it’s an enjoyable trip!

How to get there: There is a bus boat that moves around the islands and ends up at James Bond Island but by far the largest number of people do this trip via a tour from Phuket that takes people through some of the major sites on the way. Alternatively, take a boat cruise from the north of Phuket Island – less crowds and a bit quieter.