The Sea Caves, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand




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James Bond fans may remember 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, starring Roger Moore as 007. Not one of the best Bond films, but memorable in part for the spectacular scenery of Phang Nga Bay in Thailand which served as the setting for villain Scaramanga’s hideout.

The movie drew attention to the area and put pressure on Thai authorities to preserve this natural beauty. In 1981, much of the area was designated as Ao Phang Nga National Park, including the many islands in the area. It has become a major eco-tourism destination.

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The archipelago at Phang Nga Bay is breathtaking in its beauty.

On our second day in Phuket we booked an excursion to explore sea caves in the area. We boarded a bus near the pier in Patong Bay for the hour long drive to Laem Sai Pier at the northern end of the island. There we boarded a motor launch for the hour boat cruise to Hong Island and the surrounding area.

A tour boat similar to the one we were on. There were quite a few on the bay. Eco-tourism is a booming business here.
A tour boat similar to the one we were on. There were quite a few on the bay. Eco-tourism is a booming business here.

The scenery was, indeed, like that in the Bond movie. Spectacular islands densely covered in vegetation with deep pitting in the exposed limestone, particularly at sea level.

Eroded limestone created some spectacular hongs or sea caves.
Eroded limestone created some spectacular hongs or sea caves.

We dropped anchor offshore from one of the islands and a myriad of small three person canoes were launched – two tourists and a guide in each. Janis and I and our guide followed some other craft into a cave and out the other end into a sheltered area surrounded by steep cliffs, limestone rock formations and lush greenery.

We entered a sea cave and our guide steered us through to the other side.
We entered a sea cave and our guide steered us through to the other side. Some of the rock formations looked like dollops of melting ice cream.

An island near the end of the channel looked much like the island in the movie that had the solar power unit atop it, though it was not the actual island. One of the other excursions did go to that island, now actually called James Bond Island.

This tall pinnacle is similar to the one in Man With the Golden Gun.

We paddled around, occasionally drifting in to shore to see the rock formations up close and on one occasion, we lay back as our guide paddled us into a deep low-hanging cave and back again.

Inside a sea cave illuminated by the flash. We had to lie back to make our way under the low hanging rock face.
Inside a sea cave illuminated by the flash. We had to lie back to make our way under the low hanging rock face.

The entire area was spectacular – stunningly beautiful with streaks of red sandstone interspersed with grey and yellow limestones.

Steeaks of red in the limestone cliffs accentuate the islands' natural beauty.
Streaks of red in the limestone cliffs accentuate the islands’ natural beauty.

We paddled around taking in the scenery for a good half hour before paddling around an outcrop and back to our ship.

We were allowed to swim in the bay, so I gave Janis the camera and went over the side, swimming behind our kayak to the mother ship. The water was very warm.

Yours truly taking a swim in Phang Nga Bay.
Yours truly taking a swim in Phang Nga Bay.

Once aboard, we tootled off towards another island – destination: the bat cave. Not that batcave! No Batman and Robin in sight. But we once again took to the canoes and went into a much deeper cave system. Here we entered total darkness, only the guides’ flashlights providing illumination. We saw dozens of bats hanging upside from the ceiling as we paddled deeper into the cave, then we turned around and paddled back. Unfortunately it was too dark for my camera to take pictures.

Inside the bat cave looking back to the entrance. We saw many bats in the cave, but it was too dark for the camera without a flash and I didn't want to scare the bats.
Inside the bat cave looking back to the entrance. We saw many bats in the cave, but it was too dark for the camera without a flash and I didn’t want to scare the bats.

From there we headed off to another island, the crew serving us a very tasty lunch along the way. At Lawi Island we dropped anchor again and were able to go ashore to a nice beach. Janis took a canoe but I just jumped in and swam ashore. We enjoyed a pleasant swim and soaked up the sun for an hour and then back to the boat again.

The beach where we stopped for an hour.
The beach where we stopped for an hour.

Back on Phuket Island we took the long bus ride back to Patong, stopping at a cashew stand that I’m sure must give kick-backs to tour operators because almost every excursion available included a visit to the “cashew factory”. It was not a factory. It was a shop. I don’t know if these additional stops add anything of value to a tour. I could have done without it.  But some people were buying so I guess it pays off for them.

The sea cave adventure was by far our favourite excursion on our cruise – and the most expensive at US$149 a person. Sometimes spending a little more pays off in a big way.

At 5:30 PM the cruise ship weighed anchor and we headed off back to Singapore. All in all, a great end to our voyage. You’ll find additional photos of our sea cave adventure linked below.

I’ll be adding an overview of our cruise as a whole next, with links to all ports of call and our extended visit to Singapore. Stay tuned!

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Photo Gallery: Sea Caves at Phang Nga Bay, Thailand




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Here are some more pictures from our sea cave adventure.

As we left the dock, we passed this vintage ship which looked alot like the one Scaramanga used to escape in The Man With the Golden Gun.
As we left the dock, we passed this vintage ship which looked a lot like the one Scaramanga used to escape in The Man With the Golden Gun.
Most of the islands featured steep tree covered cliffs with eroded limestone near the bottom.
Most of the islands featured steep tree covered cliffs with eroded limestone near the bottom.
Sometimes there were patches of eroded limestone higher up the rock faces.
Sometimes there were patches of eroded limestone higher up the rock faces.
Entering a sea cave.
Entering a sea cave. This one went right through the island to the other side.
Big glops of rock dripping down from the ceiling of the cave.
Big glops of rock dripping down from the ceiling of the cave.
The scene that awaited us after we went through the cave to the other side.
The scene that awaited us after we went through the cave to the other side.
This long boat with tourists disturbed the quiet of the location with its noisy outboard.
This long boat with tourists disturbed the quiet of the location with its noisy outboard.

Steep cliffs streaked with red limestone.
Steep cliffs streaked with red limestone.
Interesting rock formations everywhere.
Interesting rock formations everywhere.
We came across a couple of wild chickens as we explored the archipelago.
We came across a couple of wild chickens as we explored the archipelago.
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Back aboard, we bid adieu to this amazing landscape as we headed for a bat cave.
Entering the bat cave.
Entering the bat cave.
We passed a few fishermen on our trip.
We passed a few fishermen on our trip.
The crew served a delicious lunch along the way.
The crew served a delicious lunch along the way.
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The beach where we stopped for a swim.
Janis and I - happy travellers!
Janis and I – happy travellers!

 




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Port of Call: Langkawi, Malaysia




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The third port of call on our Southeast Asia cruise was Langkawi, an island at the northern end of Malaysia near its border with Thailand. The ship docked at the Star Cruise Jetty, the southernmost tip of the island.

The Star Cruise Jetty where our ship docked.
The Star Cruise Jetty where our ship docked.

We had seven excursions to choose from and, unfortunately, we happened to pick the worst one. It was promoted as an Island Overview. “you’ll visit a functioning rubber estate,” it read, as well as see “working paddy fields with buffaloes”, “quaint Malay Kampungs” and the “Mausoleum of the Martyred Princess”.  It sounded good. But it was more a dreary bus ride than anything. Luckily, the tour ended early enough for us to explore a bit on our own, saving the day.

Our bus took us inland to the rubber plantation where we stopped for ten minutes to watch a guy tap a rubber tree. Now this is interesting in itself. The tapper takes a sharp knife and cuts a spiraling line along the trunk of the tree. This forms a route for the rubber sap to flow along and into the collecting pail.

The tapper uses a sharp blade to form a conduit for the rubber sap.
The tapper uses a sharp blade to form a conduit for the rubber sap.

But to me, visiting a working rubber estate meant more than a ten minute road stop in the middle of nowhere to watch a guy tap a tree. I expected a tour of the plantation, seeing where the pails of sap are dumped, what happens to the sap then and so on. I expected a much more detailed tour. This was just lame.

Rubber sap flows into the collection pail.
Rubber sap flows into the collection pail.

We left the rubber plantation for a drive along some open fields and to the Mausoleum of the Martyred Princess. This was an interesting stop as we saw native entertainers doing traditional music, as well as some with a more contemporary repertoire.

Woman playing a native drum.
Woman playing a native drum.

We learned about the legend of Mahsuri. Her husband was away at war and a wandering poet received permission to visit and teach her the art of poetry. She became a popular hostess. A sister-in-law, jealous of her popularity, spread scandalous stories, and when her son was born, she accused Mahsuri of adultery. The slanderous lies were believed and Mahsuri and the poet were both condemned to death. She was tied to a tree and stabbed to death with sacred knife. White blood flowed signifying her innocence as she cursed the island to seven years bad luck.

The Mahsuri memorial site also has a reproduction of a Malay Kampung village. There were several buildings which you could enter and explore, all of them elevated on posts. One was a replica of a house similar to the one Mahsuri and her husband shared.

Reproduction of the native Malay house that Mahsuri lived in. These homes are on stilts because of occasional flooding.
Reprodution of the native Malay house that Mahsuri lived in. These homes are on stilts because of occasional flooding.

Behind this tourist area were large rice fields. We did not actually visit a rice paddy as such. We could see them out the bus window as we went along. And buffaloes were few and far between. The drive through the paddy area took us back to a major highway and we headed for the ferry terminal.

Large rice paddies.
Large rice paddies.

The ferry terminal is also a large shopping plaza, with some of the shops duty free. Nearby was Eagle Park, which we decided not to visit. We browsed through a few shops and found a Starbucks where we had a drink.

Eagle park. There are many wild eagles on and around Langkawi.
Eagle park. There are many wild eagles on and around Langkawi.

After the ferry terminal, the bus made one more stop – at a roadside stand that sold naturopathic medicines made from sea slugs. I don’t know why tours include such things. A later tour in Phuket had us stop at a cashew vending place. I strongly suspect that these businesses give kickbacks to the tour operators. In any event, it was lame – a boring waste of time, though some people bought some of the medicines, none of which had English labelling or instructions. Go figure.

The bus finally took us back to the ship and it was early enough for us to explore for a couple of hours on our own. There is a beautiful boardwalk near the jetty which passes a resort with some nice restaurants. We strolled along here taking in the sights and came to a small village.

Boardwalk at the jetty. An enjoyable walk.
Boardwalk at the jetty. An enjoyable walk. Our cruise ship is in the background.

The village had a lot of long boats on the beach. The boats were for hire but a bit pricey for just two of us. A group of four or more would have made this economical. One of the excursions we didn’t take was called island hopping. It had a tour on one of these long boats to various places along the way  including a stop for a swim on a sandy beach.

A village near the jetty. Many Malay long boats were docked here.
A village near the jetty. Many Malay long boats were docked here.

The tour was called Island Hopping because Langkawi is surrounded by many small islands including ones with mangroves. Mangrove trees grow in salt as well as fresh water and many of the islands are submerged at high tide. Our guide told us that Langkawi did not suffer much damage in the tsunami of 2004 because these islands took the brunt of the force.

Some of the long boats, like this one, were fishing boats. You can see the myriad islands in the background.
Some of the long boats, like this one, were fishing boats. You can see the myriad islands in the background.

After a walk through the village we went back to the boardwalk and spent our remaining ringgits on a couple of drinks. Then back to the ship.

Here’s a suggestion for Royal Caribbean, and any other cruise ships that include the Island Overview tour – take it off your available list of excursions. It sucks the big one. I asked a few others on the tour and they also thought it a waste of time and money.

But there was one good thing came out of it. Our next stop was a two day layover at Patong Bay in Phuket. We decided to splurge on one of the more expensive excursions and that turned out to be our best experience of the cruise.

Previous stops on our cruise:




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