Phang Nga Bay, depending on the day you go, can be either an eerie otherworldly obstacle course of unforgiving rocks shooting dramatically out of choppy, swirling waves, or an awe-inspiring landscape of mystical green turrets that seem to float serenely on the surface of the water. Tenacious trees and plant life take root in every nook and cranny of the rocky surface, and the ocean they have erupted from is striated with every shade of green and blue possible, making for a very dramatic sight. Long before Roger Moore ever laid eyes on James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand during the filming of The Man With the Golden Gun in 1974, it was simply called Ko Tapu (meaning Nail Island).
Let me start by saying this: I would highly recommend you try to avoid viewing this area during a Typhoon (if this isn’t a fine example of foreshadowing, I don’t know what is!!!).
Steve had found an authentic Chinese Junk that would sail over to James Bond Island for a brief tour and some pictures, then scoot us over by traditional Long-Tail Boat for lunch at a the “Sea Gypsy Village” – a floating Muslim Fishing Village built out over the water on stilts. Called Koh Panyee in Thai, it was built back in the late 18th century by Indonesian fisherman to house their families of the fishermen who worked in the rich waters of Phang Nga Bay. You could also have your lunch on board the boat if you wanted, and there would be stops for some swimming in the warm, placid waters of the Bay. It sounded like the perfect day for New Jetsetters!
Pictures of the “June Bahtra” showed a very beautiful and exotic authentic Chinese Junk floating on calm aquamarine ocean. A stupendous seascape of verdant, turret-like rock formations reached up to touch fluffy clouds in a turquoise blue sky. Sigh of delight. What a dreamy way to spend a day. However… dreams don’t always come true, do they? Wait, first, let me give you a hint. Did I mention the word “Typhoon”?
The day we booked for our day-trip from Phuket dawned with a howling wind that was whipping the waves into a frenzy of white caps in the normally calm cove visible from our cliff-side suite at Mom Tri’s Villa Royale. Overlooking Kata Noi Beach, we had front row seats to Mother Nature’s little tantrum (well, we thought it was a little tantrum). We could see dark clouds gathering on the horizon, in what appeared to be an apocalyptic frenzy. We hesitated for a moment – oh, ever so briefly, questioning the wisdom of going out on the water on a morning such as this. Then the front desk called to inform us our driver had arrived. Throwing caution, literally, to the wind, we decided to just go for it. There would be just a thunderstorm for a half hour or so. No doubt it would have passed by the time we would get to the marina where the June Bahtra was waiting for us, about 35 to 40 minutes away. A few drops of rain splattered down as the driver held the door open for us with a big smile. Not to worry, the driver reassured us in broken English. We felt comforted. Mistake Number 1.
As we navigated the highway, lined with now wildly-waving branches of Mahogany Trees, even the solid, soldier-straight rows of Rubber Trees that marched by in carefully planted rows seemed to be bracing themselves. The wind and rain increased with every mile we put behind us. Soon the driver was fighting to keep the vehicle on the road, and squinting to see past the furiously flapping windshield wipers. Should we turn around, I enquired? “Oh no! It will be fine! Very early in day!” we were assured. Okay. They know what they’re doing, we figured. Mistake Number 2.
The June Bahtra
The Chinese Junk was beautiful, (when we could glimpse it through the sheets of rain) as we approached. Her exotic creamy sails were billowing in the wind, and Phang Nga Bay hurled angry splashes of water at us as we stood on the dock, watching the Junk rise and plunge, debating the wisdom. Our hosts came forward, with reassuring smiles and a welcome to come aboard. So good to see us!!!! All would be fine! What a day of adventure we would have ahead! About four other people had booked with the June Bahtra as well, and they were already on board. They did not look overly freaked-out. Well, we’d come this far already. Mistake Number 3.
Our Captain was blissfully correct, for a little while. As the June Bahtra slowly made our way out into the passage, the weather seemed to clear. The shorelines became clear, and the water calmed substantially. We sighed with relief. What a good thing we hadn’t canceled. We were able to take a few pictures and admire the sky of pummeled asphalt streaked with angry purplish bruises.
Refreshments were served and we talked with some of the other passengers on board, comparing our favorite trip adventures so far, and sharing stories. I tried out some of my Thai conversation skills, much to the hilarity of the staff. Everything was good. Despite the debatable start, I felt confident that we’d made the right decision. We sat front row, center at the prow of the vessel, watching the ever-receding shoreline slip by, marveling at the experience and the warm breeze. We stopped watching the sky as we caught sight of the famous limestone islands that were appearing, much closer now. They were simply stunning. Then we noticed the sky.
It was suddenly, well, “black”. Like someone had dropped a heavy, ash-covered, tarpaulin over the heavens, sealing out the sunlight. Our hosts smilingly suggested in halting English that we should come inside for awhile, it was time for lunch soon. The raindrops began to spatter. The boat lurched around a bit. What fun, I thought! Mistake Number 4.
In case you don’t know what a Chinese Junk looks like, it is a vessel that is open on all sides. It is very romantic looking. Not terribly waterproof. Plastic side-awnings were lowered and secured as the wind billowed and blew. The Junk rose and fell on the increasingly restless sea, like an amusement ride. I was still enjoying myself, giggling whenever we would plummet, and screeching a little when we would fly up in the air. Steve, not so much. Most of the passengers were beginning to look distinctly greenish. The staff happily went about preparing lunch in the little kitchen area below deck. I was starving and was trying to take some pictures of Steve’s slightly panicked face. Then the lightning struck in the distance, lacing the sky in a wicked zig-zag. I held my breath and started counting… A thousand one, a thousand two… a thousand three…
The air was charged with an electrical tension I have never experienced before or since. All the hair on the back of my neck went up. “Woo hooo!” I yelled. I could feel the other passengers glaring at me, including my husband. They had all gone very quiet and we bracing themselves on their seats, trying to avoid the flapping plastic sheets. Steve was trying to secure our good camera and the few valuables we had in case they (us included) went flying overboard. I stumbled to the back of the Junk, hoping to get a better view of the storm as the sky unraveled on the horizon. I love storms. I wrapped my arm around one of the metal poles at the back of the boat to gain some stability, and prepared to snap a picture or two. The rain began to pummel down just then, and a gust of wind blew us high on the next wave. I lurched sideways, letting go of the metal pole, just as the next arc of lightning hit. There was no discernible amount of time between the moment the lightning struck and the thunder. The lightning lit up the area around us like a spotlight, and this time all the hair on my body stood straight up. I’m sure I looked like a porcupine about to shoot her quills. The massive boom of the thunder shook the boat to its timbers, and the wind started blowing sideways. I was officially soaked, and trying to protect our “waterproof” camera. I staggered back to Steve, who was clutching our new video camera and knapsack. I was absolutely exhilarated. Steve, not so much.
Every now and then there would be a brief lull, and I could see how close we were to the sharp rocks, close enough to see hidden caves carved by the sea into the bases, and sea kayakers who were taking shelter under the craggy ledges. The wind picked up again, and we became enveloped in a dense shroud of fog. I couldn’t figure out how the Captain was not crashing us into one of those big rocky islands. We just held our breath, as we were buffeted around like a toy. I wondered what was happening to the kayakers we had seen only a few moment’s ago.
To their credit, the staff of the June Bahtra did not seem to be overly concerned. They announced lunch would be on hold for a while until the weather cleared (once again, big smiles). Steve whispered to me: “This boat is going to tip over any second. We could die out here!” I shrugged and savored the excitement. This is living! I do have a history of not fully appreciating the seriousness of a situation until after it is all over. While it was true that it seemed we could indeed tip over, and some of the passengers were really frightened and looked a little green, I just couldn’t feel scared.
In retrospect, Steve was probably so very right. It was very serious. The bottom of the Junk and all of us inside were pretty soaked. After about half an hour of being shaken and stirred (although not James Bond style) thoroughly by Mother Nature, she decided to give us a break. The rocking of the boat returned to a manageable level, and within moments the crew was setting out tables of food; delicious salads, potatoes, vegetables, Thai Chicken, rice, and other delicious snacks. For a while, until the rest of the passengers managed to settle their stomachs, I was the only one indulging!
Now, on to James Bond Island… Right?
When our Captain announced that we were going to have to pass up James Bond Island and head straight for the Muslim Village instead, I moaned in disappointment. Not again! First, going all the way to Nassau, Bahamas to visit Café Martinique with no success, and now, all the way to Phang Nga Bay in Thailand, and no James Bond Island? I wanted to weep. Really.
The sky was still murky and grey. Who knew what would happen next. The “Floating Muslim Village” awaited us, so we headed in that direction. Oh well. We saw James Bond Island go by in the distance, the crescent of white sand beach marooned now with boats seeking shelter during the storm. Steve and I shared a wry smile. Just another reason to come back to Thailand again one day.
James Bond Crush chapter 2: James Bond Island, Thailand was written by Deborah Thompson who runs a very interesting blog New Jetsetters. James Bond Island is the second installment of the James Bond Crush series. The first part was about Cafe Martinique in Bahamas.
The first time Deb saw the turquoise blue waters surrounding Bermuda from the air as a child, she was smitten. Already in love with the written word and writing itself, a black leather-bound diary was soon filled with treasured memories of the charming island and her stay at the luxurious Elbow Beach Hotel. Since then she has traveled far and wide, and written dozens of stories and reviews on exotic locations from around the globe. Deborah regularly contributes to New Jetsetters blog with a special emphasis on intimate and romantic destinations.