Travelers to Phuket or Krabi are usually encouraged to visit attractions beyond the mainland beaches and go island hopping or scuba diving. What many visitors do not know is that their tour operator might be taking them to Phang Nga, a province some 788km from Bangkok, for such adventures. Phang Nga is relatively lesser-known but is certainly no less endowed. It is rich in natural beauty, set in an area approximately 4,1700sqm, both on land and underwater.
Think James Bond Island–featured in a 1974 James Bond movie and one of the most iconic images of Thailand–or Phang Nga Bay, which is home to many fascinating islands. But there’s also the Similan Islands, one of Thailand’s main diving destinations, and these are but a few of the great reasons to visit. The bottom line is that the province is a real gem as far as natural treasures are concerned.
WHAT TO SEE?
Nature lovers will have a heyday here. The province is home to several national parks that offer scenic views and feature mass limestone formations that are scattered around the area. There is also a selection of caves to explore, and many other interesting attractions such as waterfalls, including Namtok Lampi, a six-tiered waterfall that runs all-year-round and various nature trails. Island hopping is a must-do, and there are many islands and islets, that beckon for fun daytrips. Arguably some of Thailand’s best beaches are in Khao Lak, while the old town of Takua Pa has its own charm too.
WHAT TO DO?
Elephant cave trekking at Tham Phung Chang and rafting at Ton Pariwat Wildlife Sanctuary, rock climbing, kayaking, especially in Khao Lak. Other activities include bird watching, sailing and cruising in Ao Phang Nga National Park, fishing, jungle trekking, bamboo rafting, golf (there are two 18-hole golf courses near Khao Lak), spa trips, and diving. The Similans are famed for their reefs, coral, and variety of marine life, while the Surin Islands are virtually untouched. Nearby is the horseshoe-shaped Richelieu Rock, which is considered by many to be the best dive site in Thailand. Also, visit a local village to see how a traditional way of life is being preserved through community-based tourism. Don’t expect much in the way of nightlife but there are several beer bars and live music venues scattered around the beach and bay areas, and Khao Lak and nearby Bang Niang are home to various entrainment offerings in the nighttime.
EAT & DRINK
You must try Southern Thai food, which is renowned for its spiciness. Food here is very much influenced by Malay, Indonesian, and Indian settlers. Phang Nga’s Panyi Island is famous for producing shrimp paste, and Takuapa is known for its Chinese-style baked cakes. Of course, the usual international fares are also available.
Several budget hotels are available in Phang Nga Town. But international hotel chains operate in Khao Lak, such as the JW Marriott Khao Lak (076 584 888), Le Meridien Khao Lak (076 427 500), and Ramada Khao Lak (076 427 777). Try Casa De La Flora (076 428 999), a very modernist property with a great beach. In Phang Nga itself, try budget hotels such as Phang Nga Guesthouse (076 411 358).
By car — From Bangkok take Highway No. 4, passing by Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, and Ranong on the way to Phang Nga Town. The trip takes around 12 hours. Another route that leads to Amphoe Ban Ta Khun (about 50km), and then Highway No. 415 for 30km, and then take a right turn to Phang Nga Town.
By bus — Bus services from Bangkok run daily. For more info, call the Southern Bus Terminal at 02 435 119/200.
By plane — The closest airports are in Phuket and Krabi, where many airlines operate. Bangkok Airways (02 265 5678) connects Phuket Airport with Pattaya and Koh Samui daily. Air Asia also offers several daily flights connecting Bangkok to Phuket Airport (02 515 9999).