Friday, August 24, 2012

Ko Khao Phing Kan and Ko Tapu - "James Bond Islands"

Ko Khao Phing Kan and Ko Tapu earned themselves the nickname "James Bond Islands" after being featured in the 1974 James Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun." Ko Tapu is the iconic rock, 20 meters (66 feet) tall, located about 40 meters (130 feet) from the shores of Ko Khao Phing Kan, the island on which Bond lands in the pursuit of Scaramanga--the Man with the Golden Gun.

Ko Tapu

The islands are located on the Andaman Sea, in the Phang Nga Bay. Phang Nga has over 42 islands, many with picture-perfect beaches and spectacular limestone cliffs, but the tourism selectively concentrates on Ko Khao Phing Kan and Ko Tapu. The reason? I guess everybody wants to feel, if just for a moment, like Bond, James Bond.

The islands can be visited on a day trip from a number of cities located on the west coast of Thailand. Thai people wouldn't miss a such golden opportunity to make money from tourists! Thais are extremely good at forecasting tourists' needs, at marketing, and at finalizing the sale. They often know what you "need" before you know it and they make sure that you'll fall into the tourist trap they set up for you. I dare to claim that they're better at their job than James Bond, as they can claim a higher number of victims and they are even stealthier than he is.

Every day hundreds of tourists-victims leave Ao Nang, Krabi, Phuket, and other coastal cities, for a daylong sightseeing trip of Phang Nga Bay. A typical trip starts with 1.5-2 hour bus drive to the Phang Nga Bay harbor, followed by half an hour ride on a long-tail boat through the bay in the direction of "James Bond Islands." The first stop usually is near the island of Ko Talu, where you'll embark a kayak with a guide who will paddle you around the caves and limestone cliffs of the island. This would be an enjoyable experience if there weren't hundreds of other kayaks paddling near you.

The next destination is Ko Khao Phing Kan--the famous and impatiently awaited "James Bond Island." The first negative surprise is that your boat, as well as the other fifteen tourist boats, will arrive at the port on the opposite side of the island from the one where James Bond landed and where the photogenic Ko Tapu is. In fact, you'll be welcomed by highly unphotogenic sight of tens of cramped souvenir stalls, selling shells, corals, pearls, and thousands of other items you don't need for the price you don't want to pay. That's the second negative surprise. And the third major disappointment is the major commercialization and complete lack of intimacy on the island--except for the souvenir stalls and the opportunity to take the same photo of Ko Tapu as everybody else, there's nothing else that the island offers.

From the island you'll be taken for lunch to Ko Paynee, a "floating" Muslim fishing village built on wooden stilts. After lunch, of course, you'll have another opportunity to part with your money in case you didn't spend it all on the "James Bond Island."

Ko Paynee

Ko Paynee

On the way back the buses often stop at the popular Monkey Temple-Cave (Wat Suwankuha), where you can admire a large reclining golden Buddha statue inside and even larger group of monkeys outside the cave. In exchange for food, the monkeys are very happy to pose for photos and even sit on the lap or arm of selected few "lucky" tourists.

Reclining Buddha at Wat Suwankuha

The final stop of the trip is at a waterfall, where you can wash away all of your worries and ponder the genius Thai marketing and sales skills.