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After spending a few days in Bangkok, we grabbed a quick flight to the west coast island of Phuket. We planned to spend a couple days exploring the emerald green waters and limestone islands nearby. Our research led us to book day-trips to Phang Nga Bay and the Phi Phi Islands with Phuket Sail Tours. Unfortunately, high winds prevented us from visiting the Phi Phi Islands, but we did get to see Phang Nga Bay. The day we spent around Phang Nga Bay was absolutely wonderful, despite my major mishap (more on that later). Phuket Sail Tours did a great job showcasing the natural beauty of the area.
When we initially booked a few days in Phuket, some people told me that staying there was a mistake. The main beach areas in Phuket have garnered a bad reputation as “backpacker party spots.” We definitely didn’t plan to jump into that scene, so we booked four nights at the Hilton Phuket Resort (review coming soon). While outside the resort, we wanted to spend our time touring the surrounding islands. Thankfully, we found Phuket Sail Tours!
Founded by a native Australian, who calls himself Captain Mark, Phuket Sail Tours offers a variety of experiences to check out nearby areas. Tour options include the Phi Phi Islands, Krabi Islands, and Phang Nga Bay. As I mentioned above, we booked tours to the Phi Phi Islands and Phang Nga Bay, but weather forced a cancellation. Fortunately, the Phang Nga Bay Tour gave an excellent look at the beautiful island landscapes.
Phang Nga Bay Tour Day
Our day started with a 6:30am pick up at our resort. The driver arrived exactly on time to collect us for the ride across the island. We picked up a few more guests before we arrived at the tour office. We arrived to find some breakfast items, fruit, coffee, and juice. While we munched on breakfast, our guide, Korn, gave us a preview of the day’s activities. He started with a brief introduction to the area, described the people who live there, and talked about the wildlife we may see. After the quick chat, we boarded the boat and headed out!
Aboard the speedboat, we zoomed out of the marina toward Phanak Island, our first stop of the day. Arriving at Phanak Island, we hopped into the shallow water and walked along the sandy beach. Korn guided us toward the mouth of a dark cave. Here, he turned on a head lamp and took us into the darkness. Our group followed along, wading through pools of water and ducking under low ceilings, until we saw daylight in the distance. We emerged on the other side of the long cave into a beautiful mangrove hong. (“Hong” is the Thai word for “room,” and these hong islands form central lagoons completely surrounded by cliffs.)
The scene inside the central hong on Phanak Island is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Exposed tree roots rise 10-15 feet above a sandy central area lined with shallow pools and surrounded by high, jagged rocks. Korn led the group toward a pool along the side and pointed out a few mudskippers. We watched as the land-based fish hopped along the edges of the water. Some days, you may even spot some monkeys hanging out in the hong.
Canoeing in the Mangroves
After walking back through the cave and boarding the boat, we headed to our next stop. When we arrived near the side of a tall rock cliff, the boat stopped to let us climb into canoes. Each canoe held two people and came with its very own “paddle man.” Our paddle man sang songs while he rowed us through caves and along the sides of the limestone islands. At a few points, we had to lay all the way back to slide under a low-hanging cave entrance. I could only sit back and marvel at the wonder of our surroundings as we spent about 30 minutes riding through the islands.
James Bond Island
Onward to the next stop! During the ride, we enjoyed some fresh fruits and drinks provided by the crew. Most tours of the area will stop for a visit to James Bond Island, famous for its feature in the Bond film, “Man with The Golden Gun.” Phuket Sail Tours, however, makes the great decision not to stop at this tourist trap island. Instead, our boat swung around to give us the iconic view of the island. Korn hopped up and took pictures for everyone, while we watch the crowds of people walking around on the island. I was glad not to waste part of our day stuck in a crowd, but we still got a quick picture with the landmark.
Lunch at Kho Panyi Village
Kho Panyi Village is a tiny fishing village, built entirely on stilts over the water. This village became famous when a group of boys built a floating soccer field to practice. They then went on to compete in larger soccer tournaments in Thailand. This YouTube video tells their awesome story.
We docked our boat at the village for lunch. After a winding stroll through the over-water pathways of the village, we arrived at a large restaurant. Here, we ate family style with our wonderful traveling companions! Dishes included Massaman curry, Tom Kha Gai (chicken and coconut soup), stir fried vegetables in oyster sauce, curried crab, battered prawns, battered chicken, chicken and cashew nuts, and of course steamed rice. Korn even bought a durian (king of the fruits) from a local merchant for us to try. The durian was awful, but the rest of the lunch was fantastic!
With our bellies full, we departed the village for another beautiful remote island to spend some time lounging in the sun. Little did I know that disaster was about to strike…
Disaster #1 – Goodbye GoPro
With the battery dwindling on our brand-new GoPro Session 5, I plugged it into the external battery pack for a quick charge. When we arrived at the island, I unplugged the camera and hopped into the water for some video beneath the green water. Unfortunately, I forgot to close the charging door, and water flooded into the battery compartment.
ZAP… GoPro = Fried; Memory Card = “Error”
Disaster #2 – Drone Down
Since I couldn’t get any underwater video, I figured I would send the Mavic Pro drone up for some sweet areal shots. I had been sharing the memory card between the GoPro and the Mavic. With that memory card waterlogged, I pulled the card from our main camera and put it into the drone.
I launched the Mavic from the front of the boat and flew it up high overhead. I snapped some pictures of everyone in the water, with the boat and the island. Then, I went for a “hero shot,” where I focus on a nearby island and fly backward and upward. As I flew backwards, I watched the viewfinder to capture the video, and I didn’t see the drone flying directly at a giant cliff! CRASHHHHHH!! Before I could course correct, the drone struck a tree nearly 100-feet up the rock face. It tangled in the tree’s limbs and was completely stuck! Despite our efforts to sling shot rocks at it, the drone was too high. We had to leave it atop that cliff… :'(
(Almost) Disaster #3 – Money Mayhem
I was completely distraught over losing TWO expensive cameras and all of our pictures (yeah, the drone held the memory card with every picture from the past 4 days!!). In the span of 15 minutes, I had basically ruined the day. I sat down in the speedboat to take stock of what we had left in the backpack. Sunscreen, towel, two iPhones, and about $300 in Thai Baht bills. Just as I finished counting the money, the boat captain pushed the throttle and the boat took off. All of the bills flew out of my hand toward the back of the boat! Fortunately our awesome new friends on board managed to catch every single bill before they blew overboard. Whew…
Sand Bar in Krabi
With my head still spinning, we arrived at the final stop of the day. We hopped out of the boat to find ourselves at a wide-open, remote sandbar island. We could walk out along the sand, until we appeared to be standing on nothing in the water. Everyone strolled around, took pictures, and lounged on the sand. Brooke and I tried to get a few solid pictures with my iPhone for this article, since all of the other pictures were likely gone forever. Then we sat in the sand and recounted the awesome things we had done that day.
Despite my mishaps, the day we spent with Phuket Sail Tours was incredible! After our final stop, they took us back to the tour office, and then they delivered us back to our resort in time for dinner. We had a full day of exploring islands that we had only dreamed about… and they totally lived up to our dreams! Korn is an incredible tour guide. He speaks perfect English, he has a really upbeat attitude, and he knows a ton about the area! I can’t say enough good things about the whole experience, and I highly recommend booking your tour with Phuket Sail Tours.
Bonus: Drone Update!
You may be wondering how we have so many pictures from the day, since we lost them all in the drone accident. Well, I’m ecstatic to report that our guide, Korn, and boat captain, Meet, returned to the island a couple weeks later and climbed the cliff to retrieve my drone!!! Korn brought the drone back to the tour office, and Captain Mark arranged to ship it back to me. After almost two months in transit via boat, my long-lost Mavic returned home with the memory card intact!! I cannot thank Korn, Meet, Mark, and the crew at Phuket Sail Tours enough for their bravery and selflessness to do that for me. They really are the best! If you do book a tour with them, please tell them the crazy drone guy sent you… they will definitely know who you’re talking about. 🙂