Island Hopping in Phuket: James Bond Island and Khai Island Day Tour
Made popular by the 1974 James Bond movie, 'The Man With The Golden Gun', James Bond Island, also called Khao Ping Kan by the Thais, is one of the must-visit places in Phang Nga Bay. Even though many have not watch the movie that was eons ago, they still make their way to the island to visit the marvellous limestone cliffs and how the rocks seem to lean onto one another.
The popularity of this island exploded after the movie and the remote and supposedly idyllic island now requires a speedboat or long tail boat to get to. With so many tourists wanting to head to view the island, there are a plethora of day tours that you can join to get there.
Like our trip to Raya Island, we also joined an island-hopping day trip to James Bond Island, including Khai Island for some snorkelling, Hong Island for canoeing, and visiting Koh Pan Yi floating village for lunch. There are many tour agencies that would do similar routes and many that are cheaper, but Sea Star Andaman was by far the best that we've been to. Service was great, the guide spoke relatively great English and the various snacks and drinks served were amazing!
Where to purchase Island Hopping Day Trips from Phuket?
Purchasing Day Trip tours are much cheaper if you purchase them online (at least a day before) before heading to Phuket. If, like us, you do not have sufficient time to purchase your day trips online, head to any of the tour agencies in the city and you MUST HAGGLE! You'll get more haggling rights if you purchase more than one tour with the agency. Even so, you're going to be paying about 30% more expensive than if you purchase online! So, planning is definitely necessary if you would like to save some money!
What to wear and what to bring on Island Hopping Day Trips?
Dress light and bring along an additional set of clothes if you do not want to be in wet clothes at the end of the day. A towel is optional because you'll naturally dry in the sun and on the speedboat.
More importantly, the sun is really hot and for those who are not used to the Thai sun, you'll get burnt if you do not put ample sunblock! Shades and caps are recommended too!
Finally, bring along some cash with you so that you can purchase souvenirs or some smaller change for tipping at the end of the trip.
One of the perks of joining day tours in Phuket is that you'll be very well-taken care of from the very beginning! At about 8am (depending on where you're staying) the minivans will be coming to pick you up from your hotel. It would go around to a couple more hotels in the surrounding area to pick up other guests until the van is full. Thereafter, the vans will drive all the way to The Royal Phuket Marina.
Unlike our tour previously, the harbour here is like a private club. The surrounding was modern and clean. When you are there, follow the staff and register your names for the insurance and grab your wristbands!
If you have yet to fill your bellies with food, not to worry, Sea Star provides a range of fruits, biscuits, cookies, and local sweet pastries. We were thoroughly impressed by the wide variety! Coffee, Tea, Juices, and Water are also available.
You'll get to enjoy these all the way till the last guest arrives where the staff will start the briefing before you board the boat. Every day, Sea Star sets out for various tours; the Phi Phi Island and James Bond Island Tour being the most popular.
Briefing is necessary prior to boarding the boat. The guide would introduce themselves and inform us of the itinerary should there be any changes. For instance, during our day trip, the itinerary was swapped such that we will visit Khai Island first (due to the tides) before heading to James Bond Island.
The day trip also ends at different timings each day due to the timing where the waters will recede. The guide would inform you and also to ensure that everyone is in the pink of health, plus gather information as to your dietary requirements.
Once all that's done, you'll have a few more minutes to change into your swimwear and to use the washroom. There is one toilet on the boat but it is a tiny one just in case you have urgent needs!
Photo-taking and Boarding
Before we board, Sea Star Andaman would also take photographs of all the guests for the administration of the insurance and also as a souvenir at the end of the trip. Then, off we go on board the boat!
Koh Khai Island is surrounded by little fishes. The waters are so clear that you don't even need to "snorkel" and go underwater to see them. When we were there, we didn't snorkel as the waves were quite huge and the water was murky with the sand when we went underwater. The fishes swam freely close to the shore and it was enough to stand amidst them to watch them.
Because the waters were so beautiful and inviting, after placing our items down at the pavilion and stripping down to our swimwear, we ran for the beach! We thought we would enjoy all that we could before going back up, snap a few photos for the gram! Sadly, that didn't happen... Perhaps because we arrive at the island in the early morning, the sun was shining but not too overly hot so it was extremely relaxing to swim in the clear waters or just float in it with our life jackets.
When you are here, be careful of dangerous aquatic life such as jellyfishes. Our guide warned us about them and told us to run over if we do get a sting. They do have some basic kit to help reduce the sting.
For those who don't like swimming in the sea, you can rent one of the colourful parasols and chairs on the beach to relax or simply just sit on the sand! There are also a few stores selling local handicraft and some snacks at the island. For us, Sea Star Andaman started to "set up" their buffet counter with a variety of snacks, fruits, and drinks once they arrive at their station and it was a perfect treat after swimming in the waters!
Canoeing at Hong Island
Thereafter, we set off to Hong Island for our canoeing portion of the tour! Those who do not know how to canoe, no worries! You'll be well taken care of by the canoeist! Each little canoe sits two to three (for smaller guests) and you do not have to canoe it yourselves. Just enjoy the view of the mangrove, the cooling breeze, James Bond Rock from the canoe, and view the Stalacites.
The entire slow canoe was extremely relaxing. If its far too hot for you, your canoeist may even persuade you to jump into the lagoon and swim instead! It was a lot of fun marvelling at nature's wonders and works.
We even canoe into little caves like these in the picture where you literally have to lie down to pass through! The canoeist would stop paddling for a while, lie down and let the current float you through. An interesting experience indeed!
At the end of the ride, you can choose to tip the canoeist if you had a great time. Otherwise, don't worry, the tour company have already paid for their services.
James Bond Island
After canoeing around the James Bond Rock, we were eager to see it, and also the island! The James Bond Island itself is essentially a commercialised island. There are several little stalls selling souvenirs and trinkets and a little store selling basic bottled drinks.
Most people who are here are just here to talk photographs with the James Bond Rock. So essentially, there wasn't that much to do.
Depending on where your speed boat stops, you may have to climb up and down to get from one side to another. We arrived at the island at the beach where James Bond filming was at. Then, we had to climb over to the other side to actually see the rock.
The most magnificent one was walking through the little "caves" and how the Thai island got its Thai name of Khao Ping Kan. The movement of tectonic plates causing the rocks to slide down and it looks like it is just leaning on each other.
Sad to say, there will be no luxurious houses and opulent doors at James Bond Island, like in the movie. Aside from that, it really looked exactly like the set from the movie!
Lunch at Koh PanYi (Koh Panyee)
Finally, it was time for a late lunch! The guide had to push everything before lunch due to the weather conditions. When the tide gets too high, we aren't able to head into the Mangrove.
With famished stomachs after a full day of activity, we headed over to Koh Pan Yi, a Muslim Floating Village. For Muslim Travellers, don't worry about your food as it will be prepared by Muslim cooks. The food wasn't the most fantastic but the spread of chicken, Tom Yum Soup, some fried seafood, and vegetables were sufficient.
It was served buffet style so you can take whatever and however much you wanted. The food here is a little to the sweeter side that we actually love, but those who prefer savoury food may not find it to their liking.
It doesn't matter as you can continue to feast on the snacks onboard the boat, or purchase some tidbits at the store behind the restaurant. Thereafter, you'll have some time to explore the island.
I actually visited Koh PanYi during my previous Phuket trip some 7 years ago, but didn't know that there was so much more to it than the floating restaurant.
Koh Panyi is a small island where its villagers live on stilts built up surrounding the shallow sea. All of the people living here are descendants (directly or indirectly) of Toh Baboo and his friends and family. Initially it was a fishing village, but now, about 50% of the locals worked in the tourism industry, catering food to the many day trippers who visit the surrounding islands. If you walk around the island, there are stores set up just outside the locals' houses to sell little trinkets and souvenirs. The remaining 40% of the locals are still fisherman and their catch are often served in the many restaurants on Koh Panyi, facing the sea.
Some of the interesting sites of Koh PanYi include the floating soccer field, whereby boys on the island wanted to play football, but they were on an island and had no space for it. History has it that they decided to piece scrap wood little by little until they had this field. With their immense passion and dedication, they practise their skills on this little field which was the start of Panyee FC. Today, it is one of the best Southern Thailand's football club.
If you're wondering, no, they don't quite use this soccer field anymore as they have since built a proper one in their school.
We also had the chance to walk into the school to look at the everyday life of the children in Panyee. They were practising dancing, relaxing in the library, and some were having lessons which we didn't dare disturb.
The other site to marvel at is the Koh Panyee mosque. Located right in the centre of the island, the edifice is a site to behold. The golden roofs are a stark contrast to what we see of the village life.
Simple as it be, the latest development on this island is the construction of water bungalows that grant visitors overnight accommodation.
Dressing on Koh Panyee
Since this is a Muslim village, travellers who visit Koh Panyee cannot be scantily clad. Instead, after your day out on the islands, you should cover up your swimsuits with your pants and dresses as a form of respect for the villagers. Otherwise, stay in the restaurant to avoid curious stares.
After your lunch and mini-tour of Panyee island, we'll board the boat. On the boat, you'll also be served wet wipes and chilled fruits as dessert. Excellent service indeed! Oh, because the tour company aren't able to bring their drinks to the restaurant during lunch, you'll only have plain water. Back on the boat, you'll once again get an unlimited supply of iced pepsi!
The penultimate stop was at Monkey Island. We weren't able to get off the boat for this portion of the tour but the boat will float close enough such that you can see the monkeys scrambling on the beach and climbing on the rocks.
Finally, right before heading back to The Royal Phuket Marina, the speedboat would head through the Mangroves. As the tide is receding, our guide told us that we'll have to miss one of the attractions on the itinerary to view Ancient Paintings in the caves. It was no loss as we were already extremely drained after the day's activities and being under the hot sun!
This last portion was super fun as the speedboat swirled right and left, through the mangroves, as though it was a rollercoaster!
We arrived back at the Marina after an exhilarating ride and were ushered to our respective minivans for the ride home.
The price of the day trip tour does not include tipping and you definitely should tip if you have enjoyed yourselves. Each boat consists of a driver, a guide, two boatmen, one photographer, and sometimes they even have a Chinese translator and intern. With 7 people at your service, you'll certainly be well-taken care of.
As a guide, coins are considered a no-no for tips as these are meant or beggars. Tips usually come in multiples of 100 thai baht. The tips at the end of the trip are meant to be shared by the entire crew on board so it is up to you how much you want to give. Again, tip only if you felt that they deserve it. Even if you don't tip, no hard feelings!
Back to the Hotel
At the end of the tour, you'll be ushered to your respective minivans and if you're unsure of the number of your van, check with any of the staff. They will shuttle you all the way back to your resort (or any other alternative location you want to head to).
Overall, the entire day trip is an excellent one. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the various islands and the service of Sea Star Andaman was impeccable.
Once again, if you would like to go for day tours like these, book online for cheaper rates. As a guide, you'll pay about 1600 Thai Baht per person if you book online and close to 2500 Thai Baht if you purchase it at any travel agencies in Phuket itself. The savings are real so do yourself a favour.
Since we decided to head to Phuket on a whim, we didn't have time to book it online and had to purchase it from the local travel agency. We bargained really hard and also purchased another half-day tour from them, only to drive down the price to 2000 Thai Baht per person.
Where to stay in Phuket? Pimnara Boutique Hotel
During our trip to Phuket, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Pimnara Boutique Hotel at Jungceylon Shopping Mall. Even though we didn't have amazing pools to relax in, the location in the heart of the liveliest Patong Beach and right beside Bangla Street for night life was the perfect place for us!
Read more about our stay at Hotel Review: Pimnara Boutique Hotel in Phuket, Thailand.