Ko Phanak to Ko Panyi
Phang Nga bay offers incredible scenery and calm waters all year round and although the waters are not clear enough to allow snorkelling they are great for swimming. The main attraction of the bay are the tall limestone islands which have been carved out over the millennia leaving impressive overhangs, tunnels and inland lagoons known locally as hongs. Many of these can be entered with a dinghy but a kayak is the best way to explore them all.
As you head north along the east coast of Phuket the first major island you reach is Ko Phanak which lies in a north – south direction and is two miles long by half a mile wide. There are four great hongs tucked away within the northern end of this island, two on the east side and two on the west. The first hong on the west side is accessed via a long and very dark tunnel which starts in the middle of the main bay. It is home to a colony of small bats giving it an interesting aroma on the paddle through the cave as outboard engines should not be used so as not to disturb the bats.
Entry to the cave is best done on tides between 1.5 and 2.5 metres. When the tide is low your dinghy or kayak will likely run aground and if the water is higher than 2.5 metres it is not possible to access the hong as the roof of the tunnel is too low as you reach the hong so be very careful if entering the hong on a rising tide. About one third of a mile north is the second hong which can be accessed by two separate short tunnels, one flooded tunnel by dinghy and one dry one on foot. The lower tunnel also fills up at high tide when you will need to walk through the upper one.
On the east side of the island drop anchor in the northern bay with a small beach ashore. Take your dinghy to the beach at low tide and you can walk into a long tunnel that leads to a small hong. A little way to the south of this you will find a cleft in the rock which can be accessed by kayak only. The tunnel opens up into a spectacular chamber and then into the hong, possibly the prettiest one in the whole bay.
Moving north you come to the island of Ko Hong. As you would imagine there is a very large hong in the centre of the island with a tunnel leading to two smaller hongs. Again this tunnel can only be accessed by kayak. There is a passage beneath a large overhang on the south side of the island that you can use to enter and leave the hong by dinghy.
North of this island a channel leads west of Ko Yang and then southeast passing Ko Phing Kan which envelopes the 20 metre tall pinnacle of Ko Tapu which was made famous by the 1974 James Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”. This island is a major draw for tourists and is busy all day, as is the nearby stilted fishing village of Ko Panyi. There are lots of restaurants here but they are extremely busy during lunchtime and aimed at the mass tourism market.