It’s not very 007 of us, sitting in the back of a minibus, white knuckled and trying to stifle a schoolgirl style squeal as we race across southern Phuket.
And race is the correct term here, our driver, picking us up at 7.30am for an 8.45am departure aboard the Phuket Patri charter boat, has the pedal to the metal, blasting past every other vehicle daring enough to share the road with us.
Turning 2 lanes into 3, passing on the inside, flashing though a 30klm school zone at 110, nothing will slow our progress, lights flashing, lane chopping, it’s all part of his excellent service, we figure he knows his job and we must be running late, although why are we howling past every other minibus, also carrying tourists heading up the same road, surely they must be late as well?.
We find ourselves in this unlikely situation after flying out of George Town and heading to the nearest Thai landing site, the southern island Phuket.
Well known as a party island, it’s also large enough to accommodate those of us not fascinated with girly bars, tattoo shops, cheap tailors and plastic souvenirs.
One of the must do attractions is the day trip to the nearby islands.
It may be that no man is an island, but some have been named after them, including the suave spy himself James Bond. The 1970’s classic “The man with the golden gun” featured the island now forever destined to be referred to as James Bond Island.
It’s from here that evil criminal mastermind Christopher Lee (as the three nippled arch-villain Scaramanga) planned to destroy the planet.
Thankfully his plans failed and we now find ourselves cooling our heels dockside on the Ao Po Pier waiting for the rest of the mini buses to arrive with other passengers, not surprising we have quite a wait, our driver having set a new record for the trip.
Today’s tour highlights will take us not only to the James Bond Island, but also a number of other excursions, Panak Island for some cave cruising on canoes, Hong Island for some spectacular scenery of limestone cliffs and finally a stop at national park island hideaway Naka Island for a spot of swimming or lazing on the beach.
We set sail aboard our cruiser and head for the first stop, the famed James Bond Island, our sturdy old boat ploughing along across smooth as glass seas.
Our guide for the day, Johnnie, has bought along his cute as a button daughter for the trip and she soon has the boat eating out of her hand.
Helping passengers choose drinks and posing for shots with others, she’s a real character. And beautifully behaved, sadly the same couldn’t be said for all the passengers, some of whom drink their body weight in whiskey and beer over the course of the 8 hour cruise.
It’s a fairly long way to the first stop and we spend the time admiring the scenes along the way, gliding past dozens of limestone islands, covered with jungle creepers and, considering there’s very little soil, some surprisingly large trees.
Arriving at the James Bond stop we scramble out of the boat and into one of the Thai favorites, the longtailed boat, powered by a roaring V8 engine, it’s starting to get a little bit more 007 now.
None of us quite manage the dashing leap from the longtail and onto the island beach without getting our tuxedo wet, and not spilling our martini, in fact it’s a slow and, lets face it, a little inelegant affair as we stumble out and down to the sand.
Inelegant it may be, but definitely worth it, a small beach leads up a slope between two huge limestone cliffs, strung along the beach between the two cliffs is a surprising number of small souvenir huts, all selling the same half dozen items, none have taken the obvious option to sell James Bond trinkets, no golden gun replicas, no DVD, nothing but shells and pearls. Step beyond the huts, and standing in the center of another small beach, is a scene worth of a James Bond thriller.
We don’t have a very long stay on the island and that’s fine as another group arrive by longtail and join us, making for quite a crowd on the little beach.
The group head back to our boat and after a buffet spread of terrific Thai meals,the next stop, Hong Island, where we get to try our sea legs on-board a little canoe. Luckily we don’t have to paddle our own canoe, we each get assigned our own paddler who takes us out across open waters and through a little hole in the cliff face, through a cave, and out to to a wonderful little lagoon . It’s a magical little place .
After time spent poking around the small beach we then head back out through the cave again and back towards the boat, by now the wind has picked up and the little canoe is making hard work of the trip, splashing waves soak us as we struggle to make any progress, the paddlers, who seem to have appeared out of nowhere, but in fact travel with the boat, are earning their money today.
Onwards we sail, towards the next stop, Panak Island, a similar experience, but with longer and darker caves, cutting deep into the interior of the island before opening out in, again, a small lagoon, this one without any beach, but plenty of low tide mud flats and enormous cliffs surrounding our little party.
The last stop for the day will be Naka Island, designated a national park and home to a little lodge and a couple of cute little white sand beaches, we have an hour of so here and enjoy the time wandering around and watching the paddlers playing a game of some kind on the beach, kicking a palm frond ball between each other, we couldn’t work out any rules or how they score, perhaps they don’t, perhaps it’s just for fun.
Nothing left now but to head back to shore and back to town, it’s been a long and enjoyable day, and best described the Pari tour organizers via their brochure.
“The sea mountains of Phang Nga are so dromatic that they strike we into all who venture here. If you are really nature lover and concentrate to environment. It is completely appreciated. We aim to get you close to nature. In the same time for whom wonder to touch with local people. We give you an opportunity to meet and try to come here”.
Now, we couldn’t say it any better than that.
Unfortunately we had the same min bus driver going back
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org