Today was going to be hot and sticky. You could tell as soon as you stepped outside and felt the heavy moist air, already a little warm at 6:30 AM when the pilot boat pulled alongside.
By 7:40 am the Amsterdam was moored and the ship was cleared soon afterwards. We were in an isolated port area, with the nearest commercial or tourist area several miles away. Due to the restrictions imposed by the local taxi union or association, the ship was unable to hire shuttle busses to take guests into the central business district, requiring everyone to take a taxi. Fortunately the taxis were relatively inexpensive. A friend of ours booked a taxi for the entire day for about $40 and he would take them wherever they wanted and wait while they shopped. It is always a good idea to have the location of where you want to go written down, especially the location of where the ship is, to avoid confusion if the driver doesn’t speak English well. Better yet would be to arrange a driver and car in advance. A friend of ours arranged for a van with driver holding 6 people for $78 all day.
We had arranged a private tour with people we met thru Cruise Critic. There would be a total of 10 people sharing a van and guide to visit James Bond Island, take a tour through some caves in a canoe and then visit a Muslim floating village named Koh Panyee Village. Our cost was $69 pp.
There wasn’t any immigration, security or agriculture inspectors on the wharf. A small fence with a gate marked the security zone between the ship and the port area.
Our driver was waiting outside the gate area and we were on our way by 8am. We had about a 90 minute drive north to Phang Nga Bay and we wanted to get an early start to give us some buffer on our return for traffic or other issues.
The road to Phang Nga was two lanes for the most part, a little wider when going thru some towns. Traffic flowed easily around 50 mph. Along the way were the hodgepodge of typical small shops you see in most southeast Asian countries. Interspersed with some of these smaller shops were large, modern stores similar to Home Depot in the USA or a large supermarket. We passed a small peloton of serious cyclists on high end bicycles pedaling north along the side of the road. I couldn’t tell if they were expats or locals, but they were training and not out on a sightseeing tour. As we left the more populated areas we drove thru agricultural areas with rubber trees lining the road.
Phang Nga Bay is the jumping off point of many tours heading to James Bond Island and other picturesque islands in the area. We learned that about 3000 people a day will leave Phang Nga Bay on various tours. One of the most popular forms of water transportation is a long narrow boat called a “Long Tail”. The principal feature of a “Long Tail” boat is what looks like a 6 cylinder standard automobile engine mounted on a pivot point with a long shaft protruding from the engine drive shaft. At end of the shaft is a propeller which is lowered into the water and is used to propel as well as steer the boat when the engine is pivoted left or right.
Lifejackets were mandatory and they were passed out as we boarded the boat. There were 12 of us, including the boat operator and guide, on a boat that could have easily held 40 people. There were easily two dozen similar boats tied up to the piers waiting for their passengers as we motored out to sea. Once clear we accelerated to about 25 mph and headed out toward James Bond Island. There were a few other boats heading in the same direction, some larger and some smaller. A few operators were using modern power boats with triple 300 hp Mercury’s pushing them through the water.
Twenty minutes later we beached our boat on the sands of Ko Khao Phing Kan Island which is the main island next to the smaller rock formation called James Bond Island. Only the front part of the boat was in the sand, so we all had to step over the seats in front of us until we got to the front of the boat where we could step onto a small ladder in the sand and step down to the beach. There wasn’t anything to do on the island other than take pictures of James Bond Island and shop for souvenirs in some stalls set up in the center of the island. There wasn’t anything for sale here that we didn’t see for sale eventually right on the pier, so while the prices may be different, there wasn’t much variety. Thirty minutes later we were back on our “Long Tail” and headed over to a floating barge near another island with a small cave and Mango trees.
From the floating barge we boarded inflatable canoes in pairs with each canoe powered by a single person with a double bladed paddle. There were probably 50 similar boats in the water, which was quite shallow, only a few feet deep, and we all followed the same route through a natural stone arch under the island. There was a larger boat on the other side of the stone arch that was selling some sort of drink in a large coconut with a straw. We never got close enough to the boat to inquire how much it cost or what was actually in the coconut. We entered a small cove on the other side of the island, the water was now at low tide, maybe 2 feet deep, when we saw a strange amphibian fish called a Mudskipper. They would crawl out of the water and across the muddy bank, pause for a bit, then crawl for a few feet in a different direction before heading back into the water.
When we first entered the canoe, we were sitting with our feet completely in the boat. After a bit, and after being encouraged by our paddler, we took off our shoes and sat sideways with our feet dangling in the water, which was quite warm. The canoe felt more stable this way and we felt more comfortable paddling around. On the way back to the floating barge, our paddler cut a small hole, shaped like a heart, in a leaf and then took our picture thru the opening. It turned out to be a pretty interesting picture.
Once we were back on the barge, we reboarded our “Long Tail” and headed off to the floating village called Koh Panyee which was constructed on series of piers and pilings adjacent to a large limestone rock. One interesting feature of this small village was a soccer field built on some plastic, interlocking floating bricks. It seemed quite small and there wasn’t any way to prevent the ball from going into the water. Our guide explained that when the ball fell into the water, someone jumped in to retrieve it.
Aside from the fact the village homes and business were all built on these piers, there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the place and if it were on land it would be completely unremarkable. There were rows and rows of souvenir shopping stalls selling the same stuff we would see everywhere we stopped in Thailand. The whole village now seems to exist only as a tourist attraction and with over 3000 visitors each day stopping by for lunch, they are doing a pretty good job. There was a large eating area which served a pretty good Thai lunch to all of the tourists and we spent about 30 minutes eating before we were finished and ready to head back to the mainland.
Retracing our steps, we were back on the Long Tail, then back to Phang Nga Bay and finally back in our 14 passenger van for the ride back to Phuket and the ship.
On the way back to the ship we stopped by a Buddhist Temple in a cave. This cave featured a large reclining Buddha and toward the back of the cave there was an area, open to the outside, with a couple dozen monkeys waiting for tourists to bring them bananas. Although there were numerous signs indicating that bananas and monkey feeding was prohibited, not many people were deterred.
Traffic was light on the way back and we arrived in the port around 4:15 with a 5:30 all aboard. We spent the next hour shopping at the various vendors next to the ship picking up a few souvenirs and finally converted our last few Bhat into soft drinks to take back on the ship.
Today is St Patrick’s day and the dining rooms and bars were appropriately decorated. Dinner featured some traditional Irish dishes: Irish Stew, Baked Cod with an Irish Cheese Crust and Corned Brisket of Beef were some of the featured Irish dishes. I had the Corned Brisket of Beef and it was very good. Others at our table raved about the Irish stew. The waiters were are wearing green vests and everyone at our table was appropriately dressed. We also discovered that there was a pot of gold under the rainbow at the entrance to the MDR.
Most of the people at our table bought tickets to the St Paddy’s day pub crawl which started at 9pm in the Ocean Bar. We didn’t linger over our dinner so we were done by 9pm and headed over to the Ocean Bar to join our fellow Pub Crawlers. Seventy Five people participated in the Pub Crawl. The energy was high and everyone got into the spirit. Gene said later that this was a big increase over last year’s Pub Crawl when only 2 people participated. Once all the crawlers assembled in the Ocean Bar, they passed out the special drink for this bar, and then challenged the crowd to perform a bar trick – for example, move a hardboiled egg from one shot glass to another without touching the egg. HERE is a copy of the special drinks.
After the Ocean Bar we moved to the Sports Bar/Piano Bar where we crashed Debby Bacon’s Irish song special and sing along. We all had a chance to win $100 Grand Dollars by flipping a “gold” coin into an upturned Irish cap a few feet away. One person in our group was successful. The Lido Bar was next but the special drink they made for this bar was not very good. It was a Vodka & Whiskey concoction with a lemon twist that was almost undrinkable. Fortunately they had set up a beer drinking contest where the men were pitted against the women to see who could drink a series of beers the fastest so everyone had a chance to cleanse their palate of this strange vodka drink. It was still a little warm at the Lido bar so we didn’t linger long before we moved on to the Crow’s nest for our final drink.
The St Paddy’s Day Party was in full swing when we arrived and the crawlers were encouraged to crawl into the Crow’s Nest although most people did a modified limbo dance under a low banner people were holding over the entrance. We received our final drink here, no bar tricks this time, and then we all flooded onto the dance floor. Everyone was having a wonderful time enjoying the festive atmosphere, special appetizers, good drinks and good company. We weren’t aware that there was going to be a “best dressed” contest, but there was and Gene liked my outfit and handed me a bottle of Champagne declaring me the winner!
It was now 10:30 and the show in the Queens Lounge was almost over. Judy left the crawl earlier so she could see the complete show. Joe West was the featured entertainer, playing a variety of instruments, tapped danced and sang songs. A one man variety show with a lot of talent and he put on a very entertaining show.
After the show we went back up to the Crow’s nest to continue enjoying the festive atmosphere. These parties can be a lot of fun when everyone gets into the spirit and fortunately we had a great cadre of people who all joined in and had a wonderful time.
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