The Thai Diaries: Phang Nga Bay (6/6)

1st February

As has been the pattern every night in Krabi, the morning dawns bright and sunny; any evidence of the violent storm from the evening before erased like a cleaned-up murder scene. The same troop of capuchin monkeys that I saw yesterday are playing and leaping about on the adjacent tin roof, including the mum and ginger baby that simply melt my heart, and huge colourful butterflies flutter gently by.

“Who are you calling ginger?!”

The hotel is surrounded by Krabi’s characteristic limestone cliffs, which make me feel as though I’m on a film set. A badly-made one at that, seeing as they don’t even look real. It’s like the scenery here has been painted onto an MDF background, the rocks made of fibreglass and the wildlife borrowed from a zoo and temporarily released from their cages, only for it all to be gathered back up and put away when the day’s filming is done. I keep waiting for a cigar-smoking director to shout “Cut!” or “That’s a wrap!” in a broad American accent.

idyllic: I try to imprint these images onto my brain, ready to recall on a wet afternoon back in Blighty…

Thankfully, Mum has finally stopped being sick; the storm in her stomach seems to have passed, which is a huge relief. The thought of travelling to Phang Nga on a series of boats and buses with a leaky mother has been playing on my mind all night, and I wake up constantly to check that she’s still sleeping fitfully in her bed – and not praying to the porcelain God as she had been for the preceding twelve hours. Although much better, she’s now as weak and unsteady as a newborn lamb.

After one final wasp-covered breakfast (we won’t miss those little feckers!) we make our way to Railay East pier, ready for the longtail ride to Krabi town. The makeshift pier is a floating snake of interlinking plastic blocks which bob and wobble when you walk on them…even more so when typically selfish tourists make a beeline for the row of longtail boats and try to overtake people on them. Numpties! The whole thing feels like it’s about to capsize, and Mum’s looking decidedly green around the gills as it lists dangerously from side to side. Seeing as this is the mangrove-filled area where we saw the swimming snake, none of us are particularly keen to fall in the drink.

We select one, clambering aboard with all our luggage, and our boat, powered by a car engine chugging out petrol fumes, heads out to sea. Within minutes we’re bouncing about as though we’re on a fairground ride, the little wooden boat hitting every oncoming wave like a belly-flop. We’re all grateful to be back on dry land at the other end, not least De Mama, who wasn’t in the best shape to begin with. What follows is a comedic wild goose chase involving three buses. (We still have absolutely no idea why; the Thai drivers clearly deemed any explanation for the musical minibuses game unnecessary.)

Several hours later, we arrive at Phang Nga bus station. I’d have pretty much forgotten why on Earth I’d booked this leg of the journey altogether, had it not been for the eagle-eyed excursion seller who rushes over to greet us, taking the weight of our bags as he ushers us into his office. It’s quite a clever ruse, I think, catching people at the end of a long journey who’ve lost the will to resist…and against our better judgement we agree to take one of his boat trips around Phang Nga Bay and Koh Tapu (aka James Bond island) the following morning.

He arranges a taxi for us, and we jump in the truck to our penultimate resort: Manora Gardens. This place comes highly rated (9.1 on, despite costing only about a tenner a night, so we decide to check it out. Luke booked his trip after us, by which time this place was fully booked, so he continues on in the taxi to his deserted Wolf Creek-style residence down the road, and we drag our weary limbs and heavy belongings over the gravel drive and upto to restaurant area ahead.

Manora Garden
the rubber tree forest setting (the trees have slits made in the bark; cups catch the latex which drips out)
rubber trees

We’re greeted warmly by Gerard, the Belgian proprietor who’s probably in his late fifties and married to a kindly Thai lady. The bungalows are set deep in a forest of tall, skinny rubber trees, which have little plastic cups at their base to catch the milky latex which oozes out from the cuts made in them. The setting reminds me of the little cottage in the wood visited by Hansel and Gretel. We’re shown to our little house, which is basic but welcoming, with books, decorations and homely little touches.

Manora waterfalls, set in the jungle
the junglist massive
deep in the Zippy and Bungle

Gerard offers to drive us to the local waterfalls to explore, so we rescue Luke from his dodgy place up the road and head off to the national park nearby. We spend a few hours hiking, swinging from vines (Luke) and hopping across stepping-stones to traverse the meandering river, before deciding to head back. Gerard had offered to pick us up, but not wanting to take liberties we opt to walk. It’s mid-afternoon and the sun is so intense that we can feel melanomas blistering our skin as soon as we leave the protection of the forest and step out onto the deserted main road.

the trees have leaves the size of my mum

After a while, we’re aware that we’re not alone; a couple of terrifyingly rabid-looking dogs have joined us on the road, howling and baring their fangs as they follow us, inches from our fleshy calves. Gulp! We try not to make eye contact as we resist the urge to break into a sprint, instead walking as quickly and calmly as possible with our hearts banging in our throats. Fortunately they get bored after a while and slow to a stop, as we dash into a nearby farm shop in search of refreshments. The collective mood lifts dramatically when we discover they sell Cornettos. Luke spots some bright pink hens eggs for sale, which we find hilarious…and in turn the owner finds it hilarious that we’re fascinated by them in the first place. (We find out later that these are fermented eggs, coloured pink so that people know the difference between these and the fresh ones. Ohhhhhhh!)

pink chickens?

Our place is in the middle of nowhere, so Luke stays with us for dinner, which costs 150b (£3) each including dessert. We treat ourselves to a couple of bottles of imported white wine (£5 each), drinking it under the veranda as the lightning forks and the nightly storm starts up. A huge bullfrog hops out from his hiding place under the fridge and the whole forest comes to life with the sound of trumpet frogs, wakened by the rains.

grainy AF, but as close as I was prepared to get…

Gerard gives Luke a lift back to his hotel, then it’s time to navigate past the giant spider in the tree outside our room and off to the land of nod.

I don’t fancy walking into that web

I decide to watch the rest of a film on Netflix before bed, the glare of the screen attracting a big moth, which brushes against Mum’s arm in the darkness and sets her off screeching and flapping about like something possessed, which in turn makes the moth hit my face and I join in. The owners probably hear us from their own bungalow on the other side of the complex and laugh themselves to sleep at us couple of townie clowns.

2nd February

We wake at 5am in darkness and get ready for the boat trip. We have only one night in Phang Nga, so we eat an early breakfast, collect Luke in our truck, and head to the pier. You’d think we’d be sick of piers and boats by now, but oh no; we’re scrambling onto yet another longtail for the tour of yet more islands. To be honest, we’re feeling a bit K’O’d by Koh this and Koh that by this point, and as we approach Koh Tapu, or James Bond island as it’s famously known due to The Man With The Golden Gun being filmed here in 1974, we’re ashamed to admit we’re a little underwhelmed. Well, when you’ve seen one giant limestone karst, you’ve seen them all…

Smiling…or grimacing? De Mama puts on a brave face despite still being a tad poorly

The tour operator has blatantly conned us, since the (15yr old) boat skipper refuses to stop at the national park as agreed without another hefty payment. We decline, vowing to take it up with the cheeky operator when we get back to the bus station. The views around Phang Nga Bay are impressive, but it’s obvious that the area is being damaged and exploited by over-tourism: rubbish swirls in the murky water as a steady procession of longtail boats chug back and forth. Our guide points out 1500yr old etchings on the limestone on Kao Kee-un (Drawing Mountain) and navigates us through caves previously used as ancient burial grounds, before stopping at the floating Muslim stilt village Koh Panyi for us to take a look around…

ancient etchings of fish, dolphins, dancing women, mermen, monkeys and mythical spirit guardians
James Bond island
floating village, surrounded by limestone karsts
Koh Panyi floating village
Koh Panyi floating village

The village, which is home to around 1800 people, Muslims descended from two families from Java,   is mostly stall after stall of touristy nick-nacks and row upon row of local pearls, set into jewellery which is just slightly off-key for Western tastes. Suddenly, we clap eyes on the perfect gift: fish-shaped flip flops.

fish flops

Genius! The sellers are clearly miffed that of all their handmade, lovingly-crafted wares, this is the kind of crap we fly halfway around the globe for as a souvenir of Thailand. “Pfft. Farangs!” is I’m sure what he murmurs as we haggle back and forth, before finally agreeing on a price for the FishFlops (250b – a bargain I reckon).

We pass by the floating school, the floating shops and the floating mosque (90% of Thais are Buddhists, but there’s also a proportion of Muslims, particularly in the south) until we come to…the floating football pitch. Yes, there is a floating footy pitch in the middle of the sea. The ball goes over the side regularly and people just jump into the murky depths (no crystal-clear waters here) and retrieve it before carrying on unperturbed.

the floating football pitch in the middle of the Andaman Sea

We get back in the longtail boat and are taken back to the pier, where we pick up our truck and return to the bus station.

travelling in style: the guide slings me and Mum in the back of the truck and roars off

We want to have it out with the sneaky tour operator, but before we have a chance to hunt him down the bus to Phuket pulls in and Mum and I are ushered aboard, bidding a hurried farewell to Luke (who later negotiates a partial refund from him, just as he’s miss-selling his tour to another unsuspecting set of tourists). We’re heading back towards the airport ready for tomorrow’s flight back to the misery that is Blighty in winter, whilst Luke stays for another day before flying to Bangkok for the last leg of his trip.

The local bus is small and cramped, and we have no idea where we’re going or when to get off, which always adds to the fun, I think. I open Google Maps on my phone and watch as the round dot moves reassuringly in the direction we want to go. We realise partway through the journey thanks to a series of hand gestures and speaking s-l-o-w-l-y (the French woman next to me looks at me like I’m an alien when I try to speak to her at my usual rattle-gun pace) that this bus is not going anywhere near the airport, so manage to get the driver to stop and tip us out at the side of the road.

local tuk-tuk drivers try to work out how to get to our next hotel

A couple of elderly Thai gents with whiskery ‘taches are sitting astride their tuk-tuks, and they hurry forward, desperate to win the business. One obviously wins the toss this time, and sets about piling the detritus of our lives onto his vehicle. He has no idea where we’re going as although I have the full address it’s written in English and therefore completely useless to him.

Eventually we locate the hotel, Airport Suites Club 96. Mum’s feeling as rough as a cat’s tongue as she’s not fully recovered from her bout of food poisoning and collapses in a heap on the bed. The air freshener in the loo is appropriately named ARS…


I had planned to check out the nearby Nai Yang beach, but decide to close my eyes for a while and before I know it I too am unconscious.

We wake several hours later and walk the few steps from our room to the restaurant. I order spaghetti bolognese (even I tire of Thai food eventually) and Mum can only manage a slice of dry toast. There’s no way she wants to risk being ill on the 13hr flight home tomorrow morning…

dinner is served

3rd February

The alarm goes off at 5am and we shower and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the long flight home, cramming the tacky souvenirs and a fortnight’s dirty washing into our (now-overweight) luggage. The owner of the hotel gives us a lift to the airport just a few minutes away, and we spend our remaining few hundred baht on Burger King (it’s the law, right?) and unusual Asian cosmetics that we won’t find back home. Before we know it, the captain’s dulcet tones come over the tannoy, and it’s time to return to reality once more. Mum’s belly behaves, and this time there’s no sign of Warthog the footsie-fancier as we drift off to sleep, perchance to dream, about our travels…


Sam x

Sam’s other blogs:

If You Booze, You Lose
Costa Rica Chica 

Life: A Bird’s Eye View

No Emotional Thais: Sam Goes Solo
Mummy Mission
World Wide Walsh: Around the World in 180 Days
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