Designated a marine national park in 1981, Ao Phang-nga covers a coastal and offshore area. Mangrove forests are found along the shoreline. However, the most striking feature is the bay, which is dotted with more than 100 islands, weirdly shaped limestone outcrops swathed in tangles of creepers, shrubs, and mostly uninhabited. Some rise sheer from the water, others are humped or jagged and all present a haunting aspect. Many have notable features, such as Khao Khian, where prehistoric rock paintings can be seen on the cliffs; Ko Panyi where there is a Muslim fishing village built on stilts; Ko Phanak with beautiful caves, and “James Bond Island” which is famous for the
location of the movie “ The Man with the Golden Gun.” Several tour companies operate organised excursions to these islands, departing either from the Customs Pier (Tha Dan) on the Phang-nga mainland, or from Phuket.
Like Ao Phang-nga, Mu Ko Similan are also preserved as a national marine park, extending over an area of 32,000 acres. Set in the Andaman Sea about a 3-hour boat ride from the mainland, the nine islands of the archipelago are quite distinct from those of Phang-nga. The islands are of granite, not limestone which makes them a rare beauty. The formations are also uniquely different. Together with hiking trails and other onshore attractions, however, Similan’s reputation is its 30 excellent and dissimilar diving sites. Coral walls, huge sea fans and barrel sponges, rock reefs, swim-throughs and other underwater features offer a wide variety of opportunities for experiencing, while plenty of shallows afford excellent conditions for snorkelling.
This National Marine Park, comprising five islands and covering more than 33,000 acres, is located north of the Similans. The islands are best reached from the Khura Buri Pier (125 km. north of Phang-nga town), and takes 4 hours. Again the main attractions are scuba-diving and snorkelling, as the coral formations are spectacular. However, the two largest islands, Ko Surin Nuea and Ko Surin Tai (North and South islands, respectively) have good potential for exploring on land, with several hiking trails and, on Ko Surin Tai, a Sea Gypsy village.
Phi Phi Islands
This island group is one of the loveliest to be found anywhere, and makes a fine day-trip destination out of Phuket. The beauty of the two Phi Phi Islands has made them world famous. But fame and easy access has its price: hundreds of visitors land on Phi Phi's shores every day, crowding this tiny island oasis. The upside of this is that the bulk of these visitors come at 10 a.m. and leave by 3 p.m. Staying the evening at one of the island's many bungalows is recommended, if you want to enjoy the tranquillity of the island in the early morning and evening.
Snorkelling around the archipelago's coral reefs or climbing to one of the many karst limestone lookouts is an unforgettable experience. Sheer cliffs stained with earth colours soar from calm, clear seas. Phi Phi Don, the larger island, has idyllic tropical beaches lining its southern and eastern shores. Phi Phi Le, to the south, is host to scores of daytrippers snorkelling and visiting the Viking Cave during the day, but offers no accommodation.
James Bond Island
This famous landmark first found its way onto the international map through its starring role in the James Bond movie "The Man With the Golden Gun". And this is where they seem to take all of the tourists - all at one time. The entire area surrounding this island with its signature rocky pinnacle is indeed spectacular, but most of the tours bus visitors up the main highway for an hour on the same well-worn itinerary. An integral part of that tour is lunch at Koh Pannyi.
This is an offshore isle about 3 km. from Hat Rawai and can be reached in 30 minutes by boat. There are sandy beaches and a captivating underwater scenery, as well as a replica of the Holy Footprint on the island.
Ko Racha Yai
The gleaming beaches can be reached by chartered boat from Ao Chalong. It takes about 2-3 hours for the boat trip during the off-monsoon season (December-April). At Ko Racha Yai, there is the most perfected and versatile of corals for visitors to see. Sightseeing services are available from tour operators in town. Accommodation is available.
Ko Si Re
The small island separated from the mainland only by the Tha Chin Canal, is located 4 km. northeast of the town. There is a sea gypsy village considered the largest in Phuket.