Phuket has dozens of tours to choose from and so much to see and do. It takes a lot of planning to find a good mix of culture, natural beauty and adventure. One of our favorite tours during our stay in Phuket was with June Bahtra Cruises on The Spirit of Phang Nga Bay tour. Phang Nga Bay is part of Thailand’s national marine park. We marveled at the amazing limestone cliffs and aquatic mangroves, walked along James Bond Island, toured a gypsy village built on stilts and watched the Phi Phi Islands pass us by from the deck of the beautifully-appointed June Bahtra.
We were picked up at our hotel, Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort, in an air-conditioned minivan and transferred to Yacht Haven Marina. The registration process was simple and we were able to sit in a covered area while we waited to board the ship. Within five minutes, we were on our way. Everything was paid for beforehand and their were no hidden costs like park fees or transfer fees.
With a capacity of less than 30 guests per cruise, our full day tour offered a relaxing way to admire the spectacular scenery and visit popular tourist attractions in Phang Nga Bay with enough time to enjoy swimming in the ocean. We each had a comfortable, cushioned seat and the staff provided towels for guests. Unlike many of our other tours in Phuket, we didn’t feel crammed into a tiny space while been herded to one tourist-packed location after another. We chose to sit under the covered section of the ship but many other guests relaxed in the sun on deck. When we arrived near the islands, we moved to the front of the ship for photos. There was tons of space to move around and get a photo or a clear view without other guests in the way.
We sailed passed remote, untouched beaches before arriving at our first stop – James Bond Island. When we neared the island, a long-tail boat took us ashore. We walked along the cliffs for stunning photos and vistas before arriving on the other side of the island. We took a photo at Koh Tapu, the tall vertical rock island that stands out in the middle of the bay and is featured heavily in James Bond’s The Man with the Golden Gun, and slowly walked by the over-priced shops looking at trinkets. Shops aren’t really for us but we did love the views from the cliff and the short hike around the island.
After 30 minutes on the island, we were back on the long-tail boat for a trip through the mangroves. It still amazes me how trees can survive in the water like that. It’s a beautiful sight to see with your own eyes. If you don’t tilt your head skyward, you are surrounded by a sea of green.
We were standing on the pier at Koh Pan Yee, a Thai Muslim fishing village suspended over the sea on concrete stilts, about ten minutes later. The bright houses seemed so bizarre in the middle of the sea. Our guide led us through a narrow maze of shops, a mosque, houses and a school. It was during call to prayer so the sounds of prayer filled the narrow streets. Athena peered into the classrooms as we walked along the school building and she asked many questions about why they were laying on the floor, what type of clothes they were wearing and what they learned at school. I didn’t have all the answers but it was a look into their lives and their culture. Two young girls, about three or four years older than Athena, waived at us as we walked by the classroom. Shyly, Athena put up her hand to wave and she smiled. When we arrived back at the boat, she said she wished she could have talked to the girls. We both would have loved to spend more time immersed in their environment. Sadly, it was a short trip.
It was about 20 minutes on the long-tail boat until we arrived back at the ship. The day was exceptionally warm and we were grateful for the breeze on board June Bahtra again. The lunch was self-serve with choices like rice, chicken, fish, salad, pasta, watermelon and pineapple. Staff members circulated around the ship to make sure everyone had everything they needed, including endless water and soft drinks as well as tea and coffee. (Beer and wine were available for purchase.) They were friendly and personable and, like most other locals, they loved Athena. She received special treated on every tour we experienced.
Our last stop was near a beach for swimming. We jumped from the ship and splashed in the water before rain clouds rushed over the ship. Our swimming was cut short by heavy rain and we tried to race it back to the shore. The rain did arrive before we made it back, but we watched it comfortably from behind plastic covers on the ship. The staff were quick to react to the rain and no one was wet.
The cruise was smooth sailing, literally, the entire trip. From the amazing service and quality to the sights and stops, we loved the full day tour on June Bahtra Cruises. It was a good introduction the the beauty and culture of Phuket. It was just a taste, though, and we want to experience more. I think another extended trip to Thailand is in order in 2016. We are hooked.