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This iconic set of islands used to be nothing more than a spot on the map in Ao Phang Nga National Park. But in 1974, when James Bond chose Khao Phing Kan as a hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun, this rarely visited limestone island became a popular destination frequented by travelers on Longtail Boat tours.
Along with the island's new fame came hoards of tourists and potential destruction of the island's natural beauty. So since 1998, it has been forbidden for boats to approach Ko Tapu, the 66 foot (20 m) limestone rock that lies just off the shore, in order to stop the erosion of the limestone and eventual collapse. Travelers love the lush vegetation, rocky cliffs and dark caves that make this pair of islands easy to spot. Most trips offer the opportunity to swim and explore the surrounding waters and hungry visitors can make the most of their excursion by eating lunch at the nearby floating Muslim village.
The southern Thailand province of Krabi is surrounded by surreal rocky islands that poke out of the surrounding turquoise Andaman Sea, including the beautiful group known as the Hong Islands.
A popular day-trip destination from Ao Nang, the Hong Islands are fringed with rainforest and white-sand beaches, with rocky viewpoints and hidden lagoons.
Offshore dives reveals a spectacular underwater world of coral reefs, and if you’re sea-kayaking you can access lovely sea caves.
Koh Phi Phi is a group of islands, but most of them are just limestone spires. The only ones of any size are Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Ley. When you come to visit these heavenly islands, you'll be coming into the port on Koh Phi Phi Don.
After the infrastructure here was largely swept away by the 2004 tsunami, it was hoped that rebuilding could take place with more care for the environment and a swing upmarket. But the rush to get the tourist business back on track meant that the island - with all its rash of tourist businesses - remains much the same. Koh Phi Phi Ley has its share of over-touristing too - Maya Beach is where the film The Beach was shot, and it's regularly crowded and littered. Koh Phi Phi Ley is also famous for its bird's nests, which are used in soups.
Despite the islands' commercialization, they remain stunning little patches of paradise - all silken warm waters, limestone pillars and luminous underwater scenery.
Phang Nga Bay is a classic Southeast Asian bay - bright jade water, limestone pinnacles and all. A large part of it has been protected as a national park.
Notable islands in Phang Nga Bay include the so-called James Bond Island (it's featured in The Man with the Golden Gun) and Koh Panyee, where you can visit a fishing community built out on stilts across the water. Bear in mind that this community is a Muslim one, so dress modestly.
You can take tours that will drop you at various beaches to swim and snorkel and take you to James Bond Island and Koh Panyee; you can also canoe.
The limestone island of Koh Panyi is home to a floating Muslim fishing village, built on stilts over the water. The village has a mosque and a school, and is home to around 100 families who make their living from fishing.
Seafood restaurants are a big hit here, and market stalls sell souvenirs, T-shirts and postcards.
An overnight stay in a traditional home with a local family, in a room hovering over the water, is a unique Thailand experience.
More than 40 islands dot the green-blue waters of Ao Phang Nga National Park near Phuket. Their distinct limestone cliffs, unique sea life and close proximity to one another have made this natural escape one of the most popular Longtail boat trips in all of Thailand.
Ko Kan—also known as James Bond Island—Ko Phanak and Ko Hong are some of the regular stops on these memorable excursions. Travelers can coast over the mostly calm waters and see the spot where James Bond his out in The Man with the Golden Gun, or explore the caves of Lod Yai and Lod Lek. In addition to dozens of distinct and beautiful islands, travelers will pass through mangrove forests, where it’s easy to spot kingfishers, blue winged leafbirds and some of Thailand’s other unique wildlife.
There are 29 Buddhist temples on the island of Phuket, but Wat Chalong is the most elaborate and important. It is dedicated to two abbots who used their medical skills and authority to assist during the Tin Miner's Rebellion of the 19th century.
The building is large and impressive, but the main interest of the temple for visitors is its history. There are numerous stories that have grown up about its abbots and their magical qualities. Statues of the abbots inside the monastery are covered in gold leaf. Thai tourists visit here in great numbers, often to make decisions or receive lucky numbers. You can do as they do, but be sure to make a donation, and dress modestly.
Patong Beach may not offer travelers a true taste of Southeast Asia, but the kinetic energy of this popular destination has made it a favorite among westerners looking to party. Like the rest of Phuket, Patong is home to white sandy beaches, clear blue water and plenty of sun, making it an ideal spot to catch some rays. But bustling neon streets lined with crowded open-air discos and dozens of bars serving strong island drinks have made this a destination for the younger set looking to party long into the night.
When people talk of Racha Island, they’re usually referring to Racha Yai, which sits, along with the smaller and uninhabited Racha Noi, around 25 kilometers off the coast of Phuket. Both islands are blessed with white sandy beaches lapped by crystal clear waters, making them popular with divers and snorkelers on day trips. However, Racha Yai is becoming an increasingly popular place to stay a while, offering a variety of accommodation options to choose from.
Racha Island’s main beach, Ao Tawan Tok (also known as Ao Bungalow), is a U-shaped bay consisting of white powdery sand and perfectly turquoise water, not unlike nearby Siam Bay, although the latter is home to a longer and much more peaceful strip of beach. Kon Kare Bay and Ter Bay on the other side of the island offer similarly tantalizing beaches, plus ample opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and fishing trips.
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Some travelers lament Splash Jungle Water Park’s lack of greenery and tropical gardens, suggesting that “Concrete Jungle” might be a more accurate description. Still, jaw dropping rides like Boomerango and the Suberbowl, plus a six-level wave pool attract hundreds of visitors to this coastal Phuket destination every week.
Themed rides give a nod to the ancient Mayans, lush landscapes of Turkey, old-world architecture of Northern Europe and the culture and colors of Africa. This continental vibe means it’s more than just the rides that prove thrilling. Splash Jungle Water Park has something for the less adventurous set too, with quiet play pools for kids, soothing hydrotherapy springs and a lazy river perfect for floating the day away.
Most people hit the beach to catch some serious sun, but the palm tree lined shores that offer plenty of shade along Kata Beach still manage to draw active families, young travelers and eager surfers from around the globe. The calm turquoise waters of Kata Center and Kata South are lined with boutique hotels and quaint souvenir shops. Enjoy a picnic on the beach, then wander to the Buddhist Temple on Patak Road or take an easy hike to the spectacular viewpoint between Kata and Rawai for incredible views of this beautiful beach.
There's nothing subtle about the Phuket FantaSea. This is Thai-meets-Vegas, as the management proudly admits. If that's your bag - or if you're a family looking for entertainment slightly more suitable than the hostess bars of Patong - then this could be for you.
Whether or not you enjoy the FantaSea will depend on your reaction to wild animals in circus environments. If that curls your toes, keep well away. On the other hand, if you want the thrill of elephants swaying past your seat in the Palace of Elephants Theatre or the chance to say hi to baby tigers, the FantaSea can provide.
Billed as the first and only upside down house in Thailand, Phuket’s Upside Down House (Baan Teelanka) offers the unique opportunity to quite literally walk on the ceiling. Visitors to this quirky attraction enter through the attic of the inverted three story house and are free to explore all its rooms, including the living room, kitchen, bathroom and even a garage with a life-size tuk tuk inside. Once accustomed to the strange sensation of having the floor above and the ceiling below, the house makes for fun photo ops, which the in-house staff members are more than happy to help take.
In addition to the house, the site also includes a 3,100-square-foot (950-square-meter) garden maze that takes about 15 to 20 minutes to navigate, perfect for families with younger children.
Wat Phra Thong is perhaps not the most impressive of Phuket's temples, but it surely has the best story behind it. And once you know the story, the 'half image' that forms the center of the temple will have way greater resonance.
According to lore, a boy was out watering a buffalo and tied it to some metal protruding out of the ground. In quick order, both boy and buffalo died, but the boy appeared to his father in a dream and told him to investigate the object.
When the father dug around the place, he found the tip of a golden Buddha sitting buried in the ground. All attempts to excavate it over the ensuing centuries failed, and there are stories of attacks by hornets when locals tried to dig it out in the 18th century!
Eventually it was decided to leave the exposed top of the Eventually it was decided to leave the exposed top of the Buddha statue where it was - it so obviously resisted being dug up! - and build a protective layer and a temple over it.
Well-oriented travelers will love testing their directional skills amid the towering hedges of Puket’s A-Maze Garden. Situated just outside this popular coastal town, A-Maze Garden has become a destination for family fun and a unique alternative to the temples and beaches southern Thailand is known for. Travelers can wander (or race!) through the 1,000-square-meter labyrinth in search of a quick escape, or take their time navigating the twists and turns of this one-of-a-kind southeast Asian destination. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon—or an entire day—on a visit to Phuket.
The cloudy waters surrounding Chalong Bay—Phuket’s main boat dock—make snorkeling and diving nearly impossible, but a majority of the area’s diving trips depart from this port, taking travelers to clearer seas. Visitors to this popular stop will find dozens of docked ships and may even catch the occasional race (hosted by the Ao Chalong Yacht Club).
Travelers can wander the eclectic shops or tuck into a traditional meal at one of the local restaurants after a day spent out on the open water. Two impressive temples, Wat Chalong and Wat Laung Pu Supa, are also within walking distance from Chalong Bay. Visitors looking to plot their next adventure will find all they need at the tourist kiosk at the center of the 720-meter jetty. Knowledgeable staff ensure every step of the journey will be epic.
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