James Bond Island Trip – an honest review

james bond blog

If you are looking for a travel brochure style review you are in the wrong place – this is all based on my own experience and I tell it like it is!  Feel free to skip past my musings on this trip to view my pictures at the end of the post.

The name’s Bond… James Bond.  James Bond Island to be exact.  Or, as it is actually named; Khao Phing Kan.  This island in Phang Nga bay was the setting for the bad guy’s lair in James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun.  It’s the one with a midget (sorry, little person) butler man and a lot of martial arts.

I had my family staying with me and it was their first time coming to Thailand and it was therefore my mission to try and demonstrate to them why I haven’t come back to the UK yet, mostly so my mum stops asking me and making me feel guilty (jokes… sorry mum!).  My dad has arrived armed with not one but two Phuket travel guides, and having spent many hours on not one, not two, but three flights to get here, they had all had a good look at what was on offer and had compiled a pretty jam packed list of things to do while they were here.  Going to see James Bond Island was pretty close to the top.

Personally, I’ve never fancied going on a trip to see James Bond Island.  This probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t actually like James Bond films, or activities on or near the water.  Nevertheless, the parentals were in town and the trip was being funded by the bank of mother, so now was the best time for me to check it out for myself.

Luckily for us, T had recently taken some other visiting friends to see the island a few weeks ago while I was slaving away at school (how rude) and so we had a little bit of background knowledge on whereabouts to go and a rough guide on pricing.  We weren’t keen on booking a package trip through an agent in Phuket as these almost always end up overpriced, overcrowded and always involve some sort of unwanted stop off at a crappy factory outlet store where you are given a free drink (yay!) and have to listen to a rubbish talk about an equally rubbish product that no-one actually wants (sad face).

After a lazy morning we headed up through the north of Phuket and onto mainland Thailand, Phang Nga province.  We drove for about 30 minutes, past lots of signs promising tours to James Bond Island, but these places are yet again your trusted packaged tour from your money grabbing agent.  We wanted to get to the boat man ourselves and bargain us a deal.  We reached a right hand turn off for can’t recall the name pier (really should have paid more attention).  The car park was full of Chinese and Korean tour coaches so we knew we were in the right place only it was 1-0 to us because we didn’t have to endure a visit to the driver’s wife’s cousin’s daughter’s jewel shop beforehand – winning!

No sooner had we pulled up, a rather brash woman wearing a huge sun hat was on us proclaiming, “I have boat! I have boat!” but she was quickly pushed to the side when another lady recognised T from his previous visit a few weeks ago.  “My friend!  You come back!” – everyone is a friend when money can be made.  We were swiftly escorted to the pontoon and told to wait while a boat and driver were arranged for us for the price of 2800THB for the whole group of us.  Compared to the minimum 1200THB per person that all the tour agencies want this is a good deal, and you get a boat and driver all to yourself for the afternoon.  The boats could easily seat 12 people (they definitely squeeze on at least 20 Chinese/Koreans but I’m being realistic/not ridiculously unsafe) so at that price it could work out at a really cheap price per person.

Our driver was called Khun Wim and he was happy to follow our lead for the afternoon. We started our journey travelling up river among the mangroves, which quickly opened out into the sea of Phang Nga bay and those infamous limestone cliffs jutting out of the water.  It’s stunning scenery, but when you cast your eyes down from the ginormous cliffs you see the sheer amount of boats out on the water ferrying mostly Korean and Chinese tourists around the bay.  Maybe during low season it might be a different story.

Khun Wim our driver - he put on the hat especially for this picture!
Khun Wim our driver – he put on the hat especially for this picture!

Our first stop was to go canoeing – this was at an extra cost to our original price but we were aware of this.  We paid 400THB per person to be canoed around by friendly Thai guys who pointed out rocks shaped like elephants and took us through caves that were so small you had to lay down flat in the canoe.  Last time that T went they had to pay 500THB… so the price is probably only 250 or 300 in reality.  Next time…!  Again, the landscape was beautiful, and it was really fun going in and out of the caves but doing so among hundreds of other people wasn’t quite the idyllic experience.  I’m getting more and more keen to check this place out once tourist season is over.

Next on our itinerary was James Bond island itself.  Our driver told us that for 200THB per person (surprise, another added cost) we could go onto the actual island and walk around.  We took one look at the island, with streams of tourists moving from crap shop to crap shop and decided we were happy taking pictures from the water.  We went around the island, our driver making sure we got all the good angles and were happy with our pictures before moving on to our next destination.  I’ll be honest; the actual James Bond island part of this trip was probably the worst bit – the canoeing and our next destination were definitely much more enjoyable.  Seeing James Bond island is more to be able to say you’ve been there, and have the picture on facebook to prove it.

James Bond Island itself
James Bond Island itself in all it’s glory

Our third and final destination was Koh Panyee (which I have written about before here) – a place that I have always wanted to visit since seeing the story of their floating football pitch in a Thai advert and on a Vice documentary on YouTube.  This floating community seem to have set up camp where the environment makes it almost impossible to do so – completely built on stilts with no dry ground to speak of – it’s a good thing they like eating fish.  We had a top notch dinner stop (affording our driver to claim his free plate of fried rice) which actually wasn’t too expensive and was really, really tasty.  Side note: this is a Muslim community (the shining golden mosque dominating the village is a slight giveaway) so please don’t do what my dad did, and ask for a large Chang beer while also wearing a Chang vest.  Cringe.  After our food we went on a quick explore through the village; we had to tunnel through endless lanes of more crap souvenier shops before getting to the parts where the locals hang out.  We were mostly interested in seeing the floating football pitch, so after making our way there we headed back to our driver, who took us back to the pier where our car was parked.

Koh Panyee from the water
Koh Panyee from the water

The whole trip was just under 4 hours long – plenty of time to do and see all that we wanted to.  We kept our driver’s number this time so that we can come back during low season to see what it is like without being surrounded by other people!

Here are some pictures of the day – as much as I complained about the amount of people and the little hidden costs, it was really nice to explore the area and I think the pictures say it all.

Click on any image to take a closer look.

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Our very own slice of jungle in Phuket

Another house hunting success!  Check out our new humble abode…

home

Not so humble some may say, with three bedrooms and a garden that exceeds 150m in length (it goes waaaay behind the house too), boasting banana, papaya and mango trees.  This picture is from before we moved in so it all looks a bit sparse – more pics to come once we are all settled in.

When we moved from Hat Yai to Phuket one thing that I have always missed is our house – surrounded by the sounds of the jungle, swinging on a hammock… I just didn’t think that it would be possible unless we were willing/able to pay a premium for a beachfront property – not on my pay packet!

But after almost a year living in our little town house, situated close to my school and Phuket Town, it was time to find somewhere with a bit more space, more privacy and more jungle goodness.  And we found it!  Once again this house was not listed on any online letting sites (although you can check out DDproperty for some good options online) or any of the facebook property groups – T just happened to drive past while house hunting and saw a little sign on the gate, rang the number up (being able to talk Thai is a must in these situations) and hey presto, the house was perfect for us and we snapped it up.

It’s a bit of a hike in rent, and it’s actually 3x what we paid back in Hat Yai, but a) things are generally more expensive here on the island of Phuket, and were generally much cheaper in the deep south of HY, b) my salary is more than it ever was back in HY and c) it is so worth it for the quality of living – I have jungle in my back garden!  My very own fruit trees!

We are very much back to the same lifestyle that we had before – chilling in the garden, falling asleep to the sounds of crickets and cicadas (it surely beats any Sounds of the Jungle relaxation CD!) and waking up with the sun (and the rather vocal cockerels that roam around the jungle…) – it is bliss!

So once again we have proven that with a bit of perseverance and some local knowledge you can find the perfect home for yourself – don’t be tied down to the condominiums that so many expats feel are the only option – your perfect house is out there too!

An Expat State Of Mind

expat state of mind

The expat life often feels like living in some sort of forever-state of transition.  When you meet other expats (at work, at a bar, even in the supermarket if you live in a place where expats are few and far between) the same two questions always arise;

How long have you been here?

This usually comes first.  It seems very important to establish who has been around the longest, who is the expat expert in this conversation.  Certain breeds of expat will relish in discovering that they have encountered a newbie fresh off the TEFL train and will take great pleasure in showing off their credentials.  Six months trumps six weeks, those who have been around for a year or two trump the six monthers, and then the real hardcore lifers take the table with claims of ten or twenty years of expat living.

How long are you staying?

Once who has been around the longest has been established it is time to figure out who is the most dedicated.  (People in the TEFL teaching world will also face questions about when they will get a real job.  Because working 40+ hours a week isn’t a real job, obviously).  It’s like our expat status is defined by two points in time – our arrival and our expected departure, like our whole existence is some passing moment in the space-time continuum.

So many things in this temporary life are make shift – I have a sup par smoothie maker because I’m only making do until I go back home; I’m driving around an old banger of a car I would never dream of using back home because it’s only got to last me while I’m here.  I don’t even have a set departure date in my expat plan and yet I’m unable to commit to anything proper or with any permanence.

The majority of friendships also lack permanence and are formed by default; we work together, we are the only foreigners in the area, we met on a long weekend… these kind of transitory acquaintanceships are perfectly fine when travelling around a country, but when your timeline in one place is looking more long term it can feel very insecure and unstable not having a truly tight knit group of friends around you.  Your friends from home, as you quickly start to refer to them (or real friends, but only to yourself), come from years of cultivation, of shared experiences and histories and memories and a million things to talk about over a coffee or even better, not needing to say anything at all.  Nothing is forced, there is no desperation to secure this friendship or confirm its realness because it is real and always will be.  (Side note: Skype is a life saver that should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping people together despite oceans and continents and time differences between them).

It can be ironically lonely being surrounded by people, many of whom you can’t converse with beyond talking about food or the weather, or useless vocabulary you have picked up along the way like being able to give directions to a non existent post office or listing colours, or counting to 1000.

The expat community is very cliquey; we have the teachers, the muay thai guys, the Russians, the SEXpats, the divers, the yachties, the retirees, the forever backpackers… and that’s just in Phuket.  You find yourself having to slot in and make do with the people in your default group or otherwise lead a somewhat solitary life.  Many people make the move to a foreign country as an individual but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to spend their entire expat existence completely independent of others.

None of this is to say that real friendships can’t be made, or that wonderfully satisfying lives can’t be carved out for people – of course that is all possible but it takes a lot of dedication and for some of us there would always be something missing.

Maybe I’m just a big homebody at heart but there will always be a home shaped hole in my life no matter how much the sun shines on my expat life.  Don’t get me wrong; I love living my expat life, but I find comfort in knowing it’s not forever, even if I have to make do at times until I back to the real thing.

Five for Friday: visiting the cinema in Thailand

Going to the cinema in Thailand is the perfect way to spend a dreary afternoon during the rainy season or to take advantage of the super power air conditioning on a hot day.  Cinemas can usually be found in large shopping centres and even in Tesco.

Most good cinemas offer at least one English film subtitled in Thai and for the more adventurous, English subtitles are usually available on the Thai films, which is good for anyone embarking on a Thai/farang date.

Here are my five top tips for visiting the cinema in Thailand:

Don’t trust the online times as in my experience they are usually wrong.  This shouldn’t be too much of a worry though as you will be subjected to around 20 minutes of adverts and trailers before the movie begins.

Bring a cardigan. And a scarf. Maybe go the whole hog and bring a blanket – the air conditioning is always set to arctic conditions – on my last trip to the cinema I almost lost the feeling in my toes.

Turn off your phone. OK, so most westerners don’t need to be reminded to do this (at least people from the UK) but in Thailand it isn’t unusual for people to keep their phones switched on throughout their visit to the cinema- l once witnessed a woman playing candy crush during a screening of the Hunger Games!  Thai mobile network provider Happy have even created this catchy advert to remind people to switch their devices off- although it doesn’t seem to be all that effective…

Please stand for the King’s film.  You may feel silly or you may like to think that you don’t have to because you’re not Thai, but please have the common decency to stand politely as the obligatory film in honour of the King is played.  Here’s a little taster of what you can expect so thats it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.

⑤ Here’s a tip for those of you who truly want to make your trip to the cinema an experience – spend that little bit extra and get a sofa.  A standard cinema ticket in Thailand is around 180 baht but if you don’t mind spending a little extra you can get a sofa for 500 baht per couple – these bad boys are super comfortable, spacious and they recline so far back that if the film turns out to be a flop you can always have a nap (there’s reason number 2 for bringing along a blanket).

Want something even more special than a sofa?

image

Check out this floating film festival in Koh Yao Noi – incredible… only in Thailand.