When researching things to do in Phuket, Phang Nga Bay kept popping up. At first, I wrote it off because most tours are a full day and I wasn’t sure that our boys could handle a long day between the hour drive to the boat terminal, the all day boat tour and the drive back to the hotel. That seemed like a lot of sitting and being stuck on a boat for two active, young boys. However, after reading more reviews of how amazing Phang Nga bay was, and some family blogs where they braved the full-day tour with young kids, we decided to go for it. During our time in Vietnam, I wanted to visit Ha Long Bay, but it was so far from our home base that we didn’t get a chance. So, visiting Phang Nga with similar scenery was a nice replacement for missing out on Ha Long Bay. There are many different options for Phang Nga boat tours. There are sunset dinner cruises, speed boat tours (that are generally shorter), and “big boat” tours. Phang Nga bay is large, and so there are many things to see in the bay. There is a village built on stilts, countless limestone karst caves to explore, and iconic James Bond Island where a scene from “A Man with a Golden Gun” was filmed. We opted for a big boat tour, because depending on how many people are on the tour, the speed boat can be packed and not a great place to be crammed together trying to take care of the boys. There is a wide range of prices for these tours. The top of the line tours are $120/person, which was out of our price range. I booked the “James Bond Island Full-day tour via Big Boat” through Hotels.com and Travstore Travel Management- Phuket. It was $130 total, with free pick-up from Patong Beach area. Since we were staying outside of the Patong beach area, we paid a little extra for the van to pick us up.
What drew me to this tour were the unique opportunities to explore some of the limestone caves and islands via kayak. There was lunch provided, as well as snacks throughout the day. Water and Coca-Cola were cold and free, with adult beverages extra. I also liked that there was a time set aside for swimming in a remote area of the bay. Even though it was a full-day tour, the activities broke the day up into smaller chunks so the boys didn’t get bored. The tour started out with a long boat ride out into the bay. It was surreal to approach these beautiful small islands in the boat, noticing more details and we got closer and closer. Eventually, we made it to our first stopping place, and our whole family hopped into one kayak, piloted by a local pro. At first, I was sad that we weren’t paddling our own kayaks.
After our kayak guide navigated us through the cave and into the waterway in the interior of the island, I definitely understood why we were not in charge of steering! The caves were crowded with kayaks from many different tours/boats, and so it was difficult to make it through the cave without bumps. Life jackets were provided, but they did not have tiny life jackets for our two-year-old, so we were glad we brought a little blow-up one for him. It would not keep his head above water if he fell overboard, but it floated him enough so we could scoop him out of the water quickly. Thankfully, we didn’t have to test that!
The scenery we encountered on the big boats and especially in the kayaks going into the interior of these islands was surreal. It really felt like we had been dropped in the middle of a computer screensaver or the movie Avatar. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we made the right choice to brave the very full day with our boys!
When we returned from our adventures in the kayak, a big Thai lunch was set up on the top deck of our boat. It was delicious and there were plenty of options that our kids would eat, including plain rice, noodles and fried chicken. It definitely hit the spot and fueled us for our next stop- James Bond Island.
My one complaint with this tour was the amount of times we had to change boats. While speed boats are small enough to approach the dock at James Bond Island, we had to transfer from our big boat to a slightly smaller boat in order to make it to the island. This was in addition to the two transfers to kayaks for short island excursions. James Bond Island was by far the most touristy stop on our tour. First off, before we even saw the iconic “nail island,” we passed a gauntlet of souvenir stalls. The famous island is actually off in the bay from the island where we were dropped off. Excited to be on dry land for the first time in several hours, our boys both just wanted to wade in the bay and so I stayed with them while Austin climbed up the hill and explored a bit. Owen soaked his shorts and diaper wading in the water. As I stood there watching the boys play and enjoying the scenery around me, I had another “I can’t believe this is my life!” moment. Traveling with two little guys is hard, but sometimes the excursions are so worth it!
Let’s talk about the color of the water for a moment. I’m not sure why the water in Thailand is such a gorgeous light blue/green color, but with the green islands and the lovely water and white sand beaches, it could not have been better. Eventually, I pulled the boys away from the little bay to hike around in the caves/passageways of the island. We had a limited amount of time on land, so we wanted to make the most of it. There were passageways and openings in the limestone that led around the side of the island. We made it a short distance before turning around to ensure we caught our small boat back to our big boat. Nothing ruins an awesome day like missing the boat!
Turns out, our boat was a little late, so we had some time to peruse the souvenir stalls. I ended up with a carved shell, which I bargained hard for. The longer we’ve been traveling, the more comfortable I am with bargaining for things. We needed some souvenirs from Thailand, and this did the trick! Owen, of course, helped me by being cute. The smaller boat soon arrived to take us back to our big boat. There were many big boats anchored off the coast. I think it was just too shallow for them to come any closer. A word on demographics on our boat. When assigned to a boat, we were placed with other English speakers, which ended up being a large extended family from Russia (we think). There were also a few Chinese families and a Chinese translator. Thankfully, there were other kids on board so they were playing together by the end of the day.
After James Bond Island, our captain took us further out into the bay, to an island where we were allowed to swim off the deck of the ship. Life jackets were provided for those who wanted them, and Landon and I headed out first. Austin and I had agreed to take turns going in the water with Landon and staying on deck with sleeping Owen. I switched with Austin but in the process, Owen woke up and wanted to swim. I strapped his little life jacket on him, I put a life jacket on for extra buoyancy and we had fun swimming as a family. As you can see from the picture above, the water was the most amazing color, and warm, but still refreshing. Swimming was not an option on many of the tours, and I’m glad that we chose one that left time for a refreshing dip in the bay.
After swimming, we started the long journey back to the boat docks. There were more snacks and drinks, and the Russians shared fresh pistachios with our kids. They were delicious. At some point, our guide started making things for the kids out of straws. At first, he made bracelets and necklaces for the girls on the tour, but Landon worked up the courage to ask him for a flower. We will keep it forever to remember this fun day in Phang Nga Bay.
Our excursion in Phang Nga bay just reinforced a principle that I try to tell those traveling with kids: do the stuff you want to do, and bring the kids with you! Our boys loved the adventure of the boat rides, kayak tours through caves, and playing in the bay on James Bond Island. There were many activities throughout the day to break it up into manageable chunks. We packed some snacks, but our tour provided a big lunch and plenty of water and snacks which was a big help. Bring swimming gear, towels, and lots of sunscreen/sun protection. We left carriers/strollers at home because the distances we had to travel on foot were all very short. Some tours had a minimum age limit, while others did not, so read the small print on tour descriptions! For little babies, a carrier or wrap would be helpful to keep baby happy and secure. We packed tablets and sticker books for the drive back to the hotel, but the roads on Phuket wind around and up and down mountains so these were quickly put away to keep from getting car sick. Although the day was long, I think we all enjoyed it immensely and considered it a highlight of our time on Phuket.