From the Man with the Golden Gun to Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park is familiar throughout the world as the backdrop to at least ten major Hollywood movies, thanks to their dramatic limestone cliffs (or karsts) rising out of the sea, draped with lush vegetation. Taking your family on an excursion to some of the forty-two islands that make up the marine park is an worthwhile adventure.
The Government of Thailand has done a good job in continuing the conservation of the park, spanning 400 sq. km. Outside of the temporary, beach-side structures selling snacks and souvenirs to visitors there is no development of any kind within the borders of the park.
Let a Boat Be Your Guide
By far, the most popular way to explore the islands within the park is by boat. There are hundreds of boats, from simple long-tails to upscale yachts, available for charter from Phuket or Krabi. There is also the option to explore sea caves by kayak.
Ask your resort staff to arrange a boat for the day or visit one of the many tour guide offices around the region. Most of the boats can reach the marine park within a couple of hours, leaving you the entire day to explore the islands and swim and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters surrounding them. Alternately, if you’re planning to head directly to Phang Nga, which isn’t far from Phuket by road, you can access private boat operators from Surakul Pier.
Head for the Sea
The most common isles include Ko Kan (James Bond Island, with its karst tower); Ko Panyi, a Muslim sea gypsy village on stilts over the water; and Ko Talu with numerous stalactites. These popular destinations can get crowded; ask tour operators for the least crowded times to visit or if they can recommend quieter sites suitable for families.
Also, when getting to the bay, check out the mangrove forests that fringe the waterways. Head out in the morning, which is cooler, with plenty of chances to see a variety of fishing birds.
Explore the Dramatic Landscape Inland
The islands also contain many trails leading through the primeval jungles of the park. All of the trails start and end at the pristine, white-sand beaches ringing the islands, so there is never a danger of getting lost.
If your family is keen on observing wildlife, stay quiet on the trails and you might also catch a glimpse of a family of gibbons high in the treetops (clue: listen for their “song”, a kind of whooping sound). Other animals calling the islands home are tortoises, monitor lizards, macaques and species of birds too numerous to list.
Planning Your Family Adventure
As with every all-day excursion in the tropics, a little preparation is important to ensure your family members experience a great day. If you are hikers, bring your walking shoes separately in a backpack and wear flip-flops or waterproof shoes/sandals, or go barefoot on the boat.
Bring along a hat, water and plenty of sunscreen. Arrange for the boat to provide a lunch or bring your own along. A change of clothes is also nice at the end of the day as you may not want to spend the ride home in a wet swimsuit. Also, take along some zip-lock or other waterproof bags to keep your phones and cameras safe. You will surely want plenty of pictures of your memorable adventure.
The natural magnificence of Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park awaits!