Words and photos by Christopher Weigl
Ao Phang Nga is one of the most beautiful and exotic landscapes in Thailand, a bay crowded with enormous limestone spires soaring above the Andaman Sea’s surface. A large section of the bay is part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, and attractions include cave drawings, the famed James Bond Island, and the Ko Panyi floating Muslim village. Half and full-day boat tours run from Krabi and Phuket Town to the bay, with a lunch stop at the floating village, yet the best way to see Ko Panyi is by taking a bus to Phang Nga town and booking through one of the local tour companies at the bus station. These tours let you stay the night at Ko Panyi, avoiding the afternoon crowds and providing an authentic feel for life in the village.
Two families from Java founded Ko Panyi in the 18th century and the population has since swelled to about 2,000 people. Fishing still makes up the large part of the village’s income, yet the growing influx of tourists has led residents to increasingly focus on selling goods and food to visitors. After the day crowds head home, the relaxed and entirely novel atmosphere in the village truly shines through: those out working for the day arrive home in long tail boats, children run up and down the winding concrete paths, and the smells of home cooking permeate the complex. Our own included dinner was a fantastic feast of fresh fish, Tom Yum soup, spicy chicken, and stir-fried rice, after which we were taught Thai Poker by the restaurant owner. Don’t expect a nightlife of any kind, for alcohol is outright forbidden, but watching the sun go down over the distant spires as the Muslim call to prayer sounds is the type of cultural experience many travellers yearn for.