The Thai islands near Phuket and Krabi are among the most picturesque ones I have come across. Cruising through aqua blue waters, lounging on white sand beaches, and snorkeling with fishes that are every bit as colorful as the ones I see on Discovery Channel makes me realize how worthy Phi Phi and James Bond Island are of their place in tourism brochures.
Local guides talk about Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘The Beach’ having been filmed on Phi Phi Leh and Roger Moore’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ shot on an island which was later named after the enigmatic Mr. Bond. Whether the references are just a way to sprinkle some glamour into the mix or prompt an immediate association in the minds of movie lovers I don’t know, but it only adds to the allure for tourists who throng to them in increasing numbers.
Phi Phi Island and Phang Nga Bay tours are among the most popular ones in Thailand. James Bond Island is in the Phang Nga Bay and these two names are often used interchangeably, so they are the same tours.
At Phi Phi Leh, yellow tropical fishes gently nibble your feet as others dart in and out of your vision, creating kaleidoscopic patterns that make you almost gasp in disbelief. So, if ‘Finding Nemo’ made you want to go underwater, take the Phi Phi Islands Tour and discover a bit of his world – creatures like clown fish, corals, sea anemones, eels, and even small sharks.
If canoeing in the open sea through caves shaped by nature’s artistry is your thing, let the Phang Nga Bay/James Bond Island tour work its charm. Feel the joy of an explorer as your guide squeezes the canoe through dark, narrow passages to reveal quite suddenly a pool of sunlit water surrounded by towering karst (limestone) formations. In that moment, you’ll forget the babble of other tourists around you.
Giving you a visual of these tours is my way of answering whether the Phi Phi tour or the James Bond is better. Each offers a different world of delights and if you have the time to take both tours or you’re chartering a boat that lets you pretty much decide your course, you’re fine. But, if you’re pressed for time or couldn’t be bothered to do both, you should consider which one suits your requirement and interests better.
First up, snorkeling is great on the Phi Phi tour while swimming is better on the Naka beach, part of the James Bond tour. If you’re looking more for leisure than activity or if you’re accompanied by very young kids or old parents, the James Bond tour is better. Should the weather turn for the worse, a James Bond tour is also less likely to get cancelled than the Phi Phi one. But if the weather is great and you like snorkeling, don’t miss Phi Phi for anything in the world.
When I was planning my visit, I had to browse through quite a few different sites for information on these tours. Having been there, I’ve put down pointers that should hopefully answer the common questions one might have.
Can I do James Bond and Phi Phi Island tours on the same day?
Nope. You can’t and shouldn’t do James Bond and Phi Phi Island tours on the same day as they are in opposite directions. James Bond Island is to the north of Ao Po pier while the Phi Phi Islands are to the south. If you try to do both, you will just be rushing from point A to point B and won’t be able to enjoy the different components of each tour. This map should give you an idea of what I’m saying.
GENERAL ITINERARIES FOR PHI PHI ISLAND AND JAMES BOND ISLAND TOURS
From Phuket, a Phi Phi Islands tour generally includes snorkeling at Phi Phi Leh or some other spot, Bamboo Island which has a small beach, Camel Rock- a rock formation shaped like a camel, Monkey Island where you get to see or feed monkeys, picture postcard perfect Phi Phi Don for lunch and souvenir shopping, Maya Bay for some time on the beach, Shark Point for swimming/snorkeling with timid black tip reef sharks, and Pileh Lagoon where you can dive from the boat into the water and swim around for a while.
The Phang Nga Bay tour includes Panak or Hong Island for canoeing, Panyee Island for lunch and souvenir shopping, James Bond Island (locally known as Khao Ping-Kan) for a glimpse of the famous rock formation that featured in ‘The man with the golden gun’, and Naka Island for a luxurious and safe swim or beach lounging – your choice.
Remember you get what you pay for. So, operators could have different itineraries depending on the price. Plus, weather and other conditions decide the final itinerary
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOUR COMPANY/OPERATOR
Operators offering these tours are a dime a dozen, making it difficult to choose one. Below are some points that could help in the selection
- Don’t make price the deciding factor – after all you’ve come a long way for the experience. So, take a cruise that starts early (it’ll help you avoid crowds) even if it’s more expensive
- Make sure there aren’t too many people on the boat – you don’t want obstructed views or your photos to be bombed
- Read reviews, check with other hotel guests which one they are going with and why
- Check if things like National Park entry fees of 400 THB for entering spots like Maya Bay and Bamboo Beach are included
I chose Phuket Sail Tours for the Phi Phi Islands tour mainly as they start early and had good reviews and Amazing Canoeing Company for the Phang Nga Bay tour as again, online reviews were favorable. Both companies were efficient and professional. However, Phuket Sail Tours arranged for breakfast before we boarded, had greater variety of refreshments on board, and fewer passengers on the boat – perhaps the reason they were more expensive.
TOUR COST/PRICE (Inclusions to look for)
The price for your tour depends on
- Choice of boat: Speed boats are understandably much more expensive than long tail boats as they help you save time. Besides, you have the option of large cruise ships or charters, the latter making sense if you are part of a big group of family or friends
- Activities and inclusions: If it’s a plain vanilla package, you won’t get on-board refreshments that higher-end tour operators offer – I would rather pay more than lug eatables around. Then, there could be activities like kayaking that may or may not be included
- Transfers to and from your hotel – If your hotel is out of the way, you might be charged extra, so before booking make sure to check on this. Most tours offer free pick-ups from Patong, Karon and Kata.
- Time of day: If you take a sunset tour, you will most probably not visit all the places I’ve mentioned in the itineraries above, which translates into a lower cost
- Season: During off season, tour prices are understandably lower, even less than half listed on brochures at times
- Insurance: The higher-end companies generally include insurance in their quote, but it is a good idea to check if your deal includes it
- Where you book from : Prices in Phuket could be more than those in Krabi
- Bargaining: Last but not least, your bargaining skills might get you a better price than other people
Phuket Sail Tours lists Phi Phi by speed boat at THB 3,900 per adult and 2,000 per child (4-12) and sunset tours (only during certain months) at 3,300 per adult and 2,000 per child at the time of writing. They don’t work with third parties so visit their website to check latest prices.
Amazing Canoeing offers the Phang Nga speed boat tour with canoeing at Hong Island at THB 3,600 per adult and 2,600 per child (4-12). They do work with third parties, who might be able to get you a better deal than if you negotiate directly – check either way. Link to their site
Long tail boats can cost as little as 350 THB per person, but they might not include snorkeling equipment, refreshments, or entrance fees for this kind of a price.
TIPS FOR A BETTER EXPERIENCE ON THE ISLAND TOURS
- If you’re in Phuket, stay close to the Ao Por (also called Ao Po) pier on the days you are doing these tours as it will save you a considerable amount of time on the commute. As an example, from Karon it can take up to 1.5 hours to the pier.
- If you’re taking both the tours, aim for a day’s gap between the two to relax, else it could be tiring
- Weather plays a big role in deciding if your tour will operate on a particular day. So, check the weather prediction online before paying up
- Book the tour earlier rather than later, so that even if the tour does not operate on the day planned, operators can accommodate you on another day
- The sea can get rough, so people with spinal problems or other injuries shouldn’t sit ahead. The middle is safest for young children and the rear has the best unobstructed views (ideal for photography)
- Phang Nga Bay is relatively more sheltered than the Phi Phi Islands, so it’s safer to take young children for the James Bond Island tour. However, you might have to skip the sea canoeing bit if you’re traveling with an infant
WHAT TO PACK
- You need swimwear and/or dri-fit clothing as you will spend a considerable amount of time in the water. If you’re doing both the tours back-to-back, you might want to pack two pairs in case they don’t dry by the next morning
- Thailand is hot. So, a sunscreen is an absolute must. Ideally, carry one that you’ve used earlier to avoid nasty surprises
- Underwater camera/GoPro if possible, so you can record the best snorkeling moments – I didn’t have one so am directing you to this video clip
- A waterproof bag to keep your belongings like phones safe from the water and sand. A waterproof cover for your phone would be ideal if you’re planning to use it for photography
Here are some additional links to help with your planning –
Where to find cruises – Here are a few more suggestions apart from the two companies mentioned earlier – click here or here. If it’s not high season or you’re not particular about the kind of transport you take, you can get to Thailand and strike a deal directly with the locals.
What to do in Phi Phi – click here
What to do on James Bond Island – click here
Neither the tours nor my visit to Thailand was compensated in any manner
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to do so in the comments section. Bon voyage!