James Bond Island on my own without package- experience and tips

All tourists visiting Phuket almost always spend a day visiting James Bond island. It is just one of the hundreds of limestone rocks in Thailand but immortalized by a movie and marketed brilliantly by Thailand Tourism. One can buy a day package tour to James Bond Island for a price starting at around 1400 baht per person, which typically includes the following:
• Pickup from your hotel in Phuket and transfer to ferry point-shared
• Boat ride to James Bond island (cheaper long tail boats)
• Lunch (at a restaurant of operator’s choice)
• Transportation back to your hotel -shared
Indicative price only. Some operators charge more, but include speed boat instead of long tail boat, or add some refreshments, service of a guide, private transport instead of shared one, kayaking or visiting some additional islands nearby etc.

But I have following problems with above standard package
1. Too touristy, not much sense of adventure.
2. I can start my day at 5 AM or even earlier, if needed. But hotel pickups are usually between 8-9 AM, waste of precious hours. More time is spend picking up tourists from different hotels in town and then navigating peak hour traffic out of town. Phang Nga bay is like 80 kms from Phuket city. By the time tourists reach James Bond island it will be noon and already crowded with hundreds of other tourists.
3. Lots of time wasted in transport- can’t stop at will on attractions enroute or with minor deviation. There’re lots of other places worth visiting in Phang Nga region in additionto James Bond island
4. I had a rented bike with me- no point parking it at hostel n going in tour operator’s vehicle.

With these thoughts, I decided to explore James Bond island on my own, without hiring service of any tour operator. Because it is located in the middle of sea, had to avail some boat service, but the ground transportation part I could manage on my own because of the rented bike. 

I had to find out where exactly to go in order to catch a boat to James Bond island. This information was not very easy to find. As all operators pickup tourists from hotels and take them to a ferry point of their convenience, there’s no detailed information available for someone like me who was not interested in ground transportation but only needed boat part of the trip. James Bond island is 80-100 kms from Phuket Old town area, so it didn’t make sense to do a boat ride all the way. Tour operators will shuttle tourists in buses and vans to a ferry point somewhere in Phang Nga area and board boats there. I had to find out exact spot. After some research I figured out that there's a ferry point in Phang Nga bay close enough to James Bond island and if I can go there I should be able to get on a boat.

With above intuition and rough idea of where to go, I started from my hostel in old town Phuket at about 5.45 AM. Kept riding towards Phang Nga using map and road signs- it is a pretty straight road, so no issues finding way. Stopped at couple of temples, beaches n places of interest en-route, at will, something not possible in a package tour. It was a pleasant ride all the way, though I wished I had rented a faster bike instead of Honda Click scooter. Also stopped at Sarasin Bridge

On the way I saw several displays like below, advertising that James Bond island is close by. But I was still deep inland, so my guess is these ads are of tour operators/boat owners trying to lure you to their shop, not ferry points from where you can hop on a boat to go to James Bond Island
After entering Phang-Nga area I saw a right turn towards Phang-Nga bay. Asked a policeman if I can turn here to get a boat to James Bond island. He said Yes and I turned. Below point on map is where I ended up reaching.

It was around 9.15 AM when I reached the Phang-Nga bay. Saw the first jetty, proceeded further, stopped at the second jetty (boat boarding points). An operator here showed me a placard involving 6 rocks/islands and offered to take me there. 
How much does it cost to hire a boat to go to James Bond island?
When I asked how much, his quote was 2000 baht. I said it is too much and offered 500 baht. Operator agreed but only on condition that it will be on sharing basis, which was fine with me. If he could get minimum 3 more customers like me willing to share the beat we can start. But then, 9.15-9.30 AM is too early for tourists to arrive at Phang-Nga bay. They would typically start by 8-9 AM and arrive at Phang Nga only by 11 AM or later. We waited for 15 minutes, no luck. Operator reduced his full boat fee to 1500 baht and suggested that I take a private tour at that price. I refused. I walked around, checked with another operator, who offered 4 islands/rocks at 1300 baht. I tried negotiating for 800 baht but like they say “No Joy”. Came back to original operator and waited for some time- few families came but they had their pre-arranged operator so they didn’t need anyone to share the boat with. Time was running out. If I wait till 11 AM may be I will get someone to share the boat, but by then it would be too late. The islands will be crowded, me starting from hostel at 6 AM wouldn’t have any benefits. Also sitting n waiting here means I will have less time to explore rest of Phang-Nga after returning from James Bond island. At around 9.50, after about 30 minutes of waiting for additional customer didn’t result in success, operator was also getting restless. He brought it down to 1300 baht. I held my ground. 5 minutes later, he offered a final 1200 baht, said he has to spend 800 baht on gasoline (which I don’t think is true-gasoline is 30 baht a litre. Long tail boats do not need 30 litres of fuel for 90 minutes ride). Anyway, sensing that time is running out, I finally agreed. It wasn’t cheap, after having travelled all the way (For 1400 baht I could have had transportation from Phuket + boat ride ), but I will get to spend the day at my discretion. 

Boat left at around 10 AM, drove straight to James Bond island, passing by Koh Pan Yee.


 At James Bond island if you wish to get down the boat and enter, an entry fee of 300 baht applies, not included in any package tour or boat fee. Boatman gave me an option to skip getting on the James Bond island, just ride around it. After some quick internal debate I decided to get on the island anyway. I was given 30 mins time. Lighting was not very favorable in the morning- I didn’t a great picture. James Bond island has a original name – Ko Ta Pu but since this place was used in a movie ‘ Man with the golden gun” the island has been named “James Bond island” and turned into a tourist attraction. The complex includes a single vertical rock and a larger few bigger rocks and caves surrounding it. Some shops try to sell souvenirs and toilet facility is also made available here. At around 10.30-10.45 AM several speedboats and long tail boats had already started pouring in dozens of tourists into James bond Island. Crowd will swell much more during peak season/later in the day. 

Some photos below, of Khao Phing Kan rocks and caves inside James Bond island

 Closeup views of limestone rocks inside James Bond island
Not very easy to clear picture like below on peak hours.

Next I was taken to another rock. Here one has to go closer by Kayaking, which is again 300 baht per person. There was a 20-25 people long queue for Kayaking, so I decided to skip it. Of course long tail boat itself can go a bit closer to give better view, but area closer to rock is all crowded with kayaks so bigger boats can’t go closer. 

I was supposed to be taken to the Koh Nom island next. But the boatman refused to go closer. He made some statements to the effect “You paid too less, can’t go further- see from here”- this was the most disappointing part of the boat ride-not providing promised service after receiving payment. I lost interest in rest of the ride and any motive to tip the boatman.

We stopped at Koh Pan Yee- This place has a series of restaurants, homes and a mosque all setup on the sea. More construction in progress. I didn't eat anything here, though my boatman would have preferred me to spend some money here. All these shops are inter connected. I could walk all the way to the mosque behind these restaurants.


 Clicking the mosque was tricky due to buildings all around it.

 Above: Floating football field in Koh Pan Yee
 A school
Next two attractions were also “see only”- some limestone caves and a rock. They cleverly packaged roadside (i.e boatside) attractions that fall on the way to James Bond island as separate attractions to create an impression that one will get more value for money.

I was out of the boat at around 12.20 noon. Around 2 hours total. So did I save lots of money by going there all alone? No. This is because I was alone. If we were a group of 4-5 people, going on our own would have been lot cheaper than buying a package. In that 1400 baht you pay to tour operator, my guess is boat owners get 400-500 baht per person, rest tour operator keeps for the ground transportation expense and profit. You can rent a motorbike for a day for 300 baht and 200km round trip will cost around 4-5 litres of fuel- around 150 baht. So if you are a group of 4 people, 2 motorbike + fuel will be 900 baht, boat for 2000 baht- total 2900 baht or around 725 baht per person, half of what it costs to buy a package tour. Besides, it left me with about half a day to explore rest of Phang Nga area. I visited 2 waterfalls, few viewpoints etc before returning to Phuket. Will write about these attractions separately. 

So should you visit the James Bond island when in Phuket? I say Yes, not purely because of James Bond island, but because the region is so beautiful to explore.

Find out Pros and cons of visiting Thailand during monsoon (Off peak season) Read more Thailand posts here

18 comments:

  1. Bahut khoob. Very helpful details and that's what is needed for planning better trips .

    Keep rocking !

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  2. Awesome place. Thank you so much for the details post.
    Beautiful pics.

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  4. Beautiful place and creatures are very nice.

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  5. This island is magnificent and charming, Shrinidhi! When's the best time of the year to go there?

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    Replies
    1. All through the year... Though Sep- April is considered peak season for visiting Thailand

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  6. You travel exactly the way we like to travel and have been doing so. :)

    And your this account of James island and the details brought back all the memories when we visited it. Of course, lots of new constructions have also come up.

    Tomorrow we check out from here but can you believe we haven't booked anything till now? 3-4 places are in mind, let's see where we head to.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Nisha. I am tracking your amazing tour on FB... Planning to come back this year itself?

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