Dramatic limestone karsts draped in vegetation and shores blanketed in pristine rainforest, the largest area of virgin forest in Southern Thailand, surround Cheow Lan Lake in the heart of Khao Sok National Park.
Tiny, lush islands once mountain peaks, rise out of tepid, emerald-green waters where water temperatures range between 27°C to 29 °C.
Wildlife in the national park includes Asian elephant, tiger, tapir and bear. A cacophony of jungle sounds fill the air: monkeys and gibbons chatter and howl; hornbills and other exotic birds cry and whistle; and a myriad of insects whine and shrill.
In 1982, Ratchaprapha Dam was built as a source of electricity by blocking off the Klong Saeng River and creating an artificial, 165 square kilometer lake.
Cheow Lan Lake is a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, accommodation provided by rustic, floating raft houses. Activities include trekking to view points, waterfalls and caves; fishing and kayaking; and boat safaris to glimpse wildlife and view the stunning scenery.
We stayed at Prai Wan raft houses, simple bamboo huts floating on the water. We opted for a private tour, that was well worth the money! It included: a knowledgeable and enthusiastic, English-speaking guide; wildlife safaris and cave trip by long-tail boat; hiking through rainforest to a spectacular viewpoint; kayak use and meals.
Here is just a handful from the hundreds of photos I took during our two-night stay. I plan to return to Cheow Lan Lake and to also explore other parts of Khao Sok National Park.
Against a dramatic backdrop of sheer limestone cliffs rising out of Phang Nga Bay off the northeast coast of Phuket in southern Thailand, a web of narrow boardwalks and rickety jetties link Koh Panyee (or Ko Panyi) into a compact fishing village on stilts.
Simple buildings with contrasting colorful roofs and wooden plank walls painted or left the rustic shades of nature, cozily nudge each other, perched above the shallow water on timber stilts sunk in the seabed.
Houses, shops, cafés and eateries cram together along a maze of wobbly walkways. Open-fronted seafood restaurants line the waterside and corrugated iron shacks reflect a mosaic of muted tin tones on the briny surface. Market stalls display sarongs, shell trinkets and other souvenirs as well as fruit, vegetables, dried fish and other wares for daily living.
Koh Panyee School with playground and football pitch sits right on the water’s edge and a mosque with golden domes, still under construction, is sprouting up on the small area of dry land under the limestone cliff.
I’ve read that three nomadic fisherman families left Indonesia in search of a new home around 200 years ago, agreeing to plant a flag on the highest landmark to signal they’d discovered a place to settle. When they found bountiful fishing off a tiny limestone island, they raised a flag on the cliff top.
So, it became known as Koh Panyee meaning Flag Island and inhabitants of this Muslim fishing village today are descendants of these families. Traditionally surviving off the fishing trade, tourism has more recently become a major part of the economy.
On a recent long-tail boat trip around Phang Nga Bay including a quick stop at James Bond Island, we also visited Koh Panyee. This was my second visit after about 15 years.
We arrived early to miss the boatloads of tourists having lunch at the waterside seafood restaurants and explored village life beyond before having an early lunch ourselves there.
Take a look at Jamie’s Phuket blog post about Koh Panyee for another perspective. At the end is a video worth checking out. In Jamie’s words “Finally – a video (actually an ad for a bank) which features Koh Panyee. The story of the kids on Koh Panyee starting their own football team, despite the lack of a pitch to play on! Nice story – great scenery!”
In the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and the mainland of southern Thailand, Phang Nga Bay’s sheer limestone cliffs tower majestically out of the sea.
Ko Khao Phing Kan, one of the many islands in the Phang Nga Bay archipelago, was the film location for Scaramanga’s hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun. Now more commonly called James Bond Island it’s become a popular tourist destination on boat trips around the scenic bay.
After my recent weekend trip to another Phang Nga Bay island Ko Yao Noi, I took a private day trip (to avoid the crowds) in a long-tail boat around the bay with my friend Paula and her parents.
Here are some images from that trip.
Children splash and shriek floating on plastic ice box lids and pieces of broken board alongside long-tail boats anchored to the beach by long lines, bobbing lazily in turquoise waters.
Rickety wooden stalls hug the beach, facing stores and seafood restaurants across the dirt road dividing beachfront from village. Long strings of varying hued pearls dangle with displays of shell handicrafts blowing in the salty, fish-scented breeze.
A rainbow of freshly caught fish lie lifelessly on metal counters alongside plastic trays packed with shellfish on ice. Over-sized, water-filled tubs placed on the ground in front of stalls crawl with live crabs and crayfish.
Locals and tourists browse and buy seafood then cross the road to one of the open-fronted restaurants where, for a small fee, the kitchen serves it up in the dish of choice.
Also, read the eye-opening article Tourism imperils way of life for Thai sea gypsies to learn about the plight of the Chao Lay.
At low tide long-tail boats, fishing boats and speedboats used for island sightseeing trips, lie stranded on expanses of sand, tethered to the shore by long ropes attached to stakes while locals forage for shellfish in pools among exposed rocks.
Along the southern shore, fishermen mend nets and repair or build boats. At the northern end beyond the pier in a sea gypsy fishing village, stalls sell pearls, shells and a medley of freshly caught seafood. Here you can buy mackerel, snapper, lobster, crab, prawns, mussels, squid… then take to one of the nearby restaurants to prepare your dish of choice.
Restaurants, many just rustic eateries seating customers Thai style on woven mats, spread along most of Rawai beach offering an array of mouth-watering seafood dishes. Popular with locals and visitors to Phuket they fill up quickly with families on public holidays and weekends.