Flashback, while I enjoy the adventure in the Phang Nga bay. Final part of the movie “007 The Man with the Golden Gun”: James Bond (Roger Moore) is heading to the final clash with ‘the bad’, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). The scene takes place on a small island lost in an amazing archipelago supposed to be, in the stage fiction, somewhere off the Chinese coast. On the background a rock karst that, with a little imagination, resembles a huge mushroom. 007 is welcomed with a bottle of champagne, uncorked by Scaramanga with a precise, theatrical gunshot. The invitation to enter into his home is cleverly embedded in the rock wall:
Francisco Scaramanga: “How do you like my island, Mr. Bond?”
James Bond: “A bit off the beaten track, isn’t it?”
That island is called Khao Phing Gan while the twenty meters high, mushroom-shaped rock karst is called Koh Tapu; neither of them is located near the Chinese coast, they are instead in Phang Nga province, South of Thailand, just one hour by boat from Phuket or from Krabi.
The movie was filmed in 1974 and at that time the island was really a bit out of the way. We can state that “The Man with the Golden Gun” changed Khao Phing Gan destiny, making it famous over the time to the point that, nowadays, it is better known by its nickname. And if the rock could talk, it would introduce itself by saying “my name is Bond, Island of James Bond”.
The rest was created by Mother Nature, which drew a picturesque bay studded with hundreds of islands and islets rising from the sea, partially hidden caves whose entries appear and disappear according to the strict rules of the tides. Caves that can be explored only by canoes driven by expert hands, to discover open-air lagoons hidden from the prying eyes of the world: an eco-system inhabited by monitor lizards, monkeys, horn-bills, bats and all those little animals who elected the habitat of mangrove forests as their home.
To complete this exceptional landscape, we cannot deny that humans have done their part too: a few miles north of James Bond Island, in fact, leaning against the side wall of a high rock there is a village straddling on the sea and resting on stilts, inhabited by fishermen who are former Muslim ‘sea gypsies’.
The story tells of two or three families of Malay fishermen from Java that a few hundred years back undertook a trip up north with their boats to look for a new place to settle, leading eventually to find protection in Phang Nga bay, an area that offered good shelter thanks to its conformation. From those few pioneers, a community that reaches nowadays about 1680 inhabitants divided into 360 families has formed over the times. And that’s how Koh Panyi was born.
The village has a Muslim school attended by boys and girls; however, due to the school’s basic level of education and to the need to encourage a certain emigration due to limited space in the island, older students move to attend school on the mainland, in Phuket or Phang Nga.
Like in any self-respecting Muslim community, the mosque is well present; center of aggregation for the Islanders, its domes and minarets can be seen from a far distance while approaching the island by boat. But the main attraction is definitely the island floating football field, whose story became famous thanks to a Thai Military Bank advertising short film. The original field was built several years ago by the children of the island using old pieces of wood and floating materials, but thanks to excellent sports results that made the Panyi FC one of the most successful youth soccer clubs in Southern Thailand, it was decided to build a new field to continue encouraging young people in their sporting activities.
With celebrity, of course, in Phang Nga bay arrived tourism and with it the commercialization of this corner of paradise. The local population has its own needs and man must survive, so, keeping up with the movie theme, ‘Heaven Can Wait’. However, the beauty of the whole bay is undeniable; true, the souvenir stalls occupy the most famous part of the island, but the opening scene set, where Nick Nack serves drinks to Scaramanga and Ms. Anders, for example (which is not where the final duel took place) is still a quite area.
Something similar applies to Koh Panyi, where an array of restaurants and stalls welcome visitors, giving an immediate impression that you are definitely not entering an untouched village. It is nevertheless enough to venture through the narrow alleys of the village to immediately realize that Koh Panyi is not a tourist trap but rather an authentic village, with its own history and traditions. A village where you will meet human beings engaged in their harsh everyday life, people who have been able to adapt to a lifestyle above the sea and with the sea, and who have decided to supplement their main fishing income by sharing with the world their uniqueness. Yet, without giving up their way of life and continuing living in a village clinging to a rock that dominates the center of the bay .
All this makes Koh Panyi and the Phang Nga bay places like no others where, once the tourists leave the island, the hands of time seem to turn back to the atmosphere of a hundred years ago, when a few Malay families braved sea and fate to offer to their descendants greater stability, more wealth and definitely fame.
READ ABOUT A CRUISE TO THE PHANG NGA BAY ON http://asianitinerary.com/cruising-phang-nga-bay/
AN INTERESTING ACCOUNTS ON SOUTH THAILAND SEA GYPSIES ON http://asianitinerary.com/koh-lanta-sea-gypsies/