After leaving JBI we came upon Ko Payni, a floating gypsy village at the head of Phang-Nga Bay.Â Anachronistic as that sounds,Â it was nevertheless established by nomadic Malay fishermanÂ near the end of the 18th century. (Check out the brief video clip or double-click the panoramic below to get a sense of the scale of the environs.) At that time Thai law limited land ownership solely toÂ peopleÂ of Thai origin, so the resourceful gypsiesÂ built a settlement on stilts, skirting the law on a technicality while giving themselves easy access to the fisherman’sÂ life. As theÂ communityÂ grew prosperous, it expanded and today the village is home to some 1,500 people, a mosque, and even a football pitch, all built on barnacle-covered poles over the sea. As I arrived late in the day, I had time for littleÂ more than a coffee and a quick poke around, but it left me wondering what the village must be like in the moonlight – and at bed time as the water laps beyond the gaps of the wooden slatted floors.
Hidden away in my treehouse above the sea, I’ve seen veryÂ littleÂ of the island of Phuket aside from a brief trip to the market. That changed today in a fit of inspired whimsy: I chartered a speedboat offÂ theÂ eastern side of the island and spent the day freewheeling the Andaman Sea. After dropping anchor for a quick picnic and swim onÂ a stretch of beach at Ko Thanan, we headed north towards Phang-Nga Bay, past dozens of islands created by mainland fault movements. Each island is, in fact, a single, massive limestone monolith, upendedÂ vertically and pocked round the base with caves which only reveal themselves during the low tide. (Limestone being soluble,Â the caves are the result of thousands of years of tidal erosion.) You can take a sea kayak and paddle inside the caves if the tide is right, but my timing was off, so I settled for a pee break masquerading as aÂ swim stop beneath theÂ dramatic cliffs before continuing northwards – in a sudden lashing rain – toÂ Ko Phing Kan, or James Bond Island. Used as the setting for the secret lair of Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun,Â JBI hasÂ become the most famous part of the newly established Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park. In point of fact it’s two islands: the towering Khao Phing Kan, literally “hills leaning against each other,” and Ko Tapu, or “spike island,” where Scaramanga hid theÂ solex laser. If I had to be a super-villainÂ I couldn’t think of a better place to hideaway and plot world domination.