a few minutes by speedboat to a day's sailing away, Phuket
is surrounded by so many tropical islands, of such outstanding
natural beauty, that literally weeks can be spent exploring.
At the far north of Phuket's cruising grounds lie the
nine islands of the Similans - noted for their magnificent
dive sites - to the south, the brooding intensity of Taratao
- a prison colony during World War II and now part of the
fifty-one island Taratao National Park - and in between dozens
of isles offering pristine
beaches, spectacular scenery and a peace and serenity
unique to the Andaman.
Perhaps the most popular - and populace - of the islands
off Phuket are the twins, Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Ley. The
latter of these was the stage for the recent Hollywood movie
- The Beach,
while the former has become a busy tourist destination, offering
a range of accommodation
and watersport activities.
20km southeast of Phuket, the Phi Phi islands also afford
visitors some excellent diving
and snorkelling opportunities - the nearby islets of Bida
Ley and Bida Nok of particular note.
The sheltered waters of Phangnga Bay have their own
gifts of nature peculiar to this region alone. Scattered around
the bay, craggy, hollow limestone escarpments thrust up from
the sea like primordial fortresses. Caves, cut through the
friable rock by salt water and usually only accessible at
certain times of the tide, allow access to remarkable microcosms
of nature. These lost worlds are havens for rare forms of
flora and fauna and are also home to the swftlets whose nests
are considered great delicacies by the Chinese.
was in this region that part of the James Bond movie,
The Man with the Golden Gun, was filmed, and the gravity defying
Raya Ring Island is now one of the bay's busiest tourist sites.
Best explored by yacht, charters and day cruises around Phangnga
Bay are readily available from Phuket, while ferry services
and dive trips run to Phi Phi daily. If time is of the essence,
high speed motor launches
can be hired from several locations around the island.