We left the beautiful James Bond island and headed back towards Koh Panyee for lunch. It was early noon and the sun was pleasantly hot. It could have been perhaps harsh but because of the balmy breeze and an open unbelievably blue sky, we did not quite feel it. Koh Panyee appeared in the distance, a cluster of joyful candy coloured houses floating magically against limestone hilly bay. It was a very pretty sight, rustic, lively and fascinating. While seemingly a floating village, Koh Panyee is actually an island on which a Muslim Javanese origin fishing community lives in rickety, wooden houses built on stilts.
For a quiet fishing hamlet, Koh Panyee has a bit of interesting history. The fishing settlement was established at the end of 18th century by a trio of nomadic Javanese (although some say Malay) fishermen, headed by a man called Toh Baboo. The story goes that the three families vowed that if one of them found a place where there were lots of fish and where everyone could live, then they would signal the others by raising a flag on a mountain as high as possible. With dreams in their eyes and vows on their lips, they braved the waters around the island of Sumatra, plied the Andaman Sea and finally stumbled upon their unique spot in Phang Nga Bay. It was Toh Baboo who discovered the island with its abundance of fish and raised a flag atop its soaring cliff, That’s how the island got its name, Koh Panyee, “panyi” meaning flag in their native language.
The non romantic story however tells of Ko Panyee being also called Pulau Panji in Malay language. At the time of its establishment, Thai law restricted land ownership solely to Thai people, and this gave rise to the ingenious idea of building a village on stilts. Today Koh Panyee exists the same way, it was built several hundreds of years ago, within the protection of the island’s bay and easily adaptable for a fishing community life. Brackish water lapped the barnacle crusted wooden pier columns and the rickety stilts of the houses. There was no doubt, that the village was a big hit with the tourists because busy restaurants, souvenir shops and people renting monkeys for photos lined the tiny wooden alleys. But it was still a fascinating place and post lunch we walked about the offbeat fishing village.
Tide was down and crabs crawled all over the mud below. Women pottered about their household chores, flowers pots bloomed riotously and fluffy cats watched sheets of fish set out to dry in the sun. Shrill children voices rose in unison and we turned to see a bunch of kids joyfully kicking a ball in the island’s famous football pitch. This unique watery community now has a village school with its own playground, an immaculate domed mosque and a floating football pitch. The famous floating football pitch was born out of dreams of children who did not have land to play on and eventually Koh Panyee FC became one of Thailand’s strongest football teams. Although a bit touristy, Koh Panyee was undoubtedly a very unique experience. While mostly still a fishing community at heart, nowadays tourism has helped augment the villagers’ with additional livelihood resources. A very self sufficient community, they are environmentally very aware and Koh Panyee school curriculum includes lessons on recycling, hydroponics vegetable growing methods and other eco friendly life sustaining techniques.
TRAVEL TIP – One of the pit stops of the 19th season US reality TV show, The Amazing Race, Koh Panyee has recently introduced guest bungalows for those interested in experiencing a watery life. A quiet Muslim fishing community, travelers are advised to dress modestly, refrain from wearing revealing clothing and consume pork and alcohol there. Fresh seafood is the highlight of Koh Panyee cuisine and although often touted as sea gypsies, the ethnicity of Koh Panyee residents are completely different from the clusters of sea gypsies or Moken people who also inhabit the region. Koh Panyee can be reached by chartering a long tail boat from Surakul pier in Phang Nga or through one of the Krabi/Phuket based small group tours.
Post lunch we sailed about the Phang Nga bay, sea kayaked a bit, explored the stunning hongs and slept in the sun on our long tail boat. Hongs are limestone caves in Thai, and these mysterious hearts of islands (especially Koh Panak and Koh Hong) can be entered only during high tide with canoes or kayaks. Mysterious and hidden, hongs pockmark the spectacular Phang Nga bay, interspersed among its limestone cliffs and mangrove forests. Hong by starlight is a major attraction for those seeking romance and thrill. Limestone is generally white in colour but the ones in Phang Nga are streaked, dappled with exotic vegetation and jut out of an emerald green water. Created by collapsed cave system which turned the hongs into secluded grottos, surrounded by towering limestone walls, these fabulous hidden worlds (discovered recently by aerial survey) are covered with secret beaches and unspoilt rich flora and fauna.
We kayaked till our arms ached and finally came back to our boat, happy and tired. We stopped at the reclining Buddha at the Krabi Tiger Cave temple and we were back into the pineapple covered lush Krabi mainland. Winding roads took us to the monkey splattered cave and we did a hasty customary walk about. Our final stop was the lovely gushing Huay Toh waterfall at the Khao Phanom Bencha National Park and it was just perfect. A serene densely forested park, it is actually most famous for stalactite, stalagmite caves and has some beautiful waterfalls. It was late noon by the time we reached there, with lunch drowsiness settling in. Moreover the hike up to the Tiger Cave had left us sticky and uncomfortable when the waterfall happened. Huay Toh flowed and its misty spray hit us like a refreshing relief. We peeled off into our swim suits and jumped into its crystal cold water. Swimming like a fish and dunking under its snowy white falls, we played till sunset. It had been a beautiful day and the perfect finish to a lovely blue green Krabi day.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE