The beachside of Khao Lak - Photo: Szilvia Szeszler

Phang Nga – the island of tranquillity in Thailand

Have we heard of the famous James Bond Island? Of course, everyone knows that this fabulous exotic location was the setting for an episode of the James Bond series in 1974, namely “The Man with the Golden Gun”. And we were all shocked by the American film “The impossible”, about a British tourist family's real-life ordeal during the tsunami. But what we probably don't know is that both films are set in one of the most beautiful southern regions of Thailand: Phang Nga. While the story of the James Bond series is fictional and set in the picturesque Phang Nga Bay, the story of “The Impossible” is actually set on the shores of Khao Lak, the beach that was worst hit by the 2004 tsunami.

TTM+ 2024 – Thailand Travel Mart

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, my introduction to the Phang Nga region started with an official invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand to attend this year’s TTM+ 2024 – Thailand Travel Mart as a traveller and journalist. TTM is a trade event, or B2B – Business to Business – where most of Thailand’s tourism companies participate as sellers; hotels, inbound tour operators, other tour operators, transport industry players, bus, boat and airline companies offer their services, and buyers from all over the world come to Thailand to visit their country. The exhibition will feature interesting presentations by renowned speakers such as “Global consumer trends transforming the tourism industry” or “Thailand’s gastronomic journey: a path to a sustainable food future”, current issues affecting the industry, and will be covered by the international press, with invited journalists and TV companies.

At the opening ceremony of TTM+ 2024 – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


The exhibition itself took place in Khao Lak, on a long stretch of sandy beach on Phang Nga in the Andaman Sea, at the JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa Hotel, a truly impressive venue. Khao Lak was hit hardest by the tsunami at the time, with thousands missing and dead on this stretch of beach. Of course, all traces of this have disappeared and the beach is beautiful, with excellent hotels for holidaymakers.

JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa Hotel – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


The name “Khao Lak” means “Main Mountain”. Mount Lak is one of the main peaks of the hilly small mountain range of Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park, which was once used as a landmark by seafarers to guide them to the safe harbor of Thap Lamu.  The area is a hub for diving trips from here and is known for its fabulous tropical sites and tranquil stretches of coastline. There are some 25 kilometers of sandy beaches here and all are public, as everywhere else in Thailand. It is also easily accessible from other cities in Thailand, with a well-developed road network and not least a domestic air transport network. The capital Bangkok is 1 and a quarter hours away by plane, Phuket is 1 hour away by car, Samui is accessible by ferry or domestic flight as it is only 300 kilometers away, and Krabi is an hour and a half away by bus or car.


Phang Nga

Phang Nga region is one of Thailand’s most scenic and historically rich areas, home to a variety of natural attractions and activities, making it an ideal destination for those looking for a holiday in Thailand rich in natural beauty and adventure. Phang Nga is located in the south of Thailand, on the western part of the Malay Peninsula, on the shores of the Andaman Sea. Neighbouring the provinces of Krabi and Phuket, its capital is Phang Nga town, known for its quiet, relaxed lifestyle and many interesting attractions.

The Phang Nga Bay from Samet Nangshe viewpoint – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler

The province’s best-known natural treasure is Phang Nga Bay, a nature reserve and home to the ever-popular James Bond Island. The Similan Islands are among the world’s best-known diving sites and Khao Lak, a popular beach resort with twenty-nine kilometres of sandy beaches, is also here.

Cultural and historical attractions include the Buddhist cave temple of Wat Suwan Khuha and the old mining town of Takua Pa.

The Phang Nga Bay and its surroundings are some of the world’s most beautiful places for kayaking and boating, and Khao Sok National Park has a number of hiking trails. For snorkeling and diving, the Similan and Surin Islands are ideal.

Environmental protection is a major concern for tourism industry leaders, who have established the Phang Nga Bay National Park and Khao Sok National Park. There is also a strong emphasis on ecotourism to ensure that visitors can explore the natural beauty of one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes in a sustainable way.


Phang Nga – that famous rock …

There is no doubt that if we didn’t know where Phan Nga is in Thailand, we all knew for sure that the iconic rock standing here was the location of an episode of the James Bond series. Khao Phing Kan, now James Bond island, has become one of Thailand’s most famous tourist attractions since the 1974 James Bond films episode The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed here, in which it was a key location. The island is located in Phang Nga Bay, one of Thailand’s most beautiful National Parks and is accessible by short boat ride. Khao Phing Kan is actually made up of two islands with particularly steep limestone cliffs, and Ko Tapu is a 20-meter high cliff that has become the James Bond island symbol. A true pilgrimage site, dozens of boats arrive here at all hours of the day and night, all year round, whether it’s raining or bright and sunny. Because of the island’s popularity, local authorities have imposed restrictions to regulate tourism and protect nature.

The 20 meter high cliff of Ko Tapu that has become the James Bond island symbol – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


Organic farms and elephant bathing in the river

Thailand has made careful preparations to ensure that in the event of a global disaster like Covid, the country’s people will not be left without jobs and income. Well, one way of doing this has been to make use of prime farmland. In the Covid period, a solution had to be found to replace the tourism sector, which was of paramount importance, and so many people turned to agriculture.

Rubber plantation of CBT Baan Bang Rong agricultural group – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


This was the case with the CBT Baan Bang Rong agricultural group, a small community that not only runs cottage organic farms, but also cultivates large areas of pineapple, coconuts and we were able to visit their rubber plantation. Through this work they supply the area and earn a steady income. The rubber is also exported abroad in flat sheets of about one centimeter.

Harvests from the pineapple plantation – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


Many also do noble work at local animal shelters. Thailand is fortunate to have an extremely large number of elephants, whether you visit the northern or southern regions. I myself have sat on elephant backs while climbing mountain sides or crossing rivers. On this occasion we visited a small camp near Khao Lak where they take in the most vulnerable animals. There are also homes for abandoned babies and elephants who are old and suffering from various ailments. They are let out at night when they want to go out, but during the day they are looked after, fed, medicated and, used to being around people and listening to the camp staff, they are always up for a bit of fun. We also accompanied them to the river, feeding them bananas, this and that and giving them a good swim in the water, which they obviously enjoyed immensely, along with us.

Elephant bathing in the river at an elephant sanctuary – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler

Good to know!

The most important change for traveling to Thailand is that you don’t need to apply for and pay for a visa, not even an arrival visa; you get a free visa automatically for 30 days from the day you enter the country.

Another very important positive is that you don’t have to fill in any questionnaire, for which you would then receive a QR code a few days later, without which you would not be allowed to leave your home airport – as is still the case in most distant countries.

Reminiscent of the good old days of peace and quiet, the simple protocol of simply boarding the plane with your ticket and heading off to fabulous Thailand.

In Thailand, it’s best to take local money out of the local ATMs, so you get the best value. You can also take other currencies, there are money changers everywhere. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, even in small shops. But you will need cash in the markets.

Phang Nga can be reached via Phuket International Airport, where there are direct flights with many airlines and where arrivals are a breeze, making for a pleasant arrival experience. Here you can also change money or change currency and buy a SIM card for your phone for ubiquitous internet access.


Those special Ladyboys

I have to say, it was a great experience to see the Ladyboys perform a cabaret dance and singing act at one of the big evening parties. They are so authentically feminine that it was only on looking at one of them that I thought, perhaps, that she might have a little more distinctive features than the average ‘woman’. It is true that the fragility of Thai people, what we would call ‘bird-boned’ at home, makes the great transformation they go through to live their lives as women and to find employment in a variety of arts and entertainment industries more believable.

Ladyboy show at a big beach party – Photo: Szilvia Szeszler


The term ‘ladyboy’ itself is primarily used in Thailand to describe people who are biologically male but identify as female and adopt a feminine appearance. Ladyboys are also known as ‘kathoey’ in Thai. They themselves often wear women’s clothes, use women’s hair styles and make-up, and many of them undergo hormone treatments or sex reassignment surgery to achieve a more feminine appearance.In Thailand, ladyboys are a relatively accepted part of society, but they can still face discrimination and prejudice.

It should be noted that in Thailand there is no legal way to officially recognise gender reassignment, so official documents (such as ID cards, passports) still show ladyboys as men, regardless of what surgeries they have undergone or how they identify themselves. Many of them face health problems due to hormone treatments and surgeries, and psychological problems can be common due to a lack of social acceptance. In Thai society, which is extremely tolerant of difference, ladyboys are a special group. Their lives and culture are closely linked to issues of gender identity and social acceptance.

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