Since I was a young boy, James Bond has had an important role in my life. I still remember watching the TBS marathons with my father in the Poconos: especially The Man With The Golden Gun. The image of solar panels rising out of a rock in the middle of the water has been ingrained in my head for two decades and, when I learned that I could visit the actual island where the movie was filmed it became my number one priority in southern Thailand.
Tours to James Bond Island are more than plentiful in Krabi and Phuket, with fliers and signs posted on every tour office billboard and window. Every day thousands of tourists who found Bangkok holiday deals board boats for different types of tours, but around lunch time they all make way for the island. This was exactly what I did not want, as I wanted the place to myself to explore and find the actual filming locations. After looking for a while I resolved to joining the masses: until we found Sim’s Tours.
Offering a twilight cruise around Phang Nga Bay (pronounced fang-nah), Sim’s was the only company that actually arrived on the island just before sunset. The bay itself is home to dozens of large limestone crags that jut out of the water in beautiful chaotic ways. Some have small beaches, but many are just rock formations that pepper the landscape. It’s very outer-worldly and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In reality, Sim’s tour was like a 2 for 1 special, as the crags were must-sees for us as well.
The adventure began when we arrived at the pickup point five minutes late and learned that the bus had already left. The tour agent suggested that we just go a different day, but we had run out of time in Phuket. Repeated calls to the bus resulted in more frustrations, as they did not want to wait for us. However, after some pleading they agreed, so we flagged down a motorcycle taxi and told him to step on it so we could catch up with the bus.
In true Bondian fashion we sped down the streets of Phuket, weaving in and out of traffic. Man was that bus far away! When we got to the large hill dividing Phuket island our bike began to huff and puff its way up. “Hurry up,” I thought, as the minutes ticked by. When the bike finally made it over the hump and to the meeting point, the bus was nowhere in sight. However, while dealing with being charged double what we thought we agreed to the Sim’s bus showed up and we hopped on.
Finally comfortable on the air conditioned coach bus, we listened in as our guide explained the tour to us, joking that his Thai name was too complicated and we should just call him James. As in James Bond, 007. He spoke for a while longer then put The Man With the Golden Gun on the bus’ TV to get the group ready.
Our first stop was Wat Suwannakuha, a beautiful cave temple with a reclining Buddha statue and lots of stalactites and stalagmites. From there it was onto the docks, where our covered long tail boat waited to take us into Phang Nga Bay. We sped along, staring in awe at the crags that towered above our boat and snapping away with our cameras: no photos could have prepared us.
After touring the bay, our next stop was the Muslim Gypsy village: a collection of houses on stilts that used to be a traditional town but has since become a tourist trap. It was sad to see that the entire village is now a floating market filled with stall after stall selling the same tee shirts, magnets, post cards and souvenirs…many with James Bond Island plastered across them. Still, although I did not like what I saw, I couldn’t resist the chance to get some keepsakes for myself.
Back on the boat again, we sped around more crags before I saw it creeping up in the distance. Finally, James Bond Island was before me. We did a loop around it before coming to dock on the back side of the beach. I was the second one off and, after paying the national park entrance fee I was off running around the place like a kid at Christmas.
The actual beach and island was extremely small…you could walk from one end to the other in less than a minute. Still, all the set locations were there: the triangular shaped entrance to Scaraamanga’s fortress, the steps Nick Nack walked down with a bottle of champaign in the teaser sequence, the area of the beach where Bond’s plane landed…and most importantly, Nail Island: the crag that the solar panel came out of in the film.
Snap. Snap snap snap. It’s all I did for most of the time on the island, though my serenity was quickly broken as two more boats arrived just after us and the place soon filled with dozens of other snapping tourists and Bond aficionados.
Also quite different from when the movie was filmed was the row of souvenir stands that stands in the middle of the beach and blocks a direct walk from one end of the island to the other. Sadly, or happily…I can’t decided to this day…the stands were all closed. I guess a few dozen visitors are not enough to stay open when compared to the thousands they get at lunch. I would have liked to have seen all the goodies they had to offer, but am glad I was not hounded to buy things my whole time on James Bond Island.
Finally, about 30 minutes after we arrived it was time to leave. I was in no way ready: I could have stayed there soaking it all in for hours, but most other people on the boat do not share my special love for 007. So it was back to sea, passing yet more crags with the sun setting in the distance. We watched as the sky changed from blue to a mix of purple, pink, orange, navy and finally black. All with the crags framing the scene and providing a stunning backdrop.
All in all things could not have worked out better. We saw the crags and I got to go onto James Bond Island all by myself…for a few seconds at least. For anyone else who ever wanted to see the place and finds themselves in Phuket, I highly recommend Sim’s Twilight Tours. You can find information about it at any tourist office in town, the price is right and the experience unforgettable.
Some other new fun facts about The Man With the Golden Gun and Thailand that I learned from Sim…
- The Man With the Golden Gun was the first movie to be used as a promotional tool for Thailand. It was the first Western movie to show Thai boxing, floating markets, traditional Thai dance, longtail boats and the streets of Bangkok.
- A mere couple of years after the movie’s release, tourism had become the #3 industry in Thailand.
- Ever year, more than 600,000 people visit James Bond Island