Phang Nga Bay


Ages 8 & up
Destination:
Phuket, Thailand

The James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed here, on this gorgeous bay north of the well-developed Thai resort island of Phuket. It's a stunning backdrop, with limestone towers jutting precariously from the water's glassy turquoise surface, creating more than 120 small islands that look like something out of a Chinese scroll painting. Kids, of course, are notorious for not appreciating beautiful scenery; what they will appreciate is the unique way you get to explore this craggy seascape -- lying down in small canoes to slip inside secret caves. It lives up to every pirate fantasy they've ever had, and then some.

An arm of the Andaman Sea, its warm waters edged with white beaches, red mud banks, and tropical stands of mangrove trees, Phang Nga Bay is a national park 11D2 hours' drive north of Phuket Town. Two-passenger kayaks, with an experienced paddle guide at the helm, dart around the bay's distinctive craggy island rocks; you'll be told to lie flat in the boat to slip through tight cave openings. Once inside, magnificent chambers open up above the internal lagoons (called hongs, which is Thai for "rooms"), where it's believed pirates once hid their operations -- or, if you're James Bond, secret agents hid their evil devices.

Touristy as it is, it's something you've got to do, especially with kids. The daylong tours include transport to and from Phuket Town, a cruise to the part of the bay where the islands cluster, a paddle guide, a bright-yellow inflatable kayak, and lunch. Once you've finished the tricky maneuvering around the caves, the guide may even let you paddle a bit yourself. The premier operator for these trips is Sea Canoe, Box 276, Muang Phuket 83000 (tel. 07621-2252; www.seacanoe.net).

Of course, if you want to do things the cushy way, you can just cruise around this lovely tropical bay on a restored Chinese sailing junk, the Bahtra (contact East West Siam in Patong, 119 Rat-U-Thit 2000 Year Rd.; tel. 07634-0912). You won't get inside those caves, but you'll still feel plenty pirate-y.

Information: www.phuket.com/island/phangnga.htm.

Nearest Airport: Phuket International.

Accommodations: Dusit Laguna Resort, 390 Srisoontorn Rd., Cherngtalay District (tel. 067632-4320; www.dusit.com). Karon Beach Resort, 51 Karon Rd., Tambon Daron (tel. 07633-0006; www.katagroup.com).