From an obscured island to international stardom, the story of Ko Tapu also known as Nail Island because of the limestone formations but better known by its international fame as James Bond Island. Everyone knows that suave secret agent with the code number 007 and the many women he tows around on his missions with that martini that is shaken not stirred! Who else could it be other than the sexy James Bond and his arch enemies? Incidentally, the site of Ko Tapu and Phang Nga Bay was the venue for 2 James Bond films, the other being “Tomorrow Never Dies” therefore reinforcing its fame and stature as a definite James Bond destination!
Prior to 1974, Ko Tapu was known as a diver paradise, as at that time tourism was just beginning to pick up in Thailand and the only forms of media quick enough to highlight or advertise a place was on TV or in the movies. It took longer for people to read than to watch and listen in those days, so thank goodness for the internet now and the marvellous World Wide Web! One can mull over the thought of was it a boon or a bane that Ko Tapu was selected as the venue for the new James Bond movie, “The Man With The Golden Gun” released in 1974. Along with the fame of Ko Tapu, attention was also drawn to the surrounding areas of Phang Nga Bay and Phuket which was the nearest drop of point to the island. The curiosity of the scenic beauty in Ko Tapu brought on by the launch of the movie soon brought flocks of tourist who wanted a glimpse of the place made it a much sought after tourist location to this day. Now, Ko Tapu is more well known by its international name of “James Bond Island” and the name of Ko Tapu has almost faded into obscurity except for the locals, the Thai people in general and those few who research on topics to write!
So what is it that made Ko Tapu so famous? One thing is that Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore and Christopher Lee were here! Which translated to that “James Bond” set foot on Ko Tapu much like man step foot on the moon and everyone who had come to the island wanted a piece of photo memory that related to that in their vacation albums. Standing on its own merit, Ko Tapu is a topographical delight. Outstanding in limestone rock formations that jut out from a clear azure sea is what dubbed it the name “Nail Island” in the first place. The calm bays around the island with powder white beaches and the finest sand is what visitors have come to enjoy. Development on the island has been kept to a minimum in an effort to reduce the impact of tourism on the ecological balance and much of the surrounding area has been designated a marine park also in an effort for marine conservation.
Today, visitors still flock in throngs to James Bond Island which has remained as endearing as the name it has taken after through 4 decades. The only thing is that there are now more boats plying the route to the island, more tourists stepping foot on the shores and more divers exploring the natural wonders of the marine kingdom. The tourist attraction of the island has also increased activities for the tourism industry to satiate the appetites of visitors who want to see more on what the island has to offer. So now, included in the tour itinerary for James Bond Island are other side attractions.
The popularity of Ko Tapu has also given rise to the popularity for the Island of Phuket. Most tourist have a planned trip to Phuket as their main agenda and from there proceeding on sightseeing trips to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island. Most of the trips out from Phang Nga Bay are considered island hopping tours and sightseeing in Phuket packages which include many other activities that take up a whole day. On a daily basis you can see bus loads of tourist disembarking at Phang Nga Bay and making their way to the attractions there before heading out on the island hopping trip to James Bond Island. A popular stop before Phang Nga Bay from Phuket is the Wat Suwankuha which means Monkey Caves, and as the name indicates, the primates are the main attraction. Flocking in troves outside the temple they can seem pretty cute until they get a little more aggressive when you start throwing food to them and it is a mad scramble for the tidbits. Within the temple is the gold plated reclining Buddha, not quite similar to the famous one in Wat Pho in Bangkok but strikes a similar pose of the Buddha as he attains enlightenment. The temple is built within the confines of a cave in a limestone mountain which seem to be the natural rock formations of the area and has an intricate caving system extending in tunnels to many smaller caves.
Getting back on the bus, tourist are then brought to Phang Nga Bay to board a long-tail boat which will take them to the Muslim floating fishing village at Ko Pannyi. Note that some of the locals have dubbed the fishing village as a tongue- in- cheek referral to “Bin Laden Village” as one would think because of the way the fishermen dress to keep out the heat while at sea. This fishing village is 200 years old and established from the times when Muslim fishermen from the Indonesian archipelago sought shelter in the bay and eventually settled to build the floating village on stilts that still serve them today. The livelihood of the fishermen are now subsidized by income from the tourism industry through souvenir shops and restaurants. You will be surprised that this place offers a great lunch buffet prior to the trip by long-tail boat to James Bond Island.
A short boat ride will bring you to the much awaited destination of James Bond Island. If you take the regular James Bond Island tour and sightseeing packages, they will mostly bring you to the jetty area where it is overcrowded with vendors and food stalls. Everything here is double the price as the vendors try to cash in on the popularity of the destination. This is the most frequent stop for tour packages to James Bond Island and you get to spend approximately 45 minutes on the island before having to take the boat back to Phang Nga Bay. One can hardly have enough time to really explore the island unless you decide to take a private boat trip to James Bond Island offered by other tour operators. There are also some James Bond Island sightseeing tours that will spend a bit more time taking you around the island and the bays so that you can actually see the entire island itself. Off course these packages will cost a little more but they are less crowded and more enjoyable. If you want something a little more exotic, checkout the sunset cruise and dinner packages for James Bond Island. These are a little more relaxing with more time for you to enjoy the sights while having a romantic cruise and dinner onboard a comfortable yacht to sail around the bay, making it very much alike the James Bond films!
Other things the more adventurous can do around the island are diving packages to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island. As the areas around the island are a marine park, one can see a rich collection of marine fauna and flora including soft corals and a diverse marine ecological system. Divers will have a great time here exploring the underwater wonders and as the limestone formations extend from the sea as well, it provides an unusual diving topography for the avid diver. There are many organized diving excursions to James Bond Island and divers can select from a whole day diving package to Phang Nga Bay or a half day package. The dive shops are fully licensed and all equipment provided are part of the package. Note also that the coming months of late October to January is the perfect diving season with calm waters and clear blue seas. It is also the high season for visitors to Phuket and the surrounding islands so holidays to Phuket and Phang Nga Bay should be booked well in advance. One can say that the magnetism of James Bond Island has long been there even before the introduction by the film and the only difference is that it has been made more popular. If you are hoping to find any James Bond related souvenirs there, you will be most disappointed. The only souvenir you could take back is a photo from the same scenes in the movie!