Khao Phing Kan or Ko Khao Phing Kan, popularly referred to as the James Bond island is an island in Thailand, in Phang Nga bay, north east of Phuket. The islands are limestone tower karsts, and are a part of the Ao Phang Nga National Park. About 40 meter from the shores of Khao Phing Ka lies a 20 meter tall islet called Ko Ta Pu or Ko Tapu.
Khao Ping Kan literally means ‘the hills leaning against each other’ in Thai, reflecting the connected nature of these islands. Ko Ta Pu, literally means ‘crab’s eye’ islands, while Ko Tapu can be translated as ‘nail’ or ‘spike’ island, reflecting its shape. With ‘ko’ meaning ‘island’, ‘khao’ meaning ‘hill’; ko, khao and ko khao are used interchangeably often.
Before 1974, the island was a rarely visited indigenous area. However, it was chosen as one of the shooting locations for the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun, as a hideout for Bond’s antagonist, Francis Scaramanga. After the movie released, the place became a very popular tourist destination.
In 1981, the island became the most famous part of the newly established Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park. Since 1998, it is forbidden for tourist boats to approach Ko Ta Pu. The measure was taken with an aim to stop erosion of the limestone rocks on and near the islet that might eventually result in the island’s collapse.
Khao Phing Kan consists of two forest covered islands with steep shores. The island has a few caves and two sandy beaches. One of the island hosts the government office where every visitor has to pay a tax. The other island is used as the port for the tourist boats arriving from the mainland and has several souvenir shops selling items like coral and shells and plastic encased butterflies, scorpions and spiders. Beaches and caves are regularly flooded with tides, which have a large magnitude, making the caves accessible only during the low tide time.
Ko Ta Pu is a limestone rock 20 meter tall. There is a popular local legend explaining the formation of the Ko Ta Pu. Once upon a time there lived a fisherman who used to bring home many fish every time he went to the sea. However, one day he could not catch any fish despite many attempts and only picked up a nail with his net. He kept throwing the nail back into the sea and it kept coming back in his net. Furious, he took his sword and cut the nail into half with all his strength. Upon impact, one half of the nail jumped up and speared into the sea, forming Ko Ta Pu. A scientific version of the Ko Ta Pu formation says that in the Permian period, the area was a barrier reef. With continuous tectonic movements, it ruptured and its parts were dispersed over the area and flooded with the rising ocean. The islands thus formed underwent continuous erosion from forces of wind, water currents, waves, tides, etc.
In the 1974 James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, the villain – Francis Scaramanga describes Ko Ta Pu as a mushroom shaped rock, which houses two large solar panels that open up on top of Ko Ta Pu and look onto the Sun. Ko Ta Pu is also featured in another James Bond movie – Tomorrow Never Dies, where it is identified as in Vietnam. The place is also featured in an Italian film Quo Vado.
Phang Nga Bay covers an area of 400 sq km and is home to some 100 islands, many of which could feature in The Guinness Book of Records either for their beauty or for their freakish shapes. Since Ko Ta Pu is under National Park protection, no boats of any kind are allowed to go too close to the island because of its precarious position. The two best ways to view the James Bond island are from boats or from the small beach on Koh Ping Ghan. Koh Ping Ghan is another wonder of Mother Nature. It is a very high leaning rock that has small caves inside. It is an amazing spot to check out. On its crowded eastern beach, there are stalls and stands selling knickknack souvenirs, mostly made from shells and woods.
The area is a popular destination for sailing as well as kayaking. Most of the organised tours to James Bond island are combined with a visit to other popular islands and usually include a stop for a seafood lunch at the charming Koh Panyee, a nearby fishing village on stilts. Most tour companies hand out plastic bags to protect your cameras, it is really best to bring along a snap-shut waterproof bag. If you want to have more freedom, you can rent a long tail boat from Surakul Pier in Phanga Nga for less than 2000 baht for a good three to four hours. The boat can carry up to ten people.
The James Bond island is open all year round. Trips can be arranged from Phuket and Phang Nga.