Phang Nga is a coastal province on the Andaman Sea with scenic forests and islands. The province offers superb natural beauty both onshore and underwater. Phang Nga is also the name of the city that serves as the provincial capital.
Phang Nga was originally inhabited by small communities and named Kraphu-nga. During the reign of King Rama II, nearby areas (including Thalung, now known as Phuket) were occupied by the Burmese and so many people fled to Kraphu-nga. In 1824, Siamese troops defeated the Burmese and the invaders were expelled. King Rama III renamed the area Phang Nga and in 1933 the town was expanded to be a province.
Phang Nga is a melting pot of Buddhists, Thai-Chinese, Muslims and even sea gypsies. The majority of the rural population is Muslim. Phang Nga, however, is free of religious tension and the populace live in peace and harmony. Outside of the provincial town, the rural folk speak with a thick Southern dialect which is difficult for even other Thais to understand.
Given its mix, Phang Nga is always celebrating something, be it part of Thai Buddhist, Thai-Chinese or Thai-Islamic tradition.
Situated on the small island of Ko Surin is a community of Moken sea gypsies who still live their traditional lives as seafaring people. These sea gypsies speak Yawi dialect and are welcoming to tourists. However, just as is the case of the long-necked Karen in Mae Hong Son, some Moken complain that their village has come to resemble a human zoo with hoards of tourists walking around gawking at the villagers. Nevertheless, there are organized tours from Phang Nga which go there.
The State Railways of Thailand operates daily train services between Bangkok and Surat Thani. A trip to Phang Nga can be made by getting off at the Surat Thani Railway Station and then take on a bus for another two hours. For more information, call Bangkok’s Hualamphong Railway Station  tel. 1690, 0 2223 7010, 0 2223 7020.
Buses from Phuket, Takua Pa and Krabi pass through Phang Nga. During the day there are many buses from the bus station to Phuket, Krabi, Takua Pa, and Surat Thani. In the evening, however, there are few buses, but if you're lucky you might catch a bus on the Phuket-Krabi road. (4 km from the city) The phone number of the bus station is +66 76 412 014. The bus from Phuket number 2(new) bus station is B60, and a minibus from there is B100. The minibuses leave every hour.
Buses from further afield (e.g. Trang) generally don't always pass through Phang Nga (they take the 415 road instead), so you may be dropped off at the intersection. The most common way into town is by taxi-cycle, which costs 50฿ (March 2013). Due to the steep price it may be worth checking to make sure the bus you catch does pass through Phang Nga. Travel time from Trang bus station is 3h15m, costing 200฿ (March 2013).
There are daily bus services from Bangkok to Phang Nga. Air-conditioned buses, varying in 3 types, depart from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal at the following times:
Travelling time is ~12 hours. For more information, call the Southern Bus Terminal at +66 243 5119 9200 or the Phang Nga Bus Terminal at Tel: +66 76 412 300 or +66 76 412 014.
At the bus station itself, there is a friendly travel agent (Mr Kean) who will quite gladly give you a map of the city and area, as well as offer tours for Ao Phang Nga bay (500฿ - half day, March 2013)
The pier, Tha Dan, is 9 km south of the town.
From Phuket there are a variety of taxi and private car-hire services. However, there is a stranglehold on many of these agencies through local "associations" that demand high prices and disallow competition. It is a common complaint that passengers are made to stop at local gem and/or travel agencies allowing the drivers to collect a commission. To avoid this, demand the meter to be turned on or agree to price ahead of time, with no stops. Try to use licensed and certified agencies.
The most popular form of transport in Phang Nga is by songthaew (public passenger pick-up vehicles). To get to and from other districts, there is a public, non-air-conditioned bus service or even cars for rent. And for a day out on the islands, there are long-tailed boats for hire.
You can use the songthaews for travel in the city. If you want to explore the area, it is better to rent a motorbike. You can rent a motorbike at M.T. Tour (Muang Thong Hotel: from the bus station, go to the exit, turn right at the main road, walk 100 m and it's on your left). If you have your own car or motorbike already, you still can go to MT Tour (+66 89 289 2566) to get a free detailed map of the area. In general, everything (tours, accommodation, food) in Phang Nga is cheaper than Phuket. It's not possible to rent a car in Phang Nga, but in Khao Lak, Krabi or Phuket you can rent a car.
It is patterned after the Hindu tradition which is, to a point, prominent in Thai Buddhism. You will see statues of various gods including Ganesha, as well as virtues like the Three Wise Monkeys. But the most prominent feature is the statues of souls suffering in hell. These are very graphic and quite similar in some ways to the medieval Christian images of the same. They cover an area of about an acre or so. To get here, you can take a songteow along the main road - they go quite regularly - and then walk along the road to the Temple.
On the way to the cave itself, you will pass to the right of the path, images of a judge and his two scribes who are judging. To the left of the path are two really scared souls (with what looks like a potential executioner on either side of them.)
Some people may consider this rather over the top, but, it is their tradition and religion, so please respect.
The cave itself has been upgraded this past year (now 2013), and is now lit, although dimly, but it is well worth walking through for the several hundred metres to get a really good look at the cave. On your way out, again you will see the Buddhist Monks at the entrance. If you want, you can get a blessing from them - the Monk ties a string around your wrist, and then chants the blessing as you kneel in front. He will then offer you the offertory basin (usually filled with B20 notes coming from Thai people). Us "Farangs" should put in B100, after all, we are wealthy by comparison. Please note that there is no pressure on you to do this if you do not want.
You can climb up the structure on the right before you head towards the cave(steep steps) and get a really good view of Phang Nga Bay, and the surrounding mountains. Well worth a look. As at Dec 2013, there were no feral monkeys anywhere within the Temple grounds.
Phang Nga has a beautiful landscape with many waterfalls, mountains, islands, rivers, and hot springs. You can get a good map at M.T. Tour and visit the various attractions. Phang Nga has also special temples, each one with different characteristics. Attractions near the city are: The elephant mountain (temple), Sanong Manora waterfall, Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park. Further away are: Namtok Lamru a 5-tiered waterfall, Khao Lak (beaches), Ko Similan National Park (diving & snorkelling), Ko Surin National Park (diving & snorkelling). There are also jungle tours with rafting and temple tours.
Another great thing to do is community-based tourism. Communities around Phang Pga Province are opening up their villages to one day tours and overnight home stays. They usually come at a base price and list everything that will be included in the tour from batik painting to tin mining.
Phang Nga City is not a tourist destination. There are many banks and ATMs in the city. There is a 'K' bank near the centre of the town which advertises a money exchange service, but it has not been checked/tested (March 2013). If you have cash, change it before 15:30 on weekdays.
Tesco Lotus carries all brand names and convenience food. Boots, the chemist, and other chemists and pharmacies are available.
During the day you can get cheap and delicious meals at the market or at the restaurant in the Muang Thong Hotel. In this hotel it's also possible to have breakfast (eggs, toast, butter, & jam). There is a vegetarian restaurant on the main road if you walk south from the bus station. At night it is worth trying the restaurants on the riverside. Tuesdays and Thursdays there is a night market 500m south of the bus station (on the main road). Many guidebooks recommend Duang as a good place to eat. However as a tourist you will probably pay more than Thais. And Malaysians may have to pay even more than other tourists.
There are several hotels throughout the city, although they are all of relatively low standard and rather old. If you plan to see Phang Nga Bay and you want to stay overnight only for that reason you might want to reconsider your choice. In that case it might be better to stay in Phuket, Khao Lak or Krabi and take one of the frequent and inexpensive buses to Phang Nga early in the morning. You will likely get better quality of accommodation at comparable prices that way.
All of the budget hotels are within 400 m of the bus station so it won't be hard to walk to them. Exit the bus station and turn right.
Other budget options are Rattanapong (located between Muang Thong and Phang Nga Guesthouse), Thaweesuk (150 baht), and Lak Muang.