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 is indeed a beautiful Thai province with many natural attractions. There are many stretches of unspoiled beaches. Inland it is quite hilly. There are several jungle clad mountains, some of which are covered in beautiful mists in the early mornings.
The west coast has great long stretches of lovely beaches. There are a few holiday resorts dotted all the way along this long stretch of coast but much of this shoreline is undeveloped and unspoiled.
The main tourist area is Khao Lak which is actually a series of small villages on the central western coast. There is a tiny hamlet called Khao Lak just south of the Khao Lak Lam Ru National Park. Khao Lak really means Lak mountain, which is a hilly peak within the National Park. The area refered to as Khao Lak now actually stretches out along several beaches just upto the south of a town called Takua Pa. This is where the main holiday accommodation is found with many beachfront hotels.
But the majority of the province is undeveloped. There are several national parks and many beautiful waterfalls and caves. Activities in Phang Nga include trekking, bird watching, rafting, kayaking, rock climbing and diving. Or you can just relax on the beach.
Phang Nga was originally inhabited by small communities and named Kra phu-nga. During the reign of King Rama II, nearby areas (including Thalang, 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.
Like neighbouring Phuket, Phang Nga flurished at its own pace from the tin mining boom. Towns such as Takua Pa (old town), Thai Muang, Kapong and even Phang Nga town were mining tin.
Thai Muang, loosely translates to "the last stop of the tin mine" in Thai, and like Takua Pa was home to many Chinese tin miners who migrated to the area during the industry's boom in the late 18th century. The family members would sit by the wastewater streams, to collect small reject particles of tin to sell. Hence this was effectively, the "last stop of the tin from the mine".
Takua Pa Town became an international trading center. In 2005 there was an inspiring Thai biographical drama movie film called the The Tin Mine. It was a story of a university student who was retired from one of the best universities in Thailand and was sent to a tin mine in Takua Pa to work. He worked at the mine for nearly four years and suffered many hardships before the mine was closed.
Tin was also mined offshore. During the tin mining era, one or two tin ore vessels sunk and have now become modern day diving sites.
These days there are few reminders of the once booming tin mine industry. Phang Nga's economy moved on to rubber plantations and other agricultural products.
Phang Nga has never overdone the more recent tourism aspects and has always maintained itself as a quieter and more laid back destination than its noisy neighbour Phuket. There are no massed rows of sun loungers on the beaches. There are no jet-skis and banana boats skimming across the sea. There are no discos or go-go bars. There are no theme parks or great shopping malls. Instead, Phang Nga developed a tourism industry based on its natural attractions of beautiful beaches and unspoiled landscape.
Khao Lak became the main tourist area with a range of up-market hotels and smaller bungalow operations.
The province’s most beautiful natural areas were declared national parks to protect them from development. The Similan Islands and the Surin Islands were turned into marine national parks and became protected world class diving sites. Similarly Phang Nga Bay was made a national park to protect the glorious natural scenery of this area.
The Khao Lak area in Phang Nga suffered a devasting tsunami on 26th December 2004, in part due to its very shallow shoreline. (the height of the tsunami waves is inversely proportional to the depth of the sea floor). There was a huge loss of life. In particular the Thai fishing village of Baan Nam Khem, just south of Takua Pa, suffered a lot of casualities. Here two very large and heavy fishing trawlers were swept into the village by the tsunami waves. Today there is a simple but meaningful tsunami memorial park at this village.
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.
There is no airport here. The closest ones are in Phuket or Krabi. Nok Air offers flight+minivan service from Bangkok to Phang Nga v.v. by flying with Nok Air from Bangkok to Krabi and transferred on a minivan to Phannga. This can be booked directly from their website.
From Krabi airport you do not have to go to the Krabi bus station to get a bus to Phang Nga, as the buses coming from the South pass by the airport on the highway. To catch a bus walk out to the highway (100m), cross over and go about 50m to the right where you will see a yellow shelter on the left side of the road. In May 2015 a bus (big and air conditioned) to the Phang Nga bus station cost 100 baht and passed by at 9:30am after waiting for less than half an hour. Make sure you hail down the bus. Frequency and times unfortunately unknown, so if this sounds too uncertain for you, make your way to the Krabi bus station and get a bus from there (price to Krabi bus station displayed inside the airport was 80 baht).
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.
The in-town bus station no longer exists as of June 2017!
A new bus station is now some 3 Km out of town on the main City bypass road, towards Krabi. If you arrive there, there is a blue songteow (communal pick-up truck transport) there which will take you into town for B20. Just go directly to the outdoor seating area on the right and look for it. Do not be scammed by someone calling one for you. It stops there regularly.
The bus from Phuket number 2(new) bus station is B60. A minibus from Phuket old bus station (which is now the City minibus station),is B120. The minibuses leave every hour and go directly into the City centre after first stopping at the bus station.
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.
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 go to Ta Dan and hire a longtail directly for about 1500 baht. This is good if you have enough people to splt the cost. Otherwise, you will pay less (as an individual) by going through a tour agency. Be sure to negotiate.
You can use the songthaews for travel in the city, however there are now few of these as of June 2017. 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). 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.) Behind these to the left,is an official dragging up another person to face the judgement!
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 City centre. 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).
There are a few places in or near the town centre where you can eat - morning, noon or night. Everything in Thai, but point and ask.
There are several hotels throughout the city, although most are 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.
Right from the original bus station road is: Muang Thong Hotel near the traffic lights. A little further along the road and next door to the 7-11 on the right hand side of the road is the Rattanapong Hotel. Another 100m along is the Thaweesuk Hotel, which appears to be the most upmarket of the lot.
To the left of the road is the Phang Nga Guesthouse on the left (up the hill as you walk), and on the right is The Sleep Hotel. A little further on the same side of the road is the Pranee Home.
All of the budget hotels are within a few hundred metres of the in town traffic lights, so it won't be hard to walk to them.
Reasonable English is spoken at Reception. If you book online through an agency you will pay B1200 for a standard room, or B1500 for a deluxe room. As a walk in, you will pay B990 for a standard room. You can email them and get the good price. [email protected] Street address is 180/2 Petchkasem Road, Phone 076 411633, 098 6069090. Breakfast is a comprehensive buffet of Thai and American.
The only way out of the City for most destinations is by the new bus station. An exception is the local bus heading north to Khuraburi via Takua Pa, which departs from the new bus station at 6.00. 7.20, 8.20, 9.50, 11.20, 12.10, 12.50, 13.30, 14.50, 16.00 and 17.20 and then picks up passengers along the main road through town including at the old bus station and opposite the Seven Eleven store next to the market (July 2019).
Take a motorcycle taxi, or from (what used to be) the old bus station close to the centre of town (the travel agents are here!) there is a minibus costing B100 per person, or your hotel may be able to call a blue songteow which does the run to and from the bus station for B50 per person.
There is also a songteow which you can hire as a private hire, and he will want B100.
Phang Nga Bay is famous for its gravity-defying limestone formations. You can make the tour with Sayan  (in the bus station) or MT Tour (in the Muang Thong hotel, 100 m from the bus station). Half-day tours with transfer cost 800 baht as of May 2015 at either operator, bargaining seemed pretty much impossible, you may have better luck trying to get an additional cave added or adjust the itinerary to fit your needs. Full-day tours 1100 baht.
Bus to Surat Thani (Non aircon) will cost B150 at March 2018. It takes 2.5 hours. It terminates in Soi 33 in the centre of the city.
Bus to Krabi from the bus station will cost you B80. It takes 1.5 hours.
There are frequent buses to Phuket from the bus station, minivans take you to the Phuket Town bus station (old bus station) for 120 baht, while the big buses only go to the new bus station (bus station 2) outside of Phuket Town for 90 baht (May 2015)