It started with three families who set out on a search for a new home some 200 years ago.
Leaving Indonesia by boat, they promised to alert each other if they found somewhere new they could all live, and fish. One of the families came across this tiny island in Phang Nga Bay, and true to their word, raised a flag high up on the limestone mountain to tell the others of their find.
Today, Koh Panyee (the island of the flag) is home to nearly 2,000 people, all of whom are descendants of the families who first settled here. Together, they reside in this village built almost entirely on stilts, floating in the middle of the Andaman sea.
We’re making a stop at this unique place as part of a day trip to Phang Nga Bay, guided by the company Phuket Sail Tours. There are countless tour groups offering trips of this kind, but I chose PST because they limit the number of passengers they take and leave earlier in order to avoid the crowds. You can get to Koh Panyee without a tour group of course, but you’ll need to rent your own long-tail boat from the Surakul pier nearby.
It’s another swelteringly hot day in Phuket. The warm breeze on our speedboat provides a nice escape from the midday heat, but it’s a little deceiving as you’re not aware of how much you’re burning under the blazing sun.
The view around Phang Nga is beautiful, just like the rest of Phuket, with limestone cliffs towering out of the water at every turn. Our boat speeds through the ocean and slams down as we hit the waves, and in the distance, the giant limestone mountain which the village is built around comes into view.
You can make out the buildings as we start to approach the main pier, with the mosque at the top of the village standing out most prominently. This is a Muslim community, and the mosque is one of the few places in town that’s not built on stilts.
Right next to the pier we disembark on is the special floating football pitch, which we stop to admire and take pictures of first. This pitch is the reason why many tourists like me will know about this place, and its significance comes from an inspiring story which I’d definitely recommend you watch in the video below.
Once a fishing village, Koh Panyee is mainly a tourist spot nowadays, with 60% of its livelihood coming from tourism and only 30% from fishing. You can see this as you walk through the village, with mostly souvenir stalls lining each side of the concrete walkway.
Most of the buildings are packed so tightly together that you quite quickly forget you’re walking above the water until a gap appears which lets you look out into the alley, and to the discoloured water underneath.
The village has everything a small, remote community like this needs, including a hospital, shops, restaurants, and even a school, which is where we’re going first.
Each classroom on either side of the playground is for a different age group. As the children get older, they move along the rooms and eventually have to go to the mainland, if they want to study further education.
Next, we stop for some lunch at the village restaurant located right on the edge of the town, which looks out onto the beautiful Andaman sea.
Here, we’re treated to a delicious meal including a thick and creamy massaman curry, crispy prawn and chicken tempura, savoury fried vegetables, a spicy chicken soup, and a plate of french fries which you can’t seem to escape, even on a remote island like this.
As I’m enjoying each mouthful of our specially cooked meal, I start to feel the restaurant beneath me move each time a nearby boat speeds away, and leaves behind a trail of waves that hit the building’s foundations.
All of a sudden, I become very aware that I’m sitting on nothing more than planks of wood hovering above the water, with gaps in the floorboards so big you could drop your camera through. Looking out at the horizon and the calm ocean today, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to live here during the monsoon season.
Unbelievably, it was only four years ago that Koh Panyee started receiving a water and electricity supply, which makes their way of life even more extraordinary than the one you and I know.
Koh Panyee might be another place that’s lost its authenticity to tourism, but the unique setting of this remote village and the stories it holds is why you visit a place like this. And if nothing else, it serves as another reminder to not take what we have for granted.
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Take a boat trip to beautiful Koh Phi Phi
Need to know
- Strictly no alcohol at Koh Panyee
- Phang Nga Bay by speedboat tour – 3,900 THB per adult (approx. £90)
- Hotel transfers, soft drinks and lunch are included