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Ao Phang Nga National Park, Thailand - Amazing National Parks
156    Dibyendu Banerjee    29/02/2024

Considered as Thailand's most famous marine protected area, Ao Phang Nga National Park is situated along the coast of Phang-Nga Province of the Southern Thailand, covering an area of around 400 sq km. It includes the biggest native mangrove forests in Thailand along the mainland, along with a section of the Strait of Malacca, dotted with numerous limestone tower karst islands with tall and steep cliffs with rock overhangs, caves and coral gardens, sandy beaches and interesting canoeing spots with sea level caves leading to inland lagoons. While the landscape of the park is characterized by its islands with steep and sheer sides, its topography, significant for its environmental conservation efforts, has contributed to the area becoming a sought-after tourist destination.

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Among the numerous islands located in the park, Khao Phing Kan, the iconic limestone karst island rising straight up between two islands, stands out as particularly well-known and nicknamed James Bond Island as it featured as a filming location for the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. Declared as a marine national park in 1981, Ao Phang Nga National Park is significant for its environmental conservation efforts and is recognized for protecting the largest expanse of native mangrove forest remaining in Thailand.

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Cave passage to a lagoon, Phang-Nga Bay
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Canoeing in Phang Nga Bay

Ao Phang Nga National Park, containing islets, sunken caverns and startling rock formations rising vertically out of the sea, is considered as a geological wonder. It is believed that the mountain range in the region has been originated approximately 136 to 36 million years ago and this formation is attributed to structural geological features, especially the faults, including the Khlong Marui fault and Phang Nga fault.

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The region also displays a combination of sedimentary and metamorphic rock formations, which is particularly evident in the limestone mountains. With the progress of time, these geological changes have led to the formation of numerous caves and holes in the natural landscape.

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Mangrove Forest in Phang Nga Bay

Archaeological research at Khao Tao, located within the Ao Phang Nga National Park in 1987, uncovered prehistoric human burial sites, evidencing early human habitation in the area. Further studies, including the examination of shell fossils discovered  in the  caves and on the islands within Phang Nga Bay, indicate significant fluctuations in sea levels, which suggest that around 11,000 years ago, sea levels in the region were considerably lower due to the Ice Age.

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However, around 7,500 to 8,500 years ago, the current islands, especially the upland rocky mountains, witnessed a gradual rise in sea level, reaching around 14.75 feet (4.5 m) above the present level, while the sea level was only about 1.5 meters higher than current levels, around 1500 years ago.

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Mangrove swamps and wooden jetties backed by karst limestone mountains

Ao Phang-nga National Park is home to one of the largest and most well-preserved mangrove forests in the country, characterized by a diverse range of plant species, which plays a crucial role in the coastal environment, serving as a natural barrier against storms, as well as a vital breeding ground for various marine species. Apart from various species of mangroves like Rhizophora apiculata, Rhizophora mucronata, Avicennia alba, Avicennia officinalis, Bruguiera cylindrica and others, the islands in the park support tropical rainforests with species such as Hopea ferrea, the mulberry tree Artocarpus lacucha, the pea plant Parkia timoriana, the clusia tree Garcinia cowa and many more.

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The islands in the park support various species of birds, which include, among others, the white-bellied sea eagle, brahminy kite, hornbills, drongo, babblers, sunbirds and flower peckers. Apart from that, rare bird species like the kamchatka leaf warbler, scarlet-breasted flower-pecker, spotted wood owl, brown-winged kingfisher, white-bellied sea eagle are also included among the 88 bird species identified in the park area. While the white-handed gibbon and serow, a medium-sized mammal, once found in the area, are now extinct in the region, among the 17 mammal species found in the park, smooth-coated otters, dusky leaf monkeys and crab-eating macaques are considered endangered. Among 18 reptile species found in the park, the clouded monitors and mangrove pit vipers are quite common. The rich marine life in the park area includes several species of fish, whales and whale sharks, Olive Ridley and green sea turtles.

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Koh Panyee

While the crystal clear turquoise waters surrounding the islands are ideal for canoeing, there are several lagoons in various islands accessible by canoeing through sea level caves. Before the 1974 Bond movie, James Bond Island was locally known as Khao Phing Kan or Ko Khao Phing Kan, along with an islet called Ko Ta Pu or Ko Tapu. While Khao Phing Kan stands for hills leaning against each other in the Thai language, reflecting the connected nature of the islands, Ko Ta Pu literally means crab’s eye island and Ko Tapu can be translated as Nail Island, reflecting its pointed shape. They are limestone karst towers and part of Ao Phang Nga National Park. James Bond Island is very scenic, even the cruise from Phuket Island through the fantastic limestone cliffs is breathtaking. It is part of a beautiful day trip to the fabulous Phang Nga Bay and it usually includes lunch at the surprising floating village of Koh Panyi, the amazing village entirely built on stilts. Although lesser known to the tourists, the northern parts of Ko Yao Noi and Ko Yao Yai Islands are also worth visiting for white beaches. However, Ko Yao Yai Island is accessible only by boat, while Ko Yao Noi can be reached by vehicles.

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To save the ecosystem of the park form mass tourism and to facilitate environmental recovery, Fodor's Travel included Ao Phang Nga National Park in their "No List" for 2018, advising the tourists to skip the park to allow it to recover, to facilitate environmental recovery and mitigate the effects of over-tourism.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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