Mention “Phuket” and eyes light up at the thought of shimmering beaches and aquamarine sea waters. The island has been immortalised in movies and regarded as the perfect destination for an “exotic” beach getaway. Google images depicting day cruises, sunbathers and picnics on the beach convince you that yes, this is paradise on earth.
The allure is slightly diminished with the volume of tourists in Phuket during busy seasons, but with the right tour company, you can still have a sandy-beach perfect vacation. I was struck when I came across rave review after rave review for this tour company called Simba Sea Trips, when scouting for a good tour of Phang Nga Bay. So I booked, with confidence, albeit with a tiny sliver of too-good-to-be-true doubt at the back of my mind. Plonking down mucho money for two (4,200 Baht per person) via PayPal can make you a bit nervous.
There is no lack of choice if you want to bargain hunt for a tour instead of buying online. I paid the off-peak season rate of 1,500 Baht per person for an island hopping trip around Phi Phi islands. Thirty people on a boat doesn’t sound terrible, but it wasn’t ideal. While it hit the main spots, seats were uncomfortable, stops felt rushed and food was average. You get what you pay for, as it is often said.
My tour of Phang Nga Bay was the very next day, and any doubts melted away very quickly the moment our shuttle dropped us off at the swanky Royal Marina. Only a handful of other individuals were waiting for the tour to take off. We were greeted warmly by a few different staff members, and when I said good morning to a middle-aged gentleman, he led me to seats on the boat with the best view.
Our tour was called Phang Nga Bay and Beyond. They brought us to the highlights — James Bond Island, caving and swamp exploring at Koh Phanak, lagoon swimming, canoeing, and then some. Lunch was at a restaurant on Koh Yao Noi, which is located halfway between Krabi and Phuket. We had time afterwards to sit in hammocks on the beach and drink in a panorama of limestone karsts that loomed straight ahead.
We were only about 13-15 pax, including the crew, even though seating capacity is 22. The tour felt like it had been organized by a wealthy friend whose personal staff were tasked with caring for his guests. Simba’s early departures from the dock meant we skipped the crowds at popular spots. Food, whether it was a packed picnic or at a restaurant, was delicious. Since we went at such a relaxed pace, I thoroughly enjoyed details of the sights, sounds and tastes.
Their website is well-organized too. Pictures, pricing, detailed itineraries are all there. Unlike other operators, they give tours on privately-owned boats that are operated by an in-house crew. Not outsourced. My experience with paradise was intact, thanks to the top notch service of Simba Sea Trips.