Phang Nga Bay is breathtaking, and so are the durians you can find here! 🤣Here’s our little guide to the best ever James Bond Island Durian Adventure.
About Ao Phang Nga (Phang Nga Bay)
Phang Nga Bay is such a breathtakingly rugged, almost prehistoric landscape that it’s totally understandable that the evil villain in one of the James Bond flicks would choose one of these rocky islands for his hideout.
Speeding over the bumpy turquoise sea through these looming, strange-shaped karsts should be and is a popular tourist attraction. It’s a highlight for me of all my trips to Southern Thailand.
But since most people take day-trips from Phuket by speedboat, they miss all of the durian action going on just nearby.
It’s super easy to combine your day-trip to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island with an epic Southern Thailand durian adventure too.
Durian Stalls On Highway 4
To get to the launch point for James Bond Island, you need to drive along Highway 4 – the tarmac artery that connects all of Southern Thailand.
As you enter Lo Yung Subdistrict, you’ll suddenly start seeing durian stalls lining either side of the road. This is where you *should* take the turn for James Bond Island, but probably you’ll want to take a turn-ff for durian first 😁
We’ve labeled all the durian stalls on the map below ↓↓↓ If you want to find out if there is currently durian available, make sure to check our Durian App.
The durian stalls vary in size and permanency.
Some seem to rotate through different vendors, selling different kinds of fruit on different days – an epic Tekka-like durian baan one day, a frustrating pile of cempedak or curtain of sato every other day you pass by.
The largest and most permanent location is a strip of around 15 stalls near the Lo Yung District Administration Building.
Here it’s a mix of commercial durians with names like Monthong, Chanee, Ganyao, etc., and the local-style durian called Durian Baan, which literally translates as “Home Durian” or “The Durian Tree in My Backyard.”
We noticed that much of the commercial durian was coming from relatively far away, places like Krabi or Surat Thani (okay fine, it’s like an hour) but when we talked to the vendors selling Durian Baan, they sometimes pointed across the road to the tops of barely visible durian trees.
This was my first bite of truly bitter durian in Thailand.
Chanee can have elements of bitter, more like metallic alcohol, but it’s still too sweet to have the depth of bitter of more Malaysian-style durians.
But even here bitter is elusive. That’s the thing about Durian Baan — since they are all genetically distinct, durians from different tree look and taste different.
This particular bitter baan was sold in a set of 3 fruits for around ฿100. Sellers sometimes call this a Puang. The other durians in the puang were not as good.
They were sweet and buttery, but kind of meh after the bitter brilliance of that first fruit with white flesh and gentle blue/black bruising.
Luckily she had one more loose durian from that particular tree in her pile, which we were able to buy for ฿50/kg.
So then we had to move on to something else.
Remember, Durian Baan are small and have big seeds. They can have as little as 10% flesh to seed ratio, compared to most commercial durians which hover somewhere around 30-35%.
But some durian baan are very fleshy, and make me wonder if they really are a genetically unique seedling, or an old variety that has been forgotten.
This durian baan looked suspiciously like D24, a Malaysian Durian, except with a super thin skin and no “bald patch” on the bottom.
It’s totally possible that this one is a true D24 tree responding to a different soil/climate environment, or it was a seedling of D24.
The historic tin mining barons of Phang Nga often had second homes on Penang or in the tin mines around Ipoh, which is where D24 originated. Motorboats carrying tin ore and workers traveled up and down the coast, sometimes bearing whole durian fruits too!
So is this mystery durian baan a forgotten D24? Leave your comments below!
Uncle Teng’s Durian Farm & Restaurant
Once you turn off Highway 4 and drive down the smaller road toward Phang Nga Bay, you’ll pass Uncle Teng’s House, with a restaurant upstairs and fruit stall out front.
The durians come from the farm across the road from his restaurant. He has Monthong and several of his own Durian Baan trees, all more than 30 years old.
The Monthong smelled great – super fresh and strong. So we went with one of each; a tree-dropped Monthong and a tree-dropped Durian Baan. The Monthong was actually more bitter, but so thick and rich that after just a few pieces we were totally content, full, and ready to go on an adventure.
Thong Ta Pan Champada
In Thailand, Cempedak is pronounced Cham-pa-da. At every stall you’ll find the Thong Ta Pan, a cempedak variety from Phang Nga. This variety is recognizable by the wide, flat smoothness of the scaly skin and it’s yellow, slightly rosy-colored flesh.
I found it very bubblegum sweet, but a little more fibrous than other varieties I like better (like I-Kieaw). Mostly we saw people frying it, not eating fresh.
Luk Khai ลังแข i
It was towards the end of the durian season when we visited Phang Nga, and every stall was half-hidden by curtains of Luk Khai fruit strung from the rafters.
This fruit is identified as Baccaurea macrocarpa. It has a thick skin that you crack between your two palms to reveal a segmented inside. Each piece is sweet-sour with a mustiness almost like longan. The flesh clings tightly to a soft, flexible seed, giving it a marshmallowy texture that I love but that means you should just swallow the seed instead of trying to spit it out.
At most of the stalls we also saw plenty of bamboo shoots and brined sato seeds, called sato dong.
Sato (known as petai in Malaysia) is a tree legume that looks like a giant green bean. The stalls had plenty of these hanging fresh as well, but I was surprised to see so many containers of it brined.
Sato can be eaten raw, when it tastes very sharply of garlic, stir fried, or in a spicy sambal. Maybe try it at Uncle Teng’s restaurant when you pass by.
From Uncle Teng’s House, we drove about 10 minutes to Samet Nangshe, a famous look-out point over Phang Nga Bay.
This is another tourist attraction. We parked our car in the lot and signed in at the guardhouse. You can pay extra to get a ride in the back of a 4×4 pick-up truck, but we elected to pay just ฿30 and walk.
It is very steep, as the dirt road climbs 400 feet in just a half mile (less than 1km), but the views are stunning the whole way.
Visiting James Bond Island
From Uncle Teng’s, it’s about 15 minutes to the pier for a boat to James Bond Island.
Because James Bond Island is a super touristy thing, I assumed the pier would be more built up. You know how it is in Thailand; a strip of little cafes and kiosks selling bucket hats, ice cream popsicles, and penis-shaped key chains.
I was surprised to find that the pier to James Bond Island is very small, set in a Muslim fishing village where children rode their bikes besides our car as we rolled up.
I would highly recommend being dressed appropriately for visiting a Muslim village when you arrive to the pier, at least if you’re going to do this trip independently.
A man on a motorbike pulled up to us as we parked. He first offered us two different tour packages for ฿1500 each, comprising kayaking, a cave tour, and of course James Bond Island (which costs an additional 300 each to be paid on the island).
We basically just wanted the boat ride. So for ฿1200 we had ourselves a private longboat for an afternoon cruising in one of the craggiest, turquoise-est, beautifulest places I have ever been.
The so-called “James Bond Island” itself is definitely not the main attraction.
The island got its name by posing as the hideout to the evil villain Scaramanga in the 1974 James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun.
The movie opens with Roger Moore As James Bond flying a plane over a small island (Khao Phing Kan) with an unusual rock (Ko Tapu) sticking out of its miniature bay.
Here’s that clip from the movie:
It’s very a pretty and unusual island. But so are all the islands, so since it was not important for us to stand on the beach where Scaramanga and James Bond have their shootout, we decided the extra ฿300 per person ($10USD) to set foot on the island was not worth it.
Especially since we can eat 3 puang of durian baan each for that price! With so many fruits, the chances of getting something truly bitter is pretty high.
Where We Stayed: Natai House
There are some gorgeous-looking Airbnbs facing over Phang Nga Bay, like this floating castle, however all were just a teeny bit out of our blogger’s budget.
So we stayed at Natai House, a small, comfy hotel just 20 minutes away from the Durian Action and a 2 minute walk from Natai beach.
The hotel has jut 8 rooms, paired in cement duplex houses. Each room is large and high-ceiling, with air conditioning, a refrigerator and the most helpful staff member, Mr. Wirawut, we’ve met on our travels. At just 540 baht/night, it’s probably the best value hotel we’ve stayed at as well. We booked through Booking.com.
How To Find Durian Near James Bond Island
There are many Durian Stalls along Highway 4 in Lo Yung District, just a 15-20 minute drive from the pier to James Bond Island. You’ll need to pass by anyway, so why not stop for a munch!
We rented our car through National Car Rental.
Follow the map below to find all the stalls mentioned in this blog post, or try our Durian App to find out if there is a durian season or not.