Hong means “room”, and when sailing around Phuket, “room” means gorgeous protected pools of water surrounded by the walls of limestone cliffs rising out of the ocean.  Koh, or Ko depending on your resource material, is “island”. So literally translated, Koh Hong is the Room Island. It holds the largest hong in the area, one that many, many tourists visit on high speed boats and long-tail boats. When all of the tourists have arrived and are paddling around and through Koh Hong in their kayaks, it is a bustling hub of activity.

You don’t need to worry about that.

You are on a sailboat and you can head over once the crowds have cleared and have this magnificent place all to yourself, which is exactly what we did.

Koh Hong is North of the Ao Po Grand Marina, and it is hard for me to believe now, but we almost didn’t head North at all. After announcing at our boat checkout that we wanted to find good snorkeling spots and perhaps dive on our trip, we were told the water was clearer the more South you got. With this bit of information, we’d all but excluded anything North of the Marina from consideration.  But in our boat briefing the next morning we were told “you *really* need to go North, the water is fine, it will be your best night on the boat.”

That was the best advice of the trip.

Our first day had us heading straight for layer after layer of limestone outcroppings against the blue-green ocean as we set our sights on the iconic James Bond Island, our mid-day stop, then to Koh Hong for the night. As if on cue, a fisherman came up to our boat and sold us giant prawns to grill that night. The sunset that slowly greeted us was one for the ages, and in the morning our stop became even better because for a brief moment, we had beautiful Koh Hong all to ourselves.

Our charter adviser was 100% right. It was the best night on the boat.

Details and tips of this incredible day start here:

1. Head to Koh Phing Kan, aka James Bond Island

My husband and our friend Tim who was traveling with us are big James Bond fans. Really big fans. Apparently both of them have seen all of the films multiple times and are able to discuss the plots, ladies, nuances, and all things James Bond (all things!) at length. So, when we had the chance to visit James Bond Island to see the top-heavy limestone outcropping made famous in The Man with the Golden Gun, it was a no-brainer. We made that our first stop of the trip.

We headed about nine nautical miles North to Koh Yang (08º 15.95 North 098º 29.35 East), steadily soaking in the stunning rock islands towering into the sky. What would seem like jagged blue mountains in the distance set against the lighter, greener water, were actually separate limestone marvels each with sheer cliffs and jagged sides.  Sailing North definitely brings the best views of these geological wonders.

We anchored in about six meters of water at Koh Yang, paused for a moment to make sure we’d done everything right and weren’t going to drift away, then headed off to James Bond Island in our dinghy, which apparently is the only way to get there if you are on a keel boat due to the hazards and depth.

Here’s what you need to know about the approach to James Bond Island: depending on the tide, the water en route might be relatively shallow, it was for us. We pulled our dinghy motor up to the position where it still propelled us forward but wasn’t fully down so that we didn’t hit any of the rocks you can see just below the surface. You will see a beach on the Southwest side, and that is where you will head. As you approach, pull up the motor and have some of your crew mates hop off to help assist the dinghy onto the beach. Be sure to pull the dinghy far up onto the beach and tie it up or anchor it for safety to guard against the tide coming in and stealing your dinghy.

Once you are safely ashore, you’ll pay you national park fee of $300 Bhat per person, which is equivalent to about $9. Hang on to your passes as they are good for five days and you will need them later.

There is a natural staircase that winds up and around the island taking you to several vantage points with perfect views of the subject at hand. Ultimately, you can get down to the beach for one of the best views. Commerce is alive and well on James Bond Island and there is no shortage of food and trinket stands if that’s your thing.

2. Purchase dinner on the way to Koh Hong

Once back at our boat, we headed South to Koh Hong (08º 13.60 North 098º 30.10 East) which was approximately 5 nautical miles away. We’d been told that our best bet for the night would be to buy fresh shellfish from local fishermen, but we still weren’t quite sure how we were going to execute this plan. We didn’t need to worry. After about twenty minutes, a local fisherman and his young son flagged us down and sold us approximately 20 large prawns for about $600 Bhat. We probably overpaid, but $20 seemed like a great deal. We gave him a beer and were on our way.

3. Anchor South of Koh Hong and East of Koh Yai

Our route took us through the narrow channel with Koh Na Khae to our left, Koh Hong to our right, and ultimately in a protected spot south of Koh Hong and East of Koh Yai. We anchored in approximately five meters of water, checked our tide chart to make sure that was enough, and set about putting up one of our tarps in case of rain.

After firing up the grill we proceeded to enjoy our afternoon cocktails while watching the sun set in magnificent fashion. We assume our two other neighbor sailboats were doing exactly the same thing.

4. Take your dinghy into Koh Hong and prepare to be wowed!

The next morning, we woke up and saw that the first flood of tourists had arrived. Some via larger boats equipped with several kayaks for the passengers and others via speed boat and long-tail boat, whose passengers rented kayaks from a local company stationed on the Northwest end of Koh Hong.

After the first wave, there was no one around, so we hopped in our dinghy and made our way to the entrance of the hong. Playing it safe, we lifted the motor and paddled in.

It was gorgeous! The water was grass-green reflecting the vegetation on the surrounding limestone cliffs. We paddled into a cave and even hopped off the dinghy for a swim. After about 15 minutes of having the place to ourselves, more tourists arrived in their kayaks, and by the time we’d left the hong on the Northeast side, the tourists were arriving in droves. Lucky was exactly how we felt for having had the place to ourselves.

If we were to do it again, we’d go to the hong the night of arrival and in the morning. It was spectacular and worth an evening and a morning visit during the lull between tourist arrivals.

It did rain for about 20 minutes the morning before we headed into the hong then departed for our day’s journey to the next spot. At first, we weren’t sure what it meant. Would it rain all day? Was our good fortune over?

Soon enough, the clouds cleared, the sun came out, and we were presented with a beautiful rainbow reminding us – not that we needed reminding – that we’d stumbled onto a pretty beautiful spot in this world.