Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cinematic Shore Excursions in Thailand

Sir Christopher Lee and Roger Moore square off on
Khao Phing Kan in 1974's 'The Man with the Golden Gun'
by Roderick Eime
Location Scout: Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

Movie trivia buffs, how many movie locations in Thailand can you visit on a shore excursion from your cruise ship?

Well, there are probably dozens, but to start the ball rolling let's begin with what is probably the most famous marine landscape in Thailand, Phang Nga Bay, just off the island of Phuket. Up until 1974, the area was just a fishing ground for local villagers who would catch shrimp, lobster, cod and cuttlefish. That all changed when production designer for 'Man with the Golden Gun', the late Peter Murton, saw Phang Nga Bay in a magazine and convinced producer Cubby Broccoli (easily as it turned out) that it would be simpler to access than Ha Long Bay, then North Vietnam. Nowadays, tourists turn up in their thousands to see Khao Phing Kan (now known simply as James Bond Island) and its distinctive monolith, Ko Tapu. Fans will recognise this from the beach duel scene with Francisco Scaramanga (played by Sir Christopher Lee) and James Bond (Sir Roger Moore). In fact, the whole island is the evil Scaramanga's lair, where 007 had arrived earlier by small seaplane (for spotters, a WWII-era Republic RC-3 Seabee) after a panoramic view of the whole bay from the air.

Visitors explore the limestone canyons near Koh Panyee (RE)

For visitors arriving at the mainland village of Phang Nga, northeast of Phuket, the first you'll see is a fleet of traditional 'long tail' speedboats ferrying passengers out to the floating Muslim fishing village of Koh Panyee where there's food and shopping in abundance plus the option to canoe among the limestone karst canyons at nearby Koh Talu Nok. Apart from the usual ubiquitous tacky souvenirs, there are some half-decent pearl jewellery stalls. Just remember to bargain hard.

In 1997, James Bond 007 (this time with Pierce Brosnan) returned to Phang Nga Bay for 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. Ironically it's to shoot the closing scene, set in Ha Long Bay. Bond still has trouble getting into Vietnam and the Saigon scenes earlier in the movie are actually shot in Bangkok.

Not far away, 50km south-east of Phuket in Krabi province, are the Phi Phi Islands made famous in the 2000 movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio. There was some controversy during the making of this movie when the movie's producers decided they needed to remodel the beach with a bulldozer resulting in lawsuits that dragged on for years after. The famous waterfall scene is actually Haeo Suwat Falls in Khao Yai National Park, three hours by road from Bangkok.

Other recent movies to have used Phuket and the Andaman Coast include Star Wars Episode III (2005), Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason (2004), The Phantom (1996) and Rescue Dawn (2005).

Leonardo DiCaprio and Virginie Ledoyen
get amorous on The Beach (2000)

Let's not forget either that this whole region, including the coast north to Khao Lak, was devastated by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, so much of the infrastructure you see is less than ten years old. Be sure to pay your respects at one of the many memorials.

Cruise lines offering shore excursions at Phuket where you can take either a Phi Phi Islands or Phgang Nga Bay tour include Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Star Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Princess.

More info on Phuket and Thailand:

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