“Piii-piii-piii-pi-pi-pi-piii.” The Plaintive Cuckoo wakes me with its long whistling calls followed by a series of shorter, descending notes, accelerated as they progress. The bird repeats the phrase time and again, but I don’t really mind. It’s part of the adventure.
Staying overnight in a bamboo bungalow at Samet Nangshe viewpoint feels like sleeping out under the stars, quite literally. Due to the lack of industrial civilization and its light pollution, you might spot the Milky Way on a clear, cloudless night.
Snuggled into Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, away from Phang Nga airport, Samet Nangshe is not easily accessible. So getting here after your journey from Bangkok to Phang Nga or Krabi to Phang Nga requires some effort. And if you’re wondering how to get to Phang Nga Bay from Phuket, rest assured there are minivans.
The view is well known nowadays, but not everyone is willing to ride on rubber tree and palm-fringed, potholed roads that wind through backwaters like slithering snakes.
Sleeping at Samet Nangshe: A once-in-a-lifetime experience
Thanks to its remote location, you can expect to be sharing the place with only about 50 fellow travelers, particularly at sunrise. Camping here is a night to remember, and tents are available for 130 baht ($4) or 400 baht ($12.22), including Thai breakfast. And the DIY knock-down teak bungalows, painted in an art deco fashion in bold chartreuse, orange, and light blue, cost a bit more at 700 baht ($21). Nevertheless, they offer an adventurous feel.
Now that the cuckoo has piped up, I look at my watch. Heck, 12:30 am! My weaker self doesn’t want me to roll out of bed, but now is my chance to catch a glimpse of the spiral galaxy. So I get up from the five-cm-thin mattress that feels rock-hard because there must be solid teak underneath it. And my goodness, the free supernova exhibition is worth it.
Spiral arms of a squillion stars glimmer in the sky and form dark dust. I study the galactic cluster in awe. It appears redder than the spiral arms and features an elongated bulge in its center, creating a barred spiral galaxy. In a word – mesmerizing!
Yawning, I stroll back to my bungalow, rearrange the mosquito net, doss down and curl up, covering myself with the snuggly woolen blanket. It’s surprisingly cold. I hear rustling sounds but can’t see anything, though the gecko scurrying around gaps and holes demonstrates its presence, click, click, click.
Inserting earplugs, I can still catch the calming crickets chirping happily in the nearby jungle and drift off to these peaceful, relaxing sounds.
Hearing some prayers, I wake up and look at my cell phone: 5:10 am. It’s still dark outside, and there’s no sign of early birds eager to photograph the sunrise. I take the wake-up call in stride and count a million stars I saw earlier. After what feels like an hour, I manage to drop off once again.
“Ha, ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha,” the laughter is growing louder and louder. Finally, I realize that I’m not dreaming. People’s cackling and chattering are gradually bringing me into wakefulness. It’s 6:30 am.
Feeling a little off, I get up and check if there’s some sitcom outside. I fail to figure out what’s so funny. Still, the families and teens all over the Insta-playground taking creative poses are having fun.
The view of the 180-degree eastward panorama is worth getting up for, however. Myriads of islands stretch out of sight both left and right, parallel with endless mangrove forests. And the sun rises behind karst peaks, turning the pink-tinged sky into orange.
Longtail boats pass by in the distance, making chugging sounds, and the sea is calm, as though pacified by the creative power’s invisible hand.
People are leaving now that the spectacle of nature is over; they’re not waiting for the lawnmower to drown them out. And I’m pleased about the crow-pheasant lulling me back to sleep with its low-pitched boop-boop-boops, blissfully unaware of the fresh, grassy smell that is yet to emerge.
Samet Nangshe – an overview
Discovered by Theerasak Saksritawee, a Thai photographer, Samet Nangshe became famous quickly. Word of this hilltop viewpoint spread in no time among locals and expats, who rushed to get their slice of this picture-perfect limestone scenery. It’s now one of the most popular weekend tours in Phang Nga.
No wonder! The hilltop provides 180-degree, knock-your-socks-off views of limestone islets dotted across Phang Nga Bay, more so at around 5:45 am when the sun rises above the chain of islands. Khao Phing Kan, better known as James Bond Island, isn’t visible from up here, but a Thai said it’s the fourth boulder, hidden behind other rock formations.
There’s a small restaurant at the viewpoint, and it overlooks a James Bond film set that you can access via shuttle bus or a steep, draining hike that takes some 20 minutes. However, considering that the short bumpy ride on the 4WD pickup truck costs only 90 baht ($2.75), saving forty baht ($1.22) is not worth the sweat. Because if you decide to climb the hill – there are two viewpoints on the way up – you’ll have to pay 50 baht ($1.50) entry fee if you’re a foreigner; 30 baht if you’re Thai.
What to see and do at Samet Nangshe
Aside from camping beneath the Milky Way and enjoying panoramic bird’s eye-views of Phang Nga Bay, you can eat Thai food and devour some ice cream or fresh cold coconuts.
The rainforest-encircled campsite is popular with photographers, families, and teenagers, who are keen to shoot some Insta-worthy or professional pictures. The noble Samet Nangshe Boutique Hotel offers excellent views as well, and you’ll find Samet Nangshe Café down the main road.
If you’re planning to stay overnight, remember to bring a flashlight and a hoodie as it can get cold at night, you’d be surprised! Some mossie repellent does wonders, too.
How to get to Samet Nangshe
If you’re staying in Thailand’s capital and wondering how to get to Phang Nga Bay from Bangkok, flying to Phuket is your best bet. Then take the 25km ride to Samet Nangshe from the Sarasin Bridge that links Phuket to the mainland and takes about 30 minutes.
The answer to how to get to Phang Nga Bay from Patong is not a complicated one. Either you hop on a minivan or hail a cab. Samet Nangshe is 71km away from Patong Beach, Phuket’s most popular area. Provided the roads aren’t wedged solid, it’s a 90-minute drive from Patong.
Scooters are available for rent in Phuket for as little as 200 baht ($6) per day.
If you feel safer riding a taxi, you may have to shell out.
If you venture out on your own, you can park your rented car or motorcycle at the start of the hill where some people sell water. The parking lot is supervised.
Regarding how to get to Phang Nga Bay from Krabi, you can ride a minivan for about 260 baht ($8) or splurge on a private taxi ride for some 2450 baht ($75).
Riding a scooter through tiny villages featuring tin houses, saying hello to cheerful waving kids, you can’t help feeling a sense of freedom as you’re breathing oxygen-rich air in deep green woodland. And once you approach Nangshe Bay on open roads and catch sight of the striking limestone formations, you’ll conclude that deftly dodging potholes and hens crossing narrow paved streets was totally worth it.
If you are well versed on the Thai roads and know how to ride a scooter well then yes. This isnt a place to learn how to ride a scooter.
1-2 days is plenty. There isn’t much to do other than enjoy the views and nature.