While most travellers view the small town of Phang Nga as little more than a transport hub, those who take a day or two to give it a chance are rewarded by a relaxed atmosphere, cheap and authentic food, and some surprisingly spectacular sights nearby. Phang Nga is the perfect place to get a dose of everyday southern Thailand if you're tired of nearby tourist hotspots like Phuket and Khao Lak. With some solid accommodation options in town, there's no reason not to stop here for a night or two.
Similar to Phuket Town, the capital of Phuket province, Phang Nga town has a multicultural flavour, with mosques, Buddhist temples and Taoist Chinese shrines all found within walking distance of one another. The town has grown at a slow and steady pace to its current population of about 12,000 since being set up as a safe haven in the early 1800s by Phuket island residents fleeing attacks by the Burmese.
Unlike many a Thai provincial capital, Phang Nga has a markedly sleepy atmosphere, and the surrounding limestone karst cliffs and mountains make it a scenic town as well. Khao Chang, a karst mountain that soars dramatically upwards at a near 90 degree angle looms over the town to the southwest, and this is also the site of the massive Phung Chang Cave.
Well known as the jumping off point for trips into karst filled Ao Phang Nga just to the south of Phang Nga town, the area is also home to a lesser known waterfall -- Sa Nang Manora -- that's situated a few km north of town and is worth a visit in its own right.
Phet Kasem Rd (aka Rte. 4) is the main thoroughfare running north to south through Phang Nga, and it's along this road that most of the town's markets, restaurants, and hotels are located.
The bus station is also off Phet Kasem, within easy walking distance of the cluster of guesthouses and hotels right at the centre of town, which is where most travellers end up staying.
There are a few side streets off Phet Kasem, but apart from some old traditional Thai homes there's little of interest down these. Little more than a kilometre past the town centre to the north and the scenery switches to picturesque, hilly countryside. The narrow Montri Road, which runs parallel to Phet Kasem to the west, is the town’s most scenic street, with views over the town to the mountains. Here is where you’ll find Wat Tham Ta Pan and a public park with slides and swingsets for kids.
To the south there are countless small streams and rivers, all of which feed in to Phang Nga Bay. The beaches of Thai Muang and Khao Lak are reachable by day trip to the west, and mountainous terrain lies to the east.
Phang Nga is home to a large hospital located a bit south of the town centre on Phet Kasem Rd, near the night market at Soi Bhangkang.
The police station is a block off Phet Kasem on Borirakbamrung Rd near the corner of Soi Thungchedee, which splits off Phet Kasem a short distance south of the town centre but before the Big C supermarket.
Internet is widely available in Phang Nga Town and is offered at least in the lobby areas of its places to stay and at several cafes around town for free. Along Phet Kasem road are a handful of computer shops charging 30-40 baht per hour of usage.
Banks and ATMs are plentiful throughout town.
By Lana Willocks.