Koh Panyee is a small island community about 20 minutes by long-tail boat from Surakul pier in Phang Nga province. There are about 1,600 people from 360 families who live permanently on the island. All of them are the descendants, directly or indirectly, of Toh Baboo and his family and friends, who were the first people to settle on Koh Panyee some 200 years ago.
Toh Baboo and 2 other families left their homeland in Indonesia by boat looking for a new place to live. They made a vow to each other that if 1 of them found a place where there were lots of fish and where everyone could live, they would signal the others by raising a flag on a mountain as high as possible, so that the others could see it and join them. Toh Baboo discovered the island with its abundance of fish and, true to his promise, raised a flag atop its soaring cliff. That's how the island got the name, Koh Panyee (also written as Ko Panyi) – the Island of the Flag.
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The village of Koh Panyee
Koh Panyee is a small island, most of which is huge, almost vertical, limestone cliffs. The hundreds of huts, shacks, restaurants and houses where the villagers live are built on stilts over the surrounding shallow sea. No one seems quite sure how many wooden and concrete piles hold up this extraordinary community, but it's certainly a fascinating and unique feat of informal engineering.
The village has its own school, a mosque, a health centre, lots of small souvenir shops and a handful of large restaurants, all facing the sea. There are even some bungalows that offer overnight accommodation. Definitely worth seeing is the floating football pitch, built by the village children using old scraps of wood and fishing rafts. It helped Panyee FC become one of the most successful youth football teams in Southern Thailand!
The Koh Panyee community
On landing, you'll immediately be struck by how very friendly the village folk are. You'll find yourself with a collection of young guides almost as soon as you step ashore, who will proudly show you around their home during your visit. They're particularly proud of having electricity, an internet connection and fresh water that doesn't need to be shipped in from the mainland – all comparatively recent arrivals on Koh Panyee.
Being such an isolated community, the people here are particularly environmentally aware. The school has launched a number of projects such as a recycling programme whereby bottles and cans are collected and sold to the benefit of the school while also keeping the village cleaner. The teachers are also educating their students in growing vegetables using hydroponics.
Good to know about Koh Panyee
This is a Muslim community so women should not wear short skirts or shorts. T-shirts and jeans are acceptable but anything that exposes too much flesh risks a cold shoulder from the usually welcoming locals.
To get to Koh Panyee, you can rent a long-tail boat from Surakul pier for around 1,700 baht for 3 hours. The boat can carry up to 10 people, you it works out at just 170 per head if you can fill it to capacity. Alternatively, there are many good tours to Panyee which include pick-up from your hotel.
- Location: Koh Panyee, Muang, Phang-nga 82000, Thailand