While Phuket’s West Coast caters for holidaymakers, many expats are putting down roots in the island’s tranquil East Coast – which despite its timeless calm provides some exotic neighbours.
While Phang Nga is still a buzzword for jetsetters and a spawning ground for superyachts, these visitors are actually about 10,000 years too late in picking up on this lifestyle trend.
According to ethnologists, the first people to discover the delights of island life among the East Coast’s spectacular limestone spires were the Moken sea gypsies. Apparently, they took to hollow sea trunks during the Ice Age.
A seaborne lifestyle over the subsequent millennia has given their children an unusual ability to see underwater by adjusting the curvature of the lenses of their eyes.
Another exotic inhabitant of the maze of limestone islands was a ghost with an exceptionally large head. He hung out in Tham Hua Kalok – the cave named after him, which is famous for prehistoric interior decoration featuring vivid depictions of animals and body parts.
But the true pioneer of luxury living on the East Coast was a celebrated assassin famed for three nipples and a preference for gold ordnance.
Until James Bond turned up, Scaramanga and his bowler-hatted manservant Nick Nack lived an idyllic lifestyle on Ko Tapu island that is only now being equalled by upscale developments like Baan Yamu.
The animals and plants of this odd corner of the globe participate enthusiastically in the exoticism.
The Nypa Palm, for instance, which provides a livelihood for many villagers on the East Coast is as strange as a tree can get.
The only palm to be classed as a mangrove, it lives in soft mud with its trunk running horizontally underground. Its leaves, however, can be 9 metres high and are used for roofing – such as for the beach shelters sea gypsies rustled up during monsoon seasons.
The Nypa palms other gifts to mankind include sweet-tasting pork, which is created by feeding your pigs with its sap. The leaves also make excellent rolling papers for tobacco.
But the palm may soon become even more useful. Its sugary sap has been identified as a promising source of biofuel, yielding twice as much ethanol as an equivalent area of sugar cane.
The East Coast is also among the few remaining homes of the endangered dugong, although it is feared that only 10 of these shy marine animals are still hoovering up the sea grass in the Phang Nga Bay.