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Koh Panyi – The Floating, Fishing, Football Village

Koh Panyi – The Floating, Fishing, Football Village

Water laps at a manmade forest of thick wooden columns and rickety stilts several feet below. As you explore the pathways of Koh Panyi’s offbeat wonder of a fishing village, you glimpse scenes of a life extraordinary. And its history is a fantastic story in itself.

Koh Panyi Football

Playing football on the playground at Koh Panyi
(Photo Credit: Jeff Gunn)

The Story of Panyi Fishing Village

A few hundred years ago, three families of Javanese fishermen sailed northwards, seeking out a new home where they could make a living for themselves and their forebears. They plied the waters around the island of Sumatra, emerging into the Andaman Sea and following the trajectory of the Malay Peninsula before settling in their unique spot in Phang Nga Bay. They planted a flag on Panyi Island – or so one version of their story goes – and this is the origin of the island’s name. “Panyi” in villagers’ ancestral tongue means “flag”.

Koh Panyi

Buildings stretch out over the water on Koh Panyi’s “floating village” in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand.
(Photo Credit: Carrie Kellenberger)

Panyi Island Sights

The natural island of Panyi is towering vertical mass of limestone. Consequently, nearly all of the village sits atop a vast network of stilts that clings to the edge of the island’s coastline and then stretches out over the sea in maze of raised walkways and platforms.

Within this watery community you’ll find a village school with its own playground, a mosque with a gleaming dome and minarets to call the villagers to prayer and, most famously, a floating football pitch. Born from a dream of the island’s children and without even land to play a game, Koh Panyi’s football team took shape and achieved success as one of Thailand’s strongest youth teams. (Click here to watch a must-see video recounting the awesome story of the Panyee Football Club. It’s also got some great footage of the village.)

Koh Panyee School

The school on Koh Panyi. Yes, it’s on stilts too.
(Photo Credit: Isidro Lopez-Arcos)

Panyi Island school

School cafeteria on Panyi Island.
(Photo Credit: Isidro Lopez-Arcos)

What to Expect

Is it touristy? Well… yes. And no.

You’ll find a dizzying array of souvenir stands, and there’s a proliferation of restaurants catering to visitors. You’re not stepping into an untouched village for sure. But, at the same time, as you wander the island and if you take the opportunity to step away from the groups of tourists, you’ll encounter the daily life, enduring heritage and unique adaptation to a life above the sea that makes Koh Panyi a place like nowhere else.

Koh Panyi is not a constructed tourist trap. It’s an authentic village with history and way of life all its own. The villagers have decided to capitalize on their uniqueness by sharing it with the world. Tapping into the tourist trade allows the villagers of Koh Panyi to supplement their fishing income and to continue their way of life, clinging to a towering rock in the middle of the bay.

Koh Panyee Football

The famous football pitch on Koh Panyi. Home to the Panyee Football Club.
(Photo Credit: Jeff Gunn)

How to Get There

Most visitors stop by for a quick visit or lunch as part of a Phang Nga Bay tour.

If you wish to explore the island at your leisure, charter a longtail boat from Surakul Pier on Phuket. The cost is approximately 1,700 baht roundtrip. The journey takes about 20 minutes each way, and you can spend a couple hours exploring and relaxing on Koh Panyi. For a more serene look at village life, visit early before the tourist crowds.

You can also rent a guesthouse bungalow for the night if you’d like a more immersive experience. Wander about the island in the off-hours and sleep above the gentle murmur of the waves.

Koh Panyi Travel Tips and Considerations:

  • The villagers of Koh Panyi are very friendly and also very accustomed to interacting with visitors. However, visitors should also take a few small precautions to be respectful during their time on the island.
  • As the village of Koh Panyi is a Muslim community, respect the local culture by dressing relatively modestly. Short skirts, shorts, bikini tops or other revealing clothing on women will not be appreciated.
  • Likewise, alcohol and pork are not available and should not be brought to the island.
  • Keep a close eye on small children and any family members who are not competent swimmers. There’s water, water everywhere.
  • You’ll come across a number of different spellings of the island’s name. Koh Panyi. Koh Panyee. Koh Pan Yi. Koh Pannyi. Ko Panyi. Ko Panyee. Etc. Yes, these are all the same place. You might also see the community called the Sea Gypsy Village, but this is incorrect. There are sea gypsies in the region around Phuket, but they are a completely different ethnic group from the residents of Koh Panyi.
  • Seafood. You have come to the place. You are at a fishing village literally located in the ocean. Enjoy a delicious, fresh-caught meal.
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