Koh Panyee near Phuket, is indeed a touristic village, but anywhere in the world, places become famous for a reason. This is still a very unusual and interesting place to visit. The trick is that you don't have to be in the middle of a flock of tourists: go there early and you will be the only visitor in the village!
If you want to have Koh Panyee almost for yourself, rent a car and drive early to the Surakul pier in Phang Nga, then rent a longtail boat which will take you there within 20 minutes. It's not cheap, maybe 1,500 baht, but it is worth it if you want to have a lot of time in front of you to take photos of Koh Panyee with no tourists on them, and most important, have a different vision of this very unusual place.
Even the boat ride itself is fascinating, gliding through the mangrove and between gigantic limestone rocks. Circling the village gives you a real good idea of its size and shape. You will then disembark at the main piers, where a dozen of seafood restaurants get ready for their busy lunchtime. Since you will still be there at noon, try it anyway: despite being a tourist attraction, Koh Panyee remains a real fishing village and they serve a pretty good Tom Yam Goong.
Koh Panyee (flag island) is a Muslim village built on stilts about 200 years ago at the feet of a giant limestone cliff. Only a very small part of the village, where the mosque is built, is on solid ground, the rest just grew from there... and slowly continues to grow.
The central part of Koh Panyee is a concrete floor connecting dozens of tiny souvenir shops, and from there, a narrow maze of uneven planks lead to the populations houses.
Start exploring and you'll get easily lost in the network of walkways and tiny shops... all selling tee shirts, batiks and stuff made of shells. I guess some people buy those. Once you start walking away from the center, space opens up between wooden houses, corrugated iron or a bit of everything, and you can see a bit more the sea and the sunlight.
Koh Panyee is really a complete village with a school, police station, a tiny health center and of course the mosque. Living space is amazingly scarce but people are obviously used to it. Locals have been photographed so many times they barely acknowledge your presence... So unless you show some signs of buying something, they just go on their little lives right in front of you; eating, sleeping in hammocks, cleaning, cooking and chatting... a lot. It's a bit odd to witness their every move, directly inside their house. The school is no different... kids do have classes in there and it became part of their daily life to be photographed all day long by a bunch of not so respectful tourists. Just try to imagine yourself in the same situation at your own school, would feel weird, wouldn't it?
Koh Panyee is full of life, full of colors, lights and smells, offering plenty of photographic opportunities. And it's still unique, but you'll have to be really good to come up with a photo no one has taken before!