Thailand's Khao Phing Kan, commonly referred to as James Bond Island.
Thailand's Khao Phing Kan, commonly referred to as James Bond Island. (Photo: Banana Republic images/Shutterstock)

You've undoubtedly seen photos of it — the iconic karst limestone tower shooting into the sky from crystal turquoise waters. The tiny, 66-foot-tall islet is known as Ko Tapu, and it's part of a larger island off the coast of Thailand known as Khao Phing Kan. But what's the story behind this surreal and seemingly gravity-defying destination?

The formation of Ko Tapu dates back hundreds of millions of years, but the craggy column earned global recognition with the help of one of Hollywood's most iconic heroes: James Bond.

Following appearances in several of the franchise films, including 1974's "The Man with the Golden Gun" and 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies," it wasn't long before Khao Phing Kan was almost exclusively referred to as "James Bond Island." You can catch a glimpse of the tower's movie moment in the video below:

As a result, what was once a remote location only inhabited by indigenous populations quickly became one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

To ensure that its beauty and ecology were protected for years to come, the area was designated as part of Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park in 1981. A few years after that, a 1988 conservation measure was passed that prohibits tourists from approaching the Ko Tapu islet, which had already begun to show the effects of erosion and damage by the influx of visitors.