Sailing the Adaman Sea off Phuket
Feb 13, 2017
|Time to leave Singapore and start our next adventure. It is a quick drive to airport through consistently very clean and modern neighbourhoods. Singapore airport is incredible with every high end shop as you can imagine. We have over a 3 hour wait so we go for most expensive mimosas ever. It is only a 45 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur but as we are only in the airport Gail informs me that it doesn’t count as a new country.
The KL airport is different, long narrow with virtually no food choices unless you want chocolate. They are everywhere and Kit Kat seems to be a favourite. So lunch is a croissant and water at Harrods Cafe. We have never seen a Harrods coffee shop at an airport before. Unlike Singapore the Toilets here not so clean even though airport is spotless. Thank goodness they did have western ones.
We arrive at 3:30 pm in Phuket having gained an hour back. The taxi situation is a bit of a rip-off as there are no cheaper cars available so unless we want to pay $10 more for a van we will have to wait 20 minutes. Thinking that might turn out to be 30 or more we take the van as we are anxious to get to the marina.
It is only a 20 minute ride but ours is almost double as we get lost. Even though I point put the sign to Ao Po Grand Marina to our driver he assures us this is the right turn. Finally as we get farther and farther away from the sea and more into jungle he suggests this is the wrong way. Do we know how to get there! OMG. Once we can find a spot wide enough to turn around we get back to the sign I pointed out and he heads that way. Five minutes later we are the parking lot with Bob there, to greet us.
The marina is on the opposite side and quite a bit north of Patong Bay where we stopped for Phuket Island on the cruise. We are in what they call the North East Monsoon season which is the drier time of year from November till April. Unfortunately, this means minimal wind except very early in the am when it is still dark. We are unlikely to get much time with the sails up.
Our boat Pim On is not ready so we go to the restaurant where the others are waiting with cold beers. It has been a good year and half since we have seen Jan (now referred to as TJ or Texas Jan) to distinguish the two Jan’s) and Rich. They met us in New Orleans after a repositioning cruise two falls ago making the trek from their home in Houston. Bob and Jan and TJ and Rich are all high school friends in Britain.
We head now to see our beautiful catamaran and she is a beauty. More modern then previous ones we have chartered with a spacious lounge plus fore and aft outdoor seating. Each of our rooms in either end of the pontoons have their own bath and good storage.
The two Jan’s are headed to of all places Tescos for our first round of provisions. Gail, Bob, Rich and I head to the D’Deck bar. We feel a bit guilty but even more so when we find it is 40 minutes away. Two hours later they are back and dinner is on route, us having preordered for then. Thank goodness for texting.
Back for a nightcap and then to bed. Briefings are scheduled for 9 am on running the boat and most importantly charting as we need a route plan for the next 6 days. Most important is the guys learn that in Thailand maritime law doesn’t exist!! They do not give way for anyone and little plastic bottles dot the seas where they have dropped nets. A hazard for sure. The Thai fishermen are superstitious and will not cross your wake as that is bad luck.
Our first stop is at Ko Phanak where there is supposed to be a bat cave. Rich and I venture out in the dingy to check it out, dodging the dozens of sea kayaks that have come on huge tourist boats. The passage is narrow with sharp rocks so it is very difficult to manoeuvre with the oars. We get only a few feet in and decide this is not going to happen.
Back to the boat and a short trip to our final stop at Ko Hong. The whole area is dotted with islands, reminds me a lot of Halong Bay in Vietnam. They have amazing overhangs and stalactites amongst red and black striations on the rocks.
We get to Ko Hong and once again the bay is full of tourist kayak boats and in the hongs are dozens of yellow, blue and red kayaks. We decide to wait till later in the day when they head back to Phuket to explore ourselves.
As seems to happen with every sailing trip we are all lazing around when suddenly we hear ‘dingy, dingy, dingy’ being yelled with a Thai accent. Yes our dingy as broken loose and is some 200 yards away and moving fast in the strong current. Luckily the little guy comes by with his dingy and takes Bob to fetch ours. We never fail to have a dingy incident. You’d think we would have learned by now.
The Hongs are like inner lakes in the islands although connected to the sea. You go through narrow entrances into wide open spaces. We can only motor so far then Rich rows us in. In there you can enter caves which are just overhangs of the rock cliffs. The one we enter is spectacular but we have to row back the way we came as the exit is too low. I row us back once again dodging kayaks. While we entered the hong to find only one other boat but now the hoards, the last of the day, have arrived.
We enjoy an absolutely spectacular sunset on the fore deck with cocktails. Deciding it is too warm in the cabin Bob switches on the generator for the AC. But wait … nothing is happening. Despite many resets and talking through with the onshore engineer we cannot get it started. It is going to be a long hot night onboard. Maintenance is coming first thing in the morning.
After dinner we realize the boat is drifting toward the kayak station who have been playing their music full tilt all night. Looks like the tide changed and shifted us 180 degrees pulling the anchor off its mooring. It takes a while but we finally get it to hold again.
Still Bob decides to sleep on deck to be on the safe side. He might have the right idea as it could be a much more pleasant temperature then in our cabins.
We awake to find the boat still in the same spot and Bob in the lounge. Turns out the mosquitos were not pleasant as there was not much breeze. Sounds like no one had a good night sleep. Should be a lot of closed eyes this afternoon.
Before maintenance arrives Bob, Jan, Gail and I head to Ko Daeng Yai aka James Bond Island. Famous for a speedboat scene in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ it is now a tourist beacon. We head over in the dingy at 8 am to beat the throngs and that turns out to be a great plan. There is only 4 others there, not even the little beach vendor stalls are open.
It is a cool place. The main famous island scene is jutting out of the little bay. Sadly I can just imagine how horrible it would be later in the morning when all the tourist boats arrive.
Back before the maintenance man arrives I start breakfast. Using last night’s left over spaghetti I am making us a frittata. The maintenance guy turns out to be the cutie that did our briefing and took us off the pier. Nice for us ladies!
Turns out it was a loose circuit breaker on the generator. An overhaul and we are good to go with A C on and electronics plugged in. After breakfast we set out about 10 am for our lunch destination, Ko Rio. Along route we enjoy the flying fish or small Barracudas who are following the same route.
Ko Rio is a small island with two tiny beaches. We are the only ones here much to our pleasure. We moor just off shore and dingy in. The water is beautiful and a bit clearer so while we wait for Bob to get Jan (as we know she will love this), Jan, Rich, Gail and I walk the beach.
When Jan arrives we go under the narrow and low rock formation that opens out to a huge tropical paradise. This is spectacular and we are lucky to have arrived at low tide so that we can walk in. The coral bed at the opening would have done major damage to the dingy.
Here we are in a mangrove forest surrounded by steep cliffs. A small creek with fish and crabs weaves along the side of the cliff. We all go silent so Bob and I can video this amazing experience. The air is filled with the sounds of birds, like the fish eagle we keep seeing, and the call of the monkey. Likely they are telling us to get out of their home. It is so stunning we are all gobsmacked as our British friends would say.
As we get in our dingy two boats of tourists arrive. Once again we have timed the visit perfectly. Off we go toward Krabi, which is on the mainland. Our plan is to stock up with provisions and pick a beach restaurant for dinner. While the guys man the helm we girls go to the trampoline up front. It is so comfy and you the breeze both from above and below as the trampoline is a heavy mesh.
We arrive at what we think is out front of the Sheraton about 4 pm. Rich, Bob, Gail and I dingy in to what turns out of be the Sofitel. It is a stunning reminding us of our beautiful resort in Goa last year. The hotel not only arranges a cab for us but takes the garbage and recycling. Giving our driver instructions to take us, wait and then take us back from Tescos.
As the tide is coming in and this could take a while Bob decides he should stay with the dingy. Turns out it was the right plan as Tesco is on the other side of town and we are gone for well over an hour. Sadly Tescos lacks vegetables so we stock more with breakfast and lunch provisions. Now that we are in the south there are more options for eating in the bays of the mainland or islands.
Tonight while we had planned dinner on shore we all agree that staying onboard and enjoying the incredible sunset is a better plan, especially as the water is a bit choppy. The guys take the dingy in for Thai takeout and return a bit wet as the seas made it difficult to get back in the dingy.
They bring back Pad Thai, Chicken and Cashews, stir fried vegetables, fried rice and chicken satays. There is a perfect amount for us to share and it is tasty for sure. After dinner we play my video from our last sailing trip together in the Caribbean. Makes for some good laughs as we remember our adventures and plenty of comments on how we have all changed in 8 years
With the air conditioner cooling the place down we all get a much better night’s sleep and awake to another beautiful day. TJ informs us she is ‘headed to her office’ which is a fore deck cubby while Gail and I get a short lesson on operating the boat. We decided when the guys went ashore last night that we at least needed some basics should the boat come off moorage.
We decide to skip Krabi town as it is much like Patong Bay in Phuket. A mass of bars, restaurants, resorts, Starbucks and McDonald’s. Not the quaint Thai village feel we are looking for. Instead for our breakfast we are headed to Rai Le Beach, a small bay not far from Krabi proper.
Navigating around the dozens of longboat racing out of the bay is a real challenge. Add in the swimmers that are bobbing in the shallow waters and it makes for an adventure just to get to the beach. Turns out these boats are ferrying travellers and their suitcases to Krabi city or bringing supplies from there. As with much of Thailand the place is heaving with Russians.
We find a nice little beach spot with buffet breakfast which is lovely. Everyone fired up their devices as there is Wi-Fi. Gail checks emails on my phone while I send the last 2 journal entries on my tablet. We wander along a little alleyway of shops and small restaurants away from the beach. Other than a couple of postcards nothing is purchased.
After a quick dip we head off farther south not sure how far we will go today. We arrive at Kantiang Bay. This has a high end resort perched part way up the hill and a few bars and restaurants on the beach. We decide to head into the Why Not Bar just before dusk. TJ at the bow is busy taking a selfie with the amazing sunset that has the whole horizon orange. Unfortunately that means she doesn’t see the big rock we plow into. Some lookout….
Bob and I jump out after quickly pulling the engine up. The water is up over our knees so we both enjoy the rest of the evening with wet, shorts. Good thing it is still very warm. Fortunately there is no damage to the dingy.
The Why Not Bar is quaint with either mats on the deck with low tables or big picnic benches or wooden tables right in the sand. Realizing we may get down but never up from the mats we pick a picnic table and have a sundown cocktail.
We decide to go next door to the Phra Nang Resort for BBQ seafood. Gail and Bob share the mixed platter. This requires a change to a plastic table cloth and the presentation of a giant banana leaf. Shortly thereafter the waiter arrives with a bucket of food which he dumps on the banana leaf. Reminds us of seafood parties in Louisiana. They have prawns, crab, squid, clams, potatoes and corn all in a nice sauce.
After dinner we have to wait for the fire show at Why Not Bar to end as it is happening directly in front of our dinghy. After our trip in we don’t need to give everyone a show as we go out. No problem this time. As we wait Gail finds an interesting shell on the beach that she gives to, Jan. Turns out when Jan places it on her bed it moves. We have brought back a Hermit Crab which we name Sebastian. We put him in a bucket with just a little bit of water. Tomorrow we will return him to the beach.
Tonight it is really rocking and rolling and now one of the dive boats has moored off a buoy right beside us. If we both turn in opposite directions at the same time we could hit but it is too rough to move anchor. So we put out the fenders and Bob spends another night on deck. The life of the captain.
We all stay up quite late as the boat is really rocking and rolling or the seas are very lumpy as TJ would say and we are all thinking it will be worse down below. I set my alarm for 3 to spell off Bob but turned out all was fine other than a very restless night. Not sure where this rocky seas are coming from though. It is still rolling in the morning so we high tail it out of here on route to Lanta Old Town.
It is a quaint unspoiled traditional village with the homes, restaurants and shops narrow and long and the fronts out over the water on stilts. We turn left off the pier to Old town. This is primarily homes with the odd corner type store, stalls and rooms to rent places. There are no shops which we would have seen if we turned right. That might have been Bob and Rich’s plan.
At the very end of the road we come to a colourful and clean restaurant with red tables, chairs and umbrellas called Caoutchou. The owner looks like someone who had decided to escape the grind and is living the life in Thailand. This is both his restaurant and his home. His bedroom faces the water and we are on the deck in front. We all have smoothies, mango, pineapple and ginger lemonade. OMG. The look on Bob’s face when he has his lemonade is priceless. The ginger is overpowering. Our mango and pineapple ar both delicious and refreshing.
We walk back and do a quick perusal of a shop where Jan buys a dress and TJ a dress, a pair of shorts and a top. Not a bad day. Now we are off to our spot for the rest of the day. About an hour and half cruising to Ko Ngai.
This is a coral reef area so snorkelling will be our afternoon adventure. Except the adventure was trying to get into the beach and then even more troublesome getting off the beach. After rowing in over the coral which is barely covered we find ourselves to far from the snorkelling. So Bob and Rich drag the boat to the other end just off the beach. Time for beer.
On our way back the tide has gone out and there is virtually nowhere to go. The dingy gets stuck and Bob and I are once again out of the boat to get it off the coral. Finally we can row again. We are almost back at the boat before we can we can use the motor. We are exhausted and have not even snorkelled yet.
After lunch it is time and wow it was all worth it. The reef is spectacular and the coral is like you are in the submarine ride at Disneyland. I have never seen coral in so many different shapes and colours: bright lime green, blue, purple and different hues of browns and gold … amazing.
And course the huge variety of colourful fish. Some are almost neon. It is unbelievable. A fabulous experience. The sergeant majors, little black and yellow striped, are plentiful. There are two types of angel fish. One strictly black and white and the other with yellow strip and pointier nose. Then the schools of little one with neon orange tails. It is like swimming in a tropical aquarium.
No deadly Lion fish is spotted so that’s a good thing well maybe not for Bob. You do have to be careful not to step on the coral; not just so you don’t damage it but because the sea urchin are plentiful. These ones have 4-5 inch spikes.
Fortunately the tide is going in and we should have a better time going in for dinner. We ar able to motor right to the beach which is a good thing as TJ is wearing her new sun dress that is long.
We are having dinner at the Paradise Beach Resort, a small place with 30 bungalows, a restaurant and bar. The bar arranges a table right in the sand which is beautifully soft. Rum and cokes all around to start with crisp chicken wings. Then fried squid with garlic for Bob, Pad Thais for Jan and Rich, fried rice with mixed seafood for Gail and chicken and cashews for me. Jan’s doesn’t arrive which is just as well as there is plenty to go around. Mine has this purple (I think) vegetable but it has the consistency of cardboard. We think it is some type of seaweed. Anyhow I will push it aside.
We have enjoyed our meals and the Bob Marley Reggae playing in the background. Back on board by 8:30 and while we are all tired after last night’s lack of sleep it is too early to go to bed. So after a few nightcap we make it till just after 10. Tonight is a much better night for sleep, flat seas and quiet as we are the only boat in the bay.
When I get up at 7 Bob is the only other person up and he is putting on his snorkel gear. Marvellous idea. So I join him. The water is like glass and there are new fish and coral to see. The coral is many shapes from round mushroom caps to squiggly brain. I find some new red and white stripped fish and one with a bright orange mouth. The ones I love the best are the neon blue and green Nemo like fish.
Back on board and the salt hosed off we lift anchor and are off heading to the famous Ko Phi. The area all replaced by new development having been totally wiped out by the tsunami back in 2004.
The wind is up slightly so we are going to try the sails. A pretty slick operation on this boat as the main winches are motorized if you want. They are up and we are going a whopping 2 knots in the wrong direction. Apparently catamarans do not stay on course the same as a proper sail boat. As it is a long way to our next stop we are doing a slightly motorized sail but hey the boat looks beautiful.
Our first planned stop had been at Ko Ho Yao, a set of very tiny islands with good snorkelling. The bay looks beautiful except for the 8 tourist boats that have dropped off the throngs. Not sure how you could even manoeuver without banging in to someone. We decide to just carry on.
Sadly the day passes without even one whale shark sighting. This is breeding season and supposedly our best chance. We slow down twice upon spotting a swarm of seabirds eating off the surface. This is usually a sign that something bigger is below the surface pushing up the plankton. But no luck.
When we get close to Ko Phi Phi Don the boat traffic explodes. We abandon plans to go into Ton Sai and instead head for Monkey Bay. Okay I guess the boats speeding around have taken half the tourists from Ton Sai to here. You can’t even see the beach for the boats moored in front. What’s the chance there is a single monkey to see!
No let’s just head to overnight spot of Ko Yao Yai. It is said tomb a protected bay with resorts, restaurants and mini store. Perfect except the bottom is quiet hard and we are having a difficult time getting the anchor to hold. Fortunately Bob is a very experienced sailor and he finds the right spot.
After changing and a cocktail we decide to head into shore by dingy before the sunsets. Always best to see what might be a problem coming back in the dark while there is still some light. The ‘protected’ island is not so and the wake is heaving us back and forth. Bob somehow gets in the dingy but it is all he can do to hang on.
This is not a good idea and we decide to stay onboard as Bob struggles to get himself out of the dingy. However as we had planned dinner onshore we have no provisions for that. All we have left pretty much is bread and eggs and so I make us our second breakfast of the day and will finished off what wine we had left.
The good news is the seas calm down and we will be able to sleep. The bad news is that the Japanese hoards that we saw get off all of the speedboats are now having Karaoke and a show. You know how sound carries on water. Not only that but most of them are absolutely terrible and so loud that we can’t even play our own music to drown them out.
Everyone is tired after our long trek today and so it is an early night. That of course just means an early rise. While it is nice and cool when we go to bed with the air conditioner off and only a small fan it is warm in the am. Add to that longboat take off to check their nets about 5 and some bird decides to chirp outside my porthole about 6. Oh well the sunrise is beautiful and the sea like glass. Gives me time to write some journal while the others sleep.
Today we head back and will more off Ko Naka Noi. This is the resort just across from the marina where Bob, Jan, TJ and Rich stayed for a few days. It is quiet La De Da and we are going to have our last dinner there. That way we are only half an hour motor across the Ao Po Grand Marina as we need to be on the fuel jetty at 8 am Sunday am.
Guess I should go back after my coffee so as I don’t have to do it when we are moving. Staying down below when moving is not a good idea unless you are sleeping. While I was showering a man come by and offers us fresh prawns which we decline because we are eating out tonight. But wait … the restaurant is fully booked or at least that’s their story. Could be they just don’t want any boat riff-raff.
Back to plan B either see what they have at the mini mart or go right to the marina and eat there. Not our preferred option for sure. The mini mart turns out to be a typical hotel shop, holiday’s clothes, potato chips, pop and wait just add water instant noodle soup. Not quite what we had in mind for dinner. Okay lets head for Ko Khai Nut where there is snorkelling reef and a restaurant on stilts.
First breakfast at the Sunthiya Resort which is absolutely stunning. The pool has a waterfall and the sun beds around it are little sampan like boats. The buffet is fabulous and we all very much enjoy a larger selection then just eggs.
We head off with slight clouds and it is not far to our next island but as with most places there are lots of boats around. The seas are a bit choppy so the guys go to see if we can get on shore easily. The place is adorable and you can see the change in water colour with the reef. There is really nothing here but the reef, the restaurant and the rocks.
As they circle the little island the weather starts to change and off from where we have come a squall looks to be forming. As there is a storm definitely coming we secure things in the cabin and the guys come back to report that in this weather there is no safe landing spot with the reef. Another meal aborted. It will be crisps and beer.
We wait till the worst passes which is really a lot of wind but minimal rain and decide that the safest bet is to head back to Ao Po Grand Marina. It is just about 2 hours away and we arrive to better seas with that cutie Craig waiting for us on the fuel dock. By 4 we are alongside in our slip to finish off our packing. As no one is on this boat next week we do not have to rush to be off in the am. And Jan and Bob’s boat with their kids will be ready early so they can move right on.
Gail and I head to the D’Deck bar for rum and cokes and are joined shortly after by the others. Just as the Jans arrive the winds really pick up and the rain begins. Within 5 minutes we are full on in the middle of the squall in a bar that has a sail like roof but open sides. Rich and TJ duck under the edge of the bar and the other 4 of us find one of the few spots where the rain isn’t hitting.
The storm carries on for 15-20 minutes and it is a good one. Really in the end no spot was safe but we don’t get too wet and it is still very warm so when it finally ends we dry off quickly. All except Jan’s dress as it blew in the wind out of cover.
We head outside the marina for about a 2 minute walk to the Galley. Recommended by the staff of Moorings it is cheaper, better food and live music. The single guitarist is not bad even with the fake accompaniment music and beat. He sings a lot of great oldies though his pronunciation of some words is too cute.
Our food is great except that it comes all a different times. The two cooks are enable to manage the crowd and the timing. I am almost finished my food when the others finally appear. For our trouble the owner sends over tequila shots. Oh no!
As TJ requests Dancing Queen for Jan’s Birthday the owner now knows about it and more tequila comes. On the third shot I totally bow out. Rich ends up with many shots in front of him. We dance a bit and then call it an evening. Our sailing adventure has come to an end and it will be time once again to say goodbye to our friends.