"Arctracer" Letters

Cruising to Phuket with Claire & Sim, Feb 2007

Since writing our last letter we've learned about some of the inedible things served in food in Malaysia and Thailand. Our friends on the catamaran "Quorsum" gave us a recipe for Tom Yam (or Tom Yum) Soup which we've now made several times. Inedible parts include lemon grass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. These are put into many Thai dishes and are some of the things that make their food taste wonderful to us. We've also bought squid and learned to clean them properly for the first time. For 50 baht we can buy enough for a good meal. ($1 US is about 34 baht.)

We checked out of Kuah on Friday, January 26. The Port Captain has a break on Fridays from 12:30 until 2:45, so Jerry had a long wait, but then the formalities were easy. On Saturday morning we left Kuah and sailed to Palau Langgun on the NE side of Langkawi where we anchored for the night. Our first port in Thailand had to be Satun to meet Claire and Sim from England who were arriving there on a ferry. They are good friends with Dorothy, and hiked the Appalachian Trail with her in 2006. Satun is a check-in port, so we tried to get the boat near enough to visit all the Thai officials. We sailed towards the shipyard (www.pss-satun.com) a bit north of Satun using waypoints published by the shipyard. We soon discovered that those waypoints are only approximate. The route through murky water winds past fishtraps and shoals and then up a mangrove river. The lowest depth we saw (near low tide) was 5' and there were several places where the best course was not obvious. At the shipyard we discovered that neither of the two guest moorings was available. We anchored in the river below the shipyard at 6 degrees 39.8'N; 99 degrees 57.97'E with both bow and stern tied to trees ashore to keep out of the main channel. It was not a good place, as large fishing boats go up the river both day and night, and two large local boats towed a huge barge full of bricks past us (occurs once a week). A better place to anchor is before the river branches up to the shipyard. Jerry dinghied to the shipyard where they were working busily on both yachts and fishing boats. He caught a songthaew (pickup truck with benches in the back) for 20 baht to Satun, and then a second one to the ferry terminal where he checked in with the Thai officials. Check-in was easy and efficient with only a fee of 200 baht to Customs.

An anchorage near the shipyard is not convenient for guests arriving by ferry, so we made our way out over the shoals and reanchored near Po Tanyang at 6 degrees 36'N; 99 degrees 57'E in 11.3' at high tide. With spring tides the water got as low as 4', so we raised our rudders to keep them out of the mud. Two days later we tried to sail to the ferry terminal where the Marine Department had said we could tie up to their dock or alongside a commercial ship. The northeast wind was strong that day, so we anchored near Ko Khuning for the night. The next morning with NE winds of 30+ knots we could still not get up the long channel to the ferry terminal, so sailed back to Ban Tanyang. Jerry dinghied to the beach, walked for a while and eventually got a ride on a motorbike into Satun. He stocked up on fresh fruit and vegetables at the big market, and rode another motorbike to the ferry dock. When he found Claire and Sim, they hired a taxi (400 Baht) to take them and their big backpacks all back to the beach near "Arctracer." Two dinghy trips got everybody and everything aboard. Our conclusion is that Satun is not a convenient place for a boat to check in or out of Thailand, at least in the northeast monsoon season.

Saturday, February 2 was our first full day with Claire and Sim aboard and we had a very slow sail with little wind from Po Tanyang to Ao Sone on the west side of Ko Tarutao at 6 degrees 38'N; 99 degrees 37'E. The next day we looked for a trail at the southern end of the beach but couldn't find it, so bushwhacked our way (the "Long Pig Trail") back towards the park headquarters at the northern end. At the restaurant we relaxed with cold drinks and learned that there is no longer any trail at the south end of the beach. The trail to the Lu Du waterfall started 200 meters up the road from the park headquarters, is well marked, and is 3 km to the waterfall (small in the dry season). The pool provided us with a refreshing swim before we had a picnic lunch and walked back.

On Monday we sailed about 15 nm to Ko Bulan where we swam, and explored in the dinghy and kayak. The water was too murky for good snorkelling. The anchorage at 6 degrees 49'N; 99 degrees 41'E in 18' at high tide was the most protected anchorage we'd been in for a while. There were crab-eating macaques on the beaches at low tide.

(view Ko Tarutao - Ko Phetra photos)

From Ko Bulan we motor-sailed all day in light breezes for 44 nm to Ko Muk. We anchored just after dark at 7 degrees 21.7'N; 99 degrees 17.2'E in 32' near low tide. The next morning we took a mooring near the cave entrance so that two of us could take the kayak and two of us could swim with an underwater light into the Emerald Hong at Ko Muk. We had done this about a year before and enjoyed doing it again. After dropping the mooring at 10 am we had a good sail to the west side of Ko Talabeng off the east coast of Ko Lanta. We anchored at 7 degrees 36.6'N; 99 degrees 08.9'E and explored a nice cave, kayaked along the beautiful limestone cliffs and saw a sea eagle catch a fish. Claire and Sim saw a large water monitor (lizard). Then we sailed to anchor in the lee of Ko Po, just off Ban Si Raya (also called Ban Ko Lanta). We anchored to the south of the jetty at 7 degrees 31.9'N; 99 degrees 07.2'E in 12.5' at mid-tide.

On Thursday we motored about a mile to anchor just north of the jetty of Ban Ko Lanta in 9' at low tide. After wandering around the nice, traditional town and having Pad Thai for lunch, we hired Man Panchoo (an experienced local guide who speaks English very well, telephone 089-475-4710) to take us across the island to the "Elephant Trek and Tiger Cave" for 200 baht each. He had the operators of the elephant trek take us back to "Arctracer." Since the driver mentioned that he didn't know how much we paid Man, but knew it was too much, we probably could have saved a bit by calling the trekking company directly if we'd known their phone number. We paid the trekking company 900 baht each for a package deal including the elephant rides and a guided tour of the cave. We were given water and watermelon slices, then rode elephants for 20 minutes through nice terrain with plantations and betel nut palms. Off the elephants we met our guides and walked up a beautiful trail to the Tiger Cave. On the trail the guides pointed out long-tailed macaques in the trees, a snake which they chased from the trail, a squirrel, a rodent of some kind, several skinks and lizards, fish in the stream we followed, a large millipede and big spiders in webs. As we crawled into the cave, our guides told us that the cave would open up. It did, but there was much more crawling too. One of us wasn't keen to be in confined spaces and already had sore ribs and a cut toe so opted for the alternative route around the outside of the cave. Three of us got very dirty but really enjoyed the tour through the narrow crawl spaces and the neat stalactites. We were impressed at how well they treated their elephants. Ours got a bath with a hose at one of the local rubber-tapper's houses on the way back. They feed each of their 5 elephants 300 kg of fruit and fodder a day which they buy from the mainland. Upon our return to town we bought fruit and vegetables, drinking water (which was delivered to our dinghy for no extra cost), some 100% juice in small cartons and some beer. Then we ate a nice curried squid meal at the Fresh Restaurant overlooking the water. The wind was very fresh from the NE while we rowed back to the boat. We reanchored back near Ko Po in the protected anchorage we'd been in the previous night.

(view Ko Lanta photos)

On Friday we sailed to Phi Phi Le and took a mooring at 7 degrees 40.8'N; 98 degrees 45.84'E in sight of the beach where the movie The Beach was filmed. We had time to snorkel in the afternoon before watching a beautiful sunset. The following morning we rowed the dinghy ashore and walked on the tsunami evacuation route to another cove further south. We could not believe the number of boats and tourists that started arriving about 9:30 am! Upon return to the boat a park ranger collected 200 baht from each of us for the use of the marine park at both Phi Phi Le and Phi Phi Don. We enjoyed an hour of snorkelling before heading north to Ko Mai Phi where we couldn't find a good place to anchor without being in coral. We considered anchoring in the lee of Ko Dam Hok as we'd enjoyed snorkelling there previously in July, but continued to the excellent protection at Railay (8 degrees 00.5'N; 98 degrees 49.9'E) 20 km from Krabi by road. Claire and Sim went ashore to go rock climbing for 800 baht each from 2-4:30 pm while we stayed anchored off the beach and did some boat chores. They were also able to get water for showers at a local restaurant where they had lunch, and buy tonic water, juice and beer. We found out that longtails now charge 150 baht per person each way into Krabi Town from Railay. The longtails were very busy here, and all day long we heard them snarling as they moved tourists around.

On Monday we moved to anchor off the beach in front of Ao Nang Village (8 degrees 01.6'N; 98 degrees 49.6'E) in 20 . We rowed ashore and found a taxi driver named Roon (telephone 081-797-4385) to take us to Khao Phanom Bench National Park for 1500 baht from 10:30-4:30. At the park we paid 200 baht each for admission. We hiked the very hilly (even the young, very experienced hikers were puffing and sweating) nature trail of 2.5 km for an hour and fifteen minutes to the three-tier Huai To Waterfall. There were several pools for swimming. Above the one we arrived at there was another waterfall without a good trail to it. From the falls we walked half a kilometre in 20 minutes back to the park visitor center where we had a good lunch for 40 baht each. Our driver stopped at a market for us (open on Monday, Tuesday and Fridays from 2-8 pm according to one tourist magazine) before arriving in Ao Nang village. We then stopped at a supermarket near "McDonald's" where we found Gouda and Edam cheese, and in front of McDonald's we bought Pad Thai from Roon's sister and her husband for 30 baht each to take back to the boat to eat. In Ao Nang we also bought 100% juice, beer and rum and checked our email before returning to Arctracer.The next morning we had a quick sail to Ko Dam Khwan (in the Chicken Islands) where we took a mooring (7 degrees 57.4'N; 98 degrees 48.7'E). We swam right from the boat for excellent snorkelling on the sea-side of the reef. Claire said it was the best snorkelling experience she'd ever had, and we think it was as good as any of the snorkelling that we did in the Similan Islands. The hard corals were wonderful and there were many fish of all kinds. The water was fairly clear at low tide but a little cloudier when the tide was coming back in after lunch.

(view Phi Phi Le - Ao Nang photos)

From here we sailed towards the NE corner of Phang Nga Bay, stopping for the night on the Northeast side of Ko Yao Noi (7 degrees 57.4'N, 98 degrees48.7'E) in 30' at high tide. On Valentine's Day we went to the far northeastern corner of Phang Nga Bay, then up Khlong Marui (Khlong is the Thai word for river) and Khlong Pak Lao (also called Khlong Baw Thaw) to Thanboke Koranee (or Than Bokkharani) National Park. It was a bit nerve-wracking since we did not have good charts of these small streams. The least depth we saw at midtide was 7' for only a few yards in Khlong Pak Lao. We anchored (8 degrees 23'N; 98 degrees 41.17'E) near the wonderful Tham Pee Hua Toe (Tham is the Thai word for cave, and this one is also called Tham Hua Kalok), the cave of the "Big-headed Ghost." This cave is large and well-lighted with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites and many paintings thousands of years old. Then we paddled about a hundred yards further up Khlong Pak Lao to the next right-hand tributary, and up that stream through Tham Lawt, a water tunnel under a karst mountain. From there we paddled the kayak and rowed the dinghy for about 20-30 minutes further up Khlong Pak Lao to a floating restaurant where we had lunch. This is Tha Baw Thaw (or Bor Thor) the starting point of popular kayak and longtail tours. From there we rowed and paddled for another 30 to 35 minutes at very low tide to find that we couldn't get the kayak through the shallow water into the water tunnels further upstream. It was a beautiful winding trip through mangroves and magnificent cliffs, with kingfishers flying about and crab-eating long-tailed macaques on the shore. With about an hour of daylight left we motored back out of the rivers, away from the mangroves and possibly many mosquitoes, to anchor for the night by Ko Song Phi Nong in 25' about mid-tide (8 degrees 21.2'N; 98 degrees 37.2'E).

(view Thanboke Koranee National Park photos)

From Ko Song Phi Nong we sailed across the shallows north of Ko Mak to Ko Panyi at high tide with a least depth of 9'. Before anchoring, we went just a little farther north to see from our boat a few ancient paintings on a cave ceiling about 100 meters up from the south-eastern end of Khao Khian. Anchoring at Ko Panyi in 37' at high tide (8 degrees 20'N; 98 degrees 30'E), Claire and Sim rowed ashore to see this Muslim village built on stilts. After lunch, we sailed south to Ko Phanak and anchored in 12' at low tide (8 degrees 11.9'N; 98 degrees 29.6'E). We took lights and walked through a fairly long tunnel into a double hong. This cave is definitely best at low tide. Next we anchored off the large cave with the 5-tier (dry) waterfall and extended passages which Jennifer, Nico and Steph explored last July (8 degrees 11'N; 98 degrees 29.7'E). In the evening we saw several hornbills and hundreds of flying foxes at this anchorage.

We went around to the north-western side of Ko Phanak the next morning and anchored in 12' at high tide (8 degrees 11.4'N; 98 degrees 29.2'E) to go into a tunnel to a double hong. The tunnel is long, wide, high and twisting, with many resident bats. Before getting into the hongs at the end of the tunnel there is a low ceiling. We were not able to get our kayak under this at high water. When Jennifer was with us we got into the first hong at low water but were unable to paddle into the second hong. This hong is best visited at mid-tide. We sailed down the east side of Phuket Island to Ao Chalong and anchored among the dive boat moorings in about 20' at mid-tide (7 degrees 49.2'N; 98 degrees 21.4'E.). It was the end of a wonderful two weeks of cruising, with absolutely spectacular scenery, excellent weather and a little adventure.

Ao Chalong is not our favourite place, since the big boats are frequently creating wakes and making lots of noise, and it is a long row to the dock with no good place to tie a dinghy. However, Claire and Sim needed to make plane reservations for the next leg of their travels, so Jerry took them ashore the next morning. They were able to book a flight to Bangkok, get a CD-ROM made with all Claire's Canon camera photos, mail excess clothing back to England, do email, and buy fruit, vegetables, cheese, bottled water and other good things to drink. Everyone was back aboard just in time to get the anchor up and move around to Nai Harn beach (7 degrees 46'N; 98 degrees 18'E) on the southwest corner of Phuket Island before dark.

(view Phang Nga Bay to Nai Harn photos)

We spent a few relaxing days at Nai Harn. The beach is lovely and not too crowded despite the nearby resorts. The 18th was Chinese New Year and there was also a Phang Nga Bay Regatta in progress. The regatta finished in this bay on the 20th, and the hotel put on a spectacular event that night. They built a special stage out over the water and decorated with giant sculptures of ancient Chinese warriors and red lanterns. The sound system was LOUD, and they brought in foreign DJs, 120 models and Thai movie stars too. We could have purchased tickets for the big event lasting from 8pm until late but decided against it. Claire and Sim went off to the airport about 2pm for the next part of their one and one-half yearlong travelling adventure, and we just relaxed aboard and watched the action. We certainly had a fine time with our English guests, and we think they now have a good understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of living on a boat.

(view map of cruise)

Now we will contact people about getting a new boom and rigging for our boat, help a friend celebrate his 50th birthday, do some work on our website and do a few of the boat projects on our list. We will check out of Thailand before our visas expire on February 27 and sail back to Langkawi.