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Our friends Jan and Pat joined us in Phuket for a month-long cruise from 17 July to 14 August. This was the fourth time they stayed with us aboard "Arctracer." Their other visits were in Australia (twice) and New Zealand, so this was their first cruise in the tropics. Although this was the rainy season and we did have showers frequently, we were not bothered too much by the weather the first three weeks. There were even a few sunburns, though the fierce tropical sun was almost always behind clouds. We cruised around Phang Nga Bay, a beautiful cruising area in any season. While most was not new to us, it was nice to share some favorite places with our friends and have a few new experiences too.
We picked them up at the airport in a rental car which had a ridiculously small back seat but plenty of cargo space. They were relieved to finally find their luggage after getting bad advice to look in "international" rather than "domestic" after their second hop from Bangkok. A few minutes later we were stopped at a traffic light when a motorcycle ran into our back end, breaking our tail light. He disappeared before we could get any identification, and the rental place charged us 2,000 Baht (about $60 US) to get it fixed. We got a carload of groceries at "Big C" and "Central Festival" mall supermarkets, but no alcohol since we were there between 2 and 4 pm when they don't sell beer. Pat had wanted to try a couple of the local Thai beers. Luckily we had already stocked up with Langkawi's duty-free beer, wine and gin. We brought everything to "Arctracer," tied to a dock at Yacht Haven Marina. At the same dock was "Kalizma," the 165 foot 1906 motor yacht whose most famous owner was actor Richard Burton. It is still maintained as one of the world's great luxury yachts and had a major refit last year. According to its web site, it can be rented for 70,000 Euros per week in the off-season. "Arctracer" may not be considered as luxurious, but we eat and drink just as well, have as much fun, get into more places, and have the satisfaction of doing things ourselves instead of trying to manage ten crew members.
We motored down the estuary with an outgoing tide and spent a few days in the northwest corner of Phang Nga Bay. This is an area of spectacular karst islands whose eroded limestone cliffs rise dramatically from the sea. We anchored at Ko Phanak for two nights and enjoyed pizzas in our front cockpit while watching hornbills fly to their roosts. We explored the area by dinghy, and our guests enjoyed bartering with local fishermen for fresh prawns. At low tide we walked through the tunnel at the northeast corner of Ko Phanak into the first hong ever seen by Pat & Jan. We visited the cave at Ko Ra Na, where there was water in the natural limestone basin and another bartering session yielded another kilo of prawns. We anchored between Ko Ra Ya Ring and Ko Thalu Nok for a night of hard rain, followed by a scenic dinghy ride. Huge longtails brought tourists to rent kayaks, while local workers zipped around in sporty little longtails.
(view Ko Phanak, Ko Ra Na and Ko Thalu Nok photos)
We crept across the shallows to the stilt village of Ko Panyi for lunch and souvenir shopping, and motored deep into the mangrove estuary for a night near Khao Tham Lod. We rowed the dinghy through the hole under the mountain the next morning, and saw Kingfishers and rubber trees too. Fishermen set traps and nets throughout the estuary, sometimes paddling or rowing their canoes.
(view Ko Panyi photos)
We motored across the shallow north end of Phang Nga Bay and up into the estuary of the bay's northeast corner to anchor beside the famous "Cave of the Big-headed Ghost." Despite a threatening sky, we dinghied through the nearby water tunnel and went ashore at the big cave. We forgot to take a flashlight and it was too dark to see the cave paintings. A tremendous thunderstorm kept us inside for an extra half hour. A few lightning bolts hit VERY near, gritty gusts blasted through the cave, and the rain was torrential. We wondered about the magic used by people in this cave 2000 to 3000 years ago. The next day we took both dinghy and kayak far upstream, through a long tunnel under a mountain, into a hong, for lunch at a restaurant on the water, and to revisit yesterday's water tunnel and big cave. On a previous expedition to this area the tide was too low for us to get into the long tunnel at the far end of the estuary and the hong in that area. We were all tired after this long and memorable day of expedition.
(view Khlong Pak Lao photos)
While motoring down the east side of Phang Nga Bay we saw a porpoise and some frigate birds, then tucked in behind Ko Chong Lat. Nina baked banana bread and then made a great dinner of mashed pumpkin with apples, onions and maple syrup; mashed potatoes; coleslaw; and "toad-in-the-hole" with gravy. We stayed for a lazy second day, reading, watching a Harry Potter DVD, organizing digital photos, and then feasting on Jan & Pat's spaghetti bolognese. We motored down to Ko Hong, where we swam and snorkeled but didn't see very much of interest in slightly cloudy water. We explored the lagoon by dinghy, and found the nice dry cave behind the beach on the east side of the entrance for the first time. There was a huge school of minnows which looked like a black reef just off the western beach and a cave ashore labeled "Swallow Preservation."
We had to motor everywhere until July 27 when we finally had enough breeze to sail at about three knots towards the "Chicken Islands." We picked up a mooring at Ko Dam Khwan just as a 20 knot squall came through. We watched a large movie crew working on shore, spending huge amounts of people-time to get a few minutes of footage. Nina made a delicious Tom Yum soup with coconut milk - a Thai specialty. We would have snorkeled the next morning, but the weather looked grim so we sailed to Ao Nang and dinghied to the beach. Pat was frustrated by the ATM machines, none of which would give him cash on his bank card. Two of the machines refused to return his card, necessitating human intervention on Saturday of a holiday weekend. We lunched at an Irish Pub in this very touristy town, and then took a songthaew to Krabi, walked around the waterfront, and took a songthaew back. There were waves breaking onto the beach as we launched our dinghy, and we all got a little wet, but we did not capsize or sink.
(view Krabi Town photos)
We moved a few miles to Rai Lay West, and dinghied to the beach by the resorts. We walked across the island to visit "Diamond Cave" which had lights, a boardwalk and an entrance fee - quite different from the "undeveloped" caves we visited before, but well worth seeing. Nina shouted drinks at the "Bamboo Bar" on the beach. The cliffs are a world-famous destination for rock climbers, and we watched several on well-defined routes with local guides. We walked along spectacular cliffs on a very nice boardwalk to the beach at the southwest corner where Long-tailed Macaques begged food from tourists. On the way back we had a good look at a group of Dusky Langurs eating leaves. That night Pat & Jan cooked bacon, sausages and potato cakes for dinner. The next morning Nina cooked french toast, sausages and bacon for breakfast. We all must have gained weight on this cruise. We moved again to Ko Dam Khwan in the "Chicken Islands" and tried snorkeling. We had good experiences here before, but this time it was disappointing because of cloudy water. We recovered by eating Nina's fresh bread (she baked almost every two days) with freshly made hummus, and then had her pumpkin-cheese soup with pappadams. (Did I mention that we ate extremely well on this cruise?)
(view Railay and Ko Dam Kwan photos)
The next day we sailed to Ko Mai Phai and snorkeled on its north side. Jan slipped on our back steps and got a huge bruise. (After returning home and seeing a doctor she discovered it was a haematoma and the doctor couldn't believe the heat coming from the hard lump. She started on antibiotics and is finally able to sit comfortably again.) That night, after an excellent green curry, a squall hit from the northwest with gusts over 30 knots. Our anchor held well, but the lee shore made us worry for a while. The next morning we noticed that we'd lost one of our favorite bath towels off the line during the squall. We were happy to motor away to Phi Phi Don in very light winds the next morning.
We stayed on a mooring in Phi Phi Don's main harbour for two nights. Nina had never been ashore there so we walked around the many narrow streets, seeing a few bicycles. The village is strictly for tourists. Jan did find some wrist bands for her grandsons and Pat shouted us a nice lunch on the beach. Phi Phi Don was wiped out by the tsunami a couple years ago, but is back in business. The new hospital is right by the beach, about five feet above high water, so they do not expect another tsunami.
(view Ko Phi Phi Don & Ko Hong & Ko Yao Yai photos)
With a pleasant westerly breeze we sailed southeast under spinnaker to the bottom of Ko Lanta. The wind around the bottom of the island was very strange - alternating calms with gusts from various directions. We eventually motored to the old town of Ban Si Raya, and toured it the next morning. We lunched on the hottest "rad" curry in Thailand. Even copious amounts of cold beer couldn't quench that fire.
(view Ko Lanta photos)
A strong northwest wind kept us bottled up in the lee of Ko Lanta for a couple days. Finally it eased enough for us to sail close-hauled back to Phi Phi Don, anchoring on the northeast corner. We had planned to go to Ao Chalong and tour some of Phuket Island from there, but the strong wind was "on the nose" and it was very difficult with all the tacking we were doing, so we decided it was time for us to start back toward Yacht Haven. The next day we tacked west to the lee of Ko Yao Yai. With strong westerly winds continuing, we elected to go between Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi and anchor in the "pond" between them. The wind was still strong the next morning when we stuck our nose out on the west side of the islands and watched our kayak flip up on its side against the lifelines. We used a mostly-furled main with staysail to cross into the lee of Ko Wa where we anchored for lunch. Rather than stay for the night, we pushed straight into winds gusting over 30 knots, and then up the channel to the marina. We anchored after having cruised 278 miles around Phang Nga Bay. After showers, we walked from the marina to "Mama's" restaurant where the beer and food is good, while the decor and prices are minimal. No wonder it's a favorite hangout for cruisers. We dined with friends Tim, Trish and their two sons, the Australians of "Quoll II".
We rode songthaews to Phuket town and back. While walking around we were harassed by tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take us places, had a nice lunch at the "On On" restaurant, and went to the market and to a small supermarket. On the return trip it was educational to watch the driver relocate two older women from the front to the benches in back so a Buddhist monk (transporting a huge TV) could have the best seat. The most passengers at one time on this ride was 28, including schoolboys standing precariously on the tail end. Two days later, we took an all-day taxi tour of the island. We thought about going to a National Park to see the Bang Pae Waterfall and the Gibbon Center again, but they wouldn't give us a receipt or tickets for the 200 baht per person entry fee, so we decided not to go this time. We saw the busy Bangrong Pier for small ferries to Ko Yao, the Thalong National Museum, water buffalo, elephants providing rides to tourists, Boat Lagoon's travel lift and facilities and the Rassada Pier for big ferries to Phi Phi Don. It was "the Queen's Day," sort of like "Mothers Day," and Pat had difficulty buying a beer except at Rassada Pier. We went to Ao Chalong's long pier, and then on to the Golden Jubilee Lighthouse on the southern tip of Phuket at Phromthep Cape where there is a shrine with many elephant statues. We came north along the west side of the island, past Kata Beach, Karon Beach and Patong Beach where most of the tourist development is concentrated. We were amazed by the congestion, traffic jams, huge hotels, and new construction everywhere. Nina asked our taxi driver to stop for Durian fruit, but he said it was out of season. We knew it was in season and had heard that it is not allowed on the songthaews, so decided the taxi driver didn't want the smell of it in his taxi either. It was a relief to escape to the quiet of Yacht Haven.
(view Phuket Tour & Yacht Haven Marina photos)
Pat and Jan departed in a heavy rain, but it was a warm rain. Back in New Zealand they had to wear more clothes and enjoyed fires in the evenings instead of cold gin and tonics. Pat probably switched from cold lager (he tried many kinds on this cruise) to something more hearty. They took home presents for children and grandchildren, some souvenirs, digital photos, and fond memories (like ours) of the good times we all had in Thailand.
(view map of this cruise)
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