"Arctracer" Letters

SSCA Letters Published in 2007: Phang Nga Bay Cruises

Here are copies of two letters published in the SSCA Bulletin in April and July 2007. These are accounts of our cruises in Phang Nga Bay, first with Jennifer and her family and second with Claire and Sim. These letters may be particularly helpful to fellow cruisers since they include GPS waypoints.

ARCTRACER - 43' Fastback Catamaran - 3' draft

July 2006 - Subject Area: Phang Nga Bay and Bangkok, Thailand

Dear SSCA,

This describes a two-week cruise in July 2006 around Phang Nga Bay, and touring Phuket Island and Bangkok via rental car. It was the season of the southwest monsoon, and the winds were mostly light from the southwest, but we had winds from all directions in strengths which varied from flat calm to 25 knots. The weather was often overcast but we received no rain even though it was the "rainy season." At the time the US Dollar was about 36 baht, but now the dollar is not worth quite as much.

We met our four guests, including two teenagers, at the Phuket airport with a car rented at Yacht Haven Marina for 1,000 baht per day. We took them to a large, well-stocked supermarket to have them choose some food before returning to the Marina. The US teenagers were able to buy many of their favorite snacks and beverages. The following day we started our cruise around Phang Nga Bay by sailing to Ko Wa Yai (08°07.5'N, 098°26.9'E). Ko is the Thai word for "island." This was a quiet spot for them to swim, explore a small uninhabited beach, and try our dinghy and kayak for the first time.

Then we moved to the west side of Ko Phanak (08°11.3'N, 098°29.2'E) where we took our kayak into a big double hong (a "room" in the middle of an island) through a 600' tunnel. This tunnel is only passable at mid-tide, and has some current. We anchored for the night on the east side of Ko Phanak for shelter from the prevailing winds. Three of our guests spent about one & one-half hours exploring the large cave system near 08°11'N, 098°29.7'E. They returned to the opening of the cave with mud all over themselves and said it was great fun. Although it was the rainy season, the five-tier waterfall to the left in the cave was dry. We watched several hornbills and hundreds of flying foxes at dusk.

The next morning we anchored at 08°13.9'N, 098°28.7'E to explore the cave of Ko Ra Na. It has a pool of water in a limestone bowl to the right of the entry and a few bats off to the left. Here, a park ranger collected 200 baht per person - National Park fees for a week. Then at Ko Hong we anchored in 15' (08°13.6'N, 098°30.2'E) in a strong current. We bought 12 prawns for 100 baht and another 19 prawns for 200 baht from local fisherpersons in long-tail boats. We knew these were fairly high prices, but the locals did not come down much in price despite our attempts at bartering. Perhaps they knew how much we all wanted those large, very fresh, delicious prawns! We explored the two hongs at Ko Hong with the rowing dinghy and the kayak. This island is very picturesque and was apparently in one of the James Bond films.

Then we moved to the west side of Ko Thalu and anchored at 08°18.1'N, 098° 28.7'E. This small island has an arched passage through its high limestone cliffs. After a short stay, we went around the north side of Ko Thalu, crossing a shallow area whose least depth we found at low tide was 4.5'. (We took this route on a previous visit with a rising tide and saw a least depth of 7'). Between Ko Thalu Nok and Ko Ra Ya Ring we anchored in 14' at mid-tide (08°18.2'N,098°29.6'E). Ko Thalu Nok has three permanently anchored large boats which rent kayaks to the mobs of tourists who arrive via large longtail boats. It was a crowded, noisy scene for much of the day, but the evenings were very quiet. We took our kayak and dinghy completely around the island, exploring many caves and hongs, and saw two large monitor lizards.

From Ko Thalu Nok we headed east across the shallow mudflats until we reached the deep channel to Ko Panyi. This is a Moslem fishing village on stilts, which now caters to tourists. Anchoring at 08°20.1'N, 098°30.4'E we were south of the pipe which brings drinking water to the village. On Ko Panyi we looked at many inexpensive items for sale, ate lunch at one of the restaurants (1920 baht for five adults and a 2-year old), saw two illegal gibbons which we later reported to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center on Phuket, saw a Brahminy Kite that tourists were getting their picture taken with, saw many songbirds in cages, and saw fish, crabs and crayfish in holding pens for the many restaurants.

A place we really enjoyed was up a mangrove river north of Ko Panyi on the west side of Khao Khian. We took the first left branch after an island off Khao Khom. We anchored in 19' (high tide) at Khao Tham Lod (08°22.6'N, 098°29.4'E.) From there we took the kayak farther up the estuary through the mangroves to go through a narrow tunnel. There was a small shrine off to the left of the tunnel, but no other people. On the way back down the river we anchored in Khao Ra Ya near mangroves in 24' at high tide (08°21.3'N, 098°29.2'E) and saw gorgeous kingfishers.

Our guests were keen to visit James Bond Island (Ko Phing Kan on the chart) so we anchored at 08°16.4'N, 098°30.1'E and dinghied ashore. This is a touristy spot, with the full range of Thai souvenirs for sale. We enjoyed walking across the island on steps built into the stone and saw the sea stack featured in the James Bond movie "Man With the Golden Gun." From Ko Phing Kan we sailed to Ko Yao Yai where we anchored for the night at 08°00.7'N, 098°36.2'E.

The next day we came down the east side of Ko Yao Yai and then motored straight into a strong southwest wind to Ao Chalong. We had very rough seas with current against wind at the SE end of Ko Yao Yai and some of our guests got seasick, but they recovered quickly when we anchored in the protected bay at 07°49'N, 098°21'E in 19' at high tide.

On our first full day at Ao Chalong we took a songthaew (pickup truck with benches in the back) from near the jetty into Phuket Town for 20 baht each. In town we walked around the local market, visited the Chinese Temple Shrine of Serene Light, organized a 6-8-passenger rental van for a week for 6,500 baht, and walked up to the Phuket View Restaurant. The songthaews had stopped running by the time we wanted to return to Ao Chalong, so we paid 250 baht for a taxi.

Our daughter had an exchange student from Thailand in New Hampshire for a year and we wanted to visit him in Bangkok where he is now attending a university. We left the boat anchored in Ao Chalong for a week while we visited Bangkok. The rental van was delivered to Ao Chalong at 10:30 and we immediately put ~10 gal. of fuel in it costing 1120 baht. The roads were fine, but a map was essential since most signs were unintelligible to us. This day our guests had their first experiences with the squat toilets commonly found throughout Thailand and Malaysia. We passed rice paddies on our way to Chumphon, our 1st overnight stop, where we paid 900 baht for two rooms at the Chumphon Hotel and went to the night market. On the second day of our road trip we saw plantations producing palm oil, rubber, coconuts and pineapples and many trucks filled with those products. About noon we stopped at Prachuap Khiri Khan on the Gulf of Thailand to see Wat Thammikaram on the top of a hill. While climbing the steps we encountered Long-Tailed Macaques (monkeys), which thrive on handouts from tourists. They can be quite aggressive, but are fun to watch and the babies are adorable. The views from the top were superb. We were keen to see a floating market on a Sunday. The one at Samut Sakhon was closed in the morning, so we went to Damndensakuak where we took a boat trip (600 baht for the six of us). It was a one-time experience for us because it was mainly a traffic jam of long-tail boats full of tourists. We were stuck in boat traffic for what seemed like an incredible amount of time. Then we drove into Bangkok.

Bangkok is a very large city, about the same size as New York City. Finding our way around was very difficult, even with a good map, since we could not read most signs. We had considerable difficulty locating our Thai friend, Sunny, but once we did, he helped us find The Liberty Garden Hotel (600 baht for two people, including an "American" breakfast). If we hadn't had a Thai person with us we think it would have been rather difficult to get places from this hotel, but a guide made it easy.

During our first full day in Bangkok we took the "sky train" monorail for 40 baht each. We then took a ferry on the river to Pahurat where there was a huge market selling all kinds of interesting things. On our second day we took bus #44 (air conditioned -13 baht each) to The Grand Palace and the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most venerated sites in Thailand. To enter the grounds our daughter had to rent a sarong and our friend had to rent a blouse to cover her shoulders. Shoes were also required. We paid 250 baht each for tickets, while our Thai friend got in free. The Emerald Buddha is not very big, but is extremely important to Thais. After seeing the palace and its grounds we walked to Wat Pho - the oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok. For 50 baht each we were able to go inside to see the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand. It is finished in gold leaf, 150'long, and from the bottom of the elbow to the top of the head is 50' - very impressive. From the Wat we took bus #44 back to our hotel. Before going to the hotel Sunny found some durian fruit for us. We had tried it once, selecting our own at a market and not caring for it, but Sunny selected a piece of his favorite fruit which we all thought tasted very good.

While our daughter and Sunny took an overnight bus to Roi Et to see his parents, we drove to Ranong to get our Thai visas renewed for another month. We hired a local to make all the arrangements (350 baht each.) At 09:30 we checked out of Thailand with Immigration and then boarded a long-tail boat for the one-half hour trip to Myanmar. We gave $5USD each and our passports to a boy who got them stamped by Myanmar Immigration while we stayed in the boat. A few guys tried to talk us into giving them "tips" and offered to buy liquor and cigarettes "cheap" for us but we just said "No." By 1145 we were checked back into Thailand at Ranong Immigration. Seven hours later we were back at Ao Chalong, where we hired a long-tail boat for 200 baht to take us out to "Arctracer." Undoubtedly we could have paid less, but it had been a long day, we had lots of luggage, and we were ready to get "home."

Now we were ready for another week of exploring Phang Nga Bay. We motor-sailed six hours to Phi Phi Don where we stayed on a free yellow mooring in NW Bay at 07°44.7'N, 098°45.7'E. During the NE monsoon the tourist boats take people there until late afternoon to snorkel, and there are many kayakers from the main village, which is out of sight of the mooring. During the SW monsoon this was a very rolly anchorage and we didn't encounter any tourist boats. We saw many fish, including clown fish in anemones. (The two-year old was enamored with "Nemo".) Many Sargent Majors came around looking for food since the tourist boats feed them.

The next day we anchored on the east coast of Phi Phi Don at 07°45.9'N, 098°46.5'E. While snorkeling from the boat we saw a sea snake, quite a few giant clams, and many fish, but the coral wasn't great. From Phi Phi Don we sailed to the east coast of Ko Dam Khwan in the "Chicken Islands." (More about this place is in our article in the April 2007 Bulletin.) We enjoyed seeing razor fish, a lionfish, a beaked coralfish, clownfish in anemones, several giant clams, lots of sponges, quite a bit of colorful coral and many other fish while moored at 07°57.4'N, 098°48.7'E. We had planned to snorkel again in the morning but we saw an amazing number of large jellyfish in the water so decided to skip the snorkeling.

We sailed to Ko Hong in Krabi Province (a different Ko Hong than visited earlier) and anchored (08°04.6'N; 098°40.9'E) for lunch. Again, many jellyfish in the water did not entice us to swim. The lagoon on the north end of the island is accessible by dinghy at mid-tide, but at low-tide the lagoon was mostly dried out. After anchoring at Ko Yao Noi (08°10.3'N, 098°38.2'E) our visitors went ashore at low tide between sticks marking a very shallow channel to the resort jetty. They had no luck getting showers there but did buy four cold soft drinks for 500 baht.

We sailed and motored back to Yacht Haven Marina so our guests could do some land touring on their last full day in Thailand. They went elephant riding through a rubber plantation for an hour (1000 baht/adult and 500 baht for the 2-year old). We also visited the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center and Bang Pae Waterfall for 200 baht each. At the Gibbon Center we learned that the mother gibbons are killed to get their beautiful babies. Many tourists are happy to pay to get their photos taken holding these babies, not knowing that gibbons are almost extinct in the wild and these babies will also be done away with when they get a little older. After a nice walk to the waterfall we had Pad Thai at one of the local eating-places, and then did a little shopping for pearls.

In summary, we had a wonderful two weeks of cruising with pretty good weather despite the southwest monsoon "rainy season." Perhaps we were lucky, but except for an occasional short shower we never got enough rain at one time to clean the decks and put water in the tanks. The scenery of Phang Nga Bay was fabulous, and our trip to Bangkok was a marvelous cultural experience. A few photos of this tour and a map of our route are on our website (view map and photos)

ARCTRACER - 43' Fastback Catamaran - 3' draft

February 2007 - Subject Area: West Coast of Thailand


This reports the daily activities and anchorages of a two-week tour in February 2007 through Phang Nga Bay and islands farther south in Thailand. It was the season of the northeast monsoon, and the winds were mostly light from the northeast, but we had winds from all directions in strengths which varied from flat calm to over 30 knots. The weather was almost always hot, with clear but hazy skies, and no rain. We visited several tourist 'hotspots' where crowds of people are moved in and out by all sorts of boats, but we always had quiet anchorages at night.

Check-In: Coming from Langkawi, Malaysia, we decided to check into Thailand at Satun, since we planned to explore islands between Langkawi and Phuket. We sailed towards the shipyard () 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 fish traps and shoals and then up a mangrove-lined 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°39.8'N, 99° 57.97'E with both bow and stern tied to trees ashore to keep out of the main channel. It was not a very 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 once a week. A better place to anchor is before the river branches up to the shipyard. We dinghied to the shipyard where they were busily working on both yachts and fishing boats. We caught a songthaew (pickup truck with benches in the back) for 20 Baht ($.60USD) each to Satun, and then a second one to the ferry terminal where we checked in with the Thai officials. ($1USD is about 33 Baht.) 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 re-anchored near Ban Tanyang at 6°36'N, 99° 57'E in 11' 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 at 6° 26.9'N, 100° 03.6'E. The next morning with gusty NE winds of 30+ knots, we could still not get up the long channel to the ferry terminal, so sailed back to Ban Tanyang. We dinghied to the beach, walked for a while and got a ride on a motorbike into Satun. From there we took another motorbike (40 baht) to the ferry terminal. After our guests arrived we hired a taxi (400 baht) to take us all back to the beach near "Arctracer."

Island Hopping: Our first full day started with a very slow sail from Ban Tanyang to the beach at Ao Sone on the west side of Ko Tarutao at 6°38'N,99° 37'E. We looked for a trail at the southern end of the beach which is mentioned in a guidebook, then bushwhacked 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 330 feet up the road from the park headquarters, is well marked, and is 1.8 mile 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.

From Ao Sone we sailed about 15 nm to Ko Bulan where we swam, and explored by dinghy and kayak. The anchorage at 6°49'N, 99°41'E in 18' at high tide was well-protected from the northeast wind. There were crab-eating macaque monkeys on the beaches at low tide.

From Ko Bulan we motor-sailed all day in light breezes 44 miles to Ko Muk. We anchored just after dark at 7°21.7'N, 99°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 repeating the adventure. After dropping the mooring at 10:00, we had a good sail to the west side of Ko Talabeng off the east coast of Ko Lanta. We anchored at 7°36.6'N, 99° 08.9'E and explored a nice cave, kayaked along the beautiful limestone cliffs, saw a sea eagle catch a fish, and even saw a water monitor. 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°31.9'N, 99°07.2'E in 12.5' at mid-tide.

To get to our next stop, 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, 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 said 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. First, we were given drinking water and watermelon slices, then rode the elephants for 20 minutes through nice terrain with rubber trees, betel nut palms, banana trees and other tropical plants. 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 five elephants 300 kg of fruit and fodder a day which they buy from the mainland. Following the elephant rides, 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 eventually 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. Although we got very dirty we really enjoyed the tour through the narrow crawl spaces and the lovely stalactites. Upon our return to town we bought fruit and vegetables, drinking water (which was delivered to our dinghy for no extra cost), 100% juice in small cartons and some beer. 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 anchored back near Ko Po in the protected anchorage we'd been in the previous night. After our guests left, we checked out Ban Sala Dan, the town and ferry terminal on the northern end of Ko Lanta. Anchoring at 7°38.2'N, 99°01.5'E, we had easy access to beach, restaurants and the road to town. There were many fruit and vegetable stands along the road, and downtown has the ferry dock, lots of tourist shops, restaurants, travel agencies and a couple of grocery stores.

We sailed to Phi Phi Le and took a mooring at 7°40.8'N, 98°45.8'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 09:30! A park ranger collected 200 Baht from each of us for the use of the Marine Parks at Phi Phi Le and Phi Phi Don. We enjoyed another hour of snorkeling near our boat, and then headed north. We were unable to find a good place to anchor that wasn't in coral at Ko Mai Phi, and so passed the anchorage in the lee of Ko Dam Hok where we snorkeled last July. We anchored in sand with excellent protection from the wind at Rai Lei, 8°00.5'N, 98°49.9'E.

We moved to anchor off the beach at Ao Nang (8° 01.6'N, 98° 49.2'E) in 20'. We rowed ashore and hired a taxi driver named Roon (telephone 081-797-4385) to take us to Khao Phanom Bencha National Park for 1500 Baht from 1030-1630. At the park we paid 200 Baht each for admission. We hiked the very hilly 1.5 mile nature trail for an hour and fifteen minutes to the three-tier Huai To Waterfall. There were several pools for swimming. From the falls, we walked .3 miles in 20 minutes back to the visitor center where we had a good lunch for 40 Baht each. We bought fresh fruit and vegetables at a large market (open on Monday, Tuesday and Fridays from 2-8 PM according to one tourist magazine) on the outskirts of Ao Nang, and bought Gouda and Edam cheeses at a supermarket just north of McDonald's in the town. At a stand in front of McDonald's, we bought Pad Thai from Roon's sister and her husband for 30 Baht each. At other stores in Ao Nang we bought juice, beer and rum. Ao Nang has many tourists and facilities.

We had a quick sail to Ko Dam Khwan (in the "Chicken Islands") where we took a mooring at 7°57.4'N, 98°48.7'E. We swam right from the boat for excellent snorkeling on the sea-side of the reef. Our guests said that it was the best snorkeling experience they'd ever had, and we think it was as good as any of the snorkeling that we've done in Thailand. 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. From here we sailed towards the NE corner of Phang Nga Bay, stopping for the night on the Northeast side of Ko Yao Noi (8°10.4'N, 98°38.2'E) in 30' at high tide.

We went to the far northeastern corner of Phang Nga Bay, then up Khlong Marui and Khlong Pak Lao (also called Khlong Baw Thaw) to Thanboke Koranee (or Than Bokkharani) National Park. The least depth we saw at mid-tide was 7' for a few yards in Khlong Pak Lao. We anchored at 8°23'N,98° 41.2'E near the wonderful Tham Pee Hua Toe (also called Tham Hua Kalok), the cave of the "Big-headed Ghost," which is large and well-lighted with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, and has 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 to Tham Lawt, a water tunnel under a karst mountain. From there we paddled about 20-30 minutes farther 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 boat tours. After paddling another 30 to 35 minutes upstream, we saw two other water tunnels, but couldn't get the kayak into them at very low tide, so returned to our catamaran. It was a beautiful winding trip through mangroves and magnificent cliffs, with kingfishers flying about and long-tailed macaques on the shore. With about an hour of daylight left we motored back out of the rivers, away from the mangroves, to anchor for the night by Ko Song Phi Nong in 25' about mid-tide (8° 21.2'N, 98°37.2'E).

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 330 feet up from the south-eastern end of Khao Khian. Anchoring at Ko Panyi in 37' at high tide (8°20'N, 98°30'E), we rowed ashore to see this Moslem village built on stilts. It was once just a fishing village, but tourism is now a big business.

After lunch, we sailed south to Ko Phanak and anchored in 12' at low tide (8°11.9'N, 98°29.6'E). We took flashlights with us and walked through a fairly long tunnel into a double hong. This is definitely best done at low tide. Next, we anchored off a large cave with a five-tier (dry) waterfall and several passages to explore (8°11'N, 98°29.7'E). In the evening we saw several hornbills and hundreds of flying foxes at this anchorage. Around Ko Phanak we were able to barter for prawns with the local fishermen. Knowing that we could buy them for 150 Baht/kg in Krabi, we know we paid too much here. We made several deals, getting about 20-25 prawns for 150 to 200 Baht each time. Sometimes we had to throw in a T-shirt or something else we didn't want on the boat any more.

We went around to the north-western side of Ko Phanak and anchored in 12' at high tide (8°11.4'N; 98°29.2'E) to go into a tunnel to a double hong. The tunnel was wide, high and twisting, with many smelly 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. On an earlier visit we got into the first hong at low water but were unable to paddle into the second hong. (Upon our return to this anchorage at mid-tide a few days later, we paddled in with crowds of tourist kayaks and considerable current. The water inside the hongs was shallow in places and we hit the mud several times while dodging other kayaks.) We sailed down the east side of Phuket Island to Ao Chalong and ended our trip by anchoring among the dive boat moorings in about 20' at mid-tide (7°49.2'N, 98°21.4'E.)

We had a wonderful two weeks of cruising, with absolutely spectacular scenery, excellent weather and a little adventure. There are many other caves, hongs and snorkeling sites in this area. A few photos of this tour and a map of our route are on our website .

Since cruising depends on wind, weather and the interests of individuals, no two tours will be identical, but we recommend this area for your own explorations.

(view Phang Nga Bay photos)