"Arctracer" Letters

Jennifer, Nico, Antonio & Steph's visit to Thailand - Part 1 - July 2006

Jennifer, Nico, Antonio and Steph were very tired after their flight from Newark to Phuket via Stockholm. But, they went grocery shopping with us to get some breakfast foods they like, lots of bottled water, etc. It was good to be at the Yacht Haven Marina for their arrival as their luggage would barely fit into the car we rented to pick them up at the airport. Taking all of it in our small dinghy would have taken a few trips. In fact, it wouldn't all fit in the trunk so their laps were piled high with backpacks and small bags. They were all asleep by 5:30 PM Thailand time!

After showers the following morning we motored and sailed to an island not too far away for some beach combing, running, swimming, and snorkeling. Jennifer and Steph found some neat murex shells on the beach which were in very good condition. Nico and Steph used our double kayak for the first time there. Later we used the kayak quite a bit with various paddlers to explore around small islands. No one swam to the beach there because of the huge jellyfish in the area. Antonio, Nico and Steph fished with tinned squid for bait. Later they fished with shrimp heads that we had taken off the 4# of shrimp we bought and traded for to make shrimp scampi & ceviche. Pizza seemed to be a successful meal with everyone.

(view Arrival and Arctracer photos)

For the first week, we stayed on "Arctracer" enjoying caves, lagoons and hongs (the word hong in Thai means room) in the tall limestone cliffs in Phang Nga Bay on the east coast of Phuket Island in Thailand. To get into a hong we had to go through an opening in the limestone. Sometimes these openings were very short and other times we had to use flashlights to maneuver the dinghy and/or kayak through long, dark caves. We also visited "James Bond" Island where "The Man With the Golden Gun" was filmed.

(view Ko Phanak and James Bond Island photos)

Many parts of Phang Nga Bay are shallow. The shallowest we motored through was 4.5 feet with our rudders up. (We draw about 3' with them up.) One day we went to see cave paintings about 10' above the high water mark, and then shopped and ate lunch in Ko Panyi - a Muslim village whose houses are built on stilts above the water. Jennifer took some of Antonio's clothes which were too small for him to trade with the locals. One woman had a two-month old gibbon that she let tourists hold for photos and asked for a fee. She was happy to accept a small baby hat and shirt for her baby gibbon instead of receiving Thailand bahts. Jennifer also got some good buys on souvenirs by trading clothes for part of their cost. Bartering is the norm in Thailand.

(view Ko Panyi photos)

We saw many birds including Brahminy Kites, herons, Frigate Birds, Hornbills and Kingfishers. At night we saw flying foxes (bats) searching for fruit. On a couple of nights we saw fireflies too. Jennifer also enjoyed seeing phosphorescence at night when she moved the water around.

On our motor-sail trip to Ao Chalong Jennifer got quite seasick while Nico was feeling very "green." Antonio was very quiet and finally fell asleep, while Steph was full of energy and bounced around. The steep waves we encountered for a while were due to the strong current being against the strong wind averaging 25 knots. On this trip Nico's hatch wasn't closed tightly and all of his clothes got wet. We bailed about 3 pails of water off the floor in his room! We had to wash his sheets and curtain by hand and dry out his mattress.

When we finally found a sheltered place to anchor near Ao Chalong, we noticed that even the fishermen in their fairly large boats were staying anchored instead of going out fishing! Jennifer had all their laundry done ashore the following day. The toilet stopped working during the trip too, and Jerry fixed it only after we were anchored. Luckily we could pour sea water into it to flush until the intake was repaired. The next day everyone enjoyed walking around on stable land, shopping in town. When we returned to the boat we found that we had picked up a dive boat's mooring so we had to move. In moving we got a rope caught in our prop. A couple of guys on the dive boat put on tanks and got us loose, but the transmission of our port engine was not functioning. No moorings were available near the town, so we finally anchored far from the jetty.

On our second day at Ao Chalong the Malaysian captain of a catamaran named "Angel" helped get us all ashore in largish waves and strong winds. We took a bus-truck with benches to the largest town on Phuket Island (Phuket Town). We shopped, visited a Chinese Temple, bought books for Antonio, went to the Immigration officials to organize a "visa run" to extend our Thailand visas for another month, and reserved a rental car for a week. Nico and Steph got tired of shopping so returned to Ao Chalong while the rest of us walked up to the highest point in Phuket Town for a good look over the town. It rained really hard on our walk up the steep road, so we stopped at "The Phuket View" restaurant for some soup to warm up, and waited for the rain to subside before continuing to the top. We had to take a taxi back from Phuket Town as it was after dark and the tuk-tuks (truck-buses) had stopped operating. Nico was waiting for us with the dinghy when we arrived back at the long jetty in Chalong Bay.

At about 10 am on the 14th of July the rental car was delivered to the jetty. Again, the Malaysian captain took us ashore in two trips so that we could leave our dinghy bottom-side- up on "Arctracer" where it couldn't get swamped with rain while we were gone. The car, an 8- passenger Toyota, was delivered with the tank practically empty so we immediately found a petrol station to fill it up with 38 liters (about 9 gallons) of gas. Gas costs about $3.50 per gallon in Thailand. On our first pit stop Nico and Steph learned to flush the squat toilets by putting a pan in a large container of water and pouring it into the hole. We saw rice paddies, palm oil plantations, coconut plantations, and rubber plantations. For the first time we tried coffee-flavored peanuts. After 415 km (about 250 miles) we stayed at a hotel in the city of Chumphon. After American food for the kids and Thai food for the adults we checked for email from Sunny (Jennifer's former exchange student from Thailand) to see where to meet him in Bangkok.

On the second day of our land tour Jennifer and Steph made phone calls home from our hotel and we had an "American breakfast" (eggs, white toast and bacon with tea or instant coffee) before heading farther north. After some difficulty finding our way out of town we saw lots of trucks with palm oil tree fruit, trucks full of pineapples, trucks full of limes, trucks full of coconuts, trucks full of durian and trucks full of coconut husks. We drove beside a huge coconut plantation for miles. Many acres of pineapples were planted underneath the coconut trees. We also passed large palm oil tree plantations and rubber tree plantations. We were amazed to see one truck dragging several meters of tangled insulated wire along the major four-lane highway - going the wrong way in the fast lane!! Previous to this we had been amazed at many motorcycles going the wrong way to get to their houses the short way. We were also amazed at some red lights where we stopped but everyone else continued straight through or made left turns!! Antonio discovered huge cement bowls with lotus leaves floating in them and often small fish swimming too, and he often looked for them after that. Along the sides of the road we saw several very small stands - each selling beans in long, wide pods which they collected from trees. Later Sunny told us that they cook the beans inside the pods for food.

We had a wonderful break from riding in the car when Jennifer told us about the Buddhist Wat Thammikaram in the town of Prachuap Khiri Khan. It has stairs to the top of a hill and many long-tailed macaques (monkeys) along the road and stairs. Nico bought a bag of bananas from a vendor to give to the monkeys. He was quite surprised when the monkeys attacked the bag and took them all at once. These are monkeys who see many tourists. After that we got two canvas bags that they couldn't see through, bought more bananas, and secretly brought out just one banana at a time. On the way up the stairs other vendors were selling peanuts and small pieces of corn-on-the-cob to feed them. One of the vendors followed us all around. If the monkeys got too aggressive he got out his sling shot and aimed peanuts at them. They immediately left the vicinity. (Later we saw cattle being herded with a sling shot too.) All of us had a wonderful time here. Both Jerry and Jennifer got some good photos and Jennifer got some good short videos too. From the wat on top we saw the huge expanse of water in the Gulf of Thailand. One of the bays had lots of colorful fishing boats in it. The tide was low and the bay was dried out for a long ways so we doubt we could have gotten "Arctracer" too close to shore. Just before we left the parking area we witnessed a truck hitting a motorcycle with a food cart attached. It in turn hit a stationary food cart where we'd bought bottled water. The driver of the motorcycle was taken to the hospital by the driver of the truck that hit her. She needed help getting up from under the motorcycle and getting to the truck.

(view photos of macaques at Prachup Khiri Khan)

Later in the day we stopped at one of the many advertised Factory Outlet stores to see how the prices compared to prices at such places in the States. Jennifer thought that the prices might be a little more expensive in Thailand. Not long after this stop we found a hotel in Samut Songkhram for the night. We had traveled another 415 km, exactly the same as the day before. We couldn't find a pizza place, but did find a KFC to eat at in a mall. We figured the kids deserved some of their kind of food after riding in the car most of the day.

We got up before 5:30 am on our third day out in the car as we'd read about a floating market on one of the canals not too far from our hotel. Steph and Nico bought doughnuts the night before for breakfast since our plan was to go to the market before finding a place to have breakfast. Upon our arrival at the canal we watched barefoot Buddhist monks in orange robes, sitting in long-tail boats with volunteer drivers, getting their food for the day from a market on land. People donate food to them and get a prayer in return. One man on a motorcycle with a young baby in a built-in baby seat spoke a little English and told us that there was no floating market until 4 PM. Antonio ate two Thailand raised doughnuts and Jerry tried a Thai breakfast of milky broth with some white berries and broken pieces of Thai doughnuts on the side. He didn't think it tasted like much so the rest of us decided to forego the experience. We then returned to the hotel to get a pillow that we'd forgotten. At about 8 am we found another floating market. We decided to rent a long-tail boat to see it. What an experience!! It was a total tourist-trap market and so crowded with long-tails full of tourists that we were in one spot for over 20 minutes with our non-aggressive long-tail driver. We learned a few Thai words, Jennifer and Nico bartered for things they wanted for themselves and for presents for others. They both did a great job and we had a wonderful time listening to them barter with the various vendors. We tried fried bananas and drinking coconuts. Once we got through the biggest boat traffic jam, our driver took us to his friend's place where we bought pellets to feed the canal fish. From there we motored back through the maze of canals to our car.

(view Floating Market photos)

We continued on into the big city of Bangkok and got near Sunny's house. We asked directions from a bus driver, and he used his cell phone to call Sunny at his small apartment in a condominium. The directions were so complicated that we decided to hire a taxi and follow it to his house. The non-speaking English driver insisted that Jennifer ride with him (probably to be sure he received his fare,) but she refused as she did not want to lose us in the city. About 20 minutes later, at 2:45 PM, we arrived at Sunny's after many turns and many roads. It would have taken us much longer to find it on our own. Bangkok is a huge sprawling city, and we cannot read most of its road signs.

Sunny helped us find a hotel. It was in a great location for taking public transportation for the next couple of days with Sunny as our guide. It was the only hotel we stayed in with air- conditioning, a TV and a refrigerator. They had a nice clean swimming pool that closed at 8 PM and we never did get a chance to use it as we were too busy being tourists. Our rooms were even beside each other, more convenient than at the two previous hotels where we were on different floors. This Liberty Garden Hotel was the only hotel where we noticed cockroaches too. UCK!! At all the hotels Jerry kept bumping his head on the top of the door opening to the bathroom. Needless to say the Thais are much shorter than him. After unpacking, Sunny found a pizza place for us as we were all starving. He told us not to eat too much as his aunt was giving us dinner. After the pizza, we all squeezed into a taxi and went to his aunt's in the northern part of the city. What a feast she had for us! We had two platters of duck, fried squid and shrimp, two different chicken dishes, spicy coconut soup, shrimp soup, meat from some kind of shellfish, and sticky rice. Neither his aunt, or his cousin, or her children spoke English, but we had a wonderful time anyway.

On our first full day in Bangkok we had planned to visit the famous wat with Thailand's "Emerald" Buddha. "Emerald" in the Thai language simply means "green-colored." It is on the same grounds at the much- venerated Grand Palace which we planned to visit too. However, Sunny told us that Jennifer and Steph needed to get shoes with closed heels, and Nico needed long pants to be able to enter those places, so we changed our plans. After an "American breakfast" at our hotel we took the sky train to the Chao Phraya River where we took a ferry to a popular market for some shopping. Jennifer found a silk skirt and Nina found some Thai silk to make a curtain. Steph found a nice dress and Nico found some long pants. After finding no suitable shoes, Steph and Jennifer decided to wear sneakers to the Wat and the Grand Palace the next day. We had an early afternoon meal at "The Royal Indian Restaurant" that the Lonely Planet Guide recommended. It was the first time Sunny and Steph had tried Indian food. Luckily they both liked the tandoori chicken, rice and garlic bread. A long bus ride brought us back to our hotel where we took photos of Sunny and Antonio in their new yellow shirts. On Mondays most Thai people wear yellow to support their popular 78-year- old king, and it was Monday. We all tried (and liked!) the unique-tasting Durian fruit that Sunny found for us, and then Antonio, Jennifer, Nico and Steph had 50-minute foot massages in their room.

(view Bangkok photos)

The second day of our Bangkok tour started with another "American breakfast" at our hotel. Thinking we were properly dressed, we took a bus to the Grand Palace. Upon our arrival we were told that Jennifer needed a long skirt and Steph needed a blouse over her sundress so that her shoulders weren't showing. They put a deposit on those and at the end of the day got their deposit back. We saw many other tourists with the same-looking skirts and blouses during the day, so we weren't the only unprepared tourists. We took off our shoes and entered the building to see the Emerald Buddha. It has three costumes and we saw it in its rainy season attire. The King of Thailand personally climbs up to change the attire for the rainy season, the winter season, and the dry season. We read that the Emerald Buddha is one of the most venerated sites in Thailand where people pay respect to the Lord Buddha and His Teachings. We had to wait in line to see it, but the line moved quite quickly. After visiting the buildings at the Grand Palace open to visitors, seeing a very long mural depicting the Ramayana story which is very popular all through Southeast Asia, and seeing the very ornate stupas, the beautifully decorated buildings, and the nagas (snakes with many heads) and garudas (mythical king of the birds) guarding many of the buildings, Sunny found a typical Thai restaurant where we ordered noodles. We thought that when in Thailand we should eat the Thai food at least once. After lunch we visited Wat Pho with a huge reclining Buddha. Antonio, Steph and Nico found a soccer ball on the school grounds inside to kick around for a while. At 5:15 we found a bus #44 to take us back to our hotel. Sunny went to buy tickets for the Roi Et bus leaving at 10 PM, so Jennifer, Antonio and he could visit his parents. Jennifer packed and the rest of us got groceries, fresh fruit, and pizza take-out. We did not envy them the 7-hour bus ride from 10 PM until 5 am!

(view Grand Palace photos)

(view Wat Pho photos)

Nina and Jerry had an appointment on the 20th to renew visas in Ranong. We left the hotel in Bangkok with Nico and Steph at 6:30 PM on the 19th. After an hour and a half and paying 6 tolls on various expressways we finally escaped the city in the right direction. What a relief! We saw salt pans and many roadside stands selling bags of salt. We never cease to be amazed at the number of roadside stands very near each other selling the same thing. Sometimes one stand has only 5 or 6 bunches of one kind of fruit for sale. This day we ate Chicken Pad-Thai which is fried noodles with whatever meat and vegetables the vendor has. We were into guessing how much our meals would cost and we all over-estimated. The meal for 4 cost 110 bahts (about $2.75 US. Thai meals generally cost about 25-30 bahts per person or about $0.75 per person, while meals at KFC and pizza places cost about $7-$8 US per person. They seem to know where the tourists go?? This day we were stopped at several checkpoints by police or soldiers. Since we were near the Myanmar (used to be Burma) border we figured they were watching out for refugees and illegal entrants to Thailand.

We arrived in Ranong at about 5:30 PM after driving about 700 km (420 miles). After looking at 3 hotels we found a good place in the main town where Nico and Steph could use an email cafe while we did our visa run the next day. We found a tourist eating place where Stephanie ordered chicken, Nico ordered pork ribs and we had chicken in red curry sauce. When we left the restaurant Nico and Steph bought some cucumbers from an elephant owner to feed his smallish Asian elephant. Steph was amazed at the amount of urine it put on the street in a process which seemed to go on forever.

In the morning before our visa run we had toasted baguettes with eggs and Steph had a fruit salad. It took us about 2 hours to do the visa run. We had to take a long-tail boat to an island in Myanmar after checking out with the Thailand immigration officers in Ranong. After about 5 minutes in the boat the driver did not slow down for a sharp, steep wave and we were suddenly sopping wet with sea water. Needless to say we weren't too happy. As it turned out we didn't have to see any officials in Myanmar as guys took our passports and $5 US each, got our passports stamped, and returned them to us in the long-tail boat. They asked for tips, but we didn't have any bahts small enough to give them. The trip back across the bay was uneventful except for the fact that the driver had bought two cartons of cigarettes in Myanmar and put them under the floorboards of his boat. He did not claim them when the customs officials stopped us to look in our bags for purchases. We had made no purchases of cigarettes or liquor so it was a quick stop.

(view photos of Ranong)

At about noon we were driving south to Phuket. Again we had Thai noodles for lunch and used our last squat toilets of the trip. Steph took a photo of one on Jennifer's camera to show back home. We were happy that the hotel rooms we stayed in had American-style toilets , even when those off the lobby were squat toilets. At 5:15 we crossed the bridge to Phuket Island, stopped at a big supermarket to get lots of groceries while we still had the rental car, and finally found a large long-tail boat to take us back to "Arctracer." It was good to know we wouldn't have to drive on the road with Thai drivers for a week or so. At 8 PM we were back on "Arctracer," while Jennifer, Antonio and Sunny were taking another overnight bus from Roi Et after having a good time with Sunny, his brother Beer, and their parents.

I had a wonderful 60th birthday on July 21st. In the morning Jerry started omelets, but didn't get a chance to cook them until later as I slept late and he had to return the rental car. Jennifer took a 7 am flight from Bangkok to Phuket for about $85 for her and Antonio on "One-Two Go" airlines. It was about an hour flight. Upon her arrival at the Phuket airport she took public transportation back to Ao Chalong via Phuket Town, which took about 3 hours. Jerry waited near the jetty for a while but just missed her, so she found a dinghy ride back to "Arctracer" with a local guy working on a dive boat. Both Jennifer and Jerry bought flowers for my birthday. Steph and Nico made Thai-style Shepard's Pie for my birthday dinner. They prepared it before going ashore at 4:30 to play a pick-up game of soccer with the locals for an hour or two. Unfortunately their sneakers were left in a bag in our cockpit, so they played barefooted and Steph had to put ice on her foot later where she had been kicked. About 8 PM, when Nico and Steph returned from the soccer game, I was taking a shower while Jennifer was putting up balloons and "Happy Birthday" streamers in our front cockpit. The cabin of the boat was very hot from the oven so we ate in the front cockpit which we often do. Jennifer made a salad to go with the Shepard's Pie and the meal was great!! After the meal candles were put in TWO birthday cakes. Jennifer and Jerry hadn't had a chance to communicate so Jerry bought a 11/12ths of a carrot cake (someone had bought one piece before he got to the bakery) and Jennifer had bought an orange cake in the shape of a heart with "Happy Birthday Nina" written in Thai characters. Jennifer got a photo of the writing, so we're hoping to show it to a Thai person to see if they read it as she was told it read. It was neat to get cards from lots of friends and relatives, Iridium phone messages with birthday wishes, and LOTS of presents from Jennifer and Agu. The last time I got presents on my birthday was on my 50th birthday in Trinidad with them. I'm not saying that I need presents, since being with or hearing from family and/or friends is much more important, but it was very kind that Jennifer put so much effort into planning my 60th!!

On July 22nd, Jennifer, Antonio & I paddled the kayak ashore (one of the oar-locks to the dinghy had broken on Nico the evening before and the epoxy was drying). We got lots of chicken and fresh vegetables in Ao Chalong village for the next few days. While we were shopping Jerry repaired the port engine transmission linkage so we'd have two engines again. Jerry and I watched "Finding Nemo" with Antonio and Jennifer. Steph's sore foot was better, so she and Nico went back to play soccer - with sneakers. This time Nico had to buy a shirt ashore as he forgot to bring one from the boat. When they got back, we all enjoyed a chicken meal that Jennifer fixed.

After a 6-hour motor-sail to Phi-Phi Don Island on the 23rd, Jennifer, Nico, Steph, and I went snorkeling to look for Nemo while Jerry and Antonio waited for us to find him. When we finally found a sea anemone with 3 small Nemos, Nina and Jerry took Antonio in the dinghy with the look-bucket so that he could see them. We don't think he ever did see them, but Jennifer got a photo of one so that he saw it on the computer later in the evening. We've all enjoyed feeding the "Sergeant Majors" (white fish with yellow and black stripes) that are used to charter boats feeding them. Jennifer got a good video of them while she was in the water. After eating dinner in the forward cockpit we all went to bed early for some much needed rest. This morning Nico & Steph snorkeled and saw quite a variety of reef fish, while Jennifer, Antonio and Jerry kayaked to the touristy town.

(view Ko Phi Phi Don photos)

Snorkeling is the main item on our agenda for the next few days. The southwest winds are often strong, so we are staying on the eastern sides of islands as much as possible. Time sure is flying by and we're having a great time. Life aboard is certainly more hectic than usual, but we are glad to have this crew with us for a while.

We've heard about the recent tsunami off Java, but it did not affect Thailand. Although it is the rainy season here, the weather hasn't bothered us at all.