The last blog finished with us seeing in the New Year at Phuket. After a couple more days in the anchorage there – it is not the most pleasant one in the world, lots of swell – we headed off north up the Phuket/Thai coast.
After about four dayhops, we ended up at a lovely little island called Ko Phayam. It is just south of the Thai/Myanmar border. A yachtie friend describes Ko Phayam as how she remembers Thailand about 20 years ago. We had five days there but I could easily have stayed two weeks. A very laid-back place, no cars, just a couple of wide concrete tracks through the island for motorbikes.
Obviously quite a few people think they have found paradise, as there is a surprising number of expats living there; and due to that there are quite a few good cafes and little nick-nack shops, and a German bakery. The coffees and cinnamon wheels went down real well! Phayam also has two large sweeping bays, and the anchorages on the south coast were good. Not so on the north coast – where the main township is – as the wind was howling.
Quite a few bars in this neck of the woods seem to have a Reggae/Caribbean theme, and the HH Bar was no exception. We had a great meal there, and I particularly enjoyed Happy Hour, where the pina coladas were about $NZ4.80 each. Even at ‘full price’ they were only about $8, so I gave them a bit of a nudge…….. The bar staff didn’t skimp on the alcohol content either, as Shane found out when he got his Long Island Iced Tea – it was like rocket fuel!We were at Phayam with four other yachts that we had been travelling up the coast with. One night we all went ashore and had a great beach barbecue, a few wines and beers, and a sing-a-long to Shane playing his guitar.
After Ko Phayam it was off to firstly the Surin Islands, and then the Similan Islands. Both lots of islands are world-renowned for their marine fish and diving sites. We obviously missed the best spots at the Surins, as we thought the snorkelling there was only average, but we really enjoyed the Similans.
The water clarity at the Similans was spectacular. Everything from the deep azure blues, right through to almost clear where the water hits the beach. We went for a dive one day; I was snorkelling on the top and could see virtually exactly the same as Shane was seeing diving 40 feet below me. Lots of beautifully coloured fish, and some good coral.
We went for a walk up to the top of this hill. This is known as ‘Sail Rock’ – this one big rock appears to be sitting precariously on top of the rest. The view from the top of the hill was great, overlooking the bay where we were anchored.
The area around the Similans is a Marine Park; not that you would ever know going by the frequent behaviour of the locals. We returned from a dive one day to anchor off one the islands in the Similans, right out the front of Park Headquarters. One of the Thai Navy ships was already anchored in the bay – about 100 metres offshore – and we are greeted by the sight of personnel onboard the navy ship with their fishing rods out. The park ranger arrived a couple of minutes later to collect our marine park fees. We paid him, and pointed out the navy guys fishing. He went and spoke to them, the rods were put away, but the guys were back fishing 15 minutes later……… Aside from that, we saw many many fishing boats in the distance that appeared to be within the five-mile no-fishing zone. And they will wonder in a few years why there are no fish left…….
Lots of day trippers come over to the Similans each day, either by longtail or speed boat, but once they are gone at the end of the day, we pretty well had the place to ourselves.
After two weeks travelling north, it was time to head back to Phuket, and in to Boat Lagoon Marina to get a couple of things looked at on the boat. We made our marina stay as short as possible, partly because due to the marina’s shallow basin. The bottom of the boat was sitting in about six inches of mud at every low tide!
Our next stop was Panwa Bali, a calm anchorage not too far from Phuket Town. We were there for Chinese New Year, so went and saw the festivities with Roger and Julie from the yacht Tradition. They are both working in Phuket, so know where to go and what is on.
After having a good wander around Soi Rommanie – the Chinese part of the Old Town – we went back to the main park area where the stage was, to watch the show.
It was fantastic – a troupe had come over from China specifically for the Chinese New Year celebrations in Phuket.. There was a young Chinese gymnast (she was so flexible she could just about turn herself inside out); a fantastic Mongolian opera singer; and girls who were spinning plates on the ends of sticks – by themselves and while standing on other performer’s shoulders. All very spectacular, and we managed to score seats up quite close to see all the action.
Our two-month visas were up so we checked out of Thailand on 12 February. We first headed east and went to Krabi. We hadn’t been to Krabi before so wanted to check it out.
Krabi is a bit of a mecca for rock-climbers. High limestone walls border the southern part of the coastline. No cars in this part of Thailand. Everything has to come in on longtails – tourists, all food/drink for the many resorts, and staff for the resorts (who came in every morning by longtail at 0600 hrs, and went straight past our boat……… their very loud engine roaring by).
And did I mention that all the plastic drink bottles have to come in by longtail too??!! We went for a walk one of the days we were there, and the locals were collecting up the plastic water bottles and cans – as you can see, they had a few!
After Krabi we stopped at Ko Rok Nok, another beautiful spot with lots of fish and great swimming and snorkelling. We left early to head down to Ko Lipe, just after the sun had got up!
Our last stop heading south was at Ko Lipe, yet another lovely island. Ko Lipe is not too far from Malaysia. Again, lots of great little bars and cafes; somewhere that would be neat to go for a couple of weeks in the middle of a cold NZ winter just to chill out, relax and read books!
We are about an hour away from Langkawi, where I will have my last week on the boat. I am busy packing boxes, to send everything home. I head back to NZ this Thursday and Shane will follow in about two months. He is going to stay in Langkawi and look after the boat. Hopefully it won’t be too long on the market before it is a great new home for its next owners.
The last three years have been a great adventure. We have made many new friends amongst the yachting community – too many to mention individually, but as a body, they would give you the shirt off their sunbaked backs if you needed it, and always with a cold one ready. The highlights of the three years would have to be: cruising the Australian east coast; the World Rainforest Music Festival in Borneo; seeing the orangutans in Indonesia; and spending time in some very beautiful bays and anchorages that are well-off the usual tourist path. Doing what we have done has given us a new perspective on life, and how people in other countries live. By seeing them in their everyday life it has certainly made us realise that one does not need money to be happy. Most of the time on the yacht has been wonderful, but as with anything, things go wrong; there have been equipment and instrument failures, and we haven’t always had perfect weather……..
We hope that you have enjoyed reading our travels. We must make special mention and thank Doug ‘”the Piano Man’ – it is good to know that someone has been reading these blogs. We appreciated your comments Doug!
We look forward to seeing you back on “the land” soon, when we become landlubbers……
Heather and Shane
PS. For those of you interested in checking out the listing for the boat, go to www.leemarine.com 1996 Roberts 434 Pilothouse ketch (44 foot)