Thailand Bareboat Sailing – Hot fun!
Hot fun sailing around exotic limestone islands in the Andaman Sea and Phang Nga Bay. In Thailand, the sailing scenery is otherworldly – imagine scenes from James Bond’s “Man with the Golden Gun” – bizarre limestone islands, sandy beaches, cliffs, and caves.
After our Wicked Diving trip and before sailing, we met up with our international sailing friends for 3 nights at the luxurious Amari Phuket Resort, just south of Patong on Phuket Island. The views of Patong Bay off our balcony were very nice, the food excellent and it was a great place to socialize and organize excursions or explore the city of Patong. We really liked the hotel and friendly staff. The city has a huge variety of restaurants and lots of shopping. There is also the infamous Bangla Road with its loud music, go-go dance halls, questionable massages, lots of ladyboys, and constant badgering to see the “best” ping pong shows. We meandered once up the length of Bangla just to experience it, but didn’t bother to investigate any options – it’s just not for us. Plus, we popped our head into one and the smoke was too thick to even consider.
He said: The breakfast buffet at the Amari was truly spectacular (and included in the room rate). You could almost get by on one meal a day here.
In Thailand, you can stay in 4 and 5 star beach resorts for just over $100 per night. In the US or other major resort areas around the world, these resorts would easily be several hundred dollars more per night. Very decent accommodations for well under $100/night are also available.
Snuggling with Tigers in Phuket
Friends invited us to join them for a visit to Tiger Kingdom, a facility that lets you get up close and personal with young tigers aged 2 years old and younger. We were leery for several reasons, including having read articles that screamed “exploitation, the animals are mistreated and drugged – don’t support them!”, but other sailing friends had just been there and raved about it. We chose to see for ourselves.
Read more: The controversy, photos, story, and an awesome video of tigers playing in the water!
Thailand Bareboat Sailing begins!
Our charter sailing base was Ao Po Grand Marina on the northeast corner of Phuket Island. On most of our previous sailing charters, we’ve arranged with a provisioning company to have our food and water delivered straight to the boats. But since Phuket has huge, modern supermarkets, this time we decided to rent vans and go shopping ourselves. This was a money saver but not a time and effort saver. Usually, we prefer to have the basics and heavy items (like cases of water) delivered, then we browse the market for fresh and specialty items.
The first day of sailing is always exciting, but stressful
There is the shopping, the schlepping, the loading, the unpacking, and the boat briefings. The skippers have the toughest job, trying to learn the nuances of the boats they will be in charge of for 10 days and trying to answer questions from their crew. Everyone is anxious to get going and start having fun. We had four 48 foot catamarans with a total of 16 couples. Each cat has 4 cabins and 4 heads. At Ao Po Marina there was a huge delay in getting access to our boats which wouldn’t happen for someone who owns their own boat and would not have been a big deal except that we were stuck trying to keep 10 days worth of cold food from spoiling in 97+ degree (37ish C) heat with NO shade. When we finally left the marina, any stress quickly melted away and the scenery became quite dramatic as we entered the southern edge of Phang Nga Bay.
The first night we anchored off Phanak, famous for sea caves and weird stalactites.
It’s all perfect for exploration with a dinghy – which we did the next morning. You have to be careful of the tides when exploring caves – only go in when the tide is on its way out – otherwise, you may end up in a very dicey situation. To be clearer, if you go in at the wrong time you could either drown or have to wait many hours to be able to exit!!
Next, we embarked on a full day of sailing among the surreal limestone islands of Phang Nga Bay.
We stopped mid-day at Koh Yai for more exploration via dinghy amid sea caves and rock formations and, unfortunately, hordes of tourists in kayaks from an excursion boat from the mainland. The scenery was great, but it was not the seclusion we have come to expect on our bareboat sailing trips.
We anchored off Koh Yao Noi, home of the Paradise resort.
One of our sailing friends made reservations for us all at the resort restaurant. It was an all-you-can-eat curry buffet and we did eat all we could eat. It was a great time for folks from different boats to get to visit. After dinner, we’d planned a full moon party on our boat for all sailors. Alas, the charter company was there fixing generators and other issues on the boats so we had to reschedule the full moon party for later in the trip when we only had a half moon.
Next, it was on to the famous Koh Phi Phi islands for two nights.
Phi Phi Don is where all the resorts, restaurants, shopping, dive shops, and beach party bars are located. Phi Phi Le is the location of the famous idyllic beach from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Beach”. It is truly gorgeous but so full of tourists and excursion boats that we skipped it. We anchored in Ao Ton Sai Bay on the south side of the Ko Phi Phi peninsula along with dozens of other boats. We re-provisioned, had two great dinners ashore and an excellent 2 hour massage at Fatima. Although there was plenty to see and do ashore, the noise and boat traffic was less than relaxing. It was surprising how fast and close the big boats would speed past our anchorage.
Taking a dinghy to shore was a perilous endeavor for two reasons…
The boat traffic was crazy and there was no safe place to park the dinghy, especially with the extreme tides. Our dinghy suffered a puncture wound, but fortunately arrived back to the cat safely with all passengers. Another option to get ashore was to take the longboat taxis. One night, we shared a longtail boat ride with the catch of the day – a fresh pile of squid. We also hired a longtail boat to deliver ice.
SCUBA diving in Phi Phi Le!
Since we were a large group and staying two nights, we had enough certified divers (11) to arrange a private dive charter for an afternoon. Unfortunately, P.P. Aquanauts had no record of our group reservation (a former employee was to blame), but they put something together for us with just overnight notice. They took us to some small, craggy, uninhabited islands south of Phi Phi Le. Visibility was not as good as in on our Wicked Diving trip to the Similan Islands a week earlier, but the fish were abundant. The undisputed highlight was at the end of our first dive when we were doing our three minute safety stop at a depth of fifteen feet – suddenly a baby WHALE SHARK sauntered by with an entourage of remoras. Alas, it happened so fast, we have no picture to prove it, but a heart-thumping experience for our memories. This baby was 15 feet long! Our dive guide told us that she had been diving the area for 18 months and it was only the second time she had seen a whale shark, so we felt very fortunate. Price for a 2 tank guide (including lunch) was an amazing $80 per person. Other than losing our reservation and having issues with their Nitrox, we give P.P. Aquanauts high marks.
Next, on to Koh Lanta for 2 nights
First stop was on the west side for a little snorkeling and a group party – then, on to the east side and Koh Lanta town for dinghy repairs, a little shopping and a yummy lunch. Alas, no massages were available.
Next, a long sail brought us to Railay, also known as Rai Leh
It’s a small peninsula between the city of Krabi and Ao Nang. It is accessible only by boat due to high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access. A series of rock formations separates several scenic beaches. The cliffs are popular with rock climbers. Here we found nice restaurants, lousy snorkeling, and a very peculiar and infamous attraction – the “penis cave”, definitely not what we expected.
It was time to start making our way back to Phuket Island. Next stop was Ao Chalong where the guidebooks indicated we could dine, re-provision and get fresh water in our tanks. Oddly, the tide was so extremely low that the reef was exposed and our dinghy couldn’t get to shore, so we boarded a friend’s boat for dinner. Friends from a different cat had made it ashore a little while before us and they had to stay on land until about 4 AM when the tide level allowed them to return to their boat! They met awesome locals and had a great time, thankfully. The evening clouds were very picture worthy. The next day we discovered Ao Chalong doesn’t have fresh water…ah, the joys of communication.
Our last full day included a fun lunch stop at a tiny rocky island with a restaurant and good snorkeling (Koh Khai Nui). Our planned farewell beach BBQ group party was washed away by the only rain we encountered the entire 10 days –a mesmerizing, but violent electrical storm that just wouldn’t let up.
We had many challenges on this trip with boat maintenance issues, extreme tides and strong currents, difficult anchoring, boat traffic, crowds, tummy issues, and intense heat. Overall, we still had a great experience, the scenery was incredible, and we always have fun with our sailing friends…
…especially when the ladies host a fashion show for us!
Trip Date: March-April 2015 – As part of 5 1/2 weeks which included Thailand and Cambodia Overview, SCUBA Diving, Tigers in Phuket, Temple ruins in Siem Reap, Volunteering with Elephants, Chiang Mai and Bangkok.