Phuket – breakout !

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We have finally broken free from Boat Lagoon Marina and Phuket!

In the manner of all worthwhile boat projects our repaint and refit there doubled from an estimated duration of 2-3 months to 6….   and the cost increased proportionately…!
But we’re happy with the end result and the new look. The ‘Awlgrip’ paint job is white and shining, it’s nice to be rid of our dirty old teak side-decks,  having light grey non-skid in its place and to have new, thicker, teak on the rail and in the cockpit.
Even the refrigeration system which caused us so many days of frustration and night’s loss of sleep over the past few months is performing (almost) faultlessly
It is certainly much more efficient than the one we took out.


The paint-job finished and to make room for another boat, we were moved out of the shed, back into a marina berth in early September


There we stayed while the rest of the interior cabinetry was completed, varnishing done and the refrigeration system finally commissioned. (Even after all the components arrived from the USA the installation of it all was not trouble-free, there were further delays while problems were diagnosed and faulty parts were replaced…)
We were delighted with the work of Mr Soo, our Taiwanese cabinet maker and Mu, the ‘wanish-man’, who did the varnishing.

dsc_0563-copy.jpg                 dsc_0564.jpg
The result in the galley was almost as good as new.
Between tides we were able to do a couple of ‘test-runs’ from the marina, (even staying out for a night!) in order to check the systems were all working,  then finally left in the first week of December, to go out on anchor, in the upper reaches of Phang Nga Bay


Phang Nga Bay is known for its many steep-sided  limestone islands,




  sea caves  (complete with bats) -some of which open into ‘Hongs’ 



which are completely enclosed lagoons in the middle of the island.   


The best known of these islands and a major tourist attraction is Ko Phing Kan, or ‘James Bond’ island, since it was used as the flim-set for the movie, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, many years ago.
During the day it is a place to avoid because of tourist boats flocking there and hords of hawkers selling food and souvenirs, but at night they all go home, the place is deserted, the evenings and mornings peaceful






It was great to be out on anchor again at last, but we had to return to mainland Phuket for a few more days, then, as the winds for sailing were ideal and as we only had a few more days when we could stay in the country legally, we cleared customs to leave.

It was a fast, 2 day trip down to Langkawi in Malaysia and a pleasure, after almost a year, to have Quo Vadis doing what she does best, -sailing!

So what had we been doing for all that time in Phuket?

Much of it was occupied with work or supervising work being done on the boat. There were periods of several days when although we expected it would, nothing much seemed to happen. That could be irritating, as in retrospect, we could have spent more time away from the marina, travelling inland, seeing more of Thailand, but we could never predict when those down times were going to be.
Although they are well practised in the work they do, we found it was essential to be around when workers were aboard, supervision, -or at least a presence, -was always neccessary to ensure they kept up to standard. Even that we found sometimes just wasn’t enough, -but the Thai attitude is a relaxed one, if first time they don’t get it right, when it’s pointed out to them, they’ll willingly do it again! -no offence taken.
They are a very happy people and almost invariably good to work with.
Often it seemed our stay had turned into a life-sentence, but it was no more and rather less so than that of many of our fellow cruisers.There’s no doubt that Boat Lagoon is a good place for getting painting and teak-work done, probably the best in South East Asia. There is a large hardstand area and many contractors offering various boat work services and generally to a high standard.
For us ‘farangs’  the resort is an attractive place, it is hot but has pools to cool off in and is conveniently located to Phuket town.
There’s a Tesco supermarket about 7 kilometres away and a major shopping mall with all the big western brand-name shops just a little further on, that keeps the Americans happy!   


We found the on-site apartment accomodation ideal for our needs; to have the air conditioning during that rainy season essential; but perhaps the greatest bonus for us living there and what we’ll miss the most, is the food! Lunch on-site was a highlight of the day and even though we might be in town where there is a vast choice of other eating places, we almost always went back to Boat Lagoon for lunch at Rose’s…
‘Rose’ (whose real name is ‘Lot’, but in Thai-English they both come out the same…) owns one of the permanent ‘hawker’ food stalls near the front gate and from when we first visited the marina in March, it was impossible to go past her smile…



She’s a smart young lady with a sharp personality; she greets, she serves, -and does the dishes, -but the one doing the real work and producing the food, is her friend ‘Dee’            



In the tiniest of hot dark kitchens, squeezed between 2 concrete walls out the back, she slaves away over a single wok with a rice-cooker, boiling water and in the breath-taking ‘capsicum-spray’ of frying chilli, producing the most tasty, consistently fresh, stir-fried meat and vegetable dishes. Her’s is Thai cooking at its best.
When we first arrived we were often alone eating at Rose’s. She had only just set up, most people went elsewhere, to food stalls longer established…but in the time we were there, we saw her business grow enormously, to the detriment of the others. They’d be half empty, but Rose and Dee’s tables would all be full. The 2 of them were rushed to prepare the food, but their quality was still  there and to our regret, everyone else too thought the waiting for their food was worthwhile. 

Every 30 days our visas fell due for renewal, we had to leave the country, -albeit very briefly…(on 1 October 2006 the rules changed to limit this type of visa renewal to only 3 in any 6 month period, we were lucky to be able still to use all 3 renewals after that date,  but even so, we almost ran out of time!) We got to know the road to the nearest Burmese border town, Ranong, very  well.
We tried various means of travel, big bus, mini-bus, luxury mini-bus with suicidal driver, then after that, used a hire car and drove ourselves. A 4am, early morning departure proved our favourite way; to arrive in Ranong as soon as the immigration office opened at 8, hire a long-tail boat ride over to Kawthoung in Burma, quickly check in and out, so that it was possible to be back in Phuket soon after midday that way.



It is almost always raining in Ranong, it’s the wettest part of the country and in the early morning it is a misty, gloomy place…


But the long-tails supply umbrellas always anticipating rain


and the customs checkpoint island still operates in the wet.  



The ‘touts’ on the Burmese side are undeterred by rain, facilitating quick sales of duty-free alcohol, cigarettes -and viagra…   

                                                                                           dsc_0437.jpg  On one occasion we visited the Andaman Resort. It’s on a Burmese Island and offers visa services with lunch or overnight accomodation.


It’s a large hotel in beautiful grounds





 and with excellent facilities            


but apart from the visa tours, is almost completely unpatronised. It’s kept fully staffed, the accomodation and food are excellent, how it remains viable is puzzling.

On the road to Ranong at the tourist town of Khao Lak is a poignant reminder of the 2004 Tsunami, it was badly hit. 



More meaningful than any of the man made monuments to the event, this police boat stranded about a kilometre inland, over the other side of the main highway which was once lined with shops and houses, really shows the true force of the wave. But the town is recovering fast and now, 2 years on, going into what it expects to be its best tourist season yet.

In the time we were in Phuket various events came and went, -some associated with yachting like the Phuket Regatta held at Ao Chalong


and the King’s Cup recently, off Kata Beach, but neither of which we became deeply involved with. 

 More interesting were the local events, especially the week-long ‘Vegetarian Festival’,  where in every town or village there are special markets selling vegetarian food, and the Thais of Chinese-Bhuddist origin celebrate it as a religious event, eating only vegetarian food and with colourful performances of various merit-making rituals and processions.



Self mutilation in various forms is a major feature of the event    



leading the parade and the draw-card for most spectators, but self mortification in a less dramatic, but more popular, less painful forms follow…    





Fireworks are always popular in Thailand and used with the slightest excuse to celebrate anything, -vast strings of firecrackers are set off with any boat launching -or even significant departure -from the marina! -but the Vegetarian festival is a reason for fireworks mayhem! In the parades, men carrying ceremonial caskets face a barrage of fireworks, 


they struggle to make their way, in a cloud of blue grey smoke, noise and leaving a thick trail of red paper. 


It’s a spectacular and noisy festival, held over 9 days, with parades like this happening in all towns of any size.


During the festival any temple associated with that branch of the Bhuddist faith has a ceremonial gateway erected and are all highly decorated with bright new paintwork ,banners, flags, and ‘trees’ as ladders for the spirits to climb from the other world, -everywhere, there are the remains of fire-crackers…


The temples are open to public all day and there’s a steady stream of devotees…


doing what they do within the sanctuary inside, protected from the turmoil outside by the fearsome dragons…


Over 6 months in Phuket cycling was a very important distraction, a chance to get away from boat problems, a time to think. Despite my initial misgivings of the horrendous traffic and maniacal driving habits of the local people, it proved to be quite safe…or maybe I, like them, just became oblivious to the death and destruction going on around me! 

But by choosing the time of day to avoid the heat and keeping away from the busiest of roads, it was fine.

I got to know the Phuket island very well, finding the cool rodes through the rubber plantations and knowing which were the steep hills, (some of them very steep and which I sometimes avoided…) I met up with a Canadian man now resident in Phuket,he was keen to cycle even longer, crazier distances than me, together we did some great rides off the island, -often taking all day…





around the hills of Phang Nga Bay


inland through the picturesque town of the same name, and beyond



to the countryside around Krabi;


or out among the shrimp farms up the coast



to the beach at Thai Muang                  


where they do an excellent sea-food lunch… -just to mention just a few of the many places we went.

Off the island of Phuket away from the tourism, it’s a different Thailand, slow moving, gentle and welcoming.             



  Cycling in Thailand is not a popular sport; cyclists in Phuket are few, cycle shops are even more rare, so t was to my great surprise that I found the cycle shop in Thalang, a small town along the road from Boat Lagoon, is by far the best of any I know, -ANYWHERE






Owned by Phaithoon and his wife, operating in very busy, crowded premises, he admits he desperately needs an assistant…
The shop is his ‘workshop’, they work surrounded by bike parts, hundreds of complete cycles and frames parked outside, hanging from the ceiling, cabinets and boxes stacked all over – and in the middle of the shop, handy to the work-bench, an untidy heap of second-hand parts, it’s a scrap-heap, -but in Thailand, by no means is that discarded!
His range of stock is beyond comprehension, it includes the best of carbon-fibre, titanium frames and top of the range running gear. Once a year he has to look after the riders in the Laguna Phuket International Triathalon, they depend on him for their parts and repairs, he cannot get them in at short notice, so of neccessity, stocks the lot!
Though it’s near impossible to find anything for yourself in his shop, on the several occasions I asked him the question ‘do you have…?’  not thinking for a moment he would; each time, with his characteristic smile, he said ‘yes I have some…’  then set about rummaging through drawers and boxes, producing exactly the piece I wanted and which I had asked for, or ordered,  always unsuccessfully,  in shops before, in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore… 
He and his shop are one of the true gems of Phuket… and a reason why I know I’ll be keen to go back!   

Meanwhile we’re in Langkawi and intending to cruise slowly back down the coast of Malaysia, to be in Singapore in April, where we’ll be for a few weeks. (it’ll enable time for a cycle trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu), then we intend to cruise in North Borneo…


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