in Malaysia/ThailandComments Off on Phuket

We expected Phuket to be the pinnacle of our cruising…but it hasn’t been so far…


Not through any fault of the country or our being misinformed, it does show promise of being good, but for a variety of reasons we have so far only been able to scratch the surface.The Thai border is only a few miles north of Langkawi in Malaysia and Phuket which is the centre of boating in Thailand, about 100 miles beyond that.We took the trip from Langkawi in day ‘hops’, it was uncomfortably hot with little wind for sailing, although in the brief spells where there was, the conditions were most enjoyable.

We stopped for several days at Koh Rok Nok, tied to a National Park mooring bouy in the passage between the 2 islands.
That’s a beautiful spot with clean white sand beaches, coral and clear water, our first for a while.

Even though they’re at the top end of the rubbish-strewn, dirty water of the Malacca Straits, the islands are sufficiently far off the mainland and as National Park, are unpopulated and unfished, so they stay remarkably clean.
It is a popular place for diving and snorkelling as the coral and variety of fish life is better than most.
It’s possible to camp on one of the islands and there are fast launches bringing day-tripping picknickers every day .
Even though they’re at the top end of the rubbish-strewn, dirty water of the Malacca Straits, the islands are sufficiently far off the mainland and as National Park, are unpopulated and unfished, so they stay remarkably clean.It is a popular place for diving and snorkelling as the coral and variety of fish life is better than most.It’s possible to camp on one of the islands and there are fast launches bringing day-tripping picknickers every day .

Even though they’re at the top end of the rubbish-strewn, dirty water of the Malacca Straits, the islands are sufficiently far off the mainland and as National Park, are unpopulated and unfished, so they stay remarkably clean.It is a popular place for diving and snorkelling as the coral and variety of fish life is better than most.It’s possible to camp on one of the islands and there are fast launches bringing day-tripping picknickers every day .They set up for lunch on the beach, a family of these big, metre-long lizards gets the scraps…

We stopped there for several nights enjoying the clean water and fresh air before going on to Phuket.

On the way north are these steep-sided limestone rock/islands of Ko Ha Yai, they make dramatic scenery and good dive sites, but are no use for overnight anchorage.

Our first stop on Phuket was Nai Harn Bay.
In 1992 we had spent a few days there staying at the Phuket Yacht Club Hotel and were impressed by the cruising boats aboutand decided then that when we came back we would be sailing our own yacht. Surprisingly, we did just that, -actually sailing! In fact as we went that last 20 miles we had enough wind to need to reduce sail.

Although the ‘Yacht Club’ had changed little in the 14 years,

(it is the building terraced up the hill in the distance) the bay is much more developed for tourism and as it was high season this time, it was very much busier. (Compared with other Phuket beaches however, it is still one of the quieter ones…)

In this, the northeast monsoon, the bay is a natural wind-funnel (a sure sign when there is a wind-turbine generating electricity on the hill there) but the anchorage is nicely sheltered from the sea, and the constant breeze is cooling.

Cape Prom Thep forms the southern side of Nai harn Bay and is the southern-most point of the island of Phuket. There is a large open area with shops and food stalls, a memorial and a temple with many elephants;

it’s a ‘must-do’ for tourists to go there in the evening to watch the sun setting over the Andaman Sea, -and buy from the hawker stalls.

From Nai Harn we used a hire car to visit town to complete our entry formalities and to get started with arranging the boat jobs we had planned to do while in Phuket; there was quite a list!

The best cruising in Phuket in this, the north-east monsoon season, is on the west coast side, in the bays on the island itself; further up the peninsular coast to the border with Burma and about 60 miles out to sea westward, the Semilan and Surin Islands.
Although we had plans to see all that, it just didn’t happen this time for reasons of lack of wind and time.
We did get up the west coast of Phuket Island however.
Just around the corner from Nai Harn Bay is a small cove with a beach and restaurant, a couple of boat moorings, but not much else.

It is a quiet spot, disturbed only by the occasional passing long-tail boats bringing customers to the restaurant.

There is no road access to the beach, but a rough track takes you to the road at the top of the hill among the rubber trees, from where there are good views

east over Ao Chalong

and north up the west coast bays; Kata, Karon, Patong and further.

Our next anchorage was Kata Beach

one of the busy west coast tourist ‘strip’.

and at the height of the season, it was indeed busy

Umbrellas and deck-chairs filled the whole length of the beach and every one of them was occuppied all day.
The people were mainly European and Scandinavian, the majority were older and obese, had been here for some time, clearly with the express purpose of deep frying in the sun and achieving that all-over dark brown tan…
To wear both pieces of a bikini was to be over-dressed; a ‘g’-string alone was normal attire. If the bodies were younger and in better shape the sight could be interesting, but at an average age of 65 and corpulent, it was not …a nice looker was a rarity!


We had been recommended the Boathouse Restaurant at Kata for lunch. The food was good, but the understated decor, excellent service and the setting under the trees on the beach side were what made it most special.


Kata is a convenient location to go elsewhere from, walking, or by bus.


Along the beachfront are Tsunami warning signs, this whole coast was devastated and there are now siren warning systems in place and signs indicating areas of safety.


Over a hill, Patong is a wide bay with a long white beach and it’s fully developed for tourists.


The town behind is busy, full of European faces, tacky shops, eating places and night-clubs. It is the centre of worst of it!

Karon Beach, between Kata and Patong however, is quieter, a place for the family to visit, safely away from the flesh-pots; it’s a place to do some cheap shopping and there is even still some evidence of Thai culture, it has not all been obliterated in pursuit of the tourist dollar! Normal people live here too.
The Buddhist temple complex is large and decorous as they are, and as on this day, it is often also a market place. No problems with traders in the temples!

The Phuket Thais are by no means all Buddhist, there are many Muslim, but Buddhism is by far the most evident, because of its extravagant temple architecture and everywhere, home or roadside personal shrines.


They add a lot of colour and a ‘taste of the exotic’ to an otherwise everyday scene.

From Kata it’s also just a short bus ride over to Phuket town

which is a busy no-nonsense place where there are proper shops, department stores, normal services and the majority of the faces are not white. Prices are accordingly much less than elsewhere!

There are also many excellent opportunities to eat, -everywhere there are little eating places and food hawkers on the footpaths. Lunch in town is continuous tasting and grazing from the moment of stepping off the bus until you’re back aboard…

It’s inevitable when the bus stop is at the main market

and you’re immediately met by banks of tasty looking food!

Although when you step back into the wet, dark depths of the market, among the live fish sellers, the tubs of wriggling, black catfish are less than appetising…

similarly the dispays of whole animals, dismembered, but still present in their entirety…resembling the beginning of a major surgical reconstruction challenge!

But the night markets which spring up in the late afternoon are the best for tasty eating, every sort of spicy snack, fresh off the barbecue or out of the frier, served in bite-sized pieces, ready to eat on a stick or in a wrapper of banana leaf, each serving with a little bag of dipping sauce…

That’s the best way of eating out, although the end point of the meal is never certain!

At the northern end of the west side of Phuket Island, very near the airport, is Nai Yang Beach.

It is a wide, long stretch of sand backed by casuarina trees and in part, a forested National Park. It is right away from the tourist crowds and is never busy, there are the most people there at the weekends when the locals come for picnics and the sea…

There is an excellent anchorage off the beach, we were largely there alone and with good food being served in little restaurants ashore, we were in no hurry to move on…

We had intended to go from there to the Semilan islands; we said we’d go when we had the wind, -but wind didn’t come, we ran out of time.
Instead, we had an appointment to keep at Boat lagoon Marina on the other, the eastern side of the island.

The marina is up a narrow, shallow, tidal channel through the mud and into the mangroves at the head of a wide bay. At full tide it’s still not always passable for a boat even of our moderate draft, although good local knowledge and plenty of horsepower to push the keel through the soft mud both help. However, it can mean waiting around for a time.

There’s a convenient place to anchor to wait for the right tide, at a small island just out in the bay. It is typically windless and hot!

Ashore on the island there is a restaurant, with fast launches bringing diners from the ‘mainland’

and an array of nicely shaded deckchairs. The whole island can be walked around in 30 minutes; after that a cool chair’s a good place to be with a book.

Boat Lagoon Marina is small but part of a large hotel/resort complex. After the mud and mangroves along the channel, it’s surprisingly attractive!

We went there to look into having boat work done at a later date, we booked in just for 2 days, expecting to get a quote and leave, but it was not so easy… our time there extended into the weeks, organising, planning, re-organising, waiting for parts…

Until we got to Asia nobody would judge Quo Vadis as being 10 years old, the lady was keeping her age beautifully!
Unfortunately the oil polluted waters and black carbon rain that falls in these countries left indelible shadows on her aging paintwork, she looks young no longer!
So, we’re going back there for some cosmetic surgery, to remove the dirty old teak from the side-decks, have a total repainting job and also to install a new refrigeration system, our present one slowly failing in the hot conditions.
Quo Vadis will be out of the water on the hardstand for 2-3 months…torn apart…and we’ll be staying in nearby accomodation.
It’s a good place to get painting and teak work done, the hardstand situation and climate good for painting and tradesmen doing a lot of it. Many overseas boats go a long way out of their way to Phuket in order to get repainted at Boat Lagoon.
It’s conveniently set up for it with chandleries nearby and reasonably priced accomodation on site. The hotel complex has a 50 metre swimming pool, (and others) spa, gym and Phuket Town is not far away.
Naturally as it is Thailand, there’s good food too, there are hawker stalls right in the boat-yard selling excellent, cheap meals; we have our favourite place for lunch;

but the most exciting and tasty food is usually from the stalls just over the main road outside the gate.

For less than an hour every morning, at 7am they set up, making the the best of sweet eggy pancakes, springrolls, sticky rice and barbecued meat on sticks -just to mention my favourites…

They mostly sell breakfast to the workers coming into the yard, but we’re often out there with them.

When taking a yacht into Thailand you’re issued with only one month visas, (although the yacht can stay for 6, and 12 with an extension!), so as we were in danger of overstaying our time, we took a trip to Burma, the ‘visa run’.

This is an established business in Phuket, for people like us who need a visa extension, several busloads of aliens go to the border every day, take a boat over to Burma and return, passports stamped and visas renewed!
To us it seems a pointless bureaucratic exercise, but the process provides employment for many people and maybe for that reason, can’t be stopped.
It is a long day for us. The bus pick-up is at 7 am outside the marina and it’s already full of sleepy people; many with white faces, but most are foreign Asians. Some have been working all night in order to take the day off, so are now catching up on their sleep.
Apart from stepping aboard to the first impressions of feeling like an ‘undesirable’ being transported, it’s not an uncomfortable trip.
Once out of the developed island of Phuket, the scenery is rubber plantations, jungle, small towns and many many prawn farms. It is an interesting look at ‘proper’ Thailand.

We are fed breakfast on the bus and kept well supplied with water, at about 1pm we get to the border town of Ranong.

After we are served a buffet lunch, we file through the outwards immigration for passport stamps,

then are loaded aboard the ferry boat to go over the Pak Chan estuary to Kawthoung, the Burmese border town on the other side.

It’s about a 5 mile trip.

We are unloaded there and while our passports are being processed, we have about 30 minutes to see Burma!

but we don’t get to go far, we’re hounded constantly by hawkers, selling viagra!

This was an aspect of the visa run we hadn’t known about, but everyone else did. It seems that a generic form of the drug is manufactured in Burma and sold without licence; so as we found, everyone is doing it

Mark was instructed in the method of use of the female preparation by this small boy!

Our nil requirements for Viagra didn’t satisfy any sellers, but many of our fellow travellers came prepared and several old European men were notably buying up a large stock, -boxes!
Duty-free buying otherwise was very limited and there was strict policing, (one of our ‘lot’ was lead away by the police when we returned to Thailand, they saw that he had bought over the limit of cigarettes and alcohol, he didn’t make it back on the bus with us…)

Formalities completed we made the return boat trip to Ranong

and by then it was getting to be late in the afternoon, the hawkers were setting up,

but there wasn’t time for food, we still had Thai immigration to pass through and then the long return bus trip, we’d be fed on the bus.

It was close to 9pm and long dark when we were dropped back at the marina.
It had been a long day, and one which many people do monthly in order to stay in Thailand; we expect we’ll be doing it again too…

Traffic behaviour around Phuket is not good and the dual-carriageway, divided road at the marina gate is hair-raising to cross on foot, let alone ride a bike along, apart from on a Sunday, when there is some respite. Cycling in the area is unfortunately limited by that main road, but away from it and the other main roads, there are some quiet local roads, it’s a matter of knowing where and when to go.
It was also very hot, with near constant sunshine and no wind.

but when you can find them, the rubber plantations make for cool shady roads to walk or ride,

and once up onto the hills there are streams and waterfalls

Although there’s not a lot of water at this dry time of the year, it’s still possible to cool off.

The back roads are interesting, in small villages there are some surpisingly grand houses

and in little towns, large temples.

None are any less attractively decorated

even the crematorium with its large chimney.

We did what we could while we were there in Boat Lagoon Marina, seeing and enjoying Phuket but much of the time was spent preparing for our return trip for the repainting.

We’re not looking forward to it, it will be a difficult time and unfortunately, the longer we stayed around the yard, the more worrying stories we heard, of projects taking months longer than estimated and bad results by bad craftsmen cutting corners to cut costs… They’re not all as professional as we originally believed, some are just ‘fly by night’, not even based in the yard, they come with few tools, just cheap unskilled labour and sometimes work with a tent over the boat, but often with no shelter.
We hope that by changing our original contractors and paying a little more for an established boat-building yard with a big shed, we will have ensured against those troubles? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, we had to come back to Langkawi before another month went by and as it’s a duty-free port, to import neccessary refrigeration and other parts for our refit.

Our return trip took us to the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh, one of the several dramatic limestone ‘rocks’ in the Andaman Sea south of Phuket.

It is a part of National Park and uninhabited, has moorings and is a satisfactory overnight stop, but only in settled weather

It’s no surprise that it has been the set for a few movies in paradise and by day, the little beach becomes crowded with day trippers brought on fast boats from Phuket and ‘longtails’ from neightbouring Phi Phi Don.

The water is clear, the coral reasonable and there are tame fish, it’s popular for diving and snorkelling.

We had arrived in the evening as the day-boats were departing, had a vivid thunderstorm with rain overnight, then took a trip to check out the beach at 8am, just as the first of the day-boats were arriving back… we departed…

We can now tick that place off as been and done!

After another overnight stop back at Koh Rok Nok we went finally to Butang, just about 20 miles out from Langkawi.

It is still a part of Thailand and is also largely National Park with jungle covered hills, largely uninhabited and with anchorages in clear blue water with many fish and good coral.

We had a pleasant night until at first light a storm blew in with heavy rain and strong wind, our anchorage was peaceful no longer!

Around the corner however, between 2 islands, were moorings off a village, we beat our way into one and sat out the storm.
Typically these storms don’t last long

and the afternoon was fine again.

We a good night ashore with some friends, before a pleasant sail with steady breeze over to Langkawi the following morning.

Right now we’re back in the Telaga Harbour Marina, it’s almost like being back home. It is not as busy as it was over the Christmas period, many boats have been left here while owners are elsewhere and there are also fewer tourists about.
The weather is changing, the frequent storms and rain showers being a sign that we are again in the transition period between the monsoons.
When the sun is out it is very hot as there’s little breeze and high humidity, but so far, unlike most, we have not succumbed to buying an air-conditioner…it would defeat the purpose of living on a sailing boat.
The evenings and early mornings are nice and when the cloud comes over it is pleasantly cool, -even better when it rains.
That is the time to get out on the bike or to walk up a hill and here in Langkawi, there’s plenty of opportunity for both!

I’ve found that there IS a way to the top of the cable car ride nearby without having to go in a gondola…there’s a little used, but well formed track up many many steps to the peaks at something over 700 metres.

Although the view might not be so good, some cloud makes the temperature more tolerable for the walk up and Telaga Harbour appears through the gaps in the mist way below.

At the summit there are viewing platforms, food, drink (and reflexology) stalls, there is also a cleverly designed suspension bridge between the 2 peaks, it goes nowhere, it’s there for the many gondola riders to walk across to the other side and back, just a part of the tourist experience…

…so given it’s purpose, it’s a remarkable structure!

We’ve been waiting here in Telaga for refrigeration components to be shipped from the USA, but we also needed a quantity of insulation foam, not available in Phuket, but through internet found is was down in Luala Lumpur.
The price of the foam was little, but the trucking to us here was both uncertain and outrageously expensive, it would be more cost effective to go and collect it personally.
We decided that if we took the fast ferry back to Penang then hired a rental car, we could drive to KL for the day and spending 2 nights in Penang would make it an enjoyable ‘holiday’!

The fast ferry was comfortable (in the very calm conditions we had, I’m not so sure it would be when it was rough!) and Penang was as good as ever, -food, food, food…back to the favourites…

KL too turned out to be easier than it could have been, although inevitably, we were lost for a while. It’s a big, busy place with many expressways and multi-lane highways intersecting across the city, the names don’t match those on the road maps, there’s nowhere to pull over, and once off a main road it can be difficult to get back on.
Eventually we found the area of town we were wanting, surprisingly up-market and cosmopolitan (given that we were going to purchase sheets of foam board!) it could have been the shoppng area of any smart suburb in any western city, with expensive large cars, no parking on narrow streets, judder bars and cobbles, boutique clothes shops, restaurants, beauty parlours and bakeries…Parnell, Auckland.
We found our foam (and were relieved to find it would fit in the hire car), -then made our escape. We were not interested in trying to explore KL any further by car!

What impressed us most however, was that although the trip from Penang was close to 800 km return, it was enjoyable and easy to do in the day.
We had hired a Proton Waja, a new, medium-sized all-Malaysian car, it was remarkably nice to drive and gave a very comfortable ride


After crossing the Penang Bridge it was 4 or 6 lane expressway all the way. The roads were not busy, well formed and in excellent condition.
The scenery was interesting

with jungle and mountain ranges,

oil palm plantations

and some sheer escarpments, (although these are man-made, from quarrying for marble slabs).

Driving along the road is like driving through a well kept park, unlike the most of Asia there was NO rubbish

the grass verges were all trimmed, there were many ornamental plantings and even topiary!

Of course this comes at a price, there were tolls to pay and they mounted up during the course of the day, close to 100 Ringats, about $NZ40, just a little more than the cost of the petrol we used…but we were not complaining!

It was a pleasant break away.

We will be returning to Phuket mid-May.

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