Monday, 27 January 2014

North towards the Burmese border

All restocked and ready to go we headed south out of Ao Chalong to the bottom of Phuket and up the other side into Nai Harn for our first overnight stop. A pretty bay, though still a smaller version of the Russian riviera. Deck lounges and umbrellas from one end of the beach to the other - you could hardly see the sand in between. A short dingy ride ashore and tether up to a floating dingy dock, then a clamber over some large rocks to the little restaurant where you paid 100 Thai bart (AUS$3.50) for the stay. Apparently if you buy a drink at their bar, they refund the money. Then a walk along the promenade through myriads of restaurants all vying for your business, as well as the usual mobile street vendors. Our favourite desert vendor amongst them - pancakes with chocolate and banana cooked while you wait. Yum !!
Always a good nights sleep when the bay is sheltered from swell, and it was off early next morning catching up with Totem as they came out of Ao Chalong. That day we managed a full day of pure sailing, without the aid of engine - something we had not done in a while. So good to know you were conserving diesel.

                                     So good to be sailing with our dear friends Totem again

Next stop was a lovely bay just short of the airport - Nai Yang and a great view of planes coming in to land at Phuket airport. Again a multitude of restaurants ashore but most of these seem to be filled with Aussies - what a pleasant change. We headed ashore for dinner meeting up with many boats that have cruised this area for years and happily listened to all their stories. This was a place we will return to again but for now is only an overnight stop until we get to our main destination of Ko Phayam, the most northern stop for us in Thailand. Our fleet of 2 was growing as we joined with Utopia 2 and Honey and made our way north the following day. Our anchorage that evening was  tucked inside an estuary, home to Thai naval vessels as well as many power boats taking tourists for day trips to the Surin and Similan islands. Very busy with comings and goings at the start and end of the day but it settled down after those times. The following evening saw us all again tucked inside the headland of Ko Ra, after opting to head inland further south and meandering north for a couple of hours through waterways past villages and mangroves before dropping the anchor for the night. We past an old (what turned out to be) navy craft moored in the waterways, a strange kind of place to find something like that. With some investigating, Niall (Totem) - a 14 year old history buff discovered it was an LCT named 'Dodd County' and gave us a lesson on its history. He put us both to shame with his knowledge.

Sundowners on our first evening at Ko Phayam

Can't resist yet another sunset shot from the bar

Ko Phayam was a little slice of paradise. We had been told it was what Phuket was like 30 years ago - still untouched by tourism. Anchoring in 4 meters in Buffalo Bay on the NW side of the island, we tucked inside the most northerly part of the bay and decided that this would do us for at least a week if not more. Heading ashore, the resorts were basic thatched huts as were the bars and restaurants. No cars on the island, motorcycle, bicycle or foot being the only modes of transport. The beach wrapped right around the bay, scattered here and there with outcrops of rocks and great for long walks - it soon became our daily exercise. The first evening ashore for sundowners, we could see the islands of Burma silhouetted again the setting sun. Out of bounds to sailing yachts at present, though there is talk that next year the government may ease up regulations and open them to cruisers. More sunset photos!!!! A few other evenings were at a bar which can only be described as a cross between 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Lord of the Flies'. It was made out of timbers that looked like they have been floating the oceans for years, finally washed ashore and the structure was adorned with flotsam and jetsam accumulated over time. This was definitely a bar with character !! We have since been advised by a local that the boat bar was entirely build from timbers and debris washed ashore after the tsunami - now a monument to the disaster.

                           Our 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Bar - locally known as the 'Hippy Bar'

                Made from driftwood found after the Tsunami

The days rolled into the next and the time was spent relaxing with books, doing odd jobs aboard here and there or conferring on boat issues and how best to manage or fix them. One day Pete had to make an unexpected trip to Ranong on the mainland, located on the south side of a river - the river being
the border of Burma (it was only 30 mins by speed boat). We were running the generator one evening to charge the batteries when it made a strange sound and started smoking. The small alternator had seized and the fan belt got very hot!  That is never a pleasant experience. That night we ran the main engine to charge the batteries. What were the chances that at this point we blew a fan belt and smoke again filled the engine room. At this point I was thinking I would rather be living anywhere than on a boat. The next day, bearing obtained and fitted along with the fan belt - things were looking good again.

We hired a motorcycle one day and my second only ever ride saw me clutching on for dear life as we made our way down to the pier along the concrete road. Our goal that day was to buy a top-up card and replenish our internet coverage. This is never an easy task when English is not the first language - thank goodness for 'Help Desks' on the phone. We could walk along the only road on the island into 'town' in 30 minutes or only as far as the 'crossroads' for a minimart with fresh fruit and veggies - nothing is very far. Most days would bring a new boat into the anchorage - is it someone we know from our rallies? We are really newcomers to this cruising life, many of the boats around us having been doing this for years and therefore crossing paths time and again with each other. Gemini and Kailani arrived a couple of days ago but opted to anchor in Long Bay on the other side of the headland. Its the closest we have come to knowing another boat.

                                                                The view at Long Beach - Does this look like a kangaroo? 

Jamie and Behan (Totem) with Pete

                                   Yet another glorious sunset with Kittani in the foreground
The days here are coming to an end and after 2 plus weeks, we have decided to head off tomorrow to the Surin islands - 30nms so only a days sail. Some boats have been here in the anchorage for a month and I can see why that would be possible. We have had up to 17 anchored at one point, the locals say the most they have ever seen. We have eaten ashore nearly every night, our favourite restaurants being Papaya (best Penang curry), Mr Gao (great Pad Thai) and Baan Klong Kleng for overall ambience. We will miss our daily walks along the beach, though the Surin islands are reported to have the best waters for swimming and snorkelling so shall have to that for exercise. So its lunch ashore today with Gemini before heading off on the morning to our next destination.


Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Xmas and New Year

The  days leading up to Xmas drifted into one another. I went with Behan one morning to the local markets where we filled a plastic tray with herbs and veggies and the total cost was a couple of dollars. There was none of the hype and activity that surrounds them at home, the preparations for the big meal and the arrival of family. It was all very ho-hum. We had arranged to have our Xmas lunch with our friends Behan, Jamie and the kids from Totem. They also had family out from the States, so a table of 10 took our seats at a lovely restaurant overlooking Ao Chalong harbour. It was a beautiful setting under the shade of huge trees with Xmas music playing softly in the background. We had opted for a Thai meal rather than western food and had a wonderful afternoon drawing out our lunch for nearly 3 hours. So lovely to have shared it with friends though missed my family all the same.

Shopping with Beham (Totem) at the local markets at Ao Chalong

Xmas Day luncheon with Totem and visiting family overlooking Ao Chalong

A couple of days before New Year, we headed up the East coast of Phuket to Yacht Haven Marina located on the north of the island. We had arranged to catch up with some rally yachts for dinner and to welcome in the New Year at one of the local restaurants in waking distance of the marina. It was a fun night with lots of laughs, good food and company. What a year it had been and we had accomplished so much. The next day it was low key getting over a very late night - thank goodness it's only once a year.

Myself and Pete with Irena (Footloose) getting in the mood.

John (Footloose) and Pete celebrating the end of a great year.

Soon it was time to push off again and now it was to head north into the 'Hongs' of Thailand. Many of the islands have a  'Hong' meaning 'room' in Thai, and can usually only be entered on middle to high tide by dingy or kayak. Often through a narrow entrance it opens into a large lagoon like area surrounded by lush vegetation and rock formations. We had arranged to meet up with Robyn and Craig from Gemini and together were amazed at the landscape of the area, with its hundreds of islands scattered around and making it a spectacular place to cruise. Sheer cliffs dropping down to white sandy beaches pocketed throughout, some full of tourist laden 'long tails' (Thai boats) dropping dozens of sight seers for a couple of hours, some beaches without a soul in sight. Many of the beaches are full of monkeys. They can be curious to a point then they can show aggression - .I do not like monkeys !!

A family of four monkeys coming close to check us out.
The spectacular rock formation of the 'Hongs' area.

Overhanging rock with Kittani and Gemini anchored in the background.

We spent a night at a Sea Gypsy Village built mostly on stilts. A popular destination for the tourist boats - the books say that up to 3,000 visitors per day over the lunch period. That's a lot of mouths to feed, and the chaos of long tails arriving and departing with tourists had to be seen to be believed. We went ashore and wandered amongst the markets - heaps of clothing and souvenirs along with men making fishing nets - interesting. That evening we went back to one of the restaurants for dinner and had the hottest Thai food I have ever had. By the end of the meal, all we could do was suck on ice cubes to stop our lips from burning, laugh and wonder how we would pull up the next day !!! The smaller the chilly, the bigger the burn !!!!

                Sea Gypsy Village built on stilts over the water

Looking between the houses

Pete watching the fishing nets being made - a monotonous job.

Horse Crab on the menu - they get their 'b' and 'p' mixed up !!

We spent the following night anchored in a lagoon between 2 outcrops of rocks with hardly a noise or boat around. We purchased prawns from a local fishing boat, so fresh that later that day when I went to peel them, I had to ask Pete to deal with the ones that were still waving their legs in protest. That evening dinner was on Gemini, and after Robyn doing a Thai cooking course the previous week, she excelled herself with a fantastic meal. A good nights sleep was had in the perfect quietness of  our surroundings, not even aware of the boat changing direction with the change of tides. Next night was at a popular tourist beach with the clearest of water we had seen in a while. We spent the day onboard leaving the tourists to enjoy the island. Once the last boat had gone, we headed ashore with Gemini for a swim in sheltered bay and sundowners having the place virtually to ourselves. The white sand, the blue water, the lush vegetation, the cliffs, the peace - this is what it is all about.


The beach at Ko Hong (Krabi) before the long tails start arriving
The start of the tourists arriving - boats wall to wall in no time.

Me testing the water for a swim - it was so clear and cool.

Local long tail arriving into through the entrance to the Hong

View from the beach at Sundowners with Gemini

Pete loving it all.

Time to head back down to Ao Chalong. We have just dropped anchor back in the harbour and need to get ashore and provision before heading off tomorrow making our way up the west coast of Phuket and Thailand towards the Burma border.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Langkawi and beyond

After returning to Langkawi from Penang, we had booked into Rebak Marina for a week, located on Rebak island just off the mainland and next to a resort. The marina itself had been described as ‘muggy and buggy’, however we didn’t find it too bad. Being attached to the resort, we had full use of the resort amenities, the main one we used being the pool. Around 4.00pm each afternoon, most rally participants would congregate at the pool, some staying on for happy hour, others just to cool off from the heat. We met up with Sandip, the GM of the resort as we had been informed that he had spent some years on Nauru and was keen to speak with me. We were his guests one evening at the lighting of the Xmas tree, carol singing by his staff (Malaysian style), mulled wine and finger food – it was a great night. He also invited us to breakfast the following morning with his wife and as well as discussing my childhood memories, spent a lot of time talking with Pete about the ins and outs of hotel management.

Enjoying a drink at sunset before our final gala dinner - Langkawi
We had a day tour arranged with the rally to Langkawi island were we took in a fish processing factory where they sit on the floor and all processing is done by hand, oh the smell !! Then it was  on to a couple of cultural museums, and late afternoon after an hour of free time where a group of us enjoyed a drink on the beach before sunset, our final gala dinner. It marked the end of Sail Malaysia and rallies for us for a while. We had all come together for the day from different marinas and anchorages around Langkawi, so now it was time to say goodbye to many we knew we would not see again. However, quite a few boats plan to stay in and around these waters for the season before making their way to South Africa, then U.K and U.S.A or even eventually back to Oz, so we will cross paths for a while yet. Another day we hired a cafe and headed up to the Langkawi Cable Car. It is apparently the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere and I was ever so glad to get my feet back on terra firma at the end of the circuit. The view was amazing even though it was a hazy day. 
Pete at the Cable Car ride - looking relaxed

Great view from the top - if you like heights !!

Langkawi Skywalk - unfortunately closed for maintenance

Steepest cable car in the southern hemisphere

Leaving Rebak marina, we headed for Kuah harbour – Kuah being our place for clearing out of Malaysia. We anchored in the harbour for a couple of days to provision and fuel before starting the departure process. Kuah harbour is a large busy bay with a big ferry terminal servicing the mainland as well as other nearby islands. There were many yachts and boats anchored there, a hive of activity day and night. Kuah was a good size town with hardware stores, supermarkets and many duty free shops - Langkawi being a duty free island. Slabs of Carlsberg beer were equivalent to AUS$10 as were bottles of Jim Beam bourbon or Bombay Saphire Gin. Where we tied up the tender to go ashore, we found a small stall that made Roti bread with egg - served with chilli sauce. Who would have thought it would make such a good breakfast but it served us each morning while we were there. 

Heading away from Kuah harbour, we meandered up the east side of Langkawi to our first nights anchorage at the 'Hole in the wall'. Once through the entrance of sheer cliff faces on either side, it opened into a larger lagoon flanked with mangroves.There was a fish farm with restaurants attached offering moorings, but we opted to drop our own anchor. It was a lovely peaceful spot for the night. That was our last night in Malaysia - tomorrow we would be in Thailand waters. 

Coming through the entrance at the 'Hole in the Wall' anchorage

One of our next stops was the small island of Ko Muk and will go down as one of the best ever. A lovely little sheltered bay, white sandy beach and a small restaurant built at one end up on the rocks. We went ashore there to watch the sunset over a Singha beer, then had our first Thai meal. Wow - it was amazing and we had been hanging out for Green Chicken Curry and Pad Thai. Ko Muk is also known for its Emerald Caves. You can take a kayak in or swim through the entrance of the cave which we did. At first the darkness was so intense you can not see in front of your face. The guide books all said to take a torch - we forgot.  Thankfully it was only a mere 40 meters and it opens into a sandy beach and amphitheatre surrounded with vegetation. Quite spectacular.

Me sitting on the beach inside the Emerald Cave - Ko Muk

A rather narrow entrance to the cave
Our first Thai meal from the rock top at Ko Muk

The anchorage at Ko Muk - Kittani in the distance

Sunset from the restaurant

Patterns in the sand made by the tiniest of crabs

Next day saw us arrive at Ko Phi Phi. We had been there before years ago with the kids so opted to go around to the quieter side of the island. We had also heard via email that other boats had been robbed whilst ashore in the main bay. Taken were computer, iPads, iPod and phones. Leaves a sour taste in your mouth and makes you all the more security conscious. Next day it was a short hop across to Ao Chalong Bay in Phuket - our place for clearing in to Thailand,