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Martin & Sue

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Searching for Solitude in Thailand - Part 2

 

Still in company with the Aussie Cat Braveheart, we continued our amble back down the west coast of Phuket.

The season is beginning to change and anchorages that gave us excellent shelter a few weeks previously are suddenly exposed to the vagaries of unpredictable swells. This is not a bad thing for it allows us to investigate several new locations that give a degree of protection from the wave motion. However, sometimes the swell would have a change of heart during the late afternoon or mid-evening and this made for some rather exciting beach landings and takeoffs as we tried to dodge the (mostly) small breakers and not get dumped!

 
  Timing is everything - it is a matter of standing off and watching the sets as they roll in and waiting for the 30 second lull that seems to occur between them at which time we roar towards the beach at full throttle and get the dinghy up on the sand before the next breaker comes. This theory is all very well - until we are tricked by 2 sets following each other without a break -and that is when we get VERY wet!! It is lots of fun. At least we haven't been thrown out yet as some other yachties have!
Above: No swells here - but at times it was a wet ride!    
     

Many of these low-key beach developments were totally wiped out during the Boxing Day Tsunami - and many of the beachside restaurants are little more than a few chairs and tables setup under a shady tree along with a makeshift bamboo kitchen containing a one burner hotplate and a bucket for washing up. We have uncovered some heart-wrenchingly sad stories during chats with the owners of these establishments for many lost loved ones during the disaster and were themselves swept up in the swirling waters losing everything they owned and had worked for. The resilience of these Thai people is astounding and many told us their stories wiith tears in their eyes.

 

Below: Typical low key beach side dining
 
 
     

Before Braveheart headed off to Langkawi to renew their Thai visas we had a farwell dinner at a lovely island 10 miles south of Phuket. Although Koh Racha Yai hosts its fair share of tourists during the day, dumped by the unbiquitous speedboats, most depart before nightfall and although there is a small resort on the island it is very tastefully built and caters for a class of tourist who do not equate loud disco music and jetskis with having a good time! We had an excellent meal there and a beautifully quiet night at anchor.

 
 
 
 

Back on the boat another great thing about Racha bay were the fish. As our antifoul is now about 18 months old we had been sporting a bit of a green water line beard. At night we could hear crunch , crunch, crunch, much like the noise parrot fish make when they are dining on the coral algae. By morning there was not one bit of weed left on the boat. We had become a mobile feeding station and were only too happy to oblige the fish... shame it doesnt happen everywhere !! It was also about this time that we noticed the gas burners misbehaving on Mandolin WInd (as if too much gas was being pushed through the jets) and discovered that the regulator attached to the bottle had corroded through allowing gas to leak out when the solenoid was open and no regulation to occur – we reflected that it was very lucky that our gas storage locker was fully setup to allow proper external ventilation and that we had an electronic cut off switch and alarm in the galley. At least we had the microwave to use for a couple of days until we could get a new regulator.

    Below: Noel and wife Tina at their house
     
On our way up the east coast of Phuket we took time out to visit an old school friend who has been lucky enough to be cruising these waters for 8 years. Having just sold his boat and moved into a house on Phuket we took the opportunity to visit him for a very relaxed BBQ and reminisce about those long ago Koo Wee Rup school days.  

     

We anchored in a very shallow bay not far from Noel and Tina's house before going ashore to what looked like a convenient spot to leave the dinghy. Unfortunately for us we did not time the tides quite right and on our return we were confronted with the comical sight of our yellow dinghy stranded on a large dried out mud field!

 
Below: mmm, some miss judgement on the tidal range means a stranded dinghy
 
 
     

Efforts to drag the poor boat out towards deep water proved fruitless when the mud tried to devour any legs that were silly enough to try it. There was nothing for it but to wait it out for the hour or so it took for the tide to turn and come in enough for us to pole the dinghy out to enough water to float again.

Below: Mud glorious mud
 
 

Next day we finally entered the famed Phang Nga Bay which is on the eastern and now protected side of Phuket. This is the home of such exotic places as ‘James Bond Island’ made famous during the filming of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – and the spectacular scenery of the huge bay ( about the size of Port Phillip ) is augmented by the sheer sided rocky peaks that seem to erupt out of the jade coloured sea like uneven teeth. Most of the islands are uninhabited and we soon found a magnificent spot to anchor at Koh Phanak and set about exploring the many hongs (caves) hiding at its base.

 

Below: General scenes around Phang Nga bay
 
 
We were just settling down to enjoy a tasty meal of fresh prawns (purchased directly from a local fisherman and his wife who had visited us earlier) when we spotted 3 yachts approaching from the south obviously under full motor power at maximum speed. Based on the fact that they were all travelling far too close to the island and in only 3-4m of water , we surmised they were charter boats. We were proved correct when they sped passed us, blithely unaware of the need to take it cautiously when travelling so close to the cliffs. We continued to watch them as they rounded the next rocky outcrop only metres from the wall - and were not surprised when one of the deeper keeled monohulls stopped abruptly after obviously hit something submerged in the water. We left them to their towing antics and returned to our chilli prawns!  

Below: Martin purchasing some prawns from a local fisherman and his wife

 
Below: Charterers !!!.. Note how close to cliffs at speed and in 3m of water....... Far right ... Opps, Hit something !!

 
 
The next day we moved further into Phang Nga bay and found the Koh Hong tunnel where we rowed our dinghy into the enclosed lagoon with its impressive funnel opening into the sky.
 

 
     
Despite the presence of literally dozens of kayaks that had spilled out from anchored tour boats the area was uncannily quiet as everyone paddled slowly around the still lake, seemingly awestruck by the beauty and majesty of nature. The deep green water colouration is supposed to be from the limestone and other chemicals that are leached out from the rocks.
 
 

 

I

  It was a different story when, a few hours later, we approached James Bond Island where we counted over 40 tourist boats. Since we knew from previous encounters that each of the boats could hold over 30 people we were not surprised by the crowds covering every visible inch of the small beach and jetty.Through the binnoculars we could also see the hundreds of stalls setup to sell trinkets to the tourists so we made a call to leave our visit to this renowned spot for another, less busy, time ( if at all ).
   

 

Instead we headed for the Sea Gypsy village built entirely over the water beneath the majestically soaring Koh Yang. Before exploring the village itself, we used our dinghy to visit some cave drawings pupported to date back to Neanderthal times.

 
     

The following day we tied up at one of the many restaurants fronting the village before walking along the wooden platform that runs through its centre. Despite being pre-warned, we were still stunned by the wall to wall souvenir stalls manned by storeholders clearly jaded and looking totally bored by the 3,000 plus tourists ( in high season ) who descend on their village everyday for lunch, dumped by the scores of visiting tourist boats. We could only shake our heads at the corruption of a culture based on a very ancient way of life. Needless to say the Sea Gypsies do very little fishing nowadays.

 

 

 

 

 

We could have spent weeks exploring the rest of Phang Nga Bay but unfortunately our time was limited by visas and we postponed further exploration until our return visit in a few months. Instead, we needed to return to civilization and Phuket town to begin Sue's dental treatment. The Bangkok Phuket hospital is first world when it comes to patient care and we were taking advantage of the cheap (er) prices to have several tooth implants and crowns done. The first phase of the treatment plan involved three implants with the rest of the work scheduled for four months time after the posts bonded to the jaw bone.

 

   
     

So it was that Sue, with a mouth full of stiches, missed out on the last few chances to partake of Thai cuisine and instead transferred to a diet of blended soups and mango smoothies (although it certainly didn't stop Martin making the most of the Green Curries and the Tom Ka Gai!)

We eventually checked out with the Thai. authorities with one day spare on our visas and set our sails for Malaysia. Before we left Thai waters, however, there was one last tropical 'must see' to uncover.

 

Below; A couple of the more remoter anchorages

 
     

Unfortunately for the Phi Phi Islands they are only a speed boat ride away from Phuket. We knew what we were in for as friends had pre-warned us. However, Phi Phi Don was in our direct path and we decided to experience it for ourselves. There were several less crowded bays we could have chosen but unfortunately the winds directed us to the main tourism strip at Ton Sai Bay. Phi Phi Don was once classed as one of the top 10 islands in the world for beauty. Suffice to say that now the competing outdoor discos, that kept us awake until 3 in the morning, and the wall to wall trinket stands and massage areas barely left room to view any sand. In addition we were also less than impressed when a charter boat (whose occupants were absent on shore until after the discos finished) dragged their anchor and were heading towards us - thus forcing us to up anchor and dodge dozens of boats and moorings as we tried to re-anchor in the darkness of the pitch black night. " But we put out 20m of chain.... ", they claimed when they came back - (we were in 12m of water requiring about 50m for good holding ! )

Another paradise lost to rampant uncontrolled tourism.

Next morning, after our sleepless night, we left Thailand behind for now and headed off at dawn for Langkawi .

Despite some spoilt areas, there were literally scores of secluded bays still waiting for us to explore in this amazing country. During our two month stay in Thailand we had barely scratched the surface of these hidden treasures – and we were looking forward to returning to them again in a few months time to resume our wanderings.     

 

 


To quote the words of a fellow cruiser who had travelled a similar route to us over the past year:
‘I told James I never wanted to sail to Thailand – and now I'm here I think it is the best thing that I have ever done’.

Thailand is like that. It gets under your skin. It is a land of contrasts - where it is easy to just remember the noisy, chaotic traffic or the European tourist crowds with blaring discos, girly bars and mind numbing jetski riders and forget about the friendly, happy locals, the subsistance fisherman, the great food and the diverse scenery. These last things are what gives the country its ‘soul’ and when you can find them it is fantastic. For that reason we will be back in the next cruising season looking for the places off the tourist trail. Until then it is time to hide out the wet season in Langkawi and do some land travel during the South West monsoon.

Above: Typical Thai Fishing boat