Sailing in paradise or haunted by mass tourism? – From Yacht Haven we sail clock wise to the tourist attractions of the Phang Nga Bay like Ko Hong and James Bond Island, on to Ko Ha, Ko Lanta and quiet Ko Mook and finish the lap via super noisy Ko Phi Phi to busy Nai Harn Beach in Phuket
Family meeting in Phuket
Just before Christmas the high season starts here in Thailand. Also for us the family visits continue. One day before my parents my brother Alfred arrives with his family here in Phuket. We visit them in their apartment in Rawai all the way to the south of the peninsula.
After not seeing each other for 4.5 years we have a lot to talk about. Then we go for dinner to the Fish market in Rawai where you choose the seafood on the street and get it cooked for around 100 Bath/kg in the restaurant just across. We stay far past our normal bedtime, with the advantage that the streets back up to the north to Yacht Haven are almost empty.
A hole in the propane bottle!!
At 1 am we unload our dinghy, one of the items is our freshly filled propane bottle. I have the feeling the bottle still smells heavily like gas, like already in the car, which gave me a heavy headache during the day. Reto once again checks the bottle with the spray for searching leakages, but again he cannot find anything.
Since there is hardly any noise in the anchorage finally I hear the typical sound ” zshhhhh” coming from the propane bottle. I follow the noise with my head, but what is this? I don’t end up anywhere near the valve but in the middle of the cylindric part of the bottle. This is almost incredible we think. Our otherwise “good looking” aluminium bottle that we carefully chose in Panama 3 years ago already leaking right out of the cylinder!!!
The next hour Reto tries to put his magic Epoxy on top, of course it is helpless, there is too much pressure on the bottle.
So we have a program change for the next day. Halfway down south in Phuket the gas filling station across from the boat lagoon offers composite propane bottles at a reasonable price we find out in the internet. One hour later we are happy owners of a new 11.5 kg composite bottle, the 6th bottle in 4 years!
Next we do a mayor provisioning and are a bit relieved that the airplane bringing in my parents is 1.5 hours late. Then after 2 years I spot my mom through the doors of the arrival. What an incredible long time I realize in this moment and cannot help the tears flowing.
On the way with the dinghy out to SHE SAN in the anchorage we test the limits of our loading capacity and of my nerves.
With full baggage, 4 persons, gas bottle and food for 10 days the waterline goes down like never before (I think) – is no problem at all (the skipper thinks).
Phang Nga bay with Heide and Pete
In the middle of the tourist rush in Ko Hong Phuket
With more or less sleep we leave early the next morning to engine the 15 miles around the corner to the Ko Hong (“Cave”) Phuket. Behind a dozen of tour boats we catch a mooring in the channel and watch what is going on around us.
On my first round I check out the situation and still have to carry the SUP on one passage through the sand in order to go once around.
But already half an hour later it is ok to pass through with the dinghy and we all go again.
We admire the bizarre formations of the lime stones, the big and small lagoons and paddle through a tunnel to a cave which is open to the top. The steep rocks surrounding the cave are full with trees that somehow are held by their roots in the rocks. They grow far in and give the the whole thing a certain “jungle feeling”.
During the whole time we pass a procession of kayaks, so once around we all agree to luck for a more quiet place.
With the view to the James Bond Rock
Two miles further north we anchor in the protection of Ko Yang which is approximately 1 mile next to the famous James Bond Rock. But skipper as well as crew are too tired, so I go alone with the SUP to the East of Ko Yang. I see “THE ROCK” in the evening light, there is no one there, how beautiful!
The next morning at 7.30 am we carefully bring our SHE SAN over the badly cartographed area to close to the rock but already we are passed by the first handful of speed boats who unload their loads of tourist onto the beach. Damn, we are too late!
Skipper and visitors agree that one view and one picture are enough, we do a quick turn and skip the landing (and landing fee…)
Thus having the advantage that we get our favorite anchor spot in Ko Roi 8 miles further south where we spend the rest of the day with the visit of the bat colony on the Hong, paddling and swimming.
Christmas Sailing via Ko Phak Bia and Ko Hong Krabi to Ko Phi Phi
The next morning we make a first stop for snorkeling at the pretty sandbar island called Ko Phak Bia, and indeed we have it for ourselves for a few moments.
The snorkeling is not really worth it and one after the other the speed boats fill up the beach until there is nothing more to see off the beach. Within 20 minutes it is fully packed, we get back to the boat and head the 2 miles down to Ko Hong Krabi
Ko Hong Krabi is apparently the biggest hong in the Phang Nga bay. There is little wind (the access is in the Northeast) and there is a free mooring, so let’s have a look!
Especially the entrance to the lagoon is impressive: it is very narrow with its steep rocks and there are longtails allem der Eingang in die Lagune ist eindrücklich und die Longtails racing and roaring in and out without a break. We carefully approach and make sure not to be in their way…
In the inside it is very wide and we see many people taking a bath in the turquoise/greyish water. We skip the bath, head back to the boat and set sail to continue to Ko Dam. But what is this? Now that there is wind it comes exactly from the direction we want to go. Okay, so we go somewhere else… With the wind close hauled we sail another 20 miles down south to Ko Ph Phi…
Just in time for the Christmas Sundowner we attach to “our mooring buoy” in Nui Bay in Ko Phi Phi – the bay empties out and we enjoy the peace 😉
Snorkeling and Shaking in Ko Ha
Also the next morning there is no time to relax as Ko Ha is calling… Heide and Pete have both a new set of mask and fins, these need to be tested in a proper environment. Unfortunately the visibility here in Thailand close to the mainland is not very good and on the other hand the anchorages further out in the islands can be quite rolly or even dangerous, so a good look at the weather forecast is essential. For the next two days the forecast says there will be little wind out of the Northeast, so let’s hurry up.
A few hours later we are attached to our favorite mooring and hop into the water. The visibility is even better (of course, the monsoon was still changing) than in late October but also than in early December, with 20 plus meters we do feel spoiled. It’s a great feeling to dive down and the new case for our 360 degree camera makes some promising videos 😉
We see incredibly huge schools of fish (each one a felt 30 cm long, so rather 20 cm in reality), many reef fish, especially different types of parrot fish, a few moray eels and several (or was it one repeatedly) giant jelly fish. But the current this time is more than we ever had here, so we have to struggle quite a lot to get back to the boat (if someone is tired they can hang on to the SUP and I carry the SUP snorkeling…)
I am angry at myself that I took the SUP more as a large swim buoy to be recognized by the speed boats but didn’t also take the paddle with me, it would have made the struggle against the current a lot more efficient
During the night the waves from the south shake us around heavily, but in the morning I seem to be the only one who really has bothered
We decide to stay another night and enjoy the snorkeling another two times. A BIIIIIG MISTAKE we learn later in the night, Two or three knots of wind more than the night before is enough to shake us around worst than on the open ocean. At 1 am I spend about an hour to secure everything banging, bouncing, rolling around before I try to find some sleep on our overnight passage couch behind the salon table. My summary in the morning: it cannot be worse in the open ocean !
Continuous shaking on land in Ko Lanta
Close hauled to the wind we flee with the first light to Ko Lanta.
With the missing sleep finally everybody on board is convinced that the new motto is “better sleep well than snorkel well…” and not being sure we skip Ko Rok and continue to Ko Lanta, where close to the shore at least the swell is calculable at this time of the year
In Khlong Dao we go for the first time in 5 days on land. Only then Heide and Pete realize that the shaking is not finished but continues just as well while walking on “hard land”…
But also I take away a lesson: dressed up for dinner on land we all head towards the shore in our dinghy. But the swell is more than expected and used to be. Reto says “jump” and I jump, but it is way too early… The next wave takes the dinghy to the side, I (being to the waist in the water trying to take it straight) get swooped away and hanging onto the painter of the dinghy I get town along at the bottom. My mom asks “do you have something to change with you?” – “well no, I never had to before…”
Heide and Pete learn from it and only leave the dinghy with bathing suits, having the street clothes in the water tight backpack.
Quiet Ko Waen, Ko Mook and Ko Nga
On the way to Ko Mook we see a number of new moorings next to a round island with the name of Ko Waen.
We attach and find out that a 50 meter long train has been sunk here as an”artificial reef” and diving object.
We find that too murky and go rather snorkeling close to the rock. With the SUP in the tow my mom and I go up front the visibility is so so but the fish are numerous.
Repeatedly we encounter the one or the other nasty jelly fish of the type that has tentacles all around and is not just looking like a giant cell. We manage to escape most of them..
Then we have a whole swarm of them coming up at us. We both jump onto the paddle board and head back to SHE SAN, with the feet well out of the water ;-).
Directly in front of the pretty beach at Ko Mook there are 3 park moorings. We take up one of them and like always it is in a very good condition.
In the restaurant overlooking the beach we enjoy the sundowner with a cool beer, a great view of the bay surrounded by the steep cliffs of the backside of the emerald cave and our SHE SAN in the evening sky, what else to be happy?
The next morning we check out the island. maps.me tells us that we are at the beach called Haad Farang (“the Foreigners“) and that there is a path over to the other side of the island where Haad Sivalai and Ban Ko Mook wat to be explored. With an umbrella against the sun and the occasional curious dog we walk over the hill.
I am really pleased about the “normality” of the village. There are some restaurants and the occasional supermarket carries bathing clothes and toys, but the large part of what we find are still houses where people live or sell things to their fellow villagers.
In the afternoon our timing to visit the Emerald Cave is perfect again. When we arrive at around 4.30 pm the last longtails are there but it doesn’t take long and we have the cave to ourselves.
It is New year’s eve and pretty quiet in Haad Farang. After playing cards I am tired and want to bridge the last minutes waiting for the countdown with the brushing of my teeth. As a result I miss the countdown and the small fire works are just about to finish the moment I join the others on the fore deck. Also the size of the fireworks is small enough not to get us into a danger zone on our mooring, I have no problem with that :-).
The protection in NE Monsoon is awesome, the internet running well with 4 bars 4 G, the restaurant has fair prices and a great view, here we will come back!!
On the way back to Ko Lanta we spot some moorings off Ko Nga, so we stop and snorkel the reef. Here, just in front of the park ranger station the number of fish is enormous, but unfortunately also the number of jelly fish with the irritant tentacles.
We figure that we don’t find it worth paying another time 1700 Bath National park fee (our 5 days Ko Lanta National Park just ran out the day before), so we prefer to fight with and against the changing winds back up to Ko Lanta North and on to Ko Phi Phi.
Noise Invasion in Ko Phi Phi
In the southern bay we assume that there is too much traffic, the Monkey Bay is already full, so we take up a mooring in Loh Dalum just north of Ton Sai.
Heide and Pete want to see the village of “Dorf” Ton Sai. In my opinion Ton Sai is the “tourist ghetto” par excellence: every little space is occupied by either a souvenir shop, a restaurant or a shop selling tours, this together with the crowds rolling through the little streets is already in itself a tourist attraction to see.
We manage to find a good and not expensive Thai restaurant close to the “market” and top it up with a far too expensive but delicious coconut ice cream.
Via the village we take the stairs up and quickly reach the view points 1,2, and 3, this time via the normal tourist path with hardly any mosquitos than on the path though the bush coming from the lana bay that we did 4 weeks ago.
While doing the selfies all the way at the top I hang my backpack onto a chair. Of course I only notice it when we are already almost back down again, so I get a little extra exercise.
He had heard that the discos can get loud in the evening, but still we are not prepared how loud it gets. We are 1 kilometer away and can hardly talk to each other in the cockpit. Of course also the earplugs only work in a limited way. At least at some time after midnight the party is over, uff what a relief! For another nicht we prefer to stay in our favorite Nui Bay, there at least we know that the longtails and speedboats will stop some time in the evening. t.
Ko Racha Yai – the absolute inferno
With the wind form behind we have a comfortable sail down to Ko Racha Yai. We read that the snorkeling or even diving is good, and that in the afternoon it becomes calm in the bay. We should have been more suspicious with this comment. Also is the island only 10 miles south of Phuket. During the approach we already have a strange feeling, there is an awful lot of boats going in and out of the bay…
Once around the corner we finally see the full situation in front of us.
The sides are lined with day sailing catamarans in packs, the heck tied to the line with the swim buoys and one in the middle attached to a buoy. Hundreds of people are unloaded for snorkeling, ferries, speed boats, longtails and catamarans are all going in and out at the same time and in the middle of it there are some dive buoys moving through the bay, we only wonder how thy don’t get wrapped into any propellers because nobody really seems to care.
We “are lucky” and even find an empty mooring, but all 4 of us keep on looking around, always ready to jump somewhere to put a fender between us and the passing boats. It is lunch time, too early, for sure. We do not have the nerves to stand this terror for another 3 or 4 hours, just to hope to get a bit of nice snorkeling… We decide to set sail again and head north to Phuket.
Adventurous hiking in Nui Beach
With 2 hours fast beam reach sailing we speed up the 13 miles to the small Nui beach which is quiet apart from one tourist boat with 4 nervous jet skies that speed up and down past SHE SAN until it gets dark…
But normally the beach is calm. It is only populated from morning to evening with day tourists and the music in general is ok.
Already for walking though the private compound my mom and I have to pay 100 bath each, we do so anyway because we want to hike the hill.
And this one is a good exercise, the dirt road mounts steep and soon we have the first views over Kata and Karon towards the north.
A bit furhter on we find a viewpoint over Chalong and Rawai and even further another one overlooking Nai Harn.
It gives me a good impression about the amount of boats in the respective bays (far too many in Ao Chalong and not too many in Nai Harn) and I hope to persuade the rest of the family to skip Ao Chalong…
From here the little road goes down more and more steep, we cannot imagine how cars can drive here.
But is this really leading back to Nui Beach? Or do we have to climb via the rocks? In this moment we meet two barking dogs and a nice man who immediately calms them down. He wants to tell us something but unfortunately my Thai is non existent.
At least he seams to understand that we are looking for a path to Nui bay. He gives us signs to follow him and together with the two dogs we go down and down on the steep path. On a coconut tree he stops and signs if we want a coconut. Well, there I cannot say no, the coconut is the best hydration and also feeds at the same time (I still have some water, but forgot to take any food…)
Then he wants to show us something on the cliffs, first I think the path that we are looking for and my mom is not very excited at the idea of climbing the rocks…So I ask him again about the path we are looking for and he understands. At the coconut tree the track into the jungle starts and without him and his machete we wouldn’t have realistic chance. After a little while we cross over a bridge where he says goodbye. We continue with the two dogs who decide to stay with us. Then we can already hear the music of the beach resort, but where should we continue? One track ends at a fence with barbed wire, the other continues in the bush up the hill. We decide for the barbed wire and climb through the wire and some corrugated iron, only to end up in the mud behind the garbage dump of the compound. Great, but a few moments later we are back on the street.
The lady at the entrance welcomes us “Have you been up to the top? Wow, here, take a cold water!”. I am relieved and happy that my mom is so fit to do this kind of adventure ;-)!
The next morning I bring a bag with t-shirts, coffee and chocolate over to our farmer, but he’s not there, neither are his dogs. I hang the bag in the shade and hope he sees the bag before the chocolate is melted away…
Our men have in the meantime checked out what is going on at the beach and can tell us some funny stories of how the guests pose and where most of the silicone is built in.
Busy but tranquil Nai Harn
Longing for some internet and infrastructure we move around the corner to Nai Harn. There we anchor in the first row off the beach that seems to be well visited by locals and tourists, swimmers, paddle boarders and sun and sea lovers.
But we are happy, only very few jet skies find their way into the bay, so most of the noise is from the people at the beach or from the ventilation of the big Hotel On the Rocks.
With the scooter to the Big Buddha, Chalong and Rawai
As we don’t find any rental car we get two scooters for 250 bath (USD 8.-) per day each and check out the closer surroundings in southern Phuket.
Via the Kata and Karon viewpoint we head down into the busy Kata, on the big connection road over into the chaotic Chalong and up the hill all the way to the Big Buddha.
Already from far out at sea we were able to see the Big Buddha, now we also want to see him from close-by.
And indeed we are happy to have come. Parking, in and out is well organized, there is no entrance fee, the coconut ice cream is super delicious and cheap, we enjoy the view, learn again about Buddhism and that the Thai people also worship several figures from Hinduism.
On the way back we enjoy some seafood from the Rawai fish market and go shopping as much as we can carry on two scooters ;-).
Then the vacation is over, we deliver Heide and Pete to their taxi to the airport and big tears are running over everybody’s faces. One thing is certain, it will not take another two years until we see each other again.
A few hours later we meet again with my brother Alfred and his family. After almost having drowned a few years ago during a boat accident his wife Anna and his daughter Giorga are still sceptical against everything on the water, therefore we don’t think they will come out and visit SHE SAN.
We are more than happy to understand that they want to come and load everybody carefully into the dinghy (there is a little floating dock in Nai Harn, that helps a lot!!). The bay is calm, there is not much wind or waves, all goes well. Once on the boat Giorga even tries out the SUP and after a few minutes already paddles around standing up, a natural talent!!
After a relaxed afternoon on board Alfred invites us to join them in the best Italian restaurant in the area where we really get spoiled. Reto enjoys a real Italian pizza with raw ham and I have a real piece of meat! In addition a few tigers and a Panna Cotta dessert for Reto, wow, that’s a lot of European tastes all together!