Beaches of Thailand: December 15 2008
Mom and Dad arrived right on time into Phuket, just after midnight on the morning of Dec 4. It was a scene of hug filled hellos and smiling faces...after scheduling new flights in order to bypass the closed airport in Bangkok caused by government protestors. We piled all the bags into the covered truck bed of Goldie and whisked them off to the marina. Most of the luggage was filled with stuff for us...spare parts and favorite foods not available outside of the US. We chatted briefly but then tried to get some sleep before starting a slow day sightseeing and getting over jet lag. We drove along the West side of Phuket Island starting with the Seashell Museum and worked our way North along the white sandy beaches; Kata Beach, Karon Beach and finally Patong Beach. At Patong Beach we strolled the hawker stalls and settled into covered lounge chairs to watch the beach scene...including parasailing with sand take-off and landings. We were amazed as the parasailing customer was strapped in tightly but a parasailing "driver" gracefully nestled between the ropes in order to steer the parachute back to the exact spot from which it had taken off. Amazing! The King of Thailand's birthday is Dec 5 and a BIG holiday. There are posters and billboards of him everywhere with many Thais wearing shirts emblazoned with the symbol of the King. It is all very respectful for this 80 plus year old monarch. Unfortunately, he was ill and unable to make his customary Birthday Address to the country.
One more quick supermarket run and we were off to the islands (Dec 5). High tide was in the late afternoon so we spent the first night anchored off of Koh Rang Yai...just beyond the mangrove channel from the marina. A quiet spot all to ourselves after the speedy day-tourist boats left. We swam from the boat to shore for a bit of shelling before dinner aboard Barefeet. Steak and potatoes with Greek salad never tasted so good. Dec 6 we motored a short three hours to Koh Daeng Yai. The scenery did not disappoint. Sea mountains rocketed from an emerald green ocean with sheer limestone cliff faces peeking out from beneath jungle foliage. The frequent veil of fog provides a mystical feel. The Phang Nga Bay is shallow (often less than 30 feet) which makes anchoring almost anywhere an option. However, 20 knot wind was unseasonably from the Northeast which made us modify our evening anchorage a few times. Once anchored we hopped into the dinghy and made a wet and bumpy ride to Koh Phing Kan...better known as James Bond Island...from the movie, "Man With the Golden Gun." It is mobbed with tourists at mid-day but quiet in the morning and evening. From here we arranged a long-tail trip from Barefeet to the nearby Muslim water village, Koh Pan Yi. The village was built 180 years ago solely on stilts by seafaring families believed to have arrived from Java. Today it is home to 200 households or nearly 2000 people. Fishing is the primary industry but tourism is gaining momentum. We wandered the narrow passageways spotting all signs of daily life; clothes washing, bathing, cooking and schooling.
Dec 7 was another quick hop to Koh Chong Lat anchorage. This well protected place is nearly completely surrounded by sheer cliffs and a protected spot in all wind conditions. We were the only boat in the anchorage but many long-tails passed through during the commuting hours of morning and afternoon. Late in the afternoon, an enterprising fishing boat came alongside Barefeet. After a bit of language trouble (aided by a cell phone call to a fellow fisherman with better English and Thai than we could muster) we managed to buy a dozen prawns for US$6...clearly overpaying as the Thai lady tossed more and more prawns into our bucket, giggling the whole time. Oh well, they were a great appetizer and a real team effort. Erin be-headed them and removed their legs; Mom shelled them and Dad grilled them...while Chris prepared the pizza. Chris tentatively nibbled one prawn...and, surprisingly, even had a second! Wonders never cease...maybe he will be a seafood lover yet?! We left our isolated anchorage after kayaking and dinghying around the amazing rock formations dripping with stalagmites as if they were the roots to the island. Next we headed to the Ao Nang anchorage of Krabi and settled into a leisurely routine of swimming off the boat and heading ashore in the evening for dinner (Dec 9).
We tossed in a bit of sightseeing Dec 11 and visited the Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Seua). It is a 40 minute cab ride from shore and one of Thailand's most famous forest wat (temple-monastery). Built into various cliffs and caves are monastic cells and shrines to numerous Buddhas with monkeys scampering around the grounds. Erin, Chris and Dad summated the 1237 steps to the top of a 2100+ foot karst peak. Described as "a truly arduous climb" we were bedraggled and spent when we reached the top but happily rested in the shade and breeze before looking around at the enormous Buddha, Stupa and views out to the sea. Legs were jelly by the time we reached the bottom and foot and leg massages back on the beach were divine (www.goldenbeach-resort.com). It was 1.5 hours of bliss as La-La and colleague worked their magic. Unfortunately, it was not enough to re-vive Erin who melted while having after-dinner drinks at O'Malley's Pub...oh well, a short night ashore but sitting on the deck of Barefeet was fine as the full moon rose above the cliffs.
We really enjoyed our time in Krabi. It is a laid back beach town with souvenir sellers and cafes scattered along the sand. Long-tails zipped tourists from beach to beach...creating a daily buzz of activity in Ao Nang harbor in the morning and afternoon. Massages, manicures and pedicures can be had in any of the numerous shaded wooden platforms under the trees with views straight to the sea. Fruit shakes revived us in the heat of the afternoon...banana, watermelon, papaya and even the more familiar vanilla. Sunsets were beautiful nightly displays of color and brought cooler temperatures. Strings of lights in trees and along cafe patios glittered in the night. It was an easy lifestyle to adopt.
Our last night at Ao Nang was made extra festive with an idea from Mom and Dad...launch of a Thai Lantern. It is an interesting operation...light a flame below a lantern that then fills with hot air and becomes a hot air balloon...eventually floating up and out to sea as it glows orange until it is finally our of sight. We watched several lanterns launched from the shore and gave it a go ourselves from Barefeet (Dec 12). Unfortunately, we do not know the finer points and a quick flutter in air was followed by an immediate flop into the ocean. Drat! Oh well, we will try it again. And again we did try it at Koh Rang Yai (Dec 13). A bit more success with a longer hang time in the air but not the lovely disappearance into the sky we witnessed on the beach. Dec 14 we were again tied up at Royal Phuket Marina. Trash was dumped into bins, laundry sent out and a slow dinner at Skippers unfolded. Hey, they even had a Christmas Market set up in the evening...Erin and Mom were not done shopping yet...
A couple of more beach days and we have found our favorite beach (Dec 16). Nai Thon beach is on the West coast of Phuket located North of both Patong and Surin beaches. It has few enough people that we felt like we had discovered a secret hideaway. However, no amenities were missed...lounge chairs with umbrellas...and a full menu of food and drink delivered to the sand. This beach was visually different from Patong and Surin because it was bordered by pine trees. The trees added additional shade and a much needed breeze until the sun and surf were desired. Water was crystal clear and as warm as bath water. Afternoons reading on the sand were a welcome activity after busy mornings finalizing the last boat projects for Barefeet; replaced teak transom steps, repaired canvas & webbing and check-ups for both engines. It was pretty cozy with three engine guys working on engines and Mom and Dad packing...but all was accomplished without mishap. A farewell dinner at Skippers ended Mom and Dad's visit just as it had begun. Then it was off to the airport for a late night departure (actually early AM Dec 18).