Sailing Phuket to Langkawi

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In march this year we rejoined our friends on Gypsea Rover for a few weeks of cruising from Phuket Thailand to Langkawi Malaysia. Somewhere over the Timor Straits we flew over a rainbow, it seemed an omen. We arrived at midnight, grateful to be collected by Bryan and Sue in their tiny rental car. GR was berthed nearby at Phuket Yacht Haven. We both love Thailand and happily anticipated good company, great food and amazing scenery. All of it delivered!

Phuket Yacht Haven has recently redeveloped it’s on shore facilities and boasts luxurious  air conditioned showers, a great little café and cocktail bar with an extensive deck to admire the views of mega yachts against a backdrop of sparkling water. There are a few little local restaurants and one convenience store nearby.

The first day or two we spent provisioning, doing odd boat jobs and touring our favourite of Thailand’s islands.

We then headed out to the top end of Phang Na bay to explore the hongs. These are caves formed by erosion in the limestone karsts. They often are roofless, giving a view of sheer limestone walls, festooned with jungle growth and loaded with monkeys.

Our first Hong at Koh Phanack had a monkey sentry at its entrance. We lunched there then motored up to Koh Hong to anchor for the night. Sundowners in the cockpit were interrupted by the arrival of a longtail selling very fresh prawns.

Dawn the next morning was spectacular. The slow spread of golden light across the limestone karsts had me entranced. The first of many longtails began their fishing in the gentlest light. We dinghied up to the entrance to Koh Hong and snuck into the Hong at low tide. Once in the sun filled the inner Hong and lit up the walls.

Returning to GR we up anchored and sailed south for Koh Yao Yai. Dinner that night consisted of walking up to the local beach restaurant and selecting from a range of live seafood. The Mantis shrimp were great, and followed by Mango Roti for dessert. Andrew and I love Thai food, especially seafood so we felt we were in heaven. Coffee’s the next morning at the resort and a walk around their beautiful water gardens before heading back to the marina to await a local tradesman.

With two more days to fill we again hired the little rental car and set off picking up bits and pieces for the boat and provisioning. Whilst Bryan worked with the tradie Andrew Sue and I headed off across island to have lunch at Bang Tao Bay with Claire Macdonald and Steven Horrobin whom we hadn’t seen since our time in Indonesia in 2014. They have spent the last few months doing extensive upgrades to their lovely yacht Almacantar.

We motor-sailed down to Chalong Bay in order to clear customs the next day. Had dinner at Coconuts restaurant where we bumped into another Aussie couple, Noah and Jo, on Cetacean 2 who ( as is usual in the small world of sailing) knew our friends Gote and Rosalind from Veedon Fleece.

Clearing customs was easy, after one navigated the filthy rubbish piled dock to access the offices. The Thais and Malay’s do not seem to mind how long it takes  you to cross the border so we were under no pressure to sail any great distance. Instead we spent the next week or so leisurely island hopping our way out of Phang Na Bay and down the coast. Maya Bay was our first stop, and luckily we arrived just as all the day boats left. We picked up a mooring, then had a quick snorkel and settled in to watch the sunset.

The next day’s sail took us to Koh Lanta , where there are resorts everywhere but they are all low key. A very relaxing beach vibe around sunset, with lots of families out catching up. From Koh Lanta to Koh Muk was a mere 20 nm. Koh Muk is home to the Emerald Cave where we witnessed the funniest scene ever. A conga line of Chinese tourists, holding onto a thick rope were being led into the cave by a lone guide. Perhaps around fifty tourists, all dutifully wearing their life jackets and bravely singing songs to keep their spirits up ALL being towed by one small man! In half an hour all was quiet again. Sue swam into the cave as the tide was by then too high for the dinghy to enter. Having broken my ribs the night before we flew to Thailand I remained in the boat as I was unsure of being able to make my way back into the dinghy without pain. We dined that night watching a purple twilight from the clifftop restaurant. The restaurant ‘safety’ railings were a sight to behold! The next morning at dead low tide Bryan ferried us back to the cave. It was perhaps the most spectacular of all the Hongs we visited having a huge dry beach inside with towering jungle clad walls. We celebrated our wedding anniversary at Charlie Beach after cocktails at the Reggae Bar. Charlie Beach boasts a fab bakery with some of the best Brioche rolls we have ever eaten. Another short sail took us to Koh Rok Nai. Koh Rok Nai is uninhabited but has some fairly nice snorkelling with lots of Parrot fish, Moorish Idols and big schools of Batfish.

42 nm took us to the Butang group of Islands, and we finally got enough wind for a decent sail. We stayed overnight at Koh Lipe for two nights, the anchorage is off the back beach and its a short ten minute walk across the island to the main walking street. The food was fabulous and the area quite lively as its a backpacker and SCUBA diving haven. Good massages, night markets and the very, very best yellow curry of fish I have ever eaten.

From Koh Lipe it was a short sail to Langkawi in Malaysia. We cleared in at Telaga Harbour then anchored off the main tourist beach. On arrival at the beach the first person we spoke too told us not to leave our dinghy unguarded. When we eventually settled on a restaurant in the growing dusk , Bryan Sue and Andrew had to drag the dinghy up the beach to where we were. No mean feat in soft sand on an overcrowded beach. In all my travels through South East Asia over many years never have I encountered such a scene of decimation by tourism. There must have been at least forty jet skis whizzing about, cars all over the beach, noise and confusion everywhere. Dinner that night scored a zero out of ten, especially given that the wait staff happily took Bryan’s order for a banana split, then presented him with a bowl of fake whipped cream and a few glace cherries. Apparently they were out of banana’s but neglected to mention that when he ordered!

As the sky darkened we watched literally hundreds of squid boats coming out with their green lights on, totally surrounding GR. They fished all night and we could hear them murmuring and singing in the dark.

Off early to stay at Rebak Marina. Rebak is just a short ferry ride from Langkawi and another world away. The resort is managed by Taj Resorts and the food and service are superb. Marina guests have the keys to the resort and are offered significant discounts to eat at the resort. We enjoyed a stunning dinner there after swims and very well priced drinks by the beach. The Indian breakfast was amazing, I think I counted no less than ten different types of Indian bread, not counting the western food which was also on offer.

Our last few days were spent buzzing around Langkawi, visiting resorts and riding the cable car all the way up the mountain to view the island and it’s huge National Park from the very top. Reluctantly we said goodbye to Sue, Bryan and Gypsea Rover and checked into possibly the most desolate hotel near the airport. With a grand dining room which could easily seat five hundred, we were the only guests.

The usual arrival three hours before an international departure left us scratching our heads in wonder. At 0600 the airport was open, but the lights were off and it was in complete darkness and staffed by a lone kitten, presiding over the shrine. We eventually found two other travellers, who told us they had been there for an hour already. Alarmed by the lack of staff they had phoned the airport security only to be told “We are a small island….we don’t start work until seven am”. Ah the difference between Thailand and Malaysia….

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