Langkawi to Phuket, Thailand
Wed 21 Dec 2016 04:10
The plan was to check out of Malaysia on Monday 12th December but we should know ‘never make plans’! The protocol with yacht clearance is that you have to see the various departments in a set order – 1. Harbour Master 2. Customs 3. Immigration (just to confuse the issue this is different when you are clearing in). We dutifully looked for the Harbour Master and were told he would not be in until later. We walked to Customs and they were closed. Lastly we called on Immigration who were open but informed us it was a Public Holiday – we hadn’t factored that one in! So it was back to the boat to check which of the many National Holidays in Malaysia it was – should have known ‘Prophet Muhammuds Birthday – of course, silly us!!! There was no choice but to wait until Tuesday.
Tuesday, 13th December we repeated the same process and this time everybody was in and we got our Clearance Papers stamped and ready to leave.
There had been a recent cyclone in the Indian Ocean which had produced a very nasty large rolling swell but as we rounded the West point of Langkawi we had just enough wind to sail for half an hour! Then it was motor sail the rest of the way. The original plan had been to go to a group of Islands called the Butangs but the anchorages there faced the swell so we headed to KoTarutao Marine National Park and anchored behind a rocky island on the East side of the Island. We had tried to get a Pilot Guide to Thailand before we left but could find nothing so finding information about anchorages was pretty impossible – Syd used the electronic charts (still not to be relied on) and I consulted the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand which waxes lyrical about every dam piece of rock in Thailand!
Our first anchorage on KoTarutao was very well protected from swell and wind but the sea was murky and the Lonely Planet told me it had a grim past as between 1938 and 1948 more than 3000 Thai criminals and political prisoners were incarcerated there. During WWII food and medical supplies from the mainland were severely depleted and hundreds of prisoners died of malaria. The prisoners and guards mutinied taking to piracy in the nearby Strait of Malacca until they were suppressed by British troops in 1944. We left early next morning!
More motoring and we arrived early afternoon at Ko Phetra with it’s towering limestone cliffs and jagged rocks. There had been a strange haze in the sky all day with poor visibility which was a shame as we were now nearing some of the scenery which has been used in so many films.
The sea at Ko Phetra was emerald green and pretty clean but still not clear and had very strong currents running – where are all these amazing snorkelling spots – Lonely Planet said they were here????
Early start next morning and enough wind to sail, things were looking up. Wind was iffy so we motor sailed most of the way to our next stop Trang Islands – yet another of the Marine National Parks of Thailand (all of which have a separate fee for visiting). We anchored off beautiful Ko Kraden (claim to fame – the island made it into the Guiness Book of Records for hosting the largest recorded underwater wedding in the world!). The sea at Ko Kraden was a lot clearer though not as clean as you would have hoped. Coral was in a poor condition but there were plenty of small fish so it was definitely getting better. Then the Park Rangers arrived, demanding money. We told them (truthfully) that we had no Thai Baht and had not cleared in yet, so we offered them Malaysian Ringitt which they declined and left us in peace so we decided to stay the night.
Next morning it was off with the morning breeze (seems to be a regular pattern with a good land breeze up to 15 knots which blows from about 7.00am to 11.00am). We had a lovely fast sail the short distance to the next Island Ko Ngai. It was another snorkelling stop with pretty clear though not clean sea and pretty dead coral but quite a few fish. We had just got back to the boat when we had another visit from more Park Rangers. Same story (all true) but with slightly more difficulty as these ones looked a lot more officious and did not speak English. They seemed to get the gist and realised they were not going to get any Thai Baht so disappeared. We moved on to the large Island of Ko Lanta. We had planned to try to find an anchorage on the East coast but the sea was very dirty and we spotted several giant jellyfish lurking in the murky water. Without decent Charts and very basic information on anchorages it was becoming difficult finding safe places to stop. The Lonely Planet showed some nice beaches up the West Coast so we headed up that way and found a reasonably protected bay called Ao Kantiang which had several yachts and tripper boats anchored in it. Ao Kantiang had a beautiful beach and several large upmarket resorts tastefully tucked away in the hills, the best thing was the sea was clean so we swam.
Another early start for our 25 mile sail to Ko Phi Phi Don and we had wind so managed to sail most of the way. Ko Phi Phi Don is party island, made popular as being the inhabited island next to Phi Phi Leh setting for the cult film ‘The Beach’ based on Alex Garland’s book and starring Leonardo Di Caprio. Backpackers around the world flock to see the spot where Leo smoked a spliff then party through the night on Phi Phi Don. We tried to find an anchoring space on the harbour side but it was full of speedboats and tripper boats whizzing backwards and forwards to Phi Phi Leh and the nearby caves and snorkelling and dive spots. It was chaos so we motored round to the other side where we anchored in beautiful Ao Lo Dalam bay, the sea was clear and clean so we swam to a little beach nearby. Night time was a bit noisy but overall it was a good stop.
Early start and we had serious wind and in a good direction so we sailed away from Phi Phi Don, picked up speed with the 20 knot wind and managed the first half of the trip to Phuket at 7+ knots, the wind lessened but we managed to sail the whole way to the leading buoy into Ao Chalong Harbour South of Phuket City. We dropped anchor at Ao Yon a quiet bay next to the busy harbour and check in facilities at Ao Chalong. A celebratory bottle of vino was called for – we have made it to Phuket, Thailand.
Monday, 19th December we upped anchor and took Gaviota round to Ao Chalong to officially check in to Thailand.
Thailand has an amazingly efficient check in procedure (probably the most efficient, thorough and painless we have ever had). There is a one stop check-in building on the end of the pier at Ao Chalong. We arrived by dinghy and first stop was registration (this is an online process – all the boat information can be registered before arrival so you simply log in and check the registered boat in). Next stop the Harbour Master who needed copies of the boat registration, clearance from Malaysia and our passports. Then onto Immigration who needed more copies of our passports and boat registration plus a bit of form filling in. Then Customs and finally Quarantine and we were officially in Thailand. All this took place in a clean, air-conditioned building with polite, helpful staff and the whole process took less than an hour. Gaviota is allowed to remain in Thai waters for 6 months, we got Tourist Visas in advance from the Thai Embassy when we were in Penang, these allow us 60 days which we can extend to 90 days then we have to leave Thailand, so it will be decision time as to whether to leave Gaviota back in Malaysia where the rules are a lot less strict and yachts are welcome to stay for a year.
We needed provisioning and a local Sim Card for Internet so took a ride down the pier on a sort of cattle truck with open sides which operate as buses here then got ripped off with a taxi but he did take us to Tescos (they get everywhere!) where we managed to stock up with food for another week.
Now we are back anchored in Ao Yon and it is 5 days to Christmas Day – not sure what we will do for Christmas but there is a Hash on Christmas Eve so we may go round to the crazy tourist beach area of Patong and anchor off there or just head out to a quiet little bay on one of the hundreds of off lying islands here – decisions, decisions . . . . . . . Whatever we wish all our Blog readers a very HAPPY CHRISTMAS and NEW YEAR, here’s to lots of sailing in 2017.