March 13, 2012
Dear Friends and Family,
We cast off our Monkey Beach mooring early on a sunny morning and had a pleasant 22-mile sail to Ao Chalong, reaching along under reefed main and full headsail. Passing the floats of a little pearl farm as we entered Ao Chalong (ao means bay), we dropped the hook near the yacht Estrellita, whose hailing port is Dunedin, Florida. We had a rendezvous planned with her crew, Bill and Amy, friends of ours from Majuro, but they weren’t aboard now, so we decided to go ashore for a cold drink.
This part of the bay, away from the main anchorage, is pretty quiet, but we found a few little open-air pavilion-type restaurants on the beach. A cold beer and a spicy green papaya salad hit the spot before we returned to the boat. By evening, there was still no sign of Bill and Amy, so we opted to go back to the beach for dinner. However, the tide was out, and when we were still 50 yards from shore, the dinghy began scraping the reef. In the dark we were unable to see it, and the slack water offered no wavelets to mark its presence, but it was just inches below the surface, and it certainly made itself known when the oars clunked against it. Ken managed to maneuver Loose Change free from the clutches of the reef, and that was the end of our dinner plans!
The next morning we made contact with Bill on the VHF radio, and agreed to meet ashore later for lunch. We weighed anchor and motored in to the main Ao Chalong anchorage, where more than two dozen boats floated, with hailing ports from Guam, Liverpool, L.A., Papeete, Australia, of course, and a host of others. We dinghied to the pier and walked the short distance to the port offices, where Customs, Immigration, and Port Control are all conveniently housed in the same building. Having taken advantage of Phuket’s new on-line check in process, we breezed through the process and were officially cleared into Thailand. We made our way down the beach to the Phuket Cruising Yacht Club, and made arrangements with the friendly Aussie owner, Brent, for a mooring. PCYC is home to a rather rustic little beach bar, and it also offers a shower, a nice menu, assorted yachtie services (including water), a dinghy-landing beach, and a nice shady thatch-roofed porch where one can sit and gaze at the bay while relaxing with a coldie.
We took a stroll down the little jetty road to a canvas shop where we left our beloved big sun awning. It was in serious need of several significant repairs, and we hoped that the little Thai seamstress understood our English enough to handle our job. We ran a few more errands, but still hadn’t seen Bill and Amy, so we decided to go ahead and have lunch. The Anchor Inn’s tropical decor was cool and breezy, with lattice-work and a delicate stand of bamboo shading its open front, and it served up an incredible Thai green curry with prawns, and the best fresh fruit yoghurt shakes we’ve ever tasted.
Happily stuffed, we began our stroll homeward and were halfway down the block when we finally ran into Bill and Amy, and Amy’s dad, Dave. They were on their way to a little beach bar, and we joined them and spent a wonderful hour swapping stories and getting caught up on each others’ past adventures and future plans. Estrellita and her crew were headed south the following day, to Malaysia, Singapore, and eventually around South Africa, and we sincerely wished them a safe voyage. As we left the bar, Bill offered to tow us back to Sand Dollar, and we gratefully accepted, with the five of us riding in Estrellita’s big inflatable while Loose Change skipped along behind us on her painter. When we arrived at SD, we swapped some DVD’s and said our good-byes, then hauled up our anchor and moved to our mooring.
We went ashore daily during our time in Ao Chalong, eating, exploring, and running assorted errands. We took on a new crew member in the person of a three-horsepower outboard motor for our dinghy. No more will the skipper have to battle foul currents or long distances just to row himself and his crew ashore for a cold beer!
We got to know our way around Ao Chalong pretty quickly and found it to be a lively place, full of smiling people. Thailand itself is known for its smiles and for its rich culture. The Thai people embrace a philosophy of chai yen (cool heart) and sanuk (life is a pleasure!). Because of this attitude, Thais exhibit a lovely sense of serenity, courtesy, humor, and well-being. Buddhism is Thailand’s dominant faith, and there are dozens of magnificent glittering temples and Buddha shrines throughout the country. In addition, private homes, businesses, and even malls often have smaller temples or spirit houses at their entrances, usually seen with offerings of rice, fruit, or incense in front to honor and appease the spirits and deities. (At the Anchor Inn, irreverent mynah birds would occasionally help themselves to the rice offering!)
Ao Chalong’s streets are fairly representative of what we saw in other areas: lots of little open-front bars, souvenir shops, restaurants, craft stalls, street-side grills, tour operators, tailors (?), noodle shops, and salons offering massages and facials. We rented a motorbike one day and rode to Phuket town, the big city. Ken did a marvelous job of not getting us killed, and Katie did a good job of not getting us lost. We weren’t particularly impressed with Phuket town, but we had a nice lunch at a tiny local restaurant, where almost no English was spoken. (That nice lunch came back to haunt us 12 hours later when we both came down with food poisoning, our first ever episode in SE Asia. It was thankfully brief, although we did feel pretty washed out the following day.)
On our way home from Phuket, we took the turn-off for the road leading to the Big Buddha. Set on a hilltop and visible from almost half the island, the statue, dressed in tiles of Burmese alabaster, is over 100 feet tall. Most of the winding six-kilometer drive was through pretty jungle, with occasional glimpses of glittering Ao Chalong far below. We passed several juice stands and little restaurants, and two concessions where several elephants restlessly waved their trunks, all saddled up to take tourists for a ride. Finally we arrived at the big Buddha, and found that he is, indeed, a BIG Buddha. Shining brilliantly white in the glaring sun, he gazes serenely down at the dozens of tourists and the collection of souvenir shops at his feet, and at Ao Chalong in the distance, sparkling blue and dotted with boats. We climbed a short path to get beyond the crowded areas, and sipped the cool water from a fresh coconut while we admired the Buddha and his view from a quiet grove under a shady tree with little prayer bells tinkling musically in its branches.
After a week in Ao Chalong, we’d retrieved our awning, expertly repaired, and on a clear Tuesday morning we dropped our mooring and headed for Phuket’s west coast. As we rounded the southern tip of the big island and turned north, the pale jade green of Chalong Bay gave way to a dark clear sapphire blue as we entered the deeper waters of the Andaman Sea. Our target that day was Hat Kata (hat means beach), a short distance up the coast.
It looked pretty touristy, and the little handful of jet-skis zipping around (Ken calls them “water maggots”) prompted us to continue northward a little further. A little bay called “Relax Bay” sounded just right, and when we poked our nose in there, we found a small pretty little beach and a five star resort tucked among the trees. Seemed fine, except for a bit of a swell. We ate lunch on board, didn’t go ashore at all, and as the afternoon wore on, the swell increased from uncomfortable to miserable. At the rather late hour of 1745, we decided we’d had about enough of that, and we sure didn’t want to spend the night rolling around, so we weighed anchor and headed four miles further north to Patong Beach, arriving just at sunset. There was a swell there, too, but quite tolerable, and we were glad we’d moved.
Patong is the “sin city” of Phuket; bright lights, bars a-plenty, sexy good-time girls, a big mall, souvenir shops, a lively gay sector for the “lady boys”, as they’re called, restaurants and street vendors everywhere. One establishment, the Fisho Spa, www.fisho-spa-phuket.com offered the novel service of exfoliation by little doctor fish (garra rufa). Patrons sat by the sidewalk with their legs dangling in clear tanks of water, while little fish nibbled away at their legs and feet. It’s touted as painless, but it must tickle, as the patrons were all giggling.You can buy anything from a Starbuck’s coffee and a custom-tailored suit to a elegant dinner or a female “companion” for the evening. It is the prime tourist destination on Phuket island, much more so than Phuket town itself. The initial reason for its popularity was its lovely crescent white-sand beach, which is still beautiful, with pale green water in the pretty bay. However, the beach is now wall-to-wall umbrellas and lounge chairs for “all of those tourists covered in oil”, and jet skis and parasailers zip across the bay. It’s tacky but funky, a blend of Key West, Las Vegas, and Fort Lauderdale beach, and ought to be experienced at least once if one is in the neighborhood.
Well, we were in the neighborhood, so the next morning we went ashore to check it out. As full of people as the beach was, it was still a pretty sight, and a little walkway on the beach itself wound its shady way among the casuarina trees, passing juice stands, hair braiding/beading stalls, and lounges under the trees where massages were offered. We bought big Diet Cokes in McDonald’s, sitting in their A/C to cool off, and then ventured forth in search of lunch. We finally found, among the tourist joints, a little street-side grill with great prices, great food, and Thai iced coffee, which was almost indescribably delicious. Ken had fried ginger with chicken, corn, cashews, & spices; Katie had pad thai, which is thin noodles with tofu, egg, chicken, chilies, ground peanuts, and spices.
We wandered all day, bought a few things, and finished up with a beer at a beach bar. As we relaxed with our drinks, we were approached by a pleasant young Thai hawking sunglasses from a fanny pack. He politely pointed out the amazing features of his wares, gently placed them on our faces, and exclaimed over the flattering look they gave us, handing us a mirror so we could admire the effect. Although we politely declined, he offered us two pair for the bargain price of 3500 THB (about $115 USD). We wouldn’t bite, so he repeated his spiel and lowered the price to 3000 THB. Still no sale, so this went on for about 15 minutes, with the price getting lower and lower. This guy was nothing if not persistent! Finally, when the price had fallen to 100 THB (about $3.30 USD for two pair!), we took pity on the guy and bought the glasses. What a way to make a living! Looking like movie stars in our new purchases, we headed home.
We left the next day in overcast, and actually had some nice sailing for a while, but the overcast deteriorated to downright miserable, with occasional downpours, heavy dark clouds, and a stiff choppy sea. We aimed for Nai Yang Bay, where there is a national park, and saw four other yachts anchored as we sailed in. We got our anchor down just in time, as the skies opened in a white-out of a torrential rain. The heavy rain dampened the chop, but there was no help for the ugly swell that was plaguing us again. Ken got into the dinghy at a break in the rain to set a second anchor for security as we were on a lee shore, but first he had to bail out about eight gallons of rainwater. The swell was so bad that at times the dinghy, alongside SD, rode up so that her gunwale was ABOVE SD’s toe rail, when it’s supposed to be about two feet below the toe rail.
Anyway, we had a pretty wild night, but the next day was a big improvement, and each following day even better, as the annoying swell died off, the days turned hot and sunny, and were at last able to go ashore. Nai Yang is also a tourist beach area, but much smaller; no jet skis, no frenzied honky-tonk atmosphere, no high-rises. One little dirt road runs through the heart of the tiny beach community, and it’s got a charming tropical/rustic atmosphere. Little restaurants have their tables right on the sand, many in the shade of the towering causarinas, lush island palms, and pandanus trees. There’s a bunch of tiny bars, some souvenir stalls, and an ice cream shop. A little mini-mart sells fresh fruit, cold champagne, and imported cheeses. The national park, up at the north end, has just a couple of hawker stalls, and we bought lunch there our first day; grilled chicken and spicy green papaya salad. The chicken included a chicken foot, which Katie tried to eat because her chef nephew Johnny said she had to. However, it was too tough to even bite into, so we passed it to a timid, skinny little dog who’d been hanging nearby. He was still chewing on it when we left!
With no current and no jellyfish, swimming is a delight, and it’s a short row to the beach. We’ll hang out here for a spell, enjoying the tropical ambience and the incredible food!
Cheers! K and k
To see where we are and where we’ve been, click on the “Map” tab. We’ve posted some new pictures at the “Photos” tab. We can be reached at: SandDollar_N4KS@yahoo.com