September 09, 2013
Travelling around Asia, whether on land or sea is always an interesting experience. There is a saying in Thailand ‘Same Same but Different’ and it is very appropriate as we noticed when moving from one country to another.
Our journey began with a ferry trip from Langkawi, to Satun, Thailand. This is where Steve spent 10 weeks working on the boat. From there our first bus ride came complete with music videos playing non-stop all the way to Hat Yai. This is a common feature on buses over here. Leaving Satun, we saw many new car dealers with flashy showrooms, usually next door to poor housing areas. Often we saw very basic, or sometimes less than basic houses with new vehicles parked outside. Steve said when he was in Satun, people were living in garages with all their belongings around the walls and a new car parked in the middle. I noticed a large number of shops selling wedding dresses, and of course, all the usual little shops found along Asian roadsides. Between townships, rubber trees and palm oil plantations were in abundance.
Hat Yai, where we stopped for the night is a very large city. We asked a tuk tuk driver to take us to a clean hotel not too far from the railway station, and were happy with his choice. It was very clean, with all the usual hotel room things including air con and just under $40nzd. While out walking, we found the railway station was only five minutes away. It was not bad here, the streets were reasonably clean, the street stall vendors were not pushy at all so we could wander around without being hassled to buy things, and we found a good cheap local restaurant for our tea. It was here we paid a woman outside a temple, to release birds from a cage. I think they probably flew straight back in again as the cages had food in them.
The overnight train took us to Bangkok, which was big and busy. We got ripped off with our accommodation but apart from that we discovered that the easiest way to get around is river ferry, sky train and metro. Also taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks. We bought a day pass for the sky train, and spent the day getting off and on at different stops, including the Chatanak weekend market which was huge, and very crowded, but there was so much to see. While in Bangkok, using the metro, I got left behind at one station because the door closed just as Steve got on. Not a nice feeling, but he waited at the next station for me.
The next leg of our journey was a six hour train trip east to Aranyapraphet, a small town close to Poipet, the Thai/Cambodian border. Through the window we saw miles of rice fields stretching away into the distance. The train was a local one, with lots of stops along the way. At each stop people would get on and walk through the train selling food, often getting off at the next stop where another one would get on. This went on for the whole journey so no one needed to go hungry.
From the train, it was only a short tuk tuk ride to the border. The driver offered to take us to the visa office, but we said no thanks, because we knew it was a scam. I thought he was going to argue the point but he carried on. Once through the Thai checkpoint, we walked through the border town which looks like something out of the Wild West, with the dusty road, horse drawn carts, some man drawn carts, and a big casino of all things in the middle. We ended up paying an extra $4NZ for our Cambodian visa, cheaper than the bus load of tourists who were basically forced to pay $50usd when they were taken to the so called visa office, a couple of kilometres from the Thai checkpoint, and told they would have to walk to the border and wouldn’t get picked up on other side if they didn’t pay. The official price for a visa is $20US. Once through immigration we took a free shuttle to the bus station, along with a couple of Australians who had been on the bus and caught with the visa scam. They had decided not to get back on the bus, but find their own way to Siem Reap. Something seemed a bit strange about the bus station, with a man seeming overly keen to get us to go to Siem Reap by minivan. Peter, the Australian walked out into the main street and found a taxi, who would take us for $40NZD so we all went with him. It was a 2 hour drive to Siem Reap, with much of the landscape a sea of rice fields, broken up by small towns.
Angkor Wat was my main reason for travelling to Cambodia. We spent four days here exploring the temples, or as Steve puts it, I spent 4 days exploring the temples while he followed me around. Angkor Wat was amazing and I am so pleased we went there. It is 1 km square, surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall measuring 1300m x 1500m. It was all much bigger than I had imagined. Many of the carvings and inscriptions in the walls seemed to be in good condition considering the temple was constructed in the mid 12th century.
We hired a tuk tuk for the four days we spent looking around temples. Our driver’s name was Narith, and although he couldn’t come into the temples with us, he knew quite a lot about them. He picked me up at 4:30 one morning so I could get photos of the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Steve had a sleep in that morning. I was surprised to see how many other people were there doing the same thing. It was hard to find a good spot. I think some tourists just do this and then leave, saying they have seen Angkor Wat.
There are best times of day for seeing and photographing all the different temples. We didn’t manage to get to them all at these optimum times, but I didn’t mind. Ta Phrom was used in the movie ‘Tomb Raider’ and had huge tree roots growing through and over the stonework. They looked awesome.
The Bayon had huge faces carved into the stonework. Every time we came around a corner, another face could be seen. I’m sure you will all have seen photos or paintings of some of these faces. I won’t carry on describing all the temples because if you are not into this type of thing, you will be bored stiff. Steve seemed happy enough to follow me around them all, and spent time working out how different parts had been constructed. However, by then he wasn’t feeling the greatest, and coughing all night, every night.
After a temple free fifth day, we considered doing a loop, taking a boat to Battambang, then a bus to Phnom Penh, back to Siem Reap and flying home from there, mainly because I was concerned about Steve’s health, but he wanted to carry on and go up to Laos. Sorry I haven’t mentioned much about Siem Reap itself, but it was a nice place to spend some time. Quite laid back, with tourists getting around on foot as well as bikes.
We travelled by bus to Phnom Penh where we stayed a couple of days. We had booked one night at a hotel beside the river so we didn’t have to go looking for a room when we arrived. Along the riverside was a popular place for people to wander around, go walking or running and generally get some exercise in the cool of the evening or early mornings. A few blocks along from our hotel there was a night market. It wasn’t as good as many of the other markets we have seen.
Walking through one of the local markets the following day; we walked through a section of meat. It was covered in flies and the smell was awful. It was here we saw a woman ripping frogs to bits. I didn’t realise until then that they ate frogs. It certainly didn’t make me feel hungry. Steve did try eating crickets at one of our stops but didn’t seem overly impressed.
While in Phnom Penh we saw a passenger boat on the river, and discovered it was going to Vietnam. That sounded like a good idea, so we went to check out the visa situation. We would have to get one in Phnom Penh before we left, and it was going to cost $78US each compared to $35US for Laos. We felt we were being overcharged, and went back to plan A, a bus from Phnom Penh to Pakse in southern Laos. Before leaving Phnom Penh we went to a pharmacy and Steve bought some antibiotics. You can buy anything in Cambodia.
The Cambodian currency is called Riel and 4000r is worth $1usd. They use the USD more than the local currency and the ATM’s dish out US notes. The local currency is really only used for small purchases such as in the markets and food stalls. It seemed a little strange to us, and we were forever trying to convert local prices to US then NZD.
As we moved further north, the rice fields gave way to farmland, and trees. We saw little houses in the middle of nowhere, with wide eyed children standing on the doorsteps waving as we passed by. The further north we went, the more deteriorated the roads became, with huge potholes and broken up road. They hadn’t been too wonderful down south either.
It was about 2 hours from the border when we got confirmation of the border scams we had heard about. A man came around the bus with Laos immigration forms for us to fill out. He told us they would get us cleared out of Cambodia and into Laos and it would only cost $5US plus the price of the visa. We had read about this and thought it would be $1 or $2 extra. Although we thought $5 was a bit steep, we didn’t argue, just paid up, along with most of the other passengers. Speaking to an American couple later, they had argued and said they wanted to go into the office and do it themselves, but were told that if they did, the bus wouldn’t wait and they would be left there. As there was nothing there except for the immigration offices they would have been stranded in the middle of nowhere.
It was nearly dark when we got through the border with our passports stamped courtesy of the so kind bus crew. The roads on this side of the border were noticeably better than the ones we had left behind, and we arrived in Pakse about 8pm. It didn’t take long to find a hotel and we slept like logs. It had been a very long day.
We had another day in Pakse so went into town for a look around. Steve had one of the nicest coffees he has tasted and after checking out the place we started walking back along the river. We found a nice local restaurant looking over the water, and asked for the menu. We both burst out laughing when we saw it, because it was all in Lao, and we couldn’t understand a word. The young boy who had given it to us came back and took us into the kitchen. A girl was cooking something in a pan that looked and smelled really nice so we nodded and signalled 2 please. It was very nice.
Next day saw another bus trip, this time to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. When we first saw the bus pull up we thought the driver may be a bit of a hoon. However I don’t think he went over 50K the whole way. Considering he drove the entire 677k himself, it was a wonder he managed to stay awake. We are not sure what he drank along the way to keep himself awake. With 2 motorbikes and a huge load of cabbages on the roof, along with every sort of freight crammed into the luggage compartments, the bus was well loaded up. At one stop a woman got on and she seemed to have all her household possessions with her. It took the driver and his sidekick quite a while to get it all stowed away. There were many stops along the way to load and unload people and freight.
There were short stops at little places, and longer stops at major bus stations. I guess the driver managed to get a break at the same time. At each stop ladies would rush onto the bus selling food. They had grilled chickens, rice concoctions, bags of fresh fruit, and many things we did not recognise. We even bought some doughnuts from one lady. The cooked eggs on sticks didn’t appeal to me. I think that instead of boiling them, they bbq them.
With longer stops we got off and bought fresh fruit. Mangostens are my favourite asian fruit. They are so sweet. It was interesting watching people get on and off the bus. Some seemed to get off in the middle of nowhere and I wondered where they were going. As in Cambodia, many houses were built on stilts because of flooding in the rainy season.
It took Steve awhile to work out that we weren’t going to arrive in Vientiane at 4pm but actually at 4am the following morning. I had a feeling that this was the case and had suggested when we were booking that we stop half way and continue the journey the following day. However, we did manage to get some sleep along the way, and we actually arrived at 2am. Luckily we had booked a room for the night, so didn’t have to go searching for accommodation.
Looking at maps of Laos next morning, we decided we would go to Luang Prabang the following day for 2-3 days then return to Vientiane for a good look around and fly home from there. Steve was feeling much better by then, possibly because I had threatened to take him to the doctor if he wasn’t feeling better when we arrived in Vientiane. In Vientiane we went by tuk tuk to the riverside area and had a wander around. It was a very hot day. We stopped at a French café for lunch. One of the good things about Laos and Cambodia is the French baking. They make the most wonderful croissants and pastries and bread. Not so good for the diet but yummy. It got so hot during the middle of the day, we returned to the hotel so Steve could have a sleep and we went out again early evening for a walk. So we didn’t really see a lot of the city before we left for Luang Prabang.
The tuk tuk arrived at 7am as promised to take us to the bus station. There were 4 Japanese boys going the same way. Two of them could speak reasonable English. We were travelling on a VIP bus this time, one step up from the local bus so we expected a good trip. It seemed to be going extremely slowly for the first half hour while we drove through flat land and started to get up into low hilly land. It wasn’t long and we were pulling into a small market area, where everyone got off to purchase food and the driver spent a quite some time under the bus. Carrying on through many villages, past a lake then winding our way through foothills and up into the mountains, the scenery was beautiful, very green, with high hills and deep valleys.
The road was very good. Houses were built up to the road verge while the back of the houses seemed to hang over the edge of steep valleys. Lots of little children played in the dirt right beside the road. I wonder if many get run over, as there are quite a few buses coming and going. There were lots of one way bridges. In some ways it reminded me of the road to Karamea in NZ. Small food stalls were set up seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A food stop later in the day for a sit down meal, included in the bus fare, made the day longer again. Every now and again we heard noises coming from the luggage compartment and it turned out to be ducks.
Another breakdown further along the road took our arrival time out to 11pm. We should have been there at 5pm. We hadn’t booked accommodation and asked a tuk tuk driver to take us somewhere suitable. He dropped us off at one of the most expensive guest houses in town. They wanted $100US for the night. We said no thanks and asked for other options, then proceeded to walk the wrong way. Luckily another tuk tuk came along and this one took us to a much cheaper area, woke the proprietor for us, and we got a perfectly adequate room, a bit older but very clean, and all the facilities for $15NZD.
Luang Prabang is lovely. It has a wonderful relaxed feel about it. Lonely Planet describes it very well when they say “it is thoroughly pervaded by a heady intangible charm”.
On our first day we had breakfast at a tiny riverside restaurant. They didn’t have western breakfast except for bread (1 menu item) and butter and jam (1 menu item). So I ordered them both and got a huge baguette, warmed, with butter and jam in the little plastic containers you find in hotels. We had to laugh because they cost more than the bread. After breakfast we carried on walking around town, through a market looking at all the fruit and vegetables. I didn’t like looking at the meat because it always has flies buzzing around it. We noticed travel agents were advertising boat trips up the Mekong River and decided to find out more.
Returning to our guesthouse later in the day, the family were sitting outside preparing food, children as well. They squatted on the ground, peeling and cutting vegetables, a nice scene. Later we went out again and found the night market. There was some really nice stuff, but I had to content myself with just looking. I was surprised to see a monk taking photos with an Iphone.
In the food market we found extremely cheap food and it was beautiful. For $1.50 NZD you could fill a plate from a selection of about 20 dishes and for $3 NZD Steve bought a whole cooked fish. This was a good sized fish and the flavours were amazing.
Next day we ate breakfast at a different river restaurant before walking to a small temple, Wat Xieng Thong. reputed to be the most beautiful temple in Laos. Carrying on, we found a travel agency and booked boat tickets. Of course, this meant we would not be going back to Vientiane and we hadn’t seen very much of it. But plans are made to be changed, so be it.
We were going to visit the museum on the second day but found it was closed. This was a shame as it would have been interesting to find out more of the history. Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos at one time. We then spent rest of day walking around town looking at areas we hadn’t already been to. Walking around by the Nam Khan river which flows into the Mekong, we watched long boats racing. These are like very long canoes which carry up to 50 paddlers. They are very impressive to watch and this is a very popular sport in Laos. Probably similar to dragon boat racing but I think the boats are a bit different. We had to return to the food market for tea and had another delicious array of food.
Our pick up for the boat was a little late but we arrived at the departure point with plenty of time to spare. We were told that we were the first tourists to arrive so we could pick the best seats, but as we discovered, we were the only tourists, and the rest were locals. J The boat left on time at 8:30am and the scenery along the way was lovely, with green green hills and jungle clad mountains, and little villages hidden away behind trees above the riverbank. There were many rocky little islets in the river causing swirling eddies and choppy waters. Quite often we could go around the rough bits, but sometimes there was no choice and we had to go straight through. Mostly the boat stayed close to the bank away from the strongest currents and crossed from one side to the other to avoid rough water, or just to save time by cutting corners. The boat stopped at little villages to let people off and on. Often there were no jetties to pull up to, so they just drove up onto sand bars, and then used poles to get off. On one occasion the boy lost his grip on the pole and left it sticking up in the sand. The captain, who I think was his father, made him swim for it, to the amusement of everyone on board.
One of the travellers was training to be an English teacher and spent some time talking with us. He was very interesting to talk to. There was a lady doing some very intricate embroidery for nearly all of the time she was aboard. I had a close look and was amazed how detailed it was. I would have taken a photo but she didn’t seem overly friendly so I decided against it. There were quite a few white sandy beaches along the riverside providing a vivid contrast against the brown water.
We reached Pakbeng about 5:30. where we had to spend the night. This was a one street town filled with guesthouses and restaurants. We got hijacked when we went to get off the boat. I was just going to pick up my pack when a guy grabbed it, saying he would carry it for me. He gave me his hand to help me off the boat while at the same time three little kids grabbed my other hand, making it nearly impossible for me to do anything. I never took my eyes off the man, as my pack had our passports in it. We got up on the road and another man said “You come to my guesthouse, it is very good.” Steve was busy saying goodbye to the English teacher and I called him to come over. He told the man we would look at guesthouse and if it was nice we would stay there. By this time I was on the back of the truck with the other man, making sure he didn’t go anywhere else with my pack. Steve joined me on the truck and we were off.
A five minute drive the man said, we could have walked there in 5 minutes. The room turned out to be very nice indeed, and at $9 NZD we probably would have taken it even if it hadn’t been quite so nice. I noticed that the other guy was still hanging around, and told Steve that he probably wanted a tip for carrying my pack. I was right. When Steve pulled some money out of his pocket, he reached over and picked out three notes, before disappearing. We worked out he took about $1NZD. We went for a walk up the one street in town and found an ATM. As we were walking back down we met a couple of dutch tourists. We banged into them again when we were going into a restaurant for tea, so we invited them to join us. It was a pleasant evening swapping travel stories.
We had been told the boat would leave at 7:30am the following morning, and checking in at 7am. One of the locals told us it wouldn’t leave until 8:30am. We decided to go down at 7:00 to check, as we didn’t want to miss it. The locals were right which meant we had plenty of time to get breakfast and find some food to take for lunch. The boat had been nearly full the first day but only had about a dozen passengers on the second. One of these was a Kiwi travelling with his Sri Lankan partner. The others were locals. We passed quite a few boats heading downstream. Many people do the trip from the other direction, coming in from Thailand and travelling down to Luang Prabang. Again we had several stops where people got on or off. At one stop, a very old lady got on and spent the trip lying on seats down the back. There were 4 children travelling together. Two girls, who I thought were teenagers and 2 boys, one older and the other 10yrs old. They could not speak English but I had a phrase book and tried to communicate. I found the numbers and underlining number 10, I looked at the boy. They nodded and smiled. The girl I was trying to talk to looked about 15 or 16, but when I underlined these numbers, she laughed and pointed to 21. Amazing. Although they seemed shy when I tried to talk to them, they would come and look over my shoulder when I was looking at a book or photos on my camera. Later in the day Steve gave them some of our food. I had been concerned because they didn’t seem to have any food with them.
We arrived at Huang Xai on the Lao/Thai border about 5:30. Ian, the kiwi and his partner Nadisha already had a guesthouse in mind, so we tagged along with them and got a room in the same place. After settling in we all went out for tea together. The following morning I was awake in time to watch the monks procession from the balcony. We bumped into Ian and Nadisha again when checking out of Laos, and we crossed the river to Chiang Khong, Thailand in the same small boat. There were no problems with Thai immigration and it wasn’t long before we were all in a tuk tuk on the way to the bus station. We were going to Chiang Mai and they were going to Chiang Rai.
The trip to Chiang Mai took about 5-6 hours. We spent three full days here, the first one pretty quiet, with short walks, the second day walking further afield and going to the night market. We found lots of second hand book shops which I liked a lot. I bought a book and read it before we left. It did seem strange to find so many English books in a town in Thailand. On our last day we acted like real tourists, and went on a guided tour to the Longneck or Karen Village, the Chengdu Cave and another village. We decided against riding elephants. We liked the sound of a jungle trek in Laos where you get to sleep in a tree house, and watch wild elephants come to the water hole for drinks. However, I wasn’t so keen when I read that they have huge spiders and rats running around the tree house. Anyway it was the idea of watching animals doing things naturally that I liked, rather than what they have been trained to do. Chiang Mai was much bigger than I realised. I think I expected it to be a Thai version of Luang Prabang.
While our plan had been to take the train to Bangkok and fly back from there, we decided to fly out of Chiang Mai instead. We were ready for some time at home.
We had a wonderful time meeting new people and seeing new places. While I would have been just as happy if we had stuck to our original plan and just looked at Cambodia, I feel Laos was a delightful bonus and Chiang Mai was an extra we never planned. The weather was kind to us and even though it is the rainy season, we didn’t see too much rain. Although we chose slow buses, trains and boats as our mode of travel, we are very happy with travelling that way. Travelling with locals gives you a really good look at their way of life. The ones who can speak a little English like talking and are happy to give information when they can. You also see more of the countryside and you can see what people are doing in the fields or in their backyards, when things are not whizzing past a great speeds.
It does get a bit confusing though trying to remember the different currencies and languages. In Thailand, hello is ‘Sawadee’ while in Laos it is Sabaidee. Thank you in Laos was ‘Kop Jai’ while in Thailand it is Kop Kuhn (Cah) or (krap) depending on your gender. Hello in Cambodia is ‘Suesday’ and ‘Or Kun’ is thank you. While we don’t know many words in these languages, the locals seem to appreciate it if you make an effort to use any local words, and they are happy to tell you the right word if you ask.
We are not sure what our next land trip will be or when it will be, but I’m sure we will find more great places to visit.
We are back on the boat now, and the weather is real rainy season weather, raining every day and sometimes forgetting to stop; but it is cooling the air down, and it is a pleasant 29deg much of the time.
August 04, 2013
After 4 months, we are back on board Recluse in Rebak Marina, Langkawi Island, Malaysia. Steve took Recluse over to Satun, Thailand to get much needed work completed and the whole boat repainted. He was there nearly 3 months, and got an amazing amount of work completed.
He found it an unforgettable experience, and wishes he had spent more time and done more. He would go back again, but felt he was privileged being able to leave when he wanted to, unlike many of the poor people there, where a dusty boatyard was their existence.
I was surprised when I returned from New Zealand to discover that the new paint colour was very creamy. I had been told it was off white. In some lights it looks quite yellow, and I am still undecided whether I like it or not. The other surprise was a boat full of grime. The whole boat needed turning inside out and thoroughly washed. Have made a lot of progress in this regard but still more to do.
Once the worst of the cleaning is done, we are going to leave Recluse here and go for a look around Cambodia, for maybe 2-3 weeks, we will just see how it goes.
April 03, 2013
The wind was non existent for our last couple of days, and we had to motor to Koh Lipe and then to Telaga Harbour on Langkawi Island, Malaysia. It is a nice anchorage outside the marina, and we stayed a couple of days before moving around to Rebak Marina.
Langkawi had an airshow on at this time, with a large number of jet fighters, helicopters and other aircraft flying over. A rather noisy time.
Steve made a trip to Satun in Thailand one day, travelling by ferries and taxis, to check out a boat yard. Recluse needs a little bit of work and a repaint. He thought it met all the requirements and booked in for early May, when he returns from NZ. I will stay in NZ a bit longer until most of the work is completed.
I probably won’t put much more on here until the work on Recluse is complete.
March 20, 2013
Island hopping around Phang Nga Bay, to the east of Phuket, kept us occupied for nearly two weeks. Along with ‘Island Sonata’ and ‘Dol Selene.’
At Koh Rang Yai, we enjoyed a touch of paradise, sitting under large shady trees, on white sand, taking dips in lovely clear water to cool off as needed. A track around the island enabled us to stretch our legs, and most days we ate lunch at the little restaurant on the beach.
After three days, we finally managed to drag ourselves away from this lovely anchorage and sailed across to Koh Dam Khwan. Steve was fascinated with the huge rock overhangs, where people were climbing as far as they could before jumping into the water. He insisted on trying it the next morning before all the tourists got there, and climbed the two easiest ones, but wasn’t so keen on jumping into the water, so climbed back down again.
From there, it was only 2 miles to Rai Lei Beach, on mainland Thailand. Talk about busy anchorages, the number of tourist boats coming and going was astounding. Longboats, ferries and jet boats came and went. Every morning the local longboats were out netting the large jellyfish that were prevalent in the bay. Presumably this was to stop them washing up on the beaches, where all the tourists swam. We did hear that they exported them, but didn’t get it confirmed.
On the little beach next door, longboats lined up along the shore, set up as food stalls. Beyond them all the speed boats with their huge outboard motors, and at the end of the beach was a large cave with a shrine and interesting carvings. Check out the photo.
The whole area has huge cliffs which are very popular with rock climbers from all over the world. Steve paid to spend an enjoyable morning climbing a not too high cliff face. One evening there were two base jumps off the cliff beside the restaurant where we were eating. It happened so fast I didn’t see anything, but heard the whoosh of the parachutes as they came past before landing along the beach.
Moving the yachts a couple of miles to Ao Nang, we checked out the town of Krabi. Steve, Ruth and I had a look at a Buddhist temple. It was one of the most beautiful temples I have seen so far, with wonderful paintings around the walls, and not quite so gaudy as others tend to be. We also checked out Krabi Boat Lagoon Marina. Seems a good place to leave your boat.
Most of the islands we visited had hongs, which you could enter through caves or openings in the cliffs, such as Koh Hong (Krabi), Koh Roi, Koh Hong (Phang Nga) and Koh Panak. My pick of all the ones we have seen so far are Koh Hong (Phang Nga) and the EmeraldCave on Koh Muk.
Koh Ping Li, our next stop, was very interesting. This Muslim village, or as some people call it, the sea gypsy village, was built on stilts over the water. The inhabitants supplement their fishing income with tourism dollars. Boat loads of tourists come in each day to eat at the restaurants, which are extremely expensive. The little food shops in the village are much cheaper and the food really good. We found the school, and looked in the window while children were taking art lessons. A real novelty to us was the floating sports platform. Not sure who collects any balls that are kicked into the water. A lady sat nursing a monkey, and charged $2 for people to have their photo taken with it.
Other stops were Koh Yang, next to James Bond Island, and Koh Wa Yai.
Back at Phuket, a visit to the Chalong Buddhist Temple, was our first real bit of sightseeing on Phuket. This was followed by a trip up to the Big Buddha, a huge statue on top of a hill. The Buddha is not complete yet but it is a very impressive sight. The plans for the finished Buddha and his surroundings are very ambitious, and it would be great to go back one day and see it complete.
Our last days with Island Sonata were spent at Nai Harn before they left to go north. Dol Selene had left a few days earlier to have their boat taken out of the water, and we began to make our way back to Langkawi, Malaysia.
We were lucky to find a free mooring at MayaBay on Phi Phi Le. This is where the movie “The Beach’ was filmed, and gets very busy with tourists coming and going. It was a lovely sheltered spot and we enjoyed the afternoon and night there, more so once all the tourist boats had left.
Sailing down to Koh Muk, we did a detour around Ko Ha Yai, picking up a mooring by the dive boats, while we had lunch, and Steve had a quick snorkel. It was not very comfortable there and I was happy to carry on across to Koh Muk.
Koh Lipe will be our last stop before arriving back in Langkawi, where we will spend a few days, getting the boat and ourselves sorted, before flying back to NZ next month to meet Steve’s new grandchild. Very exciting.
February 17, 2013
After a lovely break in New Zealand with family and friends, we flew back to Malaysia on January 23rd. An overnight stay in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown was most welcome after the long trip from NZ via Sydney. With a few spare hours the following day, we wandered around Chinatown, looking at all the brightly coloured stalls and drooling over the food. From there we caught the free bus which did a circuit into the middle of KL and back. This was a good way to see the city and a lot of fun, as we were able to get off and on as we pleased.
We went looking for the airport bus about mid afternoon, as it takes about an hour or longer to get to the airport by bus from the city. The hour long flight to Langkawi, allowed us to enjoy a spectacular MalaccaStrait sunset, over and under the clouds. We arrived just in time to catch the ferry to Rebak Island, where Recluse was waiting for us. It was nice to be back on board again. Two days later we left Rebak to sail to Kuah, the main town on Langkawi. With a head wind and the tide against us, we were making very little headway so decided to head down to Pulau Bunting instead. In the lovely sheltered little anchorage, Steve managed to dive down and scrape the barnacles off the prop. It had collected quite a few while it was sitting in the marina.
The trip to Kuah next day was much more comfortable. That evening we went for a walk to get our bearings, and work out where to find the supermarket and customs building. We were happy to discover that a night market would be held in town the next night. It was only ten minute walk and we had a lovely time trying a variety of local foods. With many stalls, all offering different foods, we wandered along trying little bits from each one, not always knowing exactly what we were trying. If it seemed a bit dubious to me, I just made Steve eat it. Apart from that, our time was spent grocery shopping, and taking a trip to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables. Then it was just a matter of visiting customs and immigration to clear out of Malaysia.
The following morning we filled up with diesel at the fuel barge in the bay, and sailed to Telaga Harbour. We were ready for departure the following day, along with Ruth and Kelvin on ‘Island Sonata’, an Australian boat.
We were up bright and early for the first leg of our trip to Phuket. As we sailed away from Langkawi, I was watching the chart plotter, and as we crossed the dotted line on the chart, showing the Malay/Thai border, we celebrated our arrival in Thailand with a chocolate bar.
Koh (Thai for Island) Tarutoa was our first stop over. This is a big bush clad island, most of which is National Park. We picked up one of the free moorings. Going ashore for a walk along the beach, we discovered a camping ground along the beach front, with many tents, hammocks strung between trees. Some people were in swimming, others lying on the sand, and some actually running along the beach. It looks a good spot for those who want a simple holiday away from crowds, but with the nice beach location.
Next day we sailed to Phetra, anchoring under a huge limestone cliff. While it was a nice spot we didn’t see anywhere to go ashore and only stayed one night.
From there, we sailed to Koh Muk, anchoring near the “Emerald Cave”. This is the main tourist attraction on the island. It is accessed by swimming about 80 metres, through a cave, in the dark, (with a torch). It comes out into a lovely little cove, completely enclosed by high cliffs. It is called a ‘hong’ which is Thai for room or house. I wasn’t too sure about going in but was very pleased I did it.
After our cave excursion, we moved Recluse down to the Koh Muk South anchorage. Here, we found a nice beach with a couple of little resorts, and of course a nice restaurant. We all agreed that the island deserved more than a one night stay, and next morning we walked across to the east side of the island. Along the way we passed several small resorts, some restaurants, and some small shops on the roadside. At one point we saw a marker showing the height of the 2004 tsunami. Another interesting thing we noticed was a woman processing rubber. This was a fascinating process. We had passed some sheets of rubber hanging on lines earlier and wondered what they were. Eventually we came to a long jetty. We walked back a short way to a small restaurant for lunch then had a very hot walk back as it was the middle of the day.
From Koh Muk we sailed to Koh Lanta, anchoring in Hat Kantiang Bay. It was here that we met ‘Keris’, another Australian boat. They had arranged to rendezvous with ‘Island Sonata’ so they could transfer Snoopy the cat. Ruth & Kelvin on “Island Sonata’ are to look after the cat for a few weeks. After 2 nights here it was decided that a motorbike tour of the island would be a good idea. I was not so sure, but shared a bike with Steve, while the others took a bike each. It turned out to be a really good idea. We rode up the West Coast, passing small resorts and restaurants dotted along the coast. The further north we went, the busier it became. By the time we reached the top of the island, we couldn’t see the beach at all. Then we made our way across to the East Coast, and went down to Old Lanta Town, where we stopped for lunch. As the road doesn’t go all the way around the island, we then had to backtrack a short distance to take a road across the centre. Finding a market along the way, we stopped for a look, buying only a little fresh fruit, as we didn’t have much room for carrying stuff.
Back on the west we travelled down past our anchorage to visit a waterfall. As we turned into the road leading to the waterfall, we watched two elephants returning from a waterfall trek. We took the bikes as far as we could and walked the 2k to the falls. The waterfall may look good in the wet season, but we found only a trickle. Steve stood under it and had a shower, but I settled for sitting in the shallow water to cool off. It was lovely and cool.
Next day we left for Phi Phi Don. This island is a very famous tourist attraction in Thailand. Ton Sai Bay is a very busy place during the day. When we arrived, there were tourist boats speeding in and out all over the place. Thinking that we could put up with a bit of discomfort for one night we went in to look for an anchoring spot, but gave up, and went to an anchorage in the north west of the island. We have since learnt that if you want to stay in places like that, you need to arrive early before all the tourist boats, or later in the afternoon when they have finished for the day.
From Phi Phi Don we went across to Koh Racha Yai. This was quite touristy as well but not as bad as Ton Sai Bay. The beach had lovely white sand and clear water. By 4pm all the tourist boats had returned to Phuket, and there were only a few yachts in the bay.
During the day we had a call on the VHF from Gail and Brian on ‘Dol Selene’. They were in Nai Harn Bay on Phuket Island, so we sailed across the next day to see them. It was good to catch up with Gail and Brian, and they had lots of information about Phuket to pass on.
As Nai Harn Bay was so nice and sheltered, we decided to stay there, and take a taxi over to Ao Chalong to do our inwards customs clearance. Sharing a taxi with Kelvin and Ruth we drove over the next morning. The office was supposed to open at 9am and there were a couple of people waiting outside. By 10.30 when it actually opened, there was quite a few more waiting. Although there was a lot of paperwork to complete, it all went smoothly. From there we walked along the street to a restaurant Kelvin recommended, and had an early lunch before walking to a shopping area with a supermarket.
Watching tourists at the different beaches along the way, we worked out the new arrivals were those with very white skin. Day two people were sunburnt, while day 3 people were either trying to keep their sunburn covered, or working on the theory that an extra dose of sunburn would help the first lot.
From Nai Harn Bay we sailed to Patong Bay. This is probably the most touristy place in Phuket, but we were told we needed to see it. The long beach was almost covered with beach umbrellas, with hardly room for all the nearly bare, sunburnt bodies. The majority of the tourists are apparently Russian. I have never seen so many sunburnt people. It seems they have never heard of sun block, or covering up before you look like a lobster. Along the top of the beach were lots of little stalls offering massages, food or clothing and beach products.
Walking through the town to find the AIS shop to get our internet and phone sorted, we were continually offered DVDs, watches, massages, food, clothes and other stuff at very good price. We just smiled and said No thank you. Walking down Bangla Street, we were blown away by the sheer number of bars, all small and side by side.
The following night we went ashore with Ruth and Kelvin. After a very nice meal, we went for a wander around town and along Bangla Street. We had found the place very busy during the daytime, but the night was something else. The whole place seemed to have come alive, full of noise and colour. It was something you could just sit and watch and be continually entertained, while you soaked up the atmosphere. All the bars seemed busy with music blaring out. The road had been blocked off so the street was a sea of people, many like us, wandering about and looking around in amazement. We had a thankfully brief look at the seedier side of the place before heading home. On our way home, Steve and Kelvin treated themselves to some barbequed pork. Steve had smelt it cooking and couldn’t resist. I contented myself with a pineapple shake. I am addicted to pineapple drinks.
Deciding that 2 days amidst thousands of tourists was more than enough; we left next morning and sailed around to the Panwa Bali anchorage in Ao Chalong. This is a lovely spot, with very few tourists. The little beach restaurant has great food at very cheap prices. Stuart and Sheila from ‘Imagine’ came down from Boat Harbour Marina, and drove us to the supermarket in their rental car. We are lucky to have such lovely people as friends.
We are planning to spend the next few weeks exploring the small islands in PhangNgaBay along with Island Sonata and Dol Selene.
Sailing up from Malaysia to Phuket we were amazed by the huge number of islands. Many of the smaller islands are just huge rocks rising out of the sea, with sheer limestone cliffs and lots of caves. Sometimes they have a little vegetation on top. Others are similar, but with little beaches. It is lovely to have clean clear water, which makes swimming very inviting. We have found the Thai people very friendly and helpful though the language is not easy to learn. We can say hello (sawadee) and thank you (korp kun kah). It is going to take a while. They have a lovely saying, ‘same same but different’. When we asked a salesman if one phone provider was better than another he said “Same Same”.
That is it until next time. Anne & Steve
December 10, 2012
It is just over 4 months since we left Darwin, and we have travelled over 3000 nautical miles. We are now at Langkawi, Malaysia.
Leaving Danga Bay early in the morning to catch the tide, we were treated to a lovely muted sunrise. Once Singapore was behind us, we made our way past a minefield of anchored ships, and into the Straits of Malacca, the busiest waterway in the world. We were told that 7000 ships a month travel up and down here, huge cargo boats taking goods all over the world. Keeping outside the shipping lane to avoid these monsters, we made the most of a favourable tide, managing to get up to 8 knots at times. All the while, we had to keep a good look out for local fishing boats, as the local fishermen happily put nets out anywhere they feel like. It would not be fun to get hooked up in one. It didn’t take too long to reach Pisang Island, where we anchored overnight.
The next leg was much longer, and we were up and away very early, putting in 12.5 hours before we dropped the anchor at Besar Island. Needless to say, we slept like logs that night, and left a little later the next morning for the last leg to Admiral Marina at Port Dickson. Here, we were delighted to find a lovely swimming pool that we were able to use whenever we wanted. Such luxury, we made use of it most days, swimming or just sitting in the water talking while we kept cool, or until we looked like prunes.
The rally reception was held in the hotel dining room. It was what they called a high tea, but could be described as a feast. During our stay here, we sometimes walked along the road to an area of many small local restaurants, and tried the local fare. The meals were very cheap, and very tasty. Serving sizes were very generous also.
Two bus trips had been organised for us here. One was a day trip to the old town of Melaka. This is a fascinating place, oozing history, with so much to explore. One day is just not long enough, and we will have to go back and stay a few days. It is fascinating to find out about the Portuguese, Dutch, English, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and other people that found there way here over 600 years ago. Looking at the old buildings, temples, houses, churches, forts and more, and hearing the stories that go with them is great.
Our other bus trip was to Kuala Lumpur for a day. It included a visit to the BatuCave. This huge cave houses a Hindu temple and has a huge golden statue at the entrance. This statue is the biggest of its kind in the world. We were told there were 270 steps up into the cave but it felt like more. Inside, there was another set of steps to a higher level. When you look around the massive cave, with water dripping, dim lights, and monkeys scurrying up the walls, it looks like a scene from a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie.
A brief stop was made to show us a rubber tree, and explain how the tree is tapped to release the latex. Then it was off to a batik factory for a demonstration of the batik process, and of course, a look at finished products for sale. The prices kept temptation at bay.
Petronas Twin Towers was next, followed by the KL Tower. Some people went up both but we only did the KL Tower. It was a lovely view and our guide explained what all the prominent buildings were. From here we went to the King’s palace where we watched the changing of the guard. I felt sorry for the young guards, with people jumping up beside them for photos, or trying to make them laugh, when they are obviously supposed to keep a straight face. Other places we looked at were Independence Square, a war monument, a gallery showing history of KL.
Our day finished in Chinatown, where we went for tea, before heading back to Port Dickson. It was a long day, but a very enjoyable one.
After a week it was time to move on. Our trip to Pangkor, was made over three days as we prefer not to sail at night in this area. The first stop was a nice calm spot just inside a river entrance. The second, after a full days travelling, was extremely uncomfortable, with a horrible roll coming through. I adjourned to the only comfortable place, bed. Thankfully, the sea had settled down by morning, and we had a good trip to PangkorIsland. Steve was happy because we managed to do some actual sailing along the way. We anchored by a fishing village on PangkorIsland’s east coast, and made arrangements to go into the marina the following day. Overnight, we had a thunder storm and heard the loudest thunder, we have ever heard. It must have been nearly on top of us, and sounded like a huge explosion.
Thunder and lightning seems to be a daily occurrence in Malaysia at this time of year. We have seen some brilliant lightning shows, often lighting up the whole sky. Sometimes it seems to be all sheet lightning, other times forked lightning, or a mixture of both. When it rains, one good downpour fills our water tanks, which we don’t mind. Of course while we are waiting for the rain to materialize, the humidity rises sharply, so the rain is a welcome relief.
We had to get taxis from the marina into town as it was a bit far to walk. The rally organisers supplied a bus one day to take everyone to the supermarket, which made life a bit easier. A rally welcome dinner was held at a Chinese restaurant in the marina complex. It was a lovely meal and a great evening. Another night we walked 15 minutes to a local Indian restaurant. We had a lovely meal at an unbelievably cheap price.
A bus trip to the Cameron Highlands was very enjoyable, in spite of the long day. It began at 7am and finished at 11pm. Our guide was very informative and was able to answer most questions put to him during the day. Our trip included visits to a tea plantation and factory. This was very interesting, and not quite the same as I imagined from watching Dilmah tea advertisements. A rose garden, butterfly house and a growers market were also on the agenda, with a lunch stop in the middle. Then it was time to head home, stopping at a native Malay village, a waterfall, and lastly a food market for dinner.
It was a very full day but I was pleased I went. Steve stayed home as he was still suffering from a bout of flu that had been going around the fleet. It was rather nasty and he needed antibiotics in the end to get rid of it.
The following day was a tour of Pangkor Island. With a ferry ride across to the island and taxi vans to transport us around, we visited a Chinese Temple which had a miniature Great Wall of China; an old Dutch fort; a fish factory where fish are processed, dried and bagged. A visit to a boatyard where two new fishing boats were being built was very popular, especially because everyone was allowed to have a very close look. Driving further around the island, we were taken to another Chinese temple beside a very nice beach before lunch, which was another Chinese feast. So much yummy food.
Then it was on to Penang. We did a short trip to a little island called Talang, where we anchored for one night, leaving early next morning in the moonlight so we could arrive in Penang in daylight. It was good to have the moonlight as there were huge numbers of local fishing trawlers out. The trip was pretty uneventful apart from having to dodge these boats until we were a couple of miles out from the new PenangBridge. This bridge, which is 27k long, is not quite finished yet. They still have the two centre spans to put in. As we got closer, our engine died. We were motoring sailing as there was very little wind. We had run out of diesel, though we thought there was fuel in the other tank, so we sailed very slowly on the headsail, at about 2 knots, through the bridge and around to the anchorage, which thankfully was very close by.
Our first job in Penang was to make a trip to the Thai Consulate, to organise visas for Thailand. With that out of the way, we decided to go and check out Georgetown the next day with Gail and Brian. As it was proving hard to find a taxi, we walked to the closest mall and pick one up there. It took us nearly an hour, and after walking in the heat, the air conditioning in the mall was heavenly.
We had been told that the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion) in Georgetown was a must see, so made that our first stop. This house used to belong to a very rich Chinese businessman. It is a huge house which has been largely restored with part of it having been turned into a homestay. The guided tour lasts an hour and the story of the boy, who worked his way from rags to riches, becoming a very influential business and political figure, was fascinating.
From the mansion we walked along to a chocolate factory for free samples, deciding not to buy any as it would melt before we could get it home. Slowly wandering around the old Georgetown, we discovered narrow streets with very old buildings. Some of the very old buildings have been turned into backpackers or boutique hotels. A tiny shop full of bags and containers of chemicals, and heaven knows what else, stacked up with a tiny path through to the counter, had everyone fascinated. Obviously there is no OSH over here. We came upon mosques and temples along the way and checked out Little India, settling on an Indian restaurant for tea before we went home.
Next day we went to the movies and saw ‘Skyfall’, the James Bond movie. Tickets cost the equivalent of $4NZD. The movie was in English with Malaysian subtitles. Our first visit to a cinema for a very long time, and watching a movie at midday is a bit unusual. We followed up with a late lunch or early tea at a Thai restaurant.
Our tour of Penang, organised by the rally team, took us to a local boat yard which could be a possible place to haul out for a repaint; a private hospital, which we found rather unusual. However, they served us a lovely morning tea before showing us around and we discovered that foreigners do fly in for treatment, as it is cheap depending on your currency exchange rate. We did a drive around Georgetown, seeing a few things we had missed on our walk. We stopped at a temple called the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. There was another Buddhist temple across the road, so we had a look at that too. There seems to be huge numbers of temples and mosques here, with churches thrown into the mix. By then, we had time to have a look at a very flash new marina before going to an Indian restaurant for dinner.
As there was nothing planned for the next day, we went with Gail & Brian to the cable car up Penang Hill. It reminded us of the Denniston incline. The view from the top was great once the clouds moved off. It is school holidays here at the moment so it was very busy. On our way back to town we stopped at a Buddhist temple with a huge statue of Buddha. We had spotted it from the road earlier in the day.
On the morning of our departure, all the yachts travelled together around to the old Penang bridge, waiting for some power boats from a boat show to come through, and some photos were taken from a helicopter. We then proceeded under the bridge on our way to Langkawi Island. We only went 25nm and anchored at Budan Island for the night. A lovely spot. Next day we were going to do a similar distance to another small island along the way, but we discovered that the anchorage there didn’t sound so great, so we carried on to Daytan Bunting, a large island under Langkawi Island. We had good wind and sailed all the way, an unusual occurrence up here. What a lovely place, similar to the Marlborough Sounds or Great Barrier Island, except the water is warm and shallow.
Next morning we upped anchor and wove our way through lots of little islands, to Rebak Marina. Rebak is a small island just off Langkawi’s SW corner. You can’t see the marina from the sea, in fact you need to look hard to find the channel in. Coming through this narrow channel you enter a little basin full of yachts, surrounded by bush clad hills. It is a resort island with a hotel complex alongside the marina. Fortunately, marina residents are allowed to use the hotel pool.
We have a week here before flying out. First stop Melbourne, then NZ. Will return in January sometime to do some cruising in Thailand.
We would like to wish everyone a very Happy Xmas and a wonderful New Year.
November 09, 2012
Danga Bay Marina, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia has been our base for nearly three weeks. We almost feel like landlubbers again, making the most of an unlimited water supply, and shore power; a luxury for us. This is our first marina since leaving Darwin at the end of July.
The Malaysian people we have met are friendly and helpful, but it takes a bit to get them smiling; except Steve of course, who makes everyone smile. It may have something to do with being in a city, rather than a small town. Johor Bahru is a very large city spread out over a wide area. It appears to be going ahead in leaps and bounds with lots of new developments underway.
It seems that most Malay people speak English, and the ones who don’t, can usually understand the Bahasa we learnt in Indonesia.
Buses and taxis are cheap and plentiful so it is easy to get around. Sharing taxis with other cruisers makes it ultra cheap. It has been interesting looking at different supermarkets and malls, some very Malaysian with few western products, and others just like NZ. Mind you, it is nice to find products from home, especially if we find something we haven’t seen for a while. It was a nice surprise to find cans of NZ butter, and interestingly, they were cheaper than the ones we purchased in NZ in 2010. They are ideal on the boat, as they keep for ages without refrigeration.
Speaking of cheaper prices, we have both been to the dentist and the optician. You could fly over here for a holiday, get your teeth fixed, get new glasses, and still have change left from the amount you would have paid in Australia or NZ. Check it out if you need expensive dental work.
A night in Singapore was a nice treat. It is only a short bus ride across the causeway and you can then use buses or the metro to get around Singapore. Clearing in and out of both countries is a very easy process, and you end up with a lot of extra stamps in your passports by the time you return. Our first couple of hours in Singapore were spent walking along Orchard Road, past all the high brand shops such as Prada, Versace, Hermes etc., and an incredible number of shopping malls. They must do a lot of shopping here. Most of the afternoon was spent walking to, and around the Botanical Gardens, and we went out walking in the evening to find some tea, deciding eventually to eat with the locals at a food hall in one of the malls. It got a bit confusing when we left through a different exit, and we had to ask for directions.
Next day we discovered the National Museum of Singapore, and spent some fascinating hours in the historical section. We could have easily spent more time there, and will do next time, but left for a late lunch before walking back to the hotel to collect our bag, and head home to Recluse in Malaysia.
As we only saw a tiny part of Singapore, next time we will stay longer and check out some of the things we missed this time.
A couple of days later, Steve and three other guys went on a day trip to Singapore to look at chandleries and hardware stores. They came back with very little to show for their day out, while the ‘girls’ visited Jusco, one of the best malls in JB, and had no trouble finding what they needed.
This week the Sail Malaysia Rally got off to a great start. A full day bus tour of Johor Bahru was very enjoyable. It included a tour of the Parliament Buildings at Kota Iskander: a Pineapple Museum visit: a Homestay stop, where a wonderful lunch was provided: a walk around Tanjung Piai National Park to the southern most tip of Asia, looking out on the Malacca Straits; and on the way home, we had a brief stop at a mall full of high brand outlet shops.
A real highlight of the week was the Sail Malaysia Welcome Dinner. This was a good excuse to dress up, and was a wonderful evening. We enjoyed a superb 8 course Chinese Banquet, and first rate entertainment, including live music, and traditional dancing displays by dancers from the Johor Heritage Society. I think it would be safe to say that a good night was had by all.
With one last visit to the dentist this morning, and some last minute groceries, we are now ready to leave in the morning, on the 3 day trip to Port Dickson.
Sorry I am a bit late getting this online. We actually arrived in Port Dickson this afternoon, but I will include the trip from Danga Bay in my next post, which will probably be next month, when we reach Langkawi Island.
October 22, 2012
Our last day in Kumai was spent on board getting ready for the trip to Belitung. I baked a birthday cake for Gail “Dol Selene”, a day early, as we would be sailing on the day.
It was a 5:30am start the following morning, so we could travel down the river with the current. With a lot of smoke in the air, visibility was rather poor.
The two days and nights were a mixture of motoring, sailing and motor sailing. We sailed the first night in case we went over fishing nets. Without moonlight it was impossible to see the nets in the water, and it would not be nice to have a net tangled around the prop. Indonesian fishermen put nets all over the place, often many miles from land, and they are not usually well marked. One yacht had to return to Kumai after getting caught up in a net.
At 10am on our third day, we dropped anchor at Kelayang Beach, Belitung Island. This is a lovely spot with some interesting rock formations, and it is a holiday place for many Indonesians. We watched tourists going out in boats on diving and snorkelling trips.
Our few days here were very enjoyable. Joni, a school administrator, and Madi, a teacher, who also work for the tourism department, were extremely helpful. They organised cars and travelled with us, taking us to visit their school, the traditional market, and the supermarket.
It is also memorable for us as the place we saw rain, our first in six months. Very exciting. Although it promised to be a real downpour, it didn’t last very long. However, it was lovely and refreshing, (We were both outside, relishing the coolness of it) and it did wash a little dirt off the boat.
With more help from Joni and Madi, customs and immigration formalities were taken care of before we left to make our way out of Indonesia.
Another overnight trip, this time to Bangka Island, was pretty much all motor sailing. Early morning we had lots of thunder and lightning with some rain, but no real downpours. It did make it a bit harder to see the fishing boats though, so it was good to have the radar turned on. It was about 1pm when we dropped the anchor at Bangka Island. On our way in we noticed interesting fish traps, with little houses built on top. The fishermen possibly stay in them overnight.
From here it was another overnight trip to Kentar Island. This trip was all motoring, with the sea like a sheet of glass most of the time. Some fishing boats without lights were a bit unnerving during the night. They would just flash a light on for a couple of seconds every now and again.
At 7am we reached the equator. Steve wanted to swim over it. I refused to let him off the boat until the sails were taken down, just in case a gust of wind appeared out of nowhere. He swam over it both ways then climbed back onboard, and we carried on to Kentar Island, just a few miles away. “Dol Selene” was already there. As it is customary to celebrate a crossing of the equator, we had a celebration dinner on Recluse. Brian surprised us when he disappeared outside and returned wearing a King Neptune costume. It was a very enjoyable evening.
Leaving Kentar Island the next day, we passed a huge number of fish traps. Many were very large with big houses on them. We had current with us, up to 2 knots at times, and we were at our next anchorage, near Temiang Island, by lunchtime. This was a beautiful spot, reminiscent of the Marlborough Sounds or Great Barrier Island. It was a very hot day and we had to get in the water to cool off more than once.
As we left here the next morning, we again had good current with us, and we made our way up to the west of Batam Island, anchoring at PangyangIsland, 14 miles south of the Singapore Straits, our last stop before Malaysia.
The tide was just turning as we lifted the anchor next morning for the last leg, to Malaysia. Going with the current again, we headed for the Singapore Straits. A big rain cloud threatened to make it a wet crossing, but luckily it moved around behind us.
Watching the AIS to see all the boats (big tankers and container ships) coming across in front of us, and what speeds they were doing, we got closer and closer to the first crossing place. All the boats are travelling in the same direction.
The idea is to head for one boat, then go straight across behind it, before the next one gets there. There were 4 boats travelling between 7 and 12 knots, but one cruise liner was coming along inside the other boats, at 18 knots. This was rather off-putting. However, we made it, and luckily when we reached the other crossing, there were only a couple of boats travelling very slowly, so we were able to go straight across and head up the river.
With Singapore to starboard and Malaysia to port, we sailed past Raffles Marina in Singapore, then under the TuasBridge. As we sailed further up, we were aware of a patrol boat keeping reasonably close to us. This was from Singapore, making sure we weren’t going to try and land anywhere on Singapore soil. I took his photo and gave him a wave. It was raining by the time we arrived at Danga Bay Marina, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. ‘Dol Selene” who had kept us company on our journey, reached the marina before us and radioed to let us know that we had been time travelling again. Our clock said 1:30 but it was now 2:30.
We are here for about three weeks so will check out Singapore, and maybe head up to KL. Had to laugh when we asked a taxi driver what there was to do in Johor Bahru. His reply – shopping, eating and shopping.
We have joined up with the Sail Malaysia Rally. It begins here, on 2 November. for a week of festivities before heading up the West Coast of Malaysia, finishing at Langkawi Island early in December. This rally has been described as one long party, it sounds good.
Getting back to Indonesia for a moment. The Indonesia we experienced was a delight, and we are a bit sad to leave it behind. Three months was never going to be long enough to see a country like that. You could spend years there and still not see everything worth seeing.
It is hard to believe we have come so far.
Until next time
Anne & Steve
October 06, 2012
It was goodbye to Komodo and on along SumbawaIsland, with some strong currents slowing us down along the way. Our first stop was Telak Bima, beside a fishing village called Nae; not far from the main town of Bima. Many squid boats were anchored nearby and after dark they all went across the bay for their night’ fishing turning the area into a small city when they turned all their lights on.
From here we carried on to BimaBay, anchoring in very shallow water, in a sandy patch amongst the reef. This was a lovely spot for swimming and snorkelling straight from the boat. It did get a little rolly with the afternoon sea breeze, but settled again at night. During the day we saw locals gathering sea food from the reef, and in the evening a local fishing boat anchored beside us. Steve took a couple of cans of coke over to them. The two men were very happy with that, and offered him fish; but he declined as he wasn’t too sure about it. This was another place with monkeys on the shore.
Kananga, was our next anchorage. There were a large number of boats, lined up along the beach, all flying colourful flags. We thought there must have been something special happening such as a market on the beach, but came to the conclusion that the fishermen and their families must actually live there. Several children swam out to see us, some with shorts, and some without. When I say swim, most of them were hanging on to a couple of logs and kicking their way along. Some managed to climb up the side of the boat, as the ladder wasn’t down. This was very impressive, because we can’t do that. Steve had them swinging out from the boat on a rope and dropping into the water, before trying it himself. He then swam back to shore with them, as I was a bit worried about the little ones. They were a long way from the beach, and I’m sure they couldn’t swim properly. They were still hanging on to their log.
It got quite windy the next day, as we were sailing to Potopaddu, with the breeze fading later along the way. Passing reefs on each side, we came through a small channel into a lovely little estuary of flat peaceful water. This anchorage was so nice we decided to stay another day. Here, we watched fishermen in canoes pulling in nets full of tiny fish. They spent many hours doing this, getting some quite big hauls.
Once again children in canoes, paddled out looking for books and pencils etc. In the morning a local man stopped to say hello and Steve gave him a cap. A little later he returned with his wife and two children, followed by another lady in a canoe with 4 children. We had to laugh, and managed to find some things for them. Two girls, probably about 12 or 13 arrived. They wanted clothes, makeup, jewellery and toothpaste. Sadly, we had to disappoint them. An old man wanted pills for his arthritis. Again, we couldn’t help. Although we often have to say no to people, most of them accept it quite cheerfully. They will go and try another boat if there is one around.
As our supplies of give away things were getting a bit low, we decided to give our remaining books and pencils to the local school, so the teacher could give them to the children who needed them most.
Out trip into the village was very interesting. The first thing we saw was a fenced off area of water. At first we thought maybe a fish farm, but it turned out to be a sewage plant. That explained the big generator we had heard. The village itself was set out in‘streets’, unlike other narrow concrete roads with houses each side. There was much work being done with new buildings and roadways being constructed. What we thought was a small village, was actually very large. When we managed to find someone who could tell us how far to the school, we were told 2k. Asking some children to show us the way, we set off. It was a very hot day, and the number of children accompanying us kept rising, as more joined in along the way. We could have been called pied pipers, without the pipes.
It seemed we were getting closer to the school when a lady called out to us that the school was closed. She could speak English and explained that school finished at 10am on Fridays, as it was the Muslim prayer day. Luckily, as it turned out, her brother was a teacher at the school. She took us to her home and introduced us to Joe. He couldn’t speak English but she translated for us, and we left our supplies with him.
As we have found at all our other stops, people always say hello, ask our names and where we come from, but the most common thing they all want, is for us to take their photo. Not just children, but people of all ages. I haven’t discovered why, but I am wondering if there is some luck associated with having their image preserved somewhere. I must remember to ask someone about that.
It was here that Steve had an interesting experience. With the warm weather, he has taken to sleeping in a hammock in the cockpit with a mosquito net over the top.
He woke up with someone saying, “Have you got a light mister?” Still half asleep, he found a box of matches. When he went back out, this guy was sitting on the deck. He lit his cigarette and gave the box back. After chatting for a while, he asked if Steve had a spare fishing rod. Steve said no, and told him he should probably go home now, so he got into his canoe and paddled back to the village. He had been out fishing and couldn’t wait to get home for a cigarette. This was 1:30am. I had awoken and heard them talking, but decided to stay put until he had gone. It seems that most of the men here are smokers and it is not uncommon to see quite young boys with cigarettes.
In the morning we left for Lombok, spending a night at Gili Lawang, a small island off the east coast of Lombok before making and early start for MedanaBay on LombokIsland. Our visas needed an extension as they only gave us 2 months to begin with. This involved a car trip of about an hour into the town of Mataram and a visit to Immigration. Here we had the interesting experience of having our fingerprints taken. (Electronically, no ink). As there were quite a few of us, it meant spending a lot of time sitting around waiting.
A few days were then spent waiting for our passports to be returned. During this time we explored a little of Lombok. Sharing a car with one or two other couples makes this a very cheap travel option. A day trip into the mountains to some waterfalls was very enjoyable with a swimming hole at the base of the second waterfall. A drive to Senggigi, which could probably be described as a tourist town, took us past many lovely beaches. We found a great restaurant for lunch, wandered around town, trying to avoid all the hawkers trying to sell us stuff before returning to MedanaBay. This was on our last day on Lombok.
After a week, we were ready to move on to Bali. Deciding to stay north, as sailing down south is not much fun with the strong currents between Lombok and Bali, we sailed across to Ahmed, where we had a very windy night, anchored under a large volcano, before carrying on around the top, and down to LovinaBeach. Here we found lots of small shops and restaurants along the shoreline. There seemed to be a lot of tourists around, although we were told it was the quiet season for tourists. We went to the local market for our fresh fruit and vegetables, had a wander around and booked a car for a day trip to Ubud.
We shared the car with 2 other couples. It was a lovely day, and we noticed the Hindu influence everywhere, totally different from the other islands we have visited. Ubud is stretched out over a large area and is famous for its arts and crafts. We stopped at a painting co-op, and looked at paintings. Steve bought me a small traditional Balinese painting for my birthday. From there we went to see local silver products followed by batik. Wood was the last thing we looked at, and we were blown away by the carvings we saw. They were absolutely amazing, and there were so many to look at. Steve was the one tempted here. On the way back we stopped at the Temple on The Lake, a lovely setting, with the temple on the edge of a mountain lake. It was a long day, leaving LovinaBeach at 8.30am, and returning about 6pm, but well worth it.
On our return we went ashore for a quick tea before heading home to get some sleep before setting sail at 2am for the first leg of our trip to Kalimantan, on Borneo. Leaving at 2am meant we would have moonlight to help us spot the fish traps that abound in these waters. These bamboo structures stick up out of the water, but are very hard to see, and more often than not, don’t have lights. Luckily for us, Blue Heeler, who had left the day before, sent a message to let us know where they had seen traps. This was a great help. Once clear of the traps, over 10 miles from land, the sailing was good, though there were still plenty of boats to look out for.
Our early morning start also ensured we would arrive at our anchorage in daylight. This is very important, when sailing around reefs. It was a lovely calm anchorage at RaasIsland, behind a reef. Brian and Gail on ‘Dol Selene’ invited us over for dinner as it was my birthday. A lovely meal and evening.
Next morning we left for an overnight trip to BaweanIsland. Another good trip, with lovely moonlight overnight, and the anchorage, when we arrived the following afternoon, was a lovely calm 7 metres of water. Although it would have been nice to have another day here, we decided to carry on at first light for another overnight trip to Kumai, in Kalimantan, which is the Indonesian portion of Borneo. We had good wind and sailed all the way, only having to turn the motor on about 20 miles from the KumaiRiver entrance. The moon took a long time to shine as there was a lot of haze to get through. It was lovely when it got above it all. There is something special about moonlight on water. Kumai, which is about 10 miles up the river, is quite a big port. From the water it looks very industrial port.
The main reason tourists come to Kumai, is to see the orangutans. Luckily we managed to get a trip organised for the next day. The river boats are called Kelotoks. We have seen variation in the spelling, but this what they had printed on the boats. It is cheaper to have more people on each boat so we shared with Brian & Gail from Dol Selene. The boats have a top deck where we stayed, with table and chairs, and mattresses that got folded out at night, complete with bedding and mosquito nets. All food is provided and our meals were delicious. Our trip up the river was 2 days – 1 night. The trip was very slow so we could look out for wildlife along the way. There are 3 camps where they feed the orangutans, who were probably stolen when they were babies, and abandoned when they got too big to handle, or are orphans. These camps are set up to rehabilitate them and get them used to living in the wild again.
They get taught how to climb trees and find food and once they are totally rehabilitated, they stop coming in to the feeding stations. The feeding station has a big platform where the food and drink is placed. The guides call out to the orangutans to let them know the food is there, though many of them work it out for themselves and are already waiting. There is no way to tell how many may turn up on any particular day. At the first camp we were lucky enough to see at least 12 orangutans, including the alpha male and two females with babies. We noticed a definite pecking order, with nearly all waiting for the alpha male to finish before they ventured near. An exception was one of the females with a baby. We assumed she must be a favourite at the moment. We spent a long time here taking photos and watching these wonderful creatures eating, playing, and seeming very like humans in lots of ways.
The night was spent tied up to reeds on the edge of the river before going up further to Camp 2, and then to Camp Leaky, where the rehabilitation programme started. There we found an information centre explaining how it all started, orangutan family trees with photographs and much more. We saw lots of orangutans here, including a mother with a 2 month old baby, and Tom, the huge alpha male who would easily weigh 300lb. An interesting thing at the feeding platform was watching a gibbon monkey come flying down from a tree, help himself to some bananas behind the orangutans backs, and make a flying leap back into the tree in record time. I could get carried away with this so I will just say that if you ever get to Kumai, please go and see the orangutans. It is a magical experience and I haven’t heard anyone say they didn’t enjoy it.
Our first day back in Kumai we attended what was to be a welcoming party. It was that and much more. We had musical entertainment, local schoolchildren performing traditional Dayak dances, compete with costumes. We were given food before being taken on a bus tour of Pangkalan, the large town nearby. Once there, we got off the bus and were taken on small boats up the river and back to a market where we stocked up on fruit and vegetables. The view we had up the river was the back of peoples properties and we passed many men and boys out washing in the river. We decided they must have finished work early because it was Friday, the Muslim Holy Day.
We arrived back in Kumai for a lovely meal before getting back on the bus for a ride down river where we got on boats for a trip across to Tanjung Keluang. Here we planted two trees each, and the most brilliant surprise, by donating $5, we were allowed to release a baby turtle into the sea. We had to take them from the container and put them on the beach facing inland. The turtles then turned themselves around and made their way into the water. I am not sure of the total number released that day but it was a lot. It is sad that many won’t survive.
Sorry this blog is so long. I couldn’t get good enough internet at earlier stops to update it sooner, so have to make the most of it here. We have 23 more days in Indonesia so may leave the next blog until Malaysia, but will see.
Hoping everyone well and happy. Anne & Steve
September 08, 2012
On the way to Riung, we stopped for a night in Mautenda Bay. This was a big open bay, with some sort of processing plant on the eastern shore. We still don’t know exactly what its purpose was. Local people were fishing on the nearby reef, some using nets, others picking things up. The bay got a little choppy in the afternoon, and we lost one of the oars from our dinghy. Steve looked along the beach next morning, but there was no sign of it. We have a spare oar, but no rowlock. McGyver will work something out, I am sure.
The entrance into Ruing required some concentration, as there was a lot of reef to look out for. We didn’t go into town here, but anchored off Bampa Island. This was a delightful spot and we enjoyed two days here before carrying on to Lenggeh.
Lenggeh was an interesting stop. As in other places we had children paddling out to the yacht looking for anything we may have to give them. Typically there would be 2 or 3 children in one canoe, one or two paddling, while the other one bailed out the water. These canoes always seem to leak. We were well off the beach, so they had some distance to paddle.
We always knew when they were approaching, as we heard them calling, hello mister, hello missus. They usually introduced themselves then asked our names. Next came the requests for books and pens, clothes or anything else they could think of. A couple of the children actually went and got us some fruit for the books and pens. but, with so many children here, we ended up giving them pencils, as we still had quite a few left. One of the boys did a headstand on the end of his canoe. This was quite a feat on a wobbly platform.
We don’t usually let the children board our boat, but on this occasion we had about half a dozen in the cockpit. We showed them some books, and one boy in particular was blown away with our books of New Zealand and Australian birds. I managed to work out how to ask him which Indonesian birds were similar to the Australian ones, and he proceeded to go through the book and point them all out to me. They were also fascinated when we showed them our map of Indonesia, and pointed out all the places we had been to, and where we are going. They would have stayed all night I think if we hadn’t told them that we had things to do.
Gilibodo Island was our next stop. This lovely anchorage was tucked in behind a reef. Here, we watched monkeys on the beach in the early mornings and late afternoons. They appeared to be picking things up off the reef, but we are not sure what. Steve went across one morning to see if he could get close to one, but they disappeared before he got anywhere near. There was nice snorkelling in clear water, and we enjoyed two days here before carrying on to Labuanbajo.
Labuanbajo is a big town. Quite a tourist centre as it is from here that trips to see the Komodo Dragons are taken, and there are many good diving sites nearby. We anchored a couple of miles from the town, having a lovely meal ashore on our first night, and oh so cheap. Next day we went to town on one of the local boats. Steve and Brian had been wondering about the motors, with their distinctive putt, putt, sound, so their curiosity was satisfied. Our boatman, Marlin, who spoke excellent English, organised a bemo for us, then came along and acted as our interpreter as we visited a local market, and a supermarket. He didn’t ask for any payment, so we took him out for lunch.
After a stopover at Kanawa Island, we went dragon hunting.
There are two islands with Komodo Dragons on them, Komodo and Rinca. We sailed to Rinca Island (pronounced Rincha) first, as we had been told it was easier to see dragons there. Going ashore with Gail and Brian (Dol Selene) and Allie & Wayne (Blue Heeler), we were met by a ranger, and taken to the rangers’ office to pay park fees etc.
With that out of the way, Oy and Kasmir, the two rangers who would act as our guides, gave us a very interesting talk about the dragons before leading us on a two hour walk to look at them. With one ranger leading and another at the rear, we set off. Our first sighting was very close by, as several dragons were snoozing under the kitchen building in the rangers’ area. Because we had arrived in the middle of the day, when it was at its hottest, most of the dragons were sleeping. I can’t say I minded too much. Luckily the biggest one decided to move around a bit, giving us a good photo opportunity.
After studying these sleeping dragons, we carried on with the walk, the ranger pointing out other dragons as we went along. I had trouble seeing them, as they blend in so well with the background. The dragons bite their victims, either on the neck or the leg. Their saliva contains thousands of bacteria and causes blood poisoning in the unfortunate creature. He then follows it around until it dies 2-3 days later, then he eats it. One tree had a selection of deer skulls stuck in it. Leftovers from dragon feasts. After seeing a selection of dragons, monkeys, and a water buffalo we arrived back at the rangers’ camp. It was a fascinating tour, and we all agreed it was a very worthwhile trip to make.
That evening in the bay, we saw deer on the beach and a water buffalo in the water. We were surprised to see it in salt water, as we had always associated them with fresh water.
We could have gone ashore again in the morning, but decided to move to another anchorage on the west coast of the island. Unfortunately, the currents were running too strongly for us to get in there, so we went across to a place called Pink Beach, on Komodo Island. The sand on the beach did look pink as it had tiny bits of some reddish pink mineral through it. The snorkelling along the beach was really good also, with some lovely coral and lots of beautiful fish. The currents were rather strong where we had anchored so we moved around to KomodoBay for the night. Here we saw pigs on the beach. Steve went ashore in the morning with Brian and Gail while I made bread, and they saw another dragon. They thought it was bigger than the largest one we had seen on Rinca.
From here, we sailed around to a nice bay on the NW of Komodo Island. Steve climbed a huge hill next to the anchorage and saw lots of deer along the way. He repeated this exercise the following day, before we went around to a lovely anchorage at Gili Lawa Laut. There were already quite a few boats there and it took us a while to find a spot to drop the anchor. The water was so clear here, we could see the anchor hit the bottom, 18 metres down. The snorkelling was great, with such clear water. That evening, most of the cruisers met on the beach for drinks and nibbles.
Our final stop in the Komodo area was Monco Bay on the NE of Komodo Island. This also had lovely clear water with nice coral and lots of colourful fish. The next few stops will be along the top of Sumbawa Island, on our way to Medana Bay on Lombok Island, where the rally fleet meets up again to renew visas etc.