Ao Maya,the setting for the film The Beach
The anchorage in Ko Lipe is situated on the west side and it is a tiny bay full of fishing boats, sampans and some backpacker’s accommodation. The Malaysian muddy water is well gone and now we are back into clear green water and corals. Anchoring was another matter, after scanning the bay we found a small spot of sand bottom for the anchor. But once anchored we were to close to corals and fishing boats. Decided to head out and try the next island, Ko Adang. Things didn't get easier over there either, the anchor wasn't biting. When we spotted a mooring buoy we thought that would be the end of our problems. This anchorage is between two high islands, so the wind was funnelling through, gusting up to 30 knots. The tide was something else, so strong that we were sitting side on to the wind, which meant a rolly night...
Needless to say that it was a sleepless night, to cheer ourselves we decided to go to Ko Rok Nok, a paradise for snorkeling and an unspoiled little gem 30 miles away. Closing into the island we saw six yachts behind us, knowing down well that we have to secure a buoy before these other boats came in. Little did we know that we were very unfortunate in picking our mooring buoy! The water is clear and full of fishes, there was no need to swim far to find huge colourful coral heads, they were right under the boat. We dived and checked that the boat would be clear of the coral at low tide, anyway there were no more buoys left so we stayed put. Just as we are having a few beers a dinghy approached the boat and announced themselves as park rangers. There was absolutely nothing that would prove that they were not fisherman from the neighbouring island. The rangers told us that this mooring buoy was no good. They have been around the bay for a few hours and they waited until almost dark to tell us! There was nothing we could do, we have to wait and see. Then they demanded the fee, 400 baht. Learning from our Indonesian experience, I played a little game with these cheeky people. I said that we have no money, offered Ringgit instead. The rangers face went a bit sour, Ringgit is no money, she said. Then her face lit up again when she saw the beers and asked for the payment in beers!!! What kind of National Park fee is that??? Anyway, they left happy with six cold beers, what a cunning people! Before heading to bed and approaching low tide, we started to hear the banging, worsening by the minute, the keel was touching the coral head, reverberating through the whole boat. Both of us sat in the cockpit cringing at every shake of the boat and wondering what to do. How to get out of here with coral heads all around us? Also we were tired and had some beers. Things got worse as the wind picked up, we decided to leave. Graham took us out to 30metres of water without incidents and then we were on our way to Koh Phi Phi. What a real real shame, that was a superb bay and the last chance of staying in a uninhabited island before overcrowded Phi Phi. We have since learnt that 3 other boats have left at night experiencing similar problems.
Our minds are wondering, what on earth we are doing in the Divers Mecca with a boat!!! Fantastic bays and islands, we just can't get to it! The anchoring is as exciting as the diving! Our thoughts just got interrupted yet again by another speed boat passing by; this is Koh Phi Phi... So beautiful it will evoke tears. Our tears are because of the wake of tourist boats, over powered speed boats (4x225hp), sampans, banana boats , jet skis , the off-load the millions of tourists to the beach, and the ensuing noise, hustle and frantic activity that comes with it. We found another buoy and this is deep enough, despite the heavy traffic we are not moving, too tired.
Finally we managed to land on Thai soil, it wasn't easy, the bay is very shallow and full of rocks to use the outboard, but we rowed in. The village, Ton Sai, is full of souvenir shops, diving shops and cheap accommodation. The tourists outnumber the Thais by a long way! There is a hedonistic feeling to the place, interesting for us for a day or 2 not more; we haven't seen this in a while. There is a lot of construction going on; this island was badly affected by the Tsunami. The whole village got washed away and it looks like it still has not recovered completely.
This is even a more majestic bay, Ao Maya, with high stone walls, lush green vegetation and a small lagoon in the middle. The bay is only one hour south of Phi Phi, on the island of Phi Phi Leh. We arrived very early, before the crowd, to secure another mooring buoy. After 11 am it was impossible to snorkel without the danger of getting run over by a speed boat. At one point we counted 23 speedboats beached up , 5 diving boats and the numerous ferries from Phuket completely overloaded with people. The snorkeling wasn't all that, coral heads have been destroyed possible because of the Tsunami, but there are lots of caves, parrot fishes and other colourful fishes.
Unimaginable, but we found a deserted bay, on the island of Ko Yao Yai! It is deserted because the water is not clear, and there are no coral heads.
Earlier than expected we arrived to Ao Chalong, Phuket. We had run out of fresh food, we went ashore quickly and got some basic provisions, also booked a dentist, so cheap here. In the evening Steve and Nancy rang us, they were ashore having some Christmas Eve drinks. Steve picked the bar, shortly after our arrival the Thai girls wearing clad Christmassy outfits came out, one of them wearing a t-shirt "No money, no honey". The bar started filling up with ageing fat bald lonely Europeans, mostly Brits. We wondered if we picked the local prostitute parlor for our Christmas Eve... But not, this was just Christmas in Thailand. Later on, the girls bought out a huge buffet, all for free! The Thais really got into the festive spirit, despite the fact that they do not celebrate it, but for them it is an excuse for a party.
Phuket town is... well, another busy town. Not much there, but we found bits for the boat so it was worth a trip. Language is a huge problem, Thai is a difficult tonal language to learn and the Thais do not speak much English, so communication is always challenging. So far we only managed to learn 2 words: Toilet (pronounced in English sounds like HonNaan) and Thanks (Cop Koon Car) which is always followed by the "wat" , a prayer like palms together gesture.
New Years Eve was on Nomad Life, Fliss prepared the starters, Nancy bought the side dishes and Graham cooked the Vindaloo and Dahl. All six of us went to the beach for the countdown, where we met up with Carola, Ben and the kids. Ben, being not a typical German, suggested to gatecrash into the Novotel for the countdown. That turned out to be a great idea, nobody bothered us that we were not guests or questioned how undressed we were to the upmarket party. The fireworks were great, followed by live music. Nancy had the midnight munchies and even tried the buffet!!! On our way back Pete let off a flare, but he took the bottom cap off as well as the top one, the next day we found out how badly he got burned. Huge blisters covered his left hand, their departure was imminent, but we sensed that he couldn't go anywhere with such an injury.
Then we found the dinghy tied up to a tree , not the way we left it. The dinghy floated off towards open sea and a Thai went to great lengths to rescue it. We were very grateful and thanked the man.
Patong Beach is renowned for the Go-Go bars, the lady boys and the party scene. There is everything for everybody, all for a price, of course. Graham was keen to check out what goes on, I wasn't so sure. My impression was that it was a male exclusive environment and besides, prostitution in Thailand is a sad case. Most of the girls are forced into the business by their own family, and from there is a down spiral into drugs and desperation. Anyway, we hit the nightlife, together with Erik from yacht Vagabond Virgin, who was the poker nights host back in Whangarei, NZ. It wasn't that seedy after all, families where out with kids and all the bars seem to have more women than men! Still the desperation was in the air, these Thai girls worked hard to attract the farangs (foreigners) , a way of escaping from their life's. The most desperate, off course were the lady boys, here they are called kathoey. There is a theory supported by Buddhist philosophy that they are members of the third sex. It was impossible to tell that they are actually men, it took us a while to work it out, the usual signs ,the large feet and the Adams apple,just weren't there! It was an interesting evening of people watching, full-on in your face. But we can't stomach another night, just too much desperation...
After Patong we went back to Ao Chalong . Instead of sightseeing we have to get the boat ready for the next big passage and the Middle East, where yacht supplies are almost non-existent. The head sail has a minor tear so we found a sail repairer, also have to get engine spares and provision for 3 months. Besides that both are suffering with a cold and feeling run down. Not always fun.
Sadly we said our goodbyes to Pete and Fliss (Nadezhda), Steve and Nancy (Toboggan), Ben, Carola, Niles and Lisa (Lasse), Erik (Vagabond Virgin). We are hoping to see these boats again before it all finishes. Today it was a mass exodus of yachts heading back to Europe. It wasn't all sad; finally we have a family member visiting us. Hilary, Graham's sister arrived for 2 weeks.
The weather has been boisterous, 25knots from NE, making impossible to go North, to Phang Nga Bay. The only option left was to go back to Ko Phi Phi. The anchorage on the west side was unattainable, another night of rolling around. We moved to the south side and that was much better, only had to put up with the late night discos and its noise echoing through the bay.
The three of us were done with Phi Phi, despite the persistent strong winds we went out for a beat trying to get North. For the first time in a month we hoisted the mainsail and sailed close hauled sail at 45 degrees to the wind. With flat seas we were making 7 knots easily. It was a lot of fun to tack upwind. We arrived at Laem Nang (East of Krabi) for lunch. Here there are some huge limestone formations, some with sea caves, very interesting to explore in the dinghy.
Hongs, which means room in Thai, are something typical of South Thailand. Invisible to a passing vessel, the tidal lagoons can only be explored by a dinghy small enough to travel along the narrow tunnels that leads to a central pool. Once inside, the hongs are completely enclosed with cliff faces and strange vegetation, flying foxes and monkeys. Phang- Nga Bay has a multitude of hongs. Now that the strong winds subsided, we were able to finally explore some of the hongs and the amazing limestone islands with bizarre formations and jungle clad vegetation.
The most amazing hong was at Ko Phanak. We arrived in the morning and waited for the high tide, in the afternoon. The entrance was high enough to go through with the dinghy. That led to a tunnel 200 m long. It got so dark that was almost impossible to work our way around the twisting channel, despite having 3 torches. Finally we saw the light at the end of the tunnel but due to the high water the passage was so low that we had to lie down on the dinghy floor to get through and it was a squeeze. We felt like a new born... Inside the hong we saw monkeys and very bizarre vegetation, the second chamber had a mangrove like vegetation and the smell in the air was weird, the whole place was eerie. But we got out quickly, before the tide went even higher trapping us inside. Then we found a second hong, again a squeeze to go through, this was a lot smaller but we spotted a beautiful toucan.
It was time to go back to Ao Chalong, our visas were expiring so we had to check out and get ready to leave.
More goodbyes, this time was Karen and Terry from Sora. We met them in NZ and again in Darwin then all the way across Asia. They are staying a year here. Maybe see you in the Med.
Then it was time to say goodbye to Hilary, going back to UK and work, at least she is going back extremely tanned. Today was a sad day, quite depressing... We don't feel either like leaving. Thailand was amazing, although we didn't get to see much of the country. The friendliness, hospitality, patience and tolerance of the Thais are remarkable. We had a little glimpse of this country and certainly will be back again!!!