Phuket and The Similan Islands

From Telaga in Langkawi where we cleared out of Malaysia, we day sailed to Phuket via Koh Adang in the Butang Group of islands, a pleasant 24 mile passage, and already Thailand.  There we shared a pot luck supper with Sue and Bill of Camomile, fellow Brits who we had last seen in Lombok, Indonesia.  We sailed on northwards for about 50 nm to Koh Rok Nok where though the coral and marine life was interesting, holding was poor.  Thus we were off again very early the following morning for the 60 nm to Ao Chalong on Phuket.

After a day when the breeze was consistently on the beam, but frustratingly kept switching on and off, we finally dropped anchor late afternoon, put Pipistrelle to bed (taking all of an hour), launched the dinghy and showered (taking all of five minutes!) before heading off in search of Peter and Irene on Catspaw who had invited us on board.  Finding them in the maze of yachts and other craft at anchor was a challenge and the reward of sundowners extremely welcome.  Great friends of Mo and Nigel who visited us in New Zealand, we had not seen Peter and Irene for some years, so there was much catching up to do over a meal ashore while absorbing as much information as possible about this area which they know extremely well.

Monday heralded, first, our visiting the authorities to clear in to Thailand – customs, harbour master and immigration, adding more stamps (and stamps over stamps) in our passports.  All very conveniently housed together at a ‘one stop shop’ office.

Second, Gemma arrived to spend a week with us on board Pipistrelle as part of a longer holiday in Thailand!  She was asked to take on the mantle of Official Pipistrelle Photographer with us both threatening to put our cameras into deep storage in the company of a professional!  See Gemma’s blog and her website.  The daughter of Bob’s longstanding friends, Gay and Tony, Gemma fitted into the sailing scene very well and was a delight to have on board.  Her only disappointment was not to have caught any fish despite streaming the line at every opportunity.

Professional at large!

Professional at large!

Deciding to head out from Ao Chalong towards the Similan Islands, we provisioned at the Villa Supermarket in town, affording us mouth-watering luxury we have not experienced for a long time with its range of fresh and dry goods – all at a price but nonetheless well worth the expense.

The Similans were declared a marine National Park in 1982 and lie some 60 miles northwest of Phuket.  ‘Sembilan’ means ‘nine’ in Malay, and the group unsurprisingly comprises nine main islands.  With their clear water, abundant marine life and remarkable topography they attract yachties as well as hordes of day-trippers who arrive at about 1000, departing again about 1600, when mooring buoys become available and tranquillity reigns.

We took two days to get there, anchoring for the first night off Koh Kala at the north of Bang Tao Bay, Phuket, after a good breeze from Chalong (more about Koh Kala below).  Day two took us north to sail to Khao Lak Beach, making a reasonable stopover before departing on the shorter 34 mile passage to Koh Similan.  We timed our arrival perfectly to pick up a mooring, take in the rock formations in Donald Duck Bay (so-called because of the rock that, if you use your imagination, resembles DD’s beak) and don snorkelling gear.  Sadly what must have been a stunning reef had been decimated in the 2004 tsunami that hit Phuket and though we saw signs of regeneration, it has a long way to go.  We did however spot Titan, Ebony and Picasso Triggerfish, Threadfin butterflyfish, pufferfish, boxfish and many more besides.

Rock resembling Donald Duck's beak ...

Rock resembling Donald Duck’s beak …

Koh Miang about 6nm to the south was supposed to offer great snorkelling, so we slipped Koh Similan and picked up a mooring at Miang which turned out to be extremely uncomfortable.  Undaunted we made an expedition by dinghy to the eastern island which was equally choppy, had a quick look around, returned to a bucking Pipistrelle and slipped without further ado to head back to the shelter of Koh Similan.  The evening was calm and after a magnificent sunset we BBQd on board for the first time this year.

Setting sun ...

Setting sun …

... and half moon (15 minutes after sunset)

… and half moon (15 minutes after sunset)

Before any tourist boats arrived next day, a climb to Sailrock beckoned.  Views of the bay from this vantage point were superb.  Our stay cost 400 Baht each plus just 100 for Pipistrelle (about £25 in total) and tickets stamped with the Buddhist year ‘2557’!

Sail Rock

Sail Rock

Beach (that's our dinghy!)

Beach (that’s our dinghy!)

Pipistrelle basking in sunshine

Pipistrelle basking in sunshine

It was time to return to Phuket so we set off again for the 54 miles back to Koh Kala.  Anchoring in the evening, there was one other occupied yacht in the bay – Camomile.  James, Bill and Sue’s son was on board who had just been diving in Koh Tao, Gemma’s next destination but over the VHF some vital detail was lost, so we invited them all to Pipistrelle for coffee at 0830 next day.  Gemma picked up some great travel tips, packed, and we went ashore taking all her gear with us, landing in front of the Nikki Beach Resort.

A stunning beach

Stunning beach at Koh Kala, Bang Tao Bay

Nikki Beach

Nikki Beach Resort

With its sunbeds – literally mattresses with white covers, cushions galore, towels – copious sunshades and small pool with swim up bar, this was quite a location.  In the shade of the restaurant we enjoyed a superb lunch – thank you Gemma!  Then the two girls treated themselves to a traditional Thai massage.  While Gemma waited for her taxi to the airport that evening, we made for Pipistrelle and departed early on Tuesday 11th March for Ao Chalong.

Gemma enjoying fresh coconut

Gemma enjoying fresh coconut

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