As promised, some more details and pictures of our trip to the more remote islands from Phuket. I hope it doesn’t take too long to load this page as there are a lot of pictures included. (Just found out the pictures are out of order on safari, but ok on Chrome ?!? )
Mainland Thap Lamu to the Similans
We arrived at Thap Lamu, a mainland fishing port, about 40 km north of Phuket as the day was ending, consequently we met the fishing fleet leaving for the evenings fishing. There were still a few dozen left in the port as we made our way up the estuary into the river.
The boats above catch their fish through trickery, well lets say advanced trickery, I suppose a hook is trickery. They shine very bright lights at the surface of the sea to trick the fish into thinking it’s dawn so they swim to the light for a spot of breakfast and find themselves ensnared in the net.
Below you can see the lights when I zoom in. I had often seen bright lights when out night sailing, but it was interesting to see them close up. As we sailed through the night a few days later we saw these boats again, they take up station on fixed moorings in a long line parallel to the coast. Rather than anchor, they have giant mooring buoys, made up of some kind of plastic tanks in netting, secured to something in 20-30 metres of water. At first I wondered what on earth these buoys were, they look like big rocks from a distance.
The next morning we woke to a beautiful dawn in the river, before we headed out to Koh Similan, an island some 8 hours sailing/motoring away.
As we left, we headed into the fleet returning from their night’s fishing. Fishing boats tend to take the shortest route from A to B when not fishing, and when fishing, they are often on autopilot and the captain may not always be giving 100% of his attention to the possibility of a little sailing boat being in his way. However I got some good advice from a local mariner who pointed out that the Captain and crew are usually on a high going out and coming back, and tend to be alert, it’s the rest of the time you need to be careful. So we dodged their boats as we left, under the eye of a big Thai navy frigate that was returning to the naval base at the mouth of the river.
Ko, or Koh Similan is the eighth of nine islands in the Similans chain. Similan actually means nine, so there’s a bit of confusion there. Locals calls the islands by their number. Ko Similan, like all the islands is surrounded by coral reefs, white coral sand beaches and exceptionally clear waters. The islands are part of the National park so strict rules apply to visitors. Fishing is banned around the islands so the fish are very tame and they’re in bucket loads, except you’re not allowed to put them in buckets.
Above you can see our approach to the island, the speedboats are carrying day trippers from Phuket and Thap Lamu, and possibly other ports. Each boat carries about 20 people, they stop, raft up to each other if the buoys are all taken, dump their passengers out the back into the sea for a half hour swim, honk the horn, get them all back on board and whiz around to the next island. I would have loved it as a teenager.
We were lucky and picked up a mooring buoy in about 15 metres of water, which felt quite close to the cliff face, but actually wasn’t when we looked from afar.
The next day we woke to find a film crew had taken over a rock on the cliff face next to us and were filming people jumping off the cliff into the sea. It looked very much like a soap or short film being made, but we later found out it was a commercial for a French bank. I’m hoping to keep a look out for this when it airs, as I’m sure we will be in the picture, possibly leaving my towels to dry on the rail might have affected their decision to have us in the background? we will see 😉
Above is a liveaboard dive boat, basically it has about ten passengers who live on board for a week, or two, they travel around different spots and anchor overnight, They also do night dives. I wish I could scuba dive, however this trip showed me you can do a lot with a snorkel if the fish co-operate.
I took this picture below, which was the first I have been able to take of the boat from a distance, sadly it’s quite a distance
A better picture of the boat as the sun sets.
We had two days there as once the day trippers leave (Above) it’s quite a peaceful place.
Onto Ko Miang, Island number 4 (ish) and again we picked up a mooring buoy, Kathy is quite a dab hand with the boat hook now. You can see the large coral rock that the mooring is attached to. The rock is between 12 and 15 metres down, depending on the state of the tide. Visibility is incredible
Finally I get a picture of the boat looking peaceful
We stayed two nights here as well, this has to be my most ‘favouritest’ island yet, really simple, and quite unspoilt except for the rangers office and a small cafe that supports the tourists and the rangers staff. Mainly, snorkelling with the fish was a revelation, it really was like swimming around in a very well stocked tropical aquarium. Every kind of coloured fish you could imagine, all very tame, they would swim up to your face, look at you, swim around and come back for another look. all sizes and shapes too, some a few feet long, others miniscule. I also saw my first sea snake thing, with black and red stripes along its length.
It wasn’t an easy climb down from the top of the hill.
Looking down into 15 metres of water, the fish don’t have the vibrant colours you see underwater.
Ko Racha Yai
After the second day the weather looked like it might change and give us more northerly winds, so we left for Ko Racha Yai, an island south of Phuket, again, clear waters, but this island is more developed with a luxury hotel on the waterfront. It was a good slog across, but we got the sails going and made good progress.
It was a long journey, and we opted to do it in one go as an overnight passage, the first we had done on this boat. We have done enough before, but people strongly advise against it here, due to the amount of small fishing boats and fishing marks, fish farms etc, often unlit. However we plotted a course that kept us well offshore in very deep water, so the risk was greatly reduced. As it turned out we only had one close encounter with another boat or object, and that was a rude fisherman who cut us up early the next day, after the sun was up. Kathy was on the helm, I was asleep and she called me up, we were on a collision course, due to collide within ten minutes, we were sailing with all three sails up, he was not fishing, but heading home, so we had right of way, yet he made no attempt to change course, we ended up doing a 360 deg turn about 200 metres away from him and slipped behind him, no big deal really.
By the time we arrived the wind had picked up and was starting to batter us on the nose, so it was a relief to drop into the bay, and despite scores of day trippers and dive boats, we found a mooring buoy right away. It would later turn out that that mooring belonged to the resort boat so we were very politely kicked off when their boat returned, but by then, most of the day trippers had left so we easily found another buoy, closer to the beach, so we could row ashore and save all the flapping with the outboard engine.
Now I had been fishing on every leg of the passage ( not in the parks of course) and had caught nothing, however I think the fish took pity on me and one threw himself onto the deck during our night passage, most considerate of him/her, also it did the honour of suffocating itself so I didn’t have to do any killing. It made a lovely sandwich later. I’m now reading a book on how to fish, I have learnt some fishermen knots, but I think there’s more to the problem than the knots I have been using.
Later we rowed ashore and explored the island, we also had a lovely dinner in a restaurant built onto the side of the cliff. Lovely.
Ko Racha Yai Beach with floating pontoon where we tied up our dinghy
Ko Rang Yai
The weather was now getting worse, not so sunny, winds moving to the north, which is where we had to get to, and increasing to 25knots, so we pushed off early the next day and headed up to the NE of Phuket, the plan being to stop somewhere half way to the marina, I looked on the charts and saw a beach with protection from the north and a wine glass symbol, so that basically met both our needs 😉 Off we went. Ko Rang is privately owned, and is where they grow pearls, it has a bar and restaurant, and a lovely beach. It is also surrounded by shallow coral shores, so we had to be careful when anchoring not to damage the coral. It was a lovely spot, and a very protected spot, despite the sea getting a bit rough just half a mile either side of the beach anchorage. We had a great walk around the island which is covered in coconut trees and palms along with banana trees.
From there we left the next morning for a 4 hour trip back to the Marina, we arrived a day earlier than planned, so we dropped the hook near the marina entrance in 6 metres of water. I was curious to see how it was, and it was just wonderful, so peaceful, not a ripple. It’s possible to anchor there for free and dinghy into the marina for a few Baht each day and use their facilities. Something that might be handy one day.
Finally we moved back to our berth and started packing up. Yesterday, we hired a car to do some Christmas shopping at the famous Phuket weekend night market. That was great, but on the way we spotted a giant supermarket/warehouse for supercheap, a local version of 7-11. This place was massive and was very much lidl style, but without any organisation. ‘Stack em high’ was the principle, but, ‘not in any particular order’ was also in play. Combine this with no english signage, and it made for a lot of fun traversing the aisles. I have attached a stack of pictures below to show what I mean.
On the way to the night market we saw this guy with a truck load of teddy bears, most surreal.
Kathy will tell a more interesting story of our trip, once she gets home and has some time.