Friday, February 24, 2012

Cruising Langkawi to Au Chalong, Thailand!

Checking out of Langkawi was painless and free. Customs, Immigration and the Harbour Master (all with their own forms and official stamps) were all in the same building at the ferry terminal in Kuah. We sailed (yes, we had enough wind to sail the whole way!) straight over to Telaga harbour and our anchor held on the second attempt. Another big night of celebratory drinks - this time onboard Tasha D.M - friends we made on the hardstand in Pangkor. We awoke with big plans of doing the skyrail but they melted away in a blur of chores like doing the washing and plotting our course. Our last job was to fill up with water - surprisingly, despite all of the pollution in the sea, the tap water in Malaysia is drinkable, though preferably filtered. Telaga marina (which was affected in the 2004 Tsunami) let us tie up for 2 hours to fill up our tanks and wash our decks (for 30RM). A puff of wind and we were off! It's pretty humid here and we were pretty hot and sweaty from all of our efforts so we enjoyed the refreshing local isotonic drink as we sailed along.

Maybe we should ask for sponsorship?
 Coming from Australia, where it is impossible to see another country from our shores, it seemed so novel to us to be able to see Thailand from Langkawi. Within five hours, we were anchored on the West coast of Tarutao island. About 60 or so local fishing boats were at work or anchored all around us and I was (of course, being miss scaredy cat) a bit nervous that they would come and do something horrible to us. Of course we were perfectly safe - they were all too busy making their lives as fishermen to be bothered with us!
Fishing flag poles are so numerous we have to swerve around them sometimes.
After a rolly night's sleep, we set off just before dawn and had to manoeuvre through countless tiny sticks sporting different coloured flags supported on various bottles or bits of Styrofoam. We're not sure if they mark nets or crab pots but there are millions of these all around here. The Thais certainly work the water like a farm and are much more present on the sea than in Malaysia.
Longtail boats abound here.
We motored and tried to sail for nearly 50 miles to reach the famous Emerald Cave at Koh Muk island. This place is incredible! We anchored in a small bay with one other boat and encountered our first naked bottom. Just as we were approaching the anchorage, a woman (in her late 50s or so) on the only other yacht here (we think they were either European or Brazilian), turned her back to us, dropped her undies and bared her bum! We don't think she meant to be rude as she then pulled on her bikini bottoms but it was a big shock after having spent nearly half a year in a Muslim country where nudity is not acceptable! The tide was right for us to explore the cave so we took our dinghy around to the entrance marked by floating buoys. It was after 5pm so there were no tourist boats here and we had the cave all to ourselves. Glowing aqua water greeted us upon our entry to the cave. The air cooled and smelt slightly musty. The water roared and moaned as it slapped and eased over the limestone rocks. We set out towards the darkness, Rene using an oar to pull us along.
Glowing emerald water inside the cave.
The roaring grew in ferocity and I felt sure we were about to be swamped by a tsunami but then we rounded the corner and floated out into a tiny paradise.
Just perfect. Emerald Cave all to ourselves.
A white sandy beach with clear aqua water sits at the base of this beautiful 'hong' (Thai for 'room'). Steep vertical cliffs rise to the sky and are painted with many varieties of flora. Cicadas began their slow afternoon song and we relished in this amazing place.
Sailbirds inside the magical Emerald Cave at Koh Muk
 That night Rene played his guitar late into the night and we relaxed at anchor, a cool breeze keeping the mosquitoes and humidity at bay. I was met with more naked bodies the next morning on the charter boat anchored right next to us! We explored the cave again but this time experienced what it's like for people travelling the normal way - through tours. We arrived on our own but within minutes, the peaceful hong was filled with people all wearing bright orange life vests, posing for photographs and talking loudly in a mix of Russian, German, English and more we didn't recognise.
Emerald Cave, Koh Muk. The best cave we've ever been in.
Very different when a load of tourists arrives!!
When the third group of tourists arrived to spoil the peace we decided to set off and motored 15 miles to Ko Lanta. Here we were able to buy local SIM cards for our unlocked phones and sample our first Thai food for this visit. Gosh it's delicious!! We ate at a fun restaurant called 'The Drunken Sailor' while lazing in hammocks! BLISS!

Delicious Thai food eaten in hammocks in the shade = bliss!
The jellyfish here are huge and purple/pink! This one is as large as my torso.
Next stop was Phi Phi Don where we met with some cruising friends we met in Indonesia. We had an all-afternoon BBQ onboard Anima and went ashore to the extremely touristy shore late that afternoon. This place was completely wiped out in the 2004 tsunami and I couldn't help but feel a sense of devastation, despite there being little evidence of the destruction. Signs informing us of the nearest evacuation point are clearly displayed at every corner. The small town has no cars or motorbikes, locals instead push large carts around and actually say 'beep beep' out aloud to get tourists to move out of the way! 
Tsunami warning sign at Phi Phi Don.
Ao Chalong 7°49.30N 98°21.24E
Early next morning we set out towards Au Chalong, Phuket. This is the main check-in/out port for this part of Thailand and so the anchorage is very busy. We were lucky to find a spot between some moorings for dive boats that wasn't too far from the jetty where yachties tie up to go ashore. There are hundreds of tour boats which zoom in and out of the bay, making it quite rocky at times with their wake. The pier is so long! We tied our dinghy up at either the far end or the middle section and often had issues with our painter getting caught up in other dinghy's propellers. Checking in with Immigration, Customs and the Harbour Master took a while but was easy enough (and free!). Once we'd done the official stuff we went straight to 'The Anchor', a restaurant that we'd been recommended and which absolutely lived up to all our expectations. YUM! Their Chicken Salad is the best I've ever had!!

Delicious food at 'The Anchor' in Au Chalong, Phuket.
Another day, another delicious meal at 'The Anchor'!!
So, here we are in Thailand!! We're so incredibly grateful to be able to do this!

Nai Harn tree. Probably a variation on a spirit house.
Nai Harn 7°46.49N 98°17.71E
After a couple of days in Au Chalong, we zipped across to the West Coast (only 1.5 hours!) to anchor in the bay everyone talks about, Nai Harn. We tried anchoring here to see if it would be calm enough for Jacqui's visit. It's not. We rocked and rolled for the first 24 hours and then it flattened out just before we needed to head back to Chalong. Here we got boaty jobs completed and I did more of the TESOL course (I'm halfway now!).  

The water is clear and there's a good swimming beach, albeit very crowded with tourists, many of whom choose to bare their breasts and bums for the sun to scorch. I was (as usual over here) the most covered woman by far, wearing what is often normal on an Australian beach (rashie and board shorts). Here, the norm is a g-string bikini or nothing at all!!  Ashore we went for a swim (of course, as soon as I was brave enough to get in, Rene saw a Scorpion fish and a jellyfish!). We shared a nice Thai green curry at a place overlooking the anchorage and enjoyed the breeze.

Thai curry views at Nai Harn.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Penang to Langkawi

The outgoing tide was with us from early morning so we left Penang at dawn. We'd planned to leave at 6.30am (the sun doesn't rise here until at least 7.30) but things took longer and then, there was so much junk caught around our anchor chain, that it took even longer to leave. Rene said he even had Christmas lights wrapped around the chain, along with the usual rubbish and seaweed. We made good speeds though so the delayed start wasn't an issue. The journey north was pretty straightforward - though quite lumpy for much of it. We needed to reach our destination (Langkawi) by nightfall (7.30pm) and so had to motor a little more than if we'd not had the deadline in order to make 58 miles. We did manage to sail for a couple of hours though which was lovely! 
With this view, I found it incredibly difficult to concentrate on my TESOL course!!
We took turns on deck (though Rene did more). He finished reading 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins while I struggled through more TESOL material. I'm finding my motivation levels dropping daily to complete this course as there's so much more exciting things to be looking at and thinking about than English grammar!
Feeling so grateful for being able to live this right now :)
By the afternoon, we were motor-sailing closer towards the islands at the south of Langkawi. It was so magical to be gliding into this paradise. I am so grateful that we are able to do this, to sail here and see such beauty, especially after having spent 2 months in a dirty ship yard working.

Motoring through magnificent untouched islands in Langkawi.
We slipped along in between sheer mountainous islands, all of them covered only in forest - no development! Our anchorage for the night was the perfectly scenic channel between Pulau Gubang Darat and Pulau Dayang Bunting (position 06' 11.17N 99' 47.25E). It was just magical - surrounded by islands and nothing else.

The view from our back "verandah" at anchor in southern Langkawi.
I was inspired to cook a delicious home-made pizza (Mum, I really need some recipes for dough as mine was not the success I was dreaming of) while Rene was inspired to remove the safety netting from the port side deck railings. The ropes holding this netting in place was falling apart anyway and we don't need the netting on right now so it made sense and looks so much better!
The deck port side, netting removed (don't look too closely at the painting I still need to do!).
The deck starboard side, netting still intact.

Rene does some boat work in paradise.

Pangkor to Penang

Friends on SY Tegan shared their wondrously deadly homemade Baileys into the wee hours of our final morning in the marina. Despite our heavy heads we rushed about doing all the last-minute preparations. Rene finished installing an alternative tackle block for the mainsheet. He also repaired our deflated dinghy and installed the life-raft to the stern. I cleaned and scrubbed like you wouldn't believe! Everything in and out was covered – or embedded with a thick layer of dust (despite all of our efforts to keep it from coming inside). Eventually we were ready to leave. By late afternoon we were anchored in Bogak Bay in the South Western corner of Pangkor Island. Jellyfish the size of Rene drifted by and we enjoyed our first night at anchor in many months. We stayed at 04' 12.47N 100' 33.13E.
Rene's handiwork with the mainsheet
Anima rests at anchor in Pulau Pangkor
Up pre-dawn, we motored out between the main island of Pangkor and a much smaller one (with exclusive resorts) with a nice current helping our passage. The wind picked up enough to help us along and so we sailed or motored at around 6.5 knots. Inspired to cook up some tasty foods now that I was free from constant boat work (for the minute!), I rustled up a yummy breakfast of Pikelets and a healthy potato salad for lunch (see recipes below).
Pikelets for breakfast
We anchored out from Pulau Rimau in about 7 metres of rolling swell at 05' 14.59N 100'16.32E. Ren was too nervous about nosing deeper into this small bay in case of a lee shore or uncharted rocks. So we spent a bouncy, but not uncomfortable night – at anchor next to a beautiful jungle-covered island. Again we were accompanied by giant jellies. Today we covered 67 nautical miles. 
Leaving the untouched islands, heading for the city of Penang
We caught the end of the current up through the channel between Penang and mainland Malaysia. An easy trip of only 12 miles by daylight. We anchored at the aptly named 'Junk Anchorage' (05'24.60N 100'20.59E) just out from the Tanjong City Marina. We elected not to stay in the actual marina to save money and because the marina is not in a good state of repair. Due to the constant ferries (who all leave their powerful engines running at the dock), it is almost completely silted up, leaving only a dozen berths deep enough.

Yawarra 2 was here and we enjoyed catching up with them (as usual!). We stayed for 3 days, paying 5RM each day to tie up our dinghy in one of the unusable berths. I think it's free to tie up at the jetty in the anchorage but we chose to pay so we could see Nick and Jan more often. When we visited Penang back in early January with Ben and Chihiro, we spent a similar amount of time here and left thinking of it as one giant traffic jam. This time we approached it by sea which was far less hassle and bustle. Our accommodation last time was the Red Inn Cabana where we paid about 50RM each night. This time we simply anchored in our own home, for free! 
I love Indian food!!
Nick and Jan are Penang enthusiasts. They love it. We like it a lot more too now, it's just so ALIVE! I still hate the traffic and lack of pedestrian crossings (you have to make a run for it through cars, buses, motorbikes etc. as they race along). However, I LOVE the food here. We had some amazing Indian meals, each for only $2.50 AUD. I love the pokey streets streets of Georgetown... Indian music stores pump out the latest hits and you just feel your body start to dance.... we ended up buying 3 Cd's ($12AUD). Rene went to the 'Chemical Man' to get some hardcore acids (sulphuric, hydrochloric and nitric) for working on the boat. What a place! A small room, packed to the ceiling with all manner of chemicals and related paraphernalia. The shop-owner is about 90 and knows everything about his trade. Ren is amazed that he could simply walk in and buy 1 litre of extremely toxic acids, no questions asked!
Liangtraco SDN. BHD. or 'The Chemical Man's shop'
Apart from getting our 2 month Thai visas here, we also stopped in Penang to see the Thaipusam celebrations.This festival was AMAZING. Probably my favourite cultural experience in SE Asia so far. The reason was that this celebration is for the Hindus, not for the tourists. I was allowed to be there and take photos but it was for them, not me so it was all the more authentic, alive and mind-blowingly different. I didn't find the piercings to be disgusting - instead I was constantly awed at the dedication and strength the particpants demonstrated. For 48 days prior to Thaipusam, devotees purge themselves of all mental and physical impurities. This means that they only eat one small vegetarian meal each day (24 hours prior, they must fast completely), they abstain from all pleasures (alcohol, sex, bathing in cold water and sleeping on the floor) in order to transcend from desire.

Young men wearing these Kavadi's danced in circles to hypnotic, awesome beats all night long

Offerings of coconuts, milk and rice on banana leaves with so much incense

Two men almost ready, covered in hooks - the live drumming at this point was insane!

The rod in his mouth is actually pierced right through

Heating up the drums to tune them.

Close up of the piercings

Just been pierced through his tongue

We all found it astonishing that there was no blood!

Gurus with their famous quotes were on display

Most attendees carried pails full of milk to pour over the temple.

Shrines and street art decorated the streets

Men bearing hooks pulled forward to increase the tension on the ropes.

The best live drumming I've heard in ages

The crowd culminated at a temple after having walked many miles carrying their pails or piercings.

This man is covered in piercings yet because he's in a trance, feels no pain.

Pikelets (thanks for Chihiro for this delicious recipe)
1 cup self-raising flour
pinch salt
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
¾ cup sour milk*
3 tablespoons sugar (I often reduce this)
1 egg
1 dessert spoon melted butter / oil
* fresh milk soured with 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice
Sift dry ingredients, add sugar. Mix to a smooth batter with beaten egg and milk. Add melted butter. Heat and grease pan, drop batter by dessert spoonfuls on to pan, cook until bubbly on top, light brown underneath. Turn, cook other side.

Healthy Potato Salad
(I haven't included all measurements because I usually just do it by feel)
Potatoes, washed/peeled, cut into large pieces (usually quarters)
Olive oil
Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sumac (a delicious Middle Eastern spice)
Capsicum, finely diced
Large green or red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
Fresh mint, chopped
Parsley, roughly chopped
Shallots or red onions, finely sliced

** You can really add whatever you like, the core ingredients are the potatoes, dressing and chillies.

Steam the potatoes until they're tender but still firm. Drain and let them cool for 10 minutes. Mix the dressing (oil, lemon juice, sugar, sumac, salt and pepper) and pour over the potatoes. Add all the other ingredients, toss lightly and serve.

Potato salad on deck

Thursday, February 2, 2012


We're floating again!!
We hauled out of the water here in Pangkor Marina intending to do 2 weeks of work on Anima. Now, 2 months later, we're finally done (mostly) and today we splashed back into the water. The marina manager, James, expertly drove us along in the haul-out machine, our engine started first go and we slid into an empty berth no problems! It feels so so good to be on the water again. We're both exhausted but still have lots on our to do list before we can head north to clearer waters.
James steers us on the haul-out machine through the yard