Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Days in the Similans

Initially we were in two minds as to whether we should make the trip further north-west to see this small group of islands. The forecast strong easterly winds which we'd hoped to sail there with, eased off and became light northerlies. Rene was hoping to sail everywhere in an effort to conserve diesel but we bit the bullet and motored the whole 47 miles from the airport anchorage on Phuket across to the Similan island group. The trip was easy. Anima is motoring really well and having no problems. Rene stayed on deck, adjusting our course occasionally and keeping a lookout for fishing vessels/traps/etc. I remained inside (hiding from the sun) and managed to complete (almost) two units for my TESOL course.
Beautiful Similans - Anima is anchored far right.
Upon arriving I took the helm and Rene went to the bow to hook the mooring line. He collected the thick line and pulled up a massive yellow buoy. As we swung around to lie with the current, I decided that we were too far out and we let go to move to another free mooring. This buoy was red and the line more suitable to our size, but minutes after turning off the engine, a large dive boat came and collected the mooring just metres from ours. The two boats swung close together and after a strange discussion with one of their crew, we decided to move again, it would have been dangerous to stay so close, let alone the complete lack of privacy (tourists were taking photos of us from the top deck).

Our third attempt at mooring was the best by far. It's away from all of the others which are frequented by large dive boats and is in about 5 metres. We swam around the boat in amazingly clear water. The national park guys saw us pretty quickly. Charging 900 baht for our 2 day visit, which turned out to be 5 days after purchasing the ticket. Below us sat strange sculptures secured to the seabed. We think they are to ward of bad spirits – this spot certainly has a positive vibe! We found out later, from a British diver who helpfully interjected while we fruitlessly quizzed some friendly local Eco-tourism students, that the seabed sculptures are a memento for the '04 tsunami whilst also providing something interesting to look at.
Tsunami mementos secured to the sea under our boat.
Wow. I am so so glad that we decided to come here - It's gorgeous!! Ironically, it's the first place we've come to (since Indonesia and our favourite islands such as Lady Musgrave, Lizard and Great Keppel along the QLD coast) that is perhaps comparable! Of course everywhere is different and has its own positives/negatives. The Similans main positive is its incredibly clear water. So clear that it is akin to looking through blue/aqua tinted glass. So clear that swimming here is pretty sensational.
Clear water! Yeah!!!
Happy Days
Rock-hopping view.
It began with an attempt at doing yoga on the boat (a lost cause when there's any motion. Which there always seems to be). Rene couldn't wait to get in the water and jumped off within minutes of eating breakfast. He towed the dinghy (with me sitting in it) toward the large boulder-covered coastline of the small island we are next to. Rock hopping was fun as always! The water is just so clear that I could watch fish swimming around the rocks when 10 metres above the water. After some rock-hopping Rene was eager to be towed along (with me driving the dinghy and him holding a rope in the water). I took photos of the beautiful rocks while he frolicked about in the water. We stopped by a beach and swam with schools of unafraid fish. Boat-loads of tourists soon pushed us on and we continued to explore by dinghy around the whole island. 

Towing Rene around with the dinghy. Can you see him?
Large swells rolled in from the Indian ocean and created strange overfalls which sometimes seemed about to suck us down into the rocks. Watching boulders pass by below in the clear water is a new experience. We kept exploring and discovered a small beach after navigating a particularly interesting area of overfalls. Rene checked it out and then waded in with the dinghy and me to the beach, positioning it carefully through the rocks and avoiding the swell surge by seconds! What a lovely, secluded spot! The jungle sprawls down the mountainside and nestles in over clusters of large granite boulders, providing shade and intimacy with nature. The usual empty water bottles, old buoys, rope and Styrofoam were washed up above the waterline and someone had helpfully left a cache of new drinking water bottles tucked into one of the thick tree branches, presumably for stranded fishermen.

A beautiful little secluded bay - just for us!
These are often more common than shells on beaches here.
On the way back to Anima I towed Rene again and he saw brilliant blue fish darting about near the drop-off. Later that afternoon we swam again, this time just off Anima. The only other boats were a long way away so we shrugged off our togs for a skinny dip. Within a minute of floating free, I spied a dive boat making fast towards us. We both giggled so much (I kept taking water in my snorkel) and I only just clipped my bikini top on as the boat came past, so close that the people on board could take photos of us, wave and shout encouragement! Ah, fun times.

The Perfect morning and the Box Jellyfish
We awoke at dawn today with the plan of going ashore to do yoga/kung fu. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get any yoga done on the boat. It's always so rolly! The wind was up a little bit from the north west and Anima was having a hard time trying to decide whether to face the wind or the current. We took our dinghy to the leeward side of the island and were the first footprints on the sand. To escape the sun, I suggested we walk across the island to the western side where it would be shady. Along the forest track we came upon a sign for the lookout, only a 330m walk. 'Let's go!'. The track led us steeply up through dense jungle. The path was moist but firm mud and knotted ropes helped our progress up the more challenging inclines. Slow-moving, hungry, gigantic mosquitoes began their attack and my skin became tattooed with shadows of their deaths. A jovial Thai family was already near the top. We overtook them for the last part of the path which goes inside some rocks and up a particularly steep bank to arrive on top of a large boulder. Views of the sea and surrounding islands greeted our sweaty selves. The older members of the family had to be cajoled by a happy young man to continue to the top. They laughed a lot and it was a big accomplishment for two of them (slightly older) to make it.
Sailbirds atop the lookout on Ko Miang. Anima is down there, above and to the right of Rene's head.
 We eventually made it to the western beach. I did the standing poses for Ashtanga (getting covered in sand) and Rene did Kung Fu stretches but couldn't calm his mind. We are both a bit out of practice.

A walk through the shaded area was relaxing and we filled out a questionnaire for tourist development on the island before having a swim and snorkel and then heading back to the boat. Coffee and banana pancakes never tasted so good! But beyond the taste, I realised that I miss the ritual of this special breakfast. To us, pancakes are a breakfast to be shared with family and friends. A long, drawn out ritual of sharing, enjoying rich foods and talking about everything/anything. Our flights are booked for returning home. We leave Malaysia in August this year. Before then we have some more cruising to do but also more boat work as we prepare Anima to go on the market. Owning and living on Anima has been an amazing, life-changing experience. Through this I've finally figured out what I want in my life. It's not just travel, it's family that makes me happy. The time for another chapter to begin approaches. 
Enjoying the clear waters here.
We snorkelled around the boulders that afternoon. With clear water and blue skies, I began to relax. I started to feel safe in the water and thought to myself, 'you can just enjoy it Cerae, there are no dangers here!'. My new found water relaxation lasted all of 30 seconds. I looked up (my version of snorkelling is to constantly scan the water around me for jellyfish) and there. Right where I was about to swim, was a box jellyfish. Yep. The most deadly of them all! I quickly swam backwards and Rene, not understanding my shouts and gestures swam directly toward the stinger! Luckily he managed to avoid getting stung and saw it too – confirming my prognosis that it was a box jelly of about 40cm long. I didn't swim again after that. Preferring to chill out on some boulders. To watch the sunset with red wine and freshly baked bread. 
Orange sunset sundowners.
 Sail Rock
A storm greeted us this morning bringing wind and a hint of rain. We are both absorbed in the book 'Four Corners' by Kira Salik . It's a true story about the author's solo journeys into dangerous places in search of herself. When a large dive boat took up the tiny dinghy mooring just metres from us, I decided it was time to move on and check out the other anchorage here, on the north of Ko Similan. My jellyfish scare yesterday has unfortunately damaged my confidence in the water again. I really should have bought a full-body stinger suit while we were in QLD, I might then enjoy myself in the water!

The coral here is all very dead-looking. I'm not sure why, has it been bleached by the sun? Damaged by fishing? Smashed in the 2004 tsunami? Crushed by boats' anchors?

There are plenty of colourful fish to see but I realised that the joy for me when snorkelling, is to see the coral gardens, not the fish. Rene is loving it though. He is almost becoming part-fish for the amount of time he spends beneath the surface. The clear water is what he loves, amazing that it's so rare. When you imagine cruising, you picture yachts at anchor off idyllic atolls in perfectly clear water. We've only had that a few times. Perhaps it's more like this vision in the Pacific?

Rene snorkels over some semi-living reef.
We went ashore in the afternoon and climbed up through picturesque large boulders and tropical forest to reach 'Sail Rock', a lookout of sorts. Throughout the day, we'd seen hundreds of tourists taking turns to get photographed with their arms in the air standing on the edge of this rock. We timed our arrival to be there with minimal other foreigners and instead found some locals sitting up on the rock. They were a group of university students who were all studying tourism (or Eco tourism, environmental management and sustainable tourism – areas I find incredibly interesting and important – why didn't I study this at uni?). We'd completed a questionnaire the day before with one of the girls but this afternoon on Sail Rock we mainly chatted to A (not sure how to spell his name but it sounded like the letter 'A'), Billy and their lecturer. Not having travelled here with a tour-guide, we overwhelmed these students with questions about tourism in Thailand. How do they regulate the protection zones for fishing? What has happened to the coral? Are there any turtles here? What's it like living in a country that has so much tourism? Is tourism having a negative effect on the environment? Etc. They answered as much as they could with limited English and I tried (failed) to learn some Thai words for things like sunset. After the overwhelming capitalism of Patong Beach and a number of other high-tourism areas we'd been to, it was extremely refreshing to engage in natural conversation with locals, without having a commercial relationship. It is something we'd been missing from our previous trip to northern Thailand in 2003. 
Chatting to locals atop Sail Rock on Ko Similan
I'm not sure how informed these students are but they told us that the coral used to be flourishing, alive and well only 2 years ago, even more so 10 years ago. Now it's dead. They blamed global warming. I wonder if this is true?

The students were critical of the hundreds of sticks which have been wedged up under the rocks by tourists. They explained that tour guides make up stories about it having a spiritual significance or simply encourage their customers to add to the sticks so that they feel involved, more than simply an observer. It isn't natural. It isn't traditional. It has been artificially created for foreigners who find it humorous that the sticks are 'holding up' the rocks (as one American we spoke to explained). 
Tourist sticks.
 Island #9
We are relaxing into a slow kind of existence. I slip between feeling at peace and feeling guilty for not doing enough.

We visit Willow for morning tea and I like their perspective on our plans of selling Anima. They said we have learnt so much about yachts, cruising, weather etc. etc. that we will come back to it much more informed than when we began.

In an effort to escape the swell (which constantly rocks us side to side) we move half a mile to island #9 where there are half a dozen moorings set within a small boulder-fringed bay. We snorkel here and the coral is a little less dead, though nothing like the gardens we saw through Indonesia and Queensland. From his free-diving, Rene sees that the coral is covered in algae – the plot thickens.
Coral not doing so well but still plenty of fish.
As the sun starts to 'go to bed' (as Thai students put it) we take the dinghy toward the boulders, looking for the perfect jetty-esque one to safely climb onto – none of them can beat our 'jetty-rock' that we found at the previous anchorage, but some of them seem OK. Our first attempt is pretty funny. The strategy is to motor towards the boulder, throwing the anchor out at just the right moment, then quickly climb up the rock and bring a stern line. Push the dinghy out so it doesn't hit the rock and tie the stern line to anything available. We successfully pull this off without a scratch on the dinghy, and Rene cracks open our shared beer can as we wander towards the edge of the boulder, expecting to be able to continue our adventure. Instead we greet a sheer drop-off to water. The next boulder is 3 metres away! The dinghy process is reversed and then repeated on a different rock. Some great exploring to do here. Wedged in amongst the large rocks are the ubiquitous plastic water bottles. Hundreds of them. There is sadly a lot of rubbish out here in the ocean. Too much. Willow had told us how they witnessed (three times) the large dive boats (which rely upon the natural beauty of this place) throwing plastic bag-fulls of rubbish off their boats into the sea as they approached the harbour. I have trouble understanding these boat operators' lack of concern. Recently I read an article about how some university students in America have discovered a fungus (from the Amazon jungle) which eats plastic. I hope someone can successfully turn this into a weapon in the war against trash! 
Rock-hopping in the Similans at dusk.
Willow had also told us of how, in the Surins (a similar group of islands north of the Similans) their mooring had broken at 3am and they had only narrowly avoided being stuck on the coral. All night I imagine our mooring breaking, misinterpreting Rene's assessment. He had dived down and inspected it : “It's good enough for at least one night” meant to me “it will barely hold one night”. The moorings here are constructed thus: a thick rope is tied through a hole in a large piece of coral, insulated with a plastic sheath so as to stop coral chafing. This is not always very successfully achieved however, as the plastic tube isn't always long enough and slips down the rope, allowing it to chafe. We've seen a few old moorings that must have broken as we snorkel, as well as a few red and yellow buoys washed onto the beach or rocks, identical to the ones we tie to! So Rene always inspects the line now before we settle in.
Anima secured to our favourite mooring here.
Last day here
Rene snorkelled for hours taking photos and videos of the colourful fish. He even spied a turtle! The first sighting (from memory) since Australia. I'm so relieved that there is at least one turtle still alive up here. I hope it eats that Box jellyfish for me.

We sailed slowly back down to Ko Miang in the afternoon of our last day here in the Similans. I was impatient to get there as the wind and a small swell was coming in from the north west, meaning that there would only be one area protected. The last 20 minutes felt like a race, with dive boats and us competing for a mooring. We made it – just – and collected our mooring from a few days earlier. Strangely, it felt like coming 'home' to 'our mooring'. Jumping in for one last swim, Rene scraped the growth off our depth sounder and wind vane paddle. A large swarm of tropical fish – parrots, angels, triggers, coralfish and others - gathered behind, eating all of the scraps of coral and weed as soon as it was cut free.

Our last night here was a fitful sleep as we rolled about with the swell. We left at first light, motoring out of this peaceful pocket of beautiful islands as the sun crept above the clouds.

Almost week has passed since we left for the Similans. It is the furthest north and west that we will sail, this time. We're both glad that we decided to visit these beautiful islands. Such a magic spot. I hope that the tourism students do have some input into sustainably managing tourism here. There are already problems with the coral dying and with too many people zooming in and out each day, leaving rubbish in their wake. I hope that the Similans will only improve so that the next time we visit, we will be even more amazed. 

Similan Islands 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Taking it slow in Thailand

Rene has decided that he loves riding motorbikes/scooters. He hired one for three days in Chalong and delighted in zipping about on it. He will definitely go for his license when we're back in Australia after getting a taste for it over here where a normal car license suffices.
Look closely at Rene's face - he's loving it!
After the whirlwind of happiness having our good friend Jacqui here, we had to face the reality of cruising alone again. Lots of chores to do. Many loads of laundry (done at the local laundromat and then hung on the boat to dry), big trips to various supermarkets to stock up on fresh food and snacks again. 

Rene insisted that we take a little time out to go on a date up to the big Buddha. This statue is huge, visible from both sides of Phuket for miles. We took our bike up the steep, winding track and enjoyed the serenity at the top of the hill.  

The Big Buddha's view of Chalong harbour.
 Before leaving Chalong, we had the onerous task of filling our water tanks. Unlike Malaysia, the water here in Thailand is not potable. Everyone drinks treated, bottled water, even the locals. We arranged with the local water guy to buy 20 drums of water (at 12cents per 20 gallon drum). Then we moved Anima over to the public jetty and tied up. Rene zipped into the water man and got a lift back with him and all of the water drums. As we filled up, lots of curious Thai's wandered over to look at us. I guess most yachts have water makers these days so we're a bit of a novelty. The public jetty was very rusty and the wind changed just after we'd tied up, pushing us against the large, black rubber fender things it has along the edge. As tour boats continued to zoom in and out of the bay, we bounced back and forth and each tried to keep Anima from getting a nasty black mark on her new paintwork!
Anima tied up at the public jetty in Chalong.
This old cleat needs some serious TLC.
Panwa Beach (meet-up beach)
Just across to the north east of Chalong harbour is a beach anchorage that many favour instead of the busy main anchorage. Just how many favour it we didn't realise until arriving and spending a few days catching up with old cruising friends in between pottering away at boat jobs. We caught up with Dale and Sophia from Freeform, Chris and Julie from Lady Bubbly, Kellie, Youngie and Indi from Molonga, Lady Kay and Tasha D.M. We did lots of little boat jobs that I won't bore you with here. There will be plenty of that to come! We ate at the little beach restaurant a few times here and had some fun making mazes for Indi and playing night boules with Kellie. 
Buddha at sunset from Panwa beach.
Ko Racha Yai 
Time flies. Nearly a week flew by at Panwa beach before we realised it and decided to head off. We sailed south to this island the day after we were battered with strong south westerlies. We collected a mooring and bounced about like crazy as the wind continued to channel in from the west. We knew it was going to switch to the east though, we just hoped it would switch a little quicker! The beach is nice here, though a lot of rubbish was coming in with the tide from who knows where! Africa? India? Could have been a cruise ship even. We ate dinner at a local restaurant, sharing a meal and watching local life. The most fun aspect of this anchorage was the floating jetty which became a fun ride to be on as the waves crashed in!
Ko Racha Yoi - clear waters of the Indian Ocean.
Patong (not again!)
With strong easterly winds honking, we left our mooring under sail. Racha is nice but so busy with tourist boats (as usual around here). As we sailed along, I realised that I was relaxed - in conditions that used to scare me, I was relaxed!! We passed Molonga who were heading to where we'd departed from. Check out the figurehead!! 

Molonga sails past as we head opposite directions.
My new-found bravado melted when we tacked across Patong bay, heeling over quite dramatically as we encountered a strong gust of wind. I screamed and my body filled with adrenaline!

Rene kindly offered to do the shopping chore so that I could do some TESOL study. He found the local wet markets and enjoyed the experience. We had dinner out in Patong that night and set off a lantern, after making a special wish! 
We wish....... oh, sorry - that's a secret!
As I write this, we are slowly drifting north toward tonight's destination of the 'airport' anchorage. We must be getting close as I can hear the planes taking off every now and then. The wind mysteriously disappeared as we left Patong but we didn't have far to go, so we have just floated along in light winds. Rene is studying maths. I've been studying English! 
Tomorrow we plan to sail west across the sea to the Similans. A small group of rocks and islands that are supposedly the clearest water around. There are only a few spots to moor and the anchorages are quite deep (I read 35 metres today!). So I'm a little apprehensive about it but keen to check out a beautiful spot too. Wish us luck! I'll hopefully nab lots of pretty photos while we're there. 
Exhilerating photography!
Well. We didn't sail to the Similans today. There was no wind when we woke up so we delayed our departure. Instead we walked the beach here and decided it's probably the best we've seen in Thailand so far. For the first time we also saw locals enjoying the beach rather than just tourists. The serenity of this place is interrupted regularly by planes arriving and departing. We're right next to Phuket's International airport! I had a great adrenaline rush perched on the sand directly below where the planes fly in to land. It feels as though they're going to land on your head! The water here is crystal clear so we had a swim until the sea lice annoyed me too much. We were going to sail further north this afternoon but our dinghy started deflating so Rene has spent a few hours assessing the problem and regluing the rubber. We still might head to the Similans tomorrow.... we'll see!

Thailand's best kept secret.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cruising Thailand with Jacqui

Our lovely friend Jacqui flew here to see us. She nearly didn't make it because Australian Air crashed (financially) just 2 days before she was due to fly! Jac spent an agonising 4 days waiting to see if she could still visit and ended up having to buy another ticket.

Jacqui's prior experience of being onboard Anima for a night was not pretty. It was years ago now, in the usually peaceful anchorage of Deanbilla Bay on Stradbroke Island. Within 15 minutes of being onboard, Jac was very sick and had to be ferried back to land! We were a bit nervous about trying to ensure that every anchorage we stayed in was flat calm so she wouldn't get sick. We waited for her in Chalong which is mostly calm (apart from the wake of tour boats) and spent a couple of days on the west coast in Nai Harn.

Hanging out in Chalong
The day of Jacqui's arrival, we hired a motorbike and drove up the Phuket town, to visit the locals cheap supermarket 'Supercheap'. Rene encouraged me to wear long pants on the bike to prevent cuts/grazes if we were unlucky to be in an accident but I stripped them off down to my shorts after about 40 minutes of travel as I was burning up!! We eventually found Supercheap and I (grumpy from the heat) had to negotiate another new shopping centre where it's difficult to find items we consider normal. There is no cooling system and the centre is basically a huge shed so it's insanely hot inside. Eventually we collected almost all the items we wanted and were pleasantly surprised at the checkout - this place really is cheap! A whole trolley full of groceries came to 700baht ($23AUD)! Transporting all of our spoils home on a bike was another challenge. I ended up carrying a crammed-full silk bag in each arm whilst simultaneously somehow managing to hold onto Rene! 

Groceries were ferried back to the boat and more were bought at another, more Western supermarket. All of this was instantly forgotten when Jacqui arrived - how amazing to see her here in Thailand!!

Jac braved her seasickness to stay onboard Anima with us. We slept at Chalong the first night, to ease into it. I'd bought strong Stugeron tablets in Langkawi which I think helped her out. 

Next day, we set out into Phang Nga Bay toward the islands and adventure! 
Steering us along in calm waters
Ao Labu 8°01.70N 98°33.73E
Locals sell us prawns.
We chose this anchorage because we'd read that it was very sheltered and we wanted Jacqui's first night out of civilisation to be a calm one. The wind was on our nose for most of the journey (it seems to almost always be these days!) so we motored in and anchored in the early afternoon. A local longtail boat motored up to us offering prawns and fish. We normally refuse such business due to Rene's crustacean allergy but with another person onboard we bargained for about a dozen prawns (paying about $3.30AUD). We were a little nervous about the lack of refrigeration on the little fishing boat and so ate them with some trepidation. We were of course, all good and they were quite tasty!

The afternoon slipped away with card games, music and homemade experimental cocktails (thanks to Rene). 
Jac and Rene strung up some shade cloth over the hammock and we each spent some time there relaxing it up!

Shady hammock on a boat = pretty awesome.
Koh Phanak 8°11.32N 98°29.16E
This island was Jac's first hong experience. We waited for the majority of the tourist boats to depart before heading into a cave we'd seen them kayaking in and out of. It was spring tides so the current was really ripping out, so much so that we were unable to make much progress into the cave. Rene was rowing like a champion, until he broke our wooden oar!! Worried we would damage the dinghy on the oyster-covered rock walls, we decided to try again later. I'm glad we did because the entrance dried out within 30 minutes and we would have been stuck inside a pitch-black, bat-filled cave until the water returned! 
Anima rests at Koh Phanak, viewed from inside a hong cave.
Not to worry, there was plenty more island to explore. We took the dinghy along the awe-inspiring edge of Ko Phanak, often motoring right under huge overhangs of limestone formed into stalactite-ish shapes. Due to the falling tide, we were able to beach the dinghy underneath an overhang so Rene could climb up into a cave. A tourist-filled speed boat zooming past created such a wave that the dinghy was swamped (with me in it squealing of course!).
Incredible overhangs along Koh Phanak.
The dinghy adventure continued - so much to explore here on Phanak! We saw a hong that was only accessible by kayak and another that was open as though Anima could fit (Rene was keen to anchor there until we scraped the bottom with the dinghy - very shallow and filled with rocks).
Jac and I exploring the hongs on Koh Phanak via dinghy.
Probably the most exciting part of our adventure was finding a small deserted beach which invited exploration with a handmade bamboo ladder leading up to a cave just above the sand line. Rene anchored the dinghy ashore and we timidly entered the darkness, Dolphin torch in my hand. This is what is so amazing about cruising away from the masses and organised tours. A place that is probably overrun with tourists by day, is seemingly unexplored by the afternoon. We get to experience things as though they are a real adventure. This cave really was exciting. We really were all a bit adrenaline-filled as we gingerly walked into the depths of the unknown. Rene did his usual crazy jumping dance when a cricket jumped on his leg. We found a glittering mass of rock which looked like a Dragon's lair and we were all a bit relieved upon seeing daylight again at the entrance! Probably the most worrying thought was that this was a Swallows nest cave that was guarded by a gun-carrying guardian!
So much to see!
Jac the intrepid explorer, about to set off into a cave!
Anima anchored at Koh Phanak
Koh Hong Island group 8°13.76N 98°29.98E
These islands were spectacular. We motored up between a few of them and had breathtaking views of sheer limestone cliffs covered in untouched jungle.
Anima at Koh Hong, the famous 'James Bond' island in the distance. 
As we motored from Phanak to the Koh Hong group, I said to Rene 'Don't you think we should pull in the swimming ropes?'. He replied with 'No, they're floating ropes so our prop is fine'. I let it rest rather than pester him and then, while anchoring, the rope was mangled into our propeller and Ren paid the price of laziness by having to dive under to free it!!
I told you so Rene!!
Eager to explore, we decided not to wait for the hoards to disperse, instead taking our dinghy in to explore the hongs and islands of this wondrous place. Before leaving, a local boat stopped by and we had to pay 600baht each to be in the national park - a price well worth it. The tourists were all being shown around the island on kayaks, each with their own Thai man doing the work. We were stared at for being different and often 'blanked' when we smiled or said hello. Not to worry, we made our own fun and took turns with the kayak paddle to gently manoeuvre through this paradise. Rene climbed up into a crevice again, which a family of French travellers (swimming off a motorboat) found most entertaining. One very extroverted woman called out loudly that Rene was not impressing anyone with his antics (strange comment, because he wasn't doing it for anyone but himself). After he safely landed back in the dinghy (sustaining a minor scratch from an overhanging rock) we chatted to this vocal woman. My favourite part of the conversation went like this:
Us: We sailed here from Australia. 
French woman: Catamaran?
Us: Non
French woman: Oh, Au Revoir!
The tourists suddenly fill this small cave.
Old friends together again :)
Pan Yi - Floating Village 8°19.93N 98°30.28E
We travelled here thinking that we'd be able to show Jacqui some traditional culture. With memories of magical village visits we did throughout Indonesia, Pan Yi was an absolute disappointment. The village itself is about 50% large restaurants, made especially for the hoards of tourists (I read on this cruisers' blog that the village receives around 3000 tourists daily). We'd read that there was a cave with ancient paintings and another long cave nearby. Trying to escape the constant wake from speedboats and longtails zooming back and forth (the anchorage is in the middle of a tour-boat highway), we set out in our dinghy to find said caves. It was a long journey in the hot sun and we never did find any caves. Instead, we found a long mangrove-filled bay and more tall limestone islands.
Pan Yi floating village - much better viewed from afar.
Hot and bothered from our unsuccessful cave hunt, we went into the village for lunch. The food was terrible. Our fruit smoothies were so salty I nearly gagged and Jacqui's curried prawns were so hot they were inedible. For the worst meal I've had in Thailand we had to fork out 1080baht - more than our whole trolley full of shopping cost us! We'd intended to stay the night at this anchorage but made a snap decision to leave and take the last of the outgoing tide to somewhere nicer. We're so glad we did!

Kudu Yai - The Cathedral 8°11.81N 98°38.03E
We anchored here just on dusk and had the most welcome arrival a yachtie could ask for. As we  motored past one of the two other yachts already anchored, one of them called out an invitation to come aboard for a music jam! A fun night ensued, complete with some singalongs.

The next morning we did our usual routine of setting out in the dinghy to explore. This time we were very rewarded. Kudu Yai is gorgeous!

Fun times in a perfect place.
We found interesting caves and a gorgeous bay/hong where I actually braved the potential jellyfish and took a little dip.
Could life get any better?
Koh Hong, Krabi 8°04.60N 98°40.85E 
Next stop was another island called Koh Hong - though this was very different to the last ones. We took up a mooring for the first time and, due to the clear water and white sandy beaches, were excited to go ashore for snorkeling and beach time. We packed up all of the necessary equipment for such pursuits and sped ashore. Our thoughts of swimming and snorkeling were dashed when we started pushing through hundreds of small, bright purple jellyfish. We asked a local whether they were dangerous and he gestured that they stung and itched. I was pretty much freaked out by now, imagining we were surrounded by a swarm of baby Box Jellyfish. Rene decided to test their stinging quality by exposing his pinkie finger to them and suffered only a minor irritation. This didn't do anything to convince me of their safety. I leaped from the dinghy as it touched the sand (like a Gazelle) and sprung up the beach to safety. As I ran along the sand, I didn't notice the hundreds of jellyfish washed up on the beach until I stood on one and it squished up over my foot, stinging me!!!!
Photographing jellyfish proves difficult!
After all this excitement, we had a very relaxed afternoon chilling on the beach listening to some tunes and drinking some wine. I watched the tourists having to brave the jellyfish as they all returned to their tour boats and took a walk around the area. As usual, the large blue signs warning of tsunami danger and informing of the evacuation route were very present. I climbed up one of the evacuation routes and felt safe until a swarm of mosquitos chased me back to the beach.
Constant reminders.
 We spent the next morning exploring by dinghy, taking photos of crazy-looking jellyfish and enjoying the serenity.
So many jellyfish in Thailand waters!
Railay Beach, Krabi 8°00.68N 98°49.99E 
After anchoring here we went ashore (Rene swam through a cave and then I towed him in). We drank delicious watermelon juice and had a brief swim (until Jac was stung by something). Very cute monkeys came to say hello and then we enjoyed beers on the beach at sunset before a nice meal at a beach-side restaurant. The phosphoresence in the water here was totally out of this world! Each boat that moved through the water had its own glowing path. Rene jumped in from the bowsprit and swam around in a mass of glowing, swirling bubbly bliss. I tried but failed to capture the magic of this with my cameras - you just have to be there to see it. This was our last night out in the bay - next morning we sailed and then motored all of the way back to Chalong.
Railay Beach, Thailand 2012
Sunset from Railay beach. Anima is just left and below the sun.
Chalong - Patong Beach -
After spending 8 days onboard Anima, Jacqui wanted to treat us all to some luxury. She booked us into a hotel in Patong called 'Tropica Gardens'. Rene and I busily prepared Anima to be without us for 2 nights and then we hitched a ride ashore with Pangkor friends Tasha and Willow. The Taxi's here all charge ridiculous prices so we walked in the heat until we found a local bus. For 30 baht each we took a bus to Phuket and then for another 25 baht each another bus to Patong. The taxis wanted to charge us 600-800 baht!!

The bus was actually good as Jacqui got to see much more of Thailand and experience a bit of local culture. We checked in and enjoyed swimming, airconditioning and showers! Such luxury!!

That night we ventured down the infamous Bangla road for some excitement. We went along to one of the "sexy" shows and were all a little damaged from the experience. The show was very far from being sexy. We were lured in by street peddlers all offering free entry - all we had to do was buy a drink. A lady led us down the street, past hundreds of other bars and thousands of tourists into the gogo club. We looked at the drinks menu and balked - 1200 baht for one drink!! No thanks! We went to leave and they dropped the price to 500baht each. Jac saw on the line-up of performances that some were going to involve animals... she said no thanks and we left. They followed us out into the street and offered entry (a beer) at 200 baht each. We finally succumbed and went in. The raised centre stage contained about 3 poles which bored-looking semi-naked Thai women half-heartedly danced near. They weren't sexy at all. For about 30 minutes different pairs of girls went out on stage and half danced around in skimpy clothing which was gradually removed. We couldn't believe how bored they looked. One of the women from the Audience (we guess she was either Australian or Russian) asked to get up with the dancers and she was the best performer we saw the entire night. She had obviously been to a few pole-dancing lessons!

The dancing finished and the vagina performers began. Now, stop reading if you're squimish... this is all a bit intense.

For the next 30 or so minutes largish, older Thai women came out on stage and either took things out, put things in or shot things out of their vaginas. It was not sexy at all, just clinical and wrong. We saw eggs, ping-pong balls, strings, needles on strings, bananas, horns and blow darts. The push was for us to keep spending money. They wanted tips and for us to buy more drinks. They short-changed us until Rene insisted upon getting the right change (the woman claimed it was for a tip!).

We were all relieved to get out when the dancing started up again. We figured out that the performers all looked so bored because they were bored. They repeat the same show each hour all night, every night.

We all felt a bit damaged after this and walked around aimlessly for a bit. We ate Italian pizza and talked it all out... where does this whole ping-pong act come from? (I heard it's from the Vietnam war??) Why is it so popular? I'd like to know. I never want to see that kind of thing again. It was not artistic at all. It was just desperately sad.
The crazy chaos of Bangla Road.
Patong is a crazy place. Street sellers call out in fake Australian accents to try and lure us in to buy their overpriced, cheaply made, fake handbags, sunglasses and shoes. Yes, there are a lot of Aussies there. There are even more single, older blokes who seem to spend all day/night sitting at various bars with young Thai girls. I guess this place is living proof that sex sells. Big time.

Rene bought a hand-tailored suit (his first ever), but only after checking with about 10 sellers (there are probably about 30 or more stores offering this same service/product) for the best price. I had an experience at a beauty salon where they offered leg waxing. The women really didn't know what they were doing. It took over an hour with two women trying - and failing - to do such a simple task. Ah well. They got some of the hair off anyway. I think Jacqui and Rene had a better time - they each had an hour-long Thai massage. After being cracked, twisted and walked upon Jacqui asked her masseus how long she'd studied for to get the job. The answer is a little worrying, to be a Thai massage therapist you need to attend a week-long course. That's all.
Jac and Ren get Thai massages.
Probably the best part about Patong was seeing some awesome live Rumba Flamenco music that made us dance. Also the pool at our accommodation was lovely and funnily enough (showing our nerdy/country ways here) we all had far more fun playing cards by the pool than being out in the craziness of the bar scene.

All good things come to an end - it was time to leave. We all parted ways on the beach-side road. Jac back to Australia and us back to Chalong. Thank you so much for visiting Jacqui!! We had a brilliant time travelling with you :) xoxo

Cocktails and live Rumba music was a highlight in Patong.