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.

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