The Land of Smiles

So take your time, think a lot, think of everything you’ve got; for you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not. Cat Stevens

Ah, Thailand. Perfect one day… wonderful the next! What a change 200nm north has made! Blue skies, azure seas, Blue Heeler sailing free and easy in 15/20 knot winds, shaking loose the salt from stiffened sheets, as the gradual progress of bleaching sails takes place.

It’s been five months since Blue Heeler departed Australia. At last, we are enjoying cruising, with no schedule of events or set itineraries. Comfortable enough with the weather in this region at this time of year, we haven’t even checked the weather forecast for weeks. It’s unlikely we’ll see any bad weather for a few more months yet, until the south-west monsoon kicks up its heels from April onwards. The north-east monsoon provides warm, dry days with prevailing north-east winds, offering cruisers the opportunity to see Thailand’s famous limestone karsts in Phang Nga region in relative comfort. The sailing distances between the islands are short so we can spend more time at anchor swimming too.

After leaving Ko Lanta, Blue Heeler zigzagged through the myriad of fishing flags as we sailed north to Phranang to anchor in 5-8m at the very busy Rai Le Beach. Longtail boats chopped up the water as they drove hundreds of punters from the resort around the corner to the beautiful Phranang beach. Although loads of tourists invade this part of the world like ants on a candy, if you look beyond the volume of people you’ll marvel at the spectacular limestone overhangs, cerulean water and white beaches. The popular phallic cave at the southern end of the bay houses ‘lingams’ presented to the spirit of Phranang. The plaque reads:

It is believed among the villagers here that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in this cave. Fishermen, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. When their wishes fulfilled, votive offering would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams. However, this has nothing to do with the Thai people’s religions, neither Buddhism nor Islam, that the belief of lingam and holy womb shall create fertility and prosperity to the whole earth and mankind.

Ton Sai beach is one of the most popular rock climbing sites in the world at Phranang. Some years ago I would have attempted to conquer some of the climbs on the impressive cliff, but it’s been a long time since I’ve climbed on rock. Over the past few years my body has transformed from that of a lean climber, to my current stocky sailing physique. At Ko Dam Hok were a bunch of keen, lean climbers deep-water soloing in their bikinis and togs (Deep-water soloing is climbing out of the water onto suitable climbing area above, then jumping or falling off into the depths below). Of course Wayne swam across to the wall and performed a few moves of his own. Although keen to participate, unfortunately prior to this, as I was hauling in the dinghy, my stocky sailing bod, somewhat less flexible than it used to be, twisted out of shape resulting in me screaming “My back, my back..” as I danced spasmodically around the deck like an electrocuted Joe Cocker. I laid down on the deck in an attempt to alleviate the spasms in my back but my muscles seized and twitched so that and I couldn’t even get up! The stiffness and pain took a few days to abate and I’ve been shamed into making more of a commitment to do more yoga! Ironically, we’d left the tourist town of Ao Nang where there were rows after rows of masseurs along the southern end of the beach offering one hour sessions for around 300Baht (around A$10). I guess I should have taken the opportunity…

On our way again, this time to the picturesque Ko Hong where we picked up a mooring in around 20m. The wind blew from the north east so Blue Heeler bobbed around for the evening and had a slightly restless sleep. The next day we had a short sail to Ko Pak Bia for a lunchtime stop and swim. We dinghied over to a small strip of sand where once again many tourists (many of which appear to be Russian in this part of the world), stand around baking in the sun on the tiny sand patch until the tide comes in and washes it away. This was also the case at Ko Dam Hok where there were more people than grains of sand. After lunch we sailed the short distance to Ko Kudu Yai anchoring between two islands in 5-8m.

Entertaining us in this region is the impressive local English speaking radio station, Bluewave 90.5. This station plays an excellent selection of new and old favourites, provides BBC and local news, and has me humming along to the Thai national anthem each morning at 8am.

From Ko Kudu Yai we had a lovely sail westerly until we reached Ko Phanak and anchored on the western side. Although a little exposed to the north west and the currents that spun Blue Heeler around during the evening, it was pleasant enough. An entrance to a hong near the anchorage, from what we could see, could only be entered by tourists on kayaks. With a continuous stream of kayaks entering during the day, we decided to continue north riding the flood until we reached Ko Yang where we could anchor for lunch, take a dinghy ride around Ko Phing Kan (aka James Bond Island), then ride the southerly ebb back to the other Ko Hong on the western side of Phang Nga bay. James Bond Island was made famous in The Man with the Golden Gun with Roger Moore.

Once again, the place had countless tourists all vying for a photo of the impressive karst made famous in the film. With the possibility of incurring a 200Baht fee for landing on the island, we opted for a dinghy ride around the island taking pictures along the way. Of more interest to us were the islands of Ko Yang and Ko Daeng Yai to the west, where limestone overhangs draped curtain-like above the blue water. The scenery is stunning and picture-perfect. Everywhere I look seems to be an enticing brochure to ‘visit Thailand’.

To help us identify the best anchorages, we have a couple of books aboard – ‘Southeast Asia Cruising Guide Vol II’, and ‘Southeast Asia Pilot Third Edition’ (formerly ‘Andaman Sea Pilot’). In Langkawi, we bought a book ‘Sail Thailand’, but it was the 2002 version of the Andaman Sea Pilot, so we didn’t actually need it. At a small bookstore in Saladan, I found a copy of the pocketguide Dive Thailand by Paul Lees.

After visiting James Bond Island, we upped anchor and headed south until we reached the small island of Ko Rang Yai. This small island is located east from the popular Boat Lagoon Marina, where many yachts have repairs and refits made to their vessels. Although an easterly breeze caused Blue Heeler to bob around, we stayed two nights here to enjoy the swimming at this beautiful location. As I was sunning myself on the beach, I popped my head up to check on Blue Heeler anchored offshore, when I noticed a Hallberg Rassy floating by! “The boat!” I yelled to Wayne who was quietly snoozing next to me, while at the same time realising that the boat I’d seen floating by was Comedie, also a Hallberg Rassy! It was great to catch up with Claes and Laila for a few drinks that night before departing the next day south as they headed north with our superfluous Sail Thailand book.

Low on food, but reluctant to go into the busy port of Ao Chalong and hub of tourism, we decided to head south to Ko Racha Yai, some 12nm south of Ao Chalong. Here we could spend a few more relaxing days swimming and sunning ourselves. It is also the perfect location to spend Wayne’s 50th birthday! Not one for fanfare, Wayne wants to spend the first day of the rest of his life with me (of course!) and Blue Heeler. But with virtually no fresh food aboard (save for one carrot, half a cucumber, a lime and 3kgs of Tasty cheese), we must head into civilisation in the next few days to stock up.

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Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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