Oi Oi Sailors...
Trip Start Dec 29, 2009
27Trip End Jul 18, 2010
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Sail The World? Why not indeed?! So we sent an email with our enquiry. A few emails later, we met JB in Ton Sai to discuss the possible adventure. Gwen has sailed all her life, but never aboard a yacht, so it was to be a new experience for both of us. A tour of the boat, some negotiating on price and we set sail the next day, postponing our Vietnam trip until later in the month.
We spent fourteen nights aboard "Fuli", which means Sooty Albertross in French
It got to a point, after so much isolation, whereby we started to really dislike islands where there were huge resorts and big tourist hang outs, such as Ko Phi-Phi, the glamourised location featured in the film "The Beach". Phi Phi, well, it has become a hot spot for sure. Phi Phi Don is the main island where all the accommodation is. It is now comparable to Magaluf, or possibly Blackpool. It is a party town, everywhere offering 2-4-1 cocktails; quite a contrast to the laid back tranquility of Ton Sai
Western foreigners in this part of Thailand seem to forget that they are visiting a country which is largely Buddhist, but also has a number of Muslims. The shopkeepers wore conservative clothing, often covering their hair with a Muslim scarf. Little effort is made by most tourists, on the other hand, to dress or behave modestly, with girls strolling the streets in their bikinis (would they go into shops in their home town with nothing but a dental-floss sized bit of Lycra clenched between their bum cheeks?) and men, often with beer guts spilling over their tiny trunks, standing at junctions swilling from bottles of "Chang" or "Singha". This may well be a contributing factor to the guarded hostility with which we were received by the Thai shopkeepers who sold us our supplies for the journey ahead. We were ignored at one market stall and overcharged considerably at another. As JB put it, whilst they rely on the custom of tourists, "they think we are shit"
Gwen did the shopping run in the morning while James stayed on board being ill and cursing the restaurant we had eaten in the night before. It was called "Same, Same, But Different" which is a well known saying in Thailand. James was calling it "Same, Same but @#$*ing ?+#@" whilst groaning and rolling around with agonising stomach cramps, before rushing off to the tiny boat toilet. When Gwen and JB came back with the ice and other goodies, it was time to raise the anchor and set off for the smaller of the Koh Phi Phi islands.
Koh Phi Phi Leh is the stunning lagoon where Leonardo DiCaprio narrowly missed being eaten by a shark and the Swede was not so lucky later on (this will be lost on you if you haven't seen the film). We were able to have some of it to ourselves for a brief time. Set in a bay with limestone cliffs all around, fine white sand and clear waters it is no wonder that fifty speed boats a day rock up with hordes of eager tourists re-enacting the "jump" photo from the film. You can barely see the beach during the day as it is lined with boats of all sizes on the shore and milling crowds on the sand
The rubbish collecting itself on most of the islands is a great shame. Its mainly plastic bottles (the bottles of water drunk in lorry-loads by tourists are sporadically recycled, but often end up as flotsam and jetsom), styrofoam containers and discarded flip flops that litter the beaches and rocky shores. The situation is not helped by the Chao Leh, the people of the sea. They are local groups of Thais fishing every hour of the day. They camp on islands and leave behind most of what they don't consume or burn. Traditionally, these tribal people, who make their living diving for shells, fishing and taking people for boat trips, moved about all over the area and although many of them are now living in fixed communities they still travel when fishing
The amount of fishing that takes place will do a lot of damage to Thailand in the future. It is unbelievable how many boats go out to fish, around reefs and out in the bay. There are local long tails and Chao Leh, but its the big trawlers who do the most damage. Each one of them is emptying the sea of everything edible and killing dolphins, reef sharks and other sea life in the process (another reason James didn't catch anything on his small line). At night, we would be surrounded by the blazing lights of trawlers, dozens upon dozens of them, as though it was a city centre sky line. Nearer the coast you find the little long tails dropping crab and lobster pots every ten metres. It is nice to know that the UK has more of a control on the amount of fishing that is allowed, since the threat of the extinction of cod. Its a thorny issue though, amongst fishermen, since those working night after night to bring in their catch would go hungry if the situation was regulated, as would their families.
The poor fishes didn't seem to get a moment's rest, with all the tourist snorkelers (including us) peering at them by day and all the fishing that is done at night
In total we visited around twenty Islands, mostly similar landscapes, but it is difficult to get bored of them! A couple of nights we had film night. We watched Pirates of the Caribbean and enjoyed it with treats like M&M's and Reeces Peanut Butter Cups (found by a very excited Gwen in Koh Lanta. Chocolate from home is one thing Gwen longs for). Unfortunately we also watched "The Beach". We say unfortunately because the shark scenes got us freaked and made us more wary when snorkeling! It is very rare for any dangerous sharks to be in the waters, but it does not stop the panic when you cannot see the bottom! The anchor was dropped to fifteen metres at times, so our legs were kicking around in frightening depths. Still, it was worth overcoming our fear to visit the pretty reefs populated by all manner of weird and wonderful things.
Koh Muk stands out as a definite highlight. Devastated by the Tsunami, it is slowly getting back to normal. Locals have been placed in a relocation village, with stilt houses built by the Thai Government and the community, working in partnership with charities aiding the recovery
Also, Koh Muk was cheap! Plus, it gave us chance to have a warm shower in a swanky boutique hotel with lovely beach bathrooms, replete with hotel toiletries, that we slipped into when noone was looking. It is a great thing, to enjoy the little things in life. We read in the Lonely Planet about a place called Mookies, which has "tentalows" (a tent and a bungalow mixed together). It also claims to have the coldest beer in Thailand. So of course we stopped by to see if the claim was true. The verdict was they probably did have the coldest beer, in the region at least!
Koh Muk also has an attraction called Emerald Cave, accessed by swimming in darkness for five minutes through a cave which leads to a small lagoon with a beach. Surrounded by vertical green cliffs it is a great hideaway, which is why pirates of old used to stash their pieces of eight there, safe from thieves! We couldn't bring the camera, but imagine the sun filtering down through a hole in the "roof" of a beautiful big rocky "cone", as though you are inside a hollow volcano. There is enough sunshine to bask in
Our favourite beach was on Koh Lipi, in the deep south. With superbly fine white sand and clear electric blue waters, we had to resist the temptation to end our sailing trip there and then and stay. We met some Spanish guys who told us it is impossible to get lost on the island. So, we headed to the north side, with a plan to see the sunset on "Sunset Beach", but we got lost and didn't make it!
We also got into trouble while on Koh Adang, a nature reserve. We took the dinghy to the beach, leaving JB on the boat having his siesta. After a walk around exploring we returned to the dinghy to find the tide had gone out, beyond the point where we could get the dinghy afloat again! We were stranded, beyond the rocky reef, for four hours until after dark when the tide would return. With no water or food, with dead fish hung in netting from trees (still not sure what that was about) and dingos (alright, stray dogs) wandering the beach it made for a tense four hours!! To distract ourselves we frolicked around writing things in the sand and playing naughts and crosses. We did get to enjoy the sunset to ourselves, our very own beach, not a soul on it, just us, the dingos and dead fish. The colours provided by the sunset made some amazing pictures, so things worked out quite well in the end!
Koh Turatao was our last stop; a large, quiet, national park protected island with long yellow beaches and hilly jungle formations stretching further than you can see. We celebrated with JB by sharing a few beers and spaghetti for dinner.
The Fuli is a great boat, which has sailed the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and JB was a great host helping us understand more about sailing life and cooking some great meals with lots of garlic and onion. His fried potatoes are the best we've ever had. Not sure we'll continue with the boat custom of having traditional French "tartine" (jam and bread dipped in hot chocolate) for breakfast, though
Thailand did not offer us the opportunity to see much of local life, partly because of the route we took, but also because things are geared up to Westerners it is difficult to find it in the south. Perhaps a trip to the northern tips is needed. We certainly learned a lot more about sailing, and that life on a yacht is fun and exciting, but can get repetitive.
Ahead of us a journey to Hanoi in Vietnam, three weeks late! No regrets though, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Thailand, meeting some great people, visiting incredible islands and tucking into some succulent meals...