This is a short day by day report of our two weeks sailing trip throughout the Andaman Sea in the bay of Phuket and Krabi. Check out the adjusted Google Map for all the details including nice waypoints: Sailing in the Andaman Sea.
Our trip started in the end of the north-east monsoon period. We got a catamaran from Sunsail which is based at the Ao Po Grand Marina at the north-east end of Phuket island. There is a transfer service from the airport. The boat had four larger cabins and two small bug cabins that were accessible only through the larger cabins. The capacity was 10 persons but luckily we’ve been 7 persons only including two of our friends as experienced sailing captains. One recommendation before we begin: read the boat instructions and you will find out that there are only three spots in the gulf of Phuket where you can get fresh water supply. At Ao Po Grand Marina, Krabi Marina and at Tonsai Bay at Ko Phi Phi Don. This is even more important if your boat is not equipped with a desalination plant. Some information about the Thai that you will find on the map and in this text a lot. “Ko” or “Koh” stands for island. “Noi” for small and “Yai” for large.
Part 1: Arrival and loading
Friday and Saturday (March 14th and 15th, 2014)
We arrived at Phuket International Airport at noon on Saturday. It was a long trip which had started on early Friday morning in Austria. Driving by car to Munich and flying to Phuket with stops in Doha and Kuala Lumpur was quite exhausting. Luckily Qatar Airways offers a perfect entertainment systems. We got the boat on Saturday and celebrated with Tiger beer at the Marina restaurant. Morgan, the chief of Sunsail at the Marina, got us a taxi for the evening which took us to Tesco Supermarket. 40min drive which gives you time to realize how Thai people drive and you feel like dying every 5 minutes. But relax, you are in Thailand now and your holidays just began! We had our first Asian food at the cheap food court at Tesco. Back on board we experienced our first night in very humid climate. Cool, that the boat had air-con when connected to the power station of the marina.
Part 2: Reaching out for the sea
Sunday (March 16th, 2014)
Yesterday and today have been cloudy but still very hot and humid and no rain at all. Once the checklist of the boat had been finished we were ready to start the engine and leave the marina. The journey begins. We got recommendations from Morgan where to stop by. So we headed south. Today’s destination was the southern end of Ko Yao Yai. On our way we had a short stop at the small islands of Ko Khai Nok. We put anchor in a depth of 5 meters about 150m north of the southern island and simply swam to the beach. A nice sandy beach with some bars where you can enjoy the day in wooden chairs. It was the first time we experienced the mass tourism of Thailand. There’ve been many speed boats bringing in tons of tourists for some ours. Because it was mid afternoon most of them were about to leave. So we had the beach for ourself. At Freedom bar we got great cocktails and made first contact with affection of the local people.
Then we headed to the coast line of Ko Yao Yai for the night. Due to the massive difference between high and low tide we had to search a good place for getting to the beach with our dinghy. At evening time we usually had low tide which means that most beaches dry out. Then you have to carefully navigate your dinghy to the beach as far as you can and then carry it for several hundred meters. You better get used to it! There is a large wooden jetty which we couldn’t use because of the low tide. So we headed directly to the beach. We had our first Thai food in a small restaurant close to the jetty. After getting in touch with other tourists from Poland we finished the day with lots of alcohol first at the restaurant, later on at our boat inviting the Polish friends. Yeah, full moon party!
Part 3: di Caprio – here we come!
Monday and Tuesday (March 17th and 18th, 2014)
The captains are awake quite early and my head feels like shit. We got good wind – so it’s sailing time. But we also got good waves which my alcohol poisoned head didn’t like. One by one we started puking which should remain for the rest of the day. Only the captain was laughing all day. We arrived at the west coast of Koh Phi Phi Don. You can not imagine the beauty of the cliffs. More than 100m high they go completely vertical into the sea. We put anchor at Tonsai bay. Stay to the left side of the bay and use your anchor instead of the moorings which usually belong to diving schools. Very touristic area but nice shopping and good restaurants. You can leave the Dinghy at the beach next to the Phi Phi Island Hospital (left side of the beach). There’s a lot of traffic in the beach. Speedboats and longtail boats every minute. Be careful – don’t swim to far away from your boat. We had a lot of waves because of the wind from the south and because of the boat traffic – a turbulent night.
Next day we headed south to Ko Phi Phi Leh. Its Maya bay was the filmset for the movie “The Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. We took the eastern side stopping by the Viking cave and the wonderful Hong Pi Leh bay. You can not go into the bay with your boat. So we anchored at the mouth of the bay and took the dinghy. Be careful when going into the bay. The corals are close to the surface. Stay on the left (southern) side. The end of the bay gets deeper again. We had some great snorkeling there and the cliffs on all sides are impressive. But there are many day tourists too. They are coming in by longtail boats which make a noisy sound that is intensified by the cliffs.
We then continued to the southern tip of the island for a coffee stop and then heading west to Maya bay. Anchor at either northern or southern end of the mouth of the bay. Do not sail into the bay because there are a lot of corals. Maya bay is beautiful and the sunset that day was wonderful. But the bay is the most touristic place you can imagine! From early morning until 5p.m. speed boats and longtail boots arrive in intervals of just minutes.
Part 4: Hopping from island to island
Ko Lanta, Ko Ngai and Ko Muk (March 19th and 20th, 2014)
We enjoyed the quite evening at Maya Bay. Just before sunset was the best time for snorkeling close to the cliffs. Tons of fish and very clear water. The others woke up early next morning to go to the beach. I stayed on board because I injured myself by stepping into an open hatched at night. Shit. Around 10a.m. you couldn’t even see the beach because it was stacked with speed boats and at least 1.000 people. And our boat was shaking because of the waves made by them.
One of our three fresh water tanks was empty. We did not waste much water but we started to think where we could refill the tanks on our way. The navigation books were very unclear about those facts. So we decided to head towards the west coast of Ko Lanta skipping Ko Ha Yai which I’m still very said about. Ko Ha Yai is supposed to be the best place for snorkeling in the whole area. The best advise overall is to avoid the large and/or famous touristic place and better stop by small islands instead. At mid afternoon we had reached Ko Lanta and my friends checked out the nice sandy beach for food and water supply. But there is only a bungalow ressort and nothing else. It was quite late already but we decided to continue to Ko Ngai. We arrived just around sunset and anchored at its eastern side. There are many nice ressorts and cool restaurants at the beach. We could navigate the catamaran quite close to the beach at 5 meters depth. But we still had to carry our dinghy for at least 200m because of the low tide. At the south east end of Ko Ngai there is a huge wooden jetty which offers fresh water (as another sailor told me the other day). But you can not get to the jetty at low tide. Anyway, we enjoyed ourselves with perfect Thai food. I recommend the cheap restaurant with the white plastic chairs directly at the beach just next to (north of) Fantasy ressort. At the ressort itself you can get free WLAN. Just ask some people at the beach for the password.
The next day we set course to Ko Muk which is just a short trip from Ko Ngai. We stopped at Feranang bay which is a very nice sandy beach on the south west end of the island. I enjoyed myself at the beach having a coconut drink while the others drove to the village at the other side of Ko Muk. There are cheap Tuk Tuk’s that will take you there in less than 10min. You can find a larger super market in the village. There is WLAN at Feranang beach. Again, ask the people at the beach for the password. So we got some food, but still no fresh water. We then made a short stop at Emerald cave which is a huge hong (cave which is open to the sky) of 65m diameter. You can access the hong by swimming through a 80m dark channel which is accessible at any tide except on high peak. You can see the entrance marked by some moorings and many tourist boats. Don’t use your dinghy. Simply swim through the channel.
Part 5: The accident
Ko Rok (March 20th, 2014)
Around noon we are leaving Ko Muk heading towards Ko Rok. We are all excited because all the books say that the islands of Ko Rok are the most beautiful places for snorkeling. What started as a good day should turn out to be a bad day. We arrived just south of Ko Rok Nai when the sun was about to settle down between both islands. A perfect picture. On the nothern island (Ko Rok Nai) there is a national park headquarter and some restaurants which we could easily see. And we also saw some other boats at anchor just in front of us at the east coast of Ko Rok Nok (the left island). This made us think we can directly navigate towards the anchorage. Most of us were standing in front of the catamaran making picture of the nice sunset while we were going under engine by 6 knots. Suddenly the boat hit something very hard and jumped into the air. We nearly fell into the water and everybody knew what just happened. We hit some coral heads. The navigation map does not show something special here except a depth about 5 meters. But the depth suddenly jumped from more than 10m to less than 1m and it was low tide. The captain immediately jumped into the water checking out the bottom of the boat. We’ve been lucky that nothing serious happened. But we hit a first coral hit which then lifted the boat so that we landed on a second one. A guy from another yacht came by and also the people from the national park asking if everything is alright. And they said it’s ok, the flood will lift us up soon. While waiting for the flood, the others enjoyed snorkeling. And it’s true, the area is beautiful. They saw turtles and tons of fish. At 9p.m. the flood lifted the boat and we had to find a safe anchorage at night which is not pleasant at all. That day made us aware that you could die here. But we did not blame anyone. It was our fault and the navigation maps have been insufficient. Better watch out next time!
Part 6: In search of water
Ko Lanta Old Town and Tonsai bay at Ko Phi Phi Don (March 21th and 22th, 2014)
We had survived our little accident at Ko Rok but we couldn’t find any fresh water supply so far. The tanks were still at 50% but you never know! We decided to head towards Lanta Old Town (Ban Ko Lanta) which has a large jetty. The anchorage was in bassin of 5m depth a bit north of the jetty. We spend the evening in the town which is actually just a small village. But it is made of beautiful wooden houses in Japanese style. There are many nice restaurants on the northern road next to the shore. There’s also an ATM and many mini marts and you can buy vegetables. But still no water. That’s why we set course to Tonsai bay on Ko Phi Phi Don again the next day.
On our way we decided to have a short stop at Ko Ma which is a very small island just half the way. Anchor at the south-east end at 10m depth. Watch out for coral heads! There is a cold drift from the north. At the edge between the warm and the cold water you will find great snorkeling. But use your fins because of the drift. This was the best snorkeling during our trip. We saw tiger jaws, sea snakes, sepias and tons of fish. We didn’t have much time because we had to continue to reach Tonsai bay before sunset.
At Tonsai bay you will find a small floating jetty just in front of the Phi Phi Island Hospital. Go to the beach and ask one of the people hanging around left to the hospital just before the small mini mart. Ask them for permission to get to the jetty. The jetty is very close to the beach but the depth is around 2m so it’s okay to go there with your catamaran. Water supply is about 1.500 Bath and 1.000 Bath for a monohull.
Part 7: Krabi
Bamboo island, Chicken head and Railay beach (March 23th and 24th, 2014)
Early morning next day we left Tonsai bay heading north to Railay beach and Ao Nang (Krabi). We made a short stop at Bamboo island just north of Ko Phi Phi Don for breakfast. But it’s not worthwhile though snorkeling is not as good as you might think and there is a national park fee when you get to the beach. If you want to stop by, anchor at 10m depth at the south east end close to the sandy beach which you can easily see because of the many tourist boats.
We then continued north by sailing due to 22kn wind. Sailing east of Ko Dam Khwan (chicken islands) we had a perfect view onto the famous chicken head. Be careful not to get too close to the island because there are coral heads again. Check your navigation map! Around 5p.m. we arrived at Railay beach anchoring at 2m depth at low tide just between Railay and Ao Tonsai beach. A wonderful sunset was the highlight of the day. That evening we decided to have dinner at Ao Tonsai (the left) bay which is the cheaper one because of the climbing community there. Next to it are many cliffs which are illuminated at night. Wonderful! But we had to walk through the water and corals carrying our dinghy for about 300m because the beach dries out at low tide.
We all decided to stay here for some more days. So three of us decided to book a diving trip and I joined for some snorkeling. The next morning the diving boat took us to to the small islands left of Ko Dam Khwan (chicken islands). The first stop was Ko Talu which is easily recognizable. It looks like a single huge mushroom. We had full moon those days, so the tide was a bit extreme and the water wasn’t that clear. But we could see nice corals and fishes. And you can swim through the island. After a lunch break the boat moved on to Ko Yawasam. The water was much clear here and for me it was better snorkeling. I enjoyed that day a lot. Being off the catamaran for a while and getting in touch with other tourists and Thai people who’ve been working at the boat taking care of our meals, coffee and other refreshments.
That evening we booked a longtail taxi boat from Railay beach to Ao Nang beach with is just a 10min ride. You have to buy a ticket at a booth. Be sure to buy a return ticket as well and tell the taxi guy when you want to return. A boot will then be waiting for you. Ao Nang is very touristic. Our girls enjoyed hardcore shopping. On the road to the right that goes inland, you will find many restaurants at different prices. You can also find McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks. Welcome home!
Part 8: The final days
Ko Racha and Coral island (March 25th to 28th, 2014)
The original plan was to go to the Similan islands. But this would have been very long trips by engine for the following days. So we decided to stay in the bay of Phuket and to navigate to a place where the water is clearer and where we could stay for some more days. The final choice was Ko Racha though many travel guides say it’s one of the best places. We left Railay beach heading south and then south-west leaving Ko Dam Khwan to the east. Our captain wasn’t sure if we can make it in a day. So he navigates right between Ko Yao Yai and Ko Phi Phi Don. So would allow us to have an overnight stop on either of those islands. But we made it in a day, even though it was very hot and no wind at all. You can imagine how it felt on board. Sweating all day! Ko Racha is quite far outside the gulf of Phuket. The more you get outside the clearer the water gets. We could see fishes jumping out of the water all around us. Around 4p.m. we reached bay on the west side of Ko Racha Yai where the five-star ressort “The Racha” is located. Anchor at the southern side close to the cliffs. The depth will be more than 8 meters all the time. But don’t use the moorings because they will be used by diving boats during the day.
There’s some nice snorkeling there but most of the corals have been damaged by the Tsunami in 2004 and at this depth is not easy for snorkelers to dive to the ground. You can easily walk across the island. There is a much better snorkeling area on the east side. But when we’ve been there, we had a rough sea and higher waves. There is WLAN all over the bay. It is password protected but you can ask the waiter at the Raggae bar for the password. We tried out various restaurants more to the inland. Racha Father, Pad Thai and several others which are located directly at the pathway to the east side are extremely good. But be aware, that prices are at least 30% higher than on other islands. The next day we had a nice walk around the island following the path from the east side north along the shore line. It will take you through the woods to Siam beach (north) and then back again to “The Rache” just next to the lighthouse. The girls took numerous pictures of local plants and insects. But it was extremely hot that day and we wouldn’t have survived without some water that we carried with us.
On Thursday we took the boat to the Ko Racha Noi. We anchored on the west side just a bit north of the passage that is between the islands. The water stays deep even close to the shore. But there’s not much to see. You will find a boy just about 100m north which is mostly used by diving boats. We were lucky because the last boat just left. So we took our dinghy and drove over to that boy. There it was much better snorkeling.
The final day came and we had to head back to the Marina. We left Ko Racha Yai heading north to Ko He which is also called Coral Island. We arrived at its northern beach but as soon as we tried to get to the beach with the dinghy a park ranger asked for a fee. So we returned to the boat continuing our trip. The bay wasn’t that good anyway. Very high waves, tons of tourists, speed boats, banana rides and a strong drift from west to east. If you go into the water, don’t forget your fins! The rest of the day was a quiet ride just north until we reached Ao Po Grand Marina. It was a wonderful time!
Buying foods and vegetables: Large Tesco supermarkets can be found all over Phuket island. Other larger ones are located at Ao Nang beach, Krabi and north-west tip of Ko Lanta. Otherwise you will find mini markets on nearly every island that has some kind of human settlement. Be aware of the humid climate. Most of your food will mildew very soon. We had the best experience with fresh cucumbers, egg plants (the little Thai ones), several herbs and tomatoes.
Restaurants: We ate off board nearly all the time. I recommend the cheap places where a lot of people eat. Why? Because they have the best food and you can be assured that there will be no bad ingredients. We tried to avoid fresh salads. Usually you can get about ten different variations of Thai dishes with either chicken, shrimp, beef and so on. Try them all! I liked Thai black pepper and fried basil leaves the most. One word about curry. If the dish is described as for example “Red curry …” you will get some kind of Thai curry soup which is highly recommended. The red and green are the most spicy ones. But if the dish is shown as “Chicken with Thai vegetables with curry” then you will get something that is just put in a little bit of curry and usually not that spicy. Mostly rice is not part of the main dish. So you have to place an order for “steamed rice”. Also try out the different vegetables. “Morning glory” is fried water spinace (or water cress) that originally comes from China. “Thai eggplant” is extremely delicious and prepared the same way as morning glory. Most restaurants also serve some kind of Chinese soups. Minced glasnoodle soup with chicken is a recommendation. Thai dishes cost about 120 Bath (3 Euro) while vegetables cost about 80 Bath (2 Euro). Our price indicator was morning glory (ranges from 80 to 120 Bath) and spring rolls (about the same price). A small can of beer is about 50 to 80 Bath. A large one (0.75 liter) is about 120 Bath. Most places offer fresh barbecue. They offer a wide range of fresh fish, shells, shrimps and other cool food. Have a look at it and place your order. But be aware, that fresh barbecue is usually much more expensive – starting at 300 Bath.
Fresh water supply: As mentioned before, water supply is only available at Ao Po Grand marina, Krabi marina and on the floating jetty at Tonsai beach on Ko Phi Phi Don just in front of the hospital.