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We cleared into Thailand on December 6th and left Thai waters on February 19th. Starry Horizons spent two and a half months in Thailand, but David and I flew back to the states for part of it and spent a little over two months in the country. We spent most of our time around Phuket.
Most cruising boats clear out of Malaysia in Langkawi and make their way up the west coast of Thailand. Instead of clearing into Satun as we did (because of our haul out at PSS), most boats wait to clear into Thailand until Phuket. The government officials have come to expect that boats can take some time to get up to Phuket to clear in – friends of ours cleared into Phuket two weeks after they left Langkawi.
Thankfully, there are many islands with reasonable anchorages along the west coast. Cruisers can comfortably make it from Langkawi to Phuket in as little as four days, stopping at night along the way.
Kuah, Langkawi to Ko Lipe = 45 miles
Ko Lipe to Ko Rok = 50 miles
Ko Rok to Phi Phi Don = 45 miles
Phi Phi Don to Nai Harn = 35 miles
After three weeks in Langkawi, plus our time hauled out, we were dying for some clear water. The visibility is so low in this part of the world – just a few feet. It wasn’t until we got halfway up to Thailand that the visibility was clear enough to see 50 feet down.
Areas that are less traveled by ferries or tour boats are often filled with fishing pots. These obstacles can be in up to 100 feet of water. On the surface, they are poles with attached floats (usually empty plastic bottles). Sometimes they have flags at the top, but they can be very hard to see. It reminded me of the pots we saw EVERYWHERE while cruising Maine.
Crowds and Tour Boats
We were shocked by how crowded Thailand is with tourists. Speed boats come in full of tourists, zooming in and out all day. The boat raft up together and chuck their passengers out into the water – a little navy of orange lifejacket-wearing swimmers. Things calm down considerably in the early morning and at night, or when access is restricted (like low tide in some areas). Combined with the frequent lack of wind, Thailand has not been high up on our list of favorite cruising grounds.
For Satun, PSS, Royal Phuket Marina, and G&T Boat Yard, these areas are only accessible at high tide, and sometimes only at a high enough high tide. It’s a good idea to have an anchorage in mind near these areas so that you can enter these marinas or yards at the right time, even if that’s early in the morning.
We did not go to Ko Lipe, but it’s not far from Langkawi and has clearer water, so it’s a popular spot for cruisers, and especially useful for cruisers trying to restart their Malaysian visas. There is an immigration office in Ko Lipe, and if you are using it for a visa run you can check in and out with immigration. However, you can not clear your boat into the country here, and I believe the Immigration services are only for people going back to Langkawi. Friends stopped in Ko Lipe before making their way north to clear into Phuket.
Ko Koi Noi
In between clearing in at Satun and our haul out at PSS, we stopped for two nights at Ko Koi Noi. It’s two tiny, tiny islands connected at low tide. It’s uninhabited except for monkeys living in the small woods on the island. Fishermen visit the island and the surrounding areas and leave the pots nearby.
Administratively, Ko Koi Noi is part of Satun. The coordinates for our anchorage were: 06°35.171N 099°50.049E
This large island is a former prison and part of the Tarutao National Park. We stopped here on our first night after launching from PSS. Ocean swell can be a problem, but the sunset is very nice. We did not go ashore, but there is a ranger station where you can pay park fees, beaches and camping/bungalows for tourists to stay in.
Administratively, Ko Tarutao is part of Satun. The coordinates for our anchorage were: 06°41.734N 099°38.448E
On our way up, we stayed two nights at Ko Rok. Finally, the water is clear! So clear, we were immensely distracted and hit a reef! Thus, we had to haul out at G&T Boat Yard.
Ko Rok is a popular day trip destination. There are two islands: Ko Rok Noi and Ko Rok Nok. These islands are part of Mu Ko Lanta National Park. There are multiple mooring balls in place for yachts to pick up. At night and in the morning, it’s very quiet. However, during the day speedboats come in from the north. We got waked frequently and the water was full of tourists in bright orange life jackets, snorkeling.
Our second night, park rangers came in to collect the fee. We paid 400 baht per person plus 100 baht for the boat, so 900 baht total ($30 USD). The permit was good for five days.
There are dive locations at Ko Rok.
Administratively, Ko Rok Noi is part of Trang. The coordinates for our mooring were: 06°12.811N 099°04.162E
Ko Phi Phi Don
Our last stop on our way to Phuket, we picked up a mooring ball in the north bay of Phi Phi. There are three orange mooring balls on the east side of the bay. This location is the closest to Tonsai Village, which you can access via Loh Dalum Beach. Alternatively, there are mooring balls off of Monkey Beach, which is a slightly further dinghy ride but is around the corner from Tonsai. There are five of the orange mooring balls and two bigger yellow ones. Whichever you choose, Phi Phi Don is very busy, and you will get waked by longtails and speed boats all day. Morning and night are quieter, as is during low tide. Also, music from shore is loudly played through the night.
I do not recommend going to Tonsai Bay, on the south side of the island. This is where a majority of the tour boats and all of the large ferries come into Phi Phi.
The beaches can only be accessed between mid-tide and high tide. When the water is lower, rocks and coral are exposed, and the northern bay is dry for at least 500 meters out from the beach.
Despite its negatives, there is a lot to do in Phi Phi and it is stunningly beautiful. Nearly 100 restaurants are on the island (including a McDonald’s), services like laundry and dive tank fills are available.
Administratively, the Phi Phi Islands are part of Krabi.
The coordinates for our mooring in the bay were: 07°44.977N 098°46.102E
The coordinates for our mooring off Monkey Beach were: 06°12.811N 099°04.162E
Chalong Bay at the very southeast tip of Phuket Island and is the hub of ferries and island tours in Phuket. It’s a big, wide bay, full of moorings and a very long pier, of which houses the offices at the end. Those offices include Customs, Immigration, and Harbourmaster.
Located at the southwest tip of Phuket, Nai Harn is just a 20-minute drive from Chalong Bay. The bay is smaller and well protected from the normal ENE winds. This bay is more “cruisers only”. There are a few small boat moorings at the north side of the bay, but there’s plenty of room for at least 50 boats. Also on the north side is a small public floating dock. It’s attached to large boulders on the beach, and you climb/walk up and over the boulders to access a set of stairs that go up to the street.
At the top of the stairs, there is a small convenience store for basics and two delicious restaurants. Trattoria del Buongustaio serves amazing Italian food – the best pizza we’ve had in a long time – and its neighbor, La Terrazza Phuket Sunset Lounge Bar, serves delicious Thai food.
A seven-minute walk along the main road is filled with more restaurants, including the popular chain Unni’s, and a taxi stand.
The coordinates for our anchorage were: 07°46.403N 098°18.075E
Royal Phuket Marina & Boat Lagoon Marina
RPM and Boat Lagoon are very close together on the east coast of Thailand. We used Royal Phuket Marina many times. It’s a nice marina, about half full of tour boats which fill up with tourists and leave daily. It’s lacking on the amenities, but you can access everything you need at Boat Lagoon; groceries, chandleries, laundry, etc. However, due to the traffic flow issues, to get to Boat Lagoon from Royal Phuket Marina, you have to turn left, u-turn waayyyy down the road, pass Boat Lagoon, and wayyyy down the road u-turn again. It’s faster to put your dinghy down and motor around to Boat Lagoon, tying up next to the sling.
The channel to get to RPM and Boat Lagoon is winding and narrow, but it is marked. Just keep the markers on your port side as you go in or starboard side as you go out.
Both Boat Lagoon and Royal Phuket Marina are extremely well protected. We hung out at RPM while a tropical storm rolled through, although it ended up being a non-event. We also left Starry Horizons at RPM when we flew back to the states.
We were in the Ao Po area while hauled out at G&T. Ao Po Marina is very nice and where most of the bareboat charters operate and the mega yachts dock.
Phang Nga Bay
Ko Pha Nak
This anchorage has only easterly protection, with steep limestone cliffs. There are two mooring balls here, but they seem to be used during the day for the tour boats that come in to drop tourists off to visit the hong & bat cave.
The coordinates for our anchorage were: 08°11.327N 098°29.224E
Ko Yao Yai
In the big bay on the west side of the island, there are protected anchorages on the north and south sides where the land curves around. The north side of the bay has a river winding up into the island, and we took the dinghy up the river with Thomas. We saw a hornbill, but not too much else exciting.
The coordinates for our anchorage were: 08°01.434N 098°33.690E
Ko Nakha Noi
We anchored here just before our haul out at G&T. It’s not well protected but has a beach bar (and tourists during the day) and a small dock. Day charter sailboats also came in too. On the south side of the beach is an aquaculture farm of some kind with strings of black balls floating in the water. We did not go ashore.
The coordinates for our anchorage were: 08°01.858N 098°27.409E
Ko Rang Yai
This is the anchorage we used before coming into Royal Phuket Marina. Holding was good, and there appears to be a beach bar and a plantation on shore. Again, we didn’t go to land.
The coordinates for our anchorage were: 07°57.162N 098°26.776E
Thailand Yacht Show
While we were hauled out at G&T, the Thailand Yacht Show was held at Royal Phuket Marina. We attended but were disappointed with the show. It’s very small and targets more power boaters than sailors. There were four sailboats total at the show (FP Saona 47, Leopard 50, Lagoon 420 and a monohull). We enjoyed catching up with our friends at Multihull Solutions and looking at the Saona and Leopard 50.
Where to Haul out in Thailand
Our haul out at PSS was less than satisfactory, and you can read about our experience. A few months after our haul out, the historic vessel Vega was being hauled at PSS and fell out of the cradle, causing massive amounts of damage. The crane operator overcorected and caused further damage.
G&T Boat Yard hauled and launched us on schedule and got all of our projects done. Despite one issue with blocking, we are very happy with the work they did. Starry Horizons was in GREAT shape when launched from G&T.
Many cruisers say good things about Boat Lagoon, especially in Krabi. I contacted the location on Phuket multiple times for a marina or a haul out and never got a response via any method. The Krabi location seems to be more of a cruiser hangout and a quieter location.
Chandleries in Thailand
East Marine Asia has a store at Ao Po Marina and a bigger one at Boat Lagoon. Same with AME. The stores in Ao Po can both order parts from the Boat Lagoon locations to be brought to Ao Po the next day. East Marine Asia has tons of stuff, basically an Asian West Marine.
We definitely did not get as much time under the water as we had hoped to in Thailand. That was due, in part, to spending nearly half our time in Thailand on the hard. We snorkeled in Phi Phi a lot, and I did a dive course out in Ko Racha Noi and Ko Racha Yai, but that’s all we did.
There are two island groups to the west of Phuket; Similans and Surins. Both are rumored to be beautiful, although there’s still hoards of tourists and a special permit is required.
We’ve got to get our cruising year started; it’s time to leave Southeast Asia and cross the Indian Ocean.