Tuesday, February 07, 2012
After one last shop with fresh produce we checked out of Malaysia from Telaga Harbour and were ready to set sail for Thailand. We had been told that as long as we took no longer than two weeks we could island hop our way to Phuket and enjoy the 120 mile cruise on our way north. We set sail along with Splashdown for Ko Tarutoa where we would make our first stop passing impossibly high karst formations arising from the sea. Most were small uninhabited islands but occasionally we would spot a cottage on the precipitous cliff side and wonder how on earth they could access it. The next anchorage was in a lovely bay on Ko Muk and we went ashore where several resorts were established. We had a delicious dinner at one of the resorts and found that many of the tourists coming to this area were from Sweden. One of the attractions of Ko Muk is a cave which you swim into and through a dark passage coming out to a lovely beach surrounded by high cliffs. This had been used for centuries past for pirates and other unsavoury types as a hide out. We had gone there with Bev, Alex and Colin and spent some time enjoying the beach with the few other tourists who had made the early start. As we were exiting a tour boat arrived with more than 100 Japanese tourists all of whom were wearing life jackets—we are realising that Japanese tourists cannot swim—forming a conga line and were moving en masse into the cave. We were thankful that we had already experienced it in relative peace and were not trying to exit as they entered!! We took our dingy over to Ko Kradon where the snorkelling is meant to be great. We were disappointed and are concluding that we have been spoiled having snorkelled in some of the most spectacular place in the world—Thailand is not one of them. We were quickly becoming aware of the huge tourist trade in these Phuket Islands. Once again we were thankful that we have been able to get to places and have the solitude which most people can only dream about. It was also a culture shock to discover that very little English is spoken and the Thai language is very Asian and more foreign to our ears than the Malay language had been. The written language is all symbols so we are not able to even attempt a translation. In this area there are many Muslims—as it is so close to Malaysia it is not surprising, apparently as you go nearer to Phuket Buddhism is the predominate religion. The locals all seemed pleasant but unlike the Indonesians were unimpressed by our presence and not particularly welcoming. We hiked a small way along the road on the island which was busy with motor cycles, the favoured transportation. As we walked we passed producing rubber plantations. Each tree has a small bucket attached to the trunk beneath a scored area into which rubber is dripping. It always seemed quite gelatinous and I am not sure if it is more liquid at different times of the day. We watched one family mixing it in an old washing machine like apparatus, running it through a hand wringer and laying the resulting mats over a line to dry. We were told that it is mixed with acid to solidify it. Our next stop was on the east coast of Ko Lanta, a long narrow island with beautiful white sandy beaches on the eastern side. We rented a motor cycle for the day and toured the island. Old Town on the west was quiet and quaint but the east was one resort after another. We were glad that we had picked a southern anchorage as the north was touristier. Once again Europeans made up the bulk of the tourists and the Swedish flag was flown along with numerous Swedish restaurants. We did succumb to a French Patisserie for our coffee and croissant fix on our way back to the boat. We both enjoyed a Thai massage for $12—might as well enjoy what is offered where we are!! Definite highlights in Thailand are the food and massages. We still find that many items offered on the menu are “finish” as opposed to “no have” in Malaysia. Our next stop was to Phi Phi Le which we had been warned was one of the most touristy of all but we felt the need to see for ourselves. The warnings were true but we managed to find a mooring buoy later in the afternoon—cruiser wisdom is to arrive later in the afternoon as the tour boats leave and leave in the morning before they all arrive again. The lagoon was the one famed by the Leon De Caprio movie of The Beach—we have not seen it but it is certainly a stunning backdrop for any movie. We had yet one more happy hour on the boat with Just Magic and early the next morning did a tour in the dingy around the bay enjoying the spectacular karst formations all around. We left as the tour boats arrived and motored around the coast to another inlet which is featured on the brochures. We were able to take a buoy there and go into the spectacular lagoon before most of the boats arrived. This area must have been wonderful 20 years ago!! Further up the coast are the men who harvest the birds nests from the cliffs—they have not discovered the advantage of building “bird hotels” as in Kumai. Our next anchorage was once again only done so we could say we have “been there done that” on the busy island of Phi Phi Don. This is backpacker central and we went ashore to find rows of tourist shops offering dive trips, food, drink, massages and trinkets. Queues of tourists were going on tourist snorkel boats into the harbour—one came out every couple of hours close to where we were anchored for an hour of snorkelling with a hundred or more snorkellers at a time. We did jump in to see if it was worth it but the most rewarding part was cooling off in the sea—which I am sure if you were staying on the island you would be thankful for!! I did have a manicure and pedicure and Ken yet one more massage before heading back to the sanctuary of Cop Out. We are now headed into Ao Chalong which is where we will check into Thailand and spend a few days stocking up and orienting ourselves for the rest of our Thailand cruising season. We have been warned that this town is one of many “girly” bars where old white men come to pick up young Thai girls for a night—or week—so will not stay long. I do not want to make this sound all bad as we understand we will be able to find anchorages where the tourists do not go and it is spectacularly beautiful. On the east coast up toward the Myanmar border the diving is meant to be great so we will go there also. We hope to get some interior woodwork done on the boat here as prices and quality are good and will look into having new sails made as well.