Saturday 24th January 2010 - Puteri Harbour, Malaysia
In December last year we motored from Raffles marina in Singapore across the Johor Strait to Puteri Harbour in Malaysia - a distance of about five miles. There is not much to say about the marina here - it is new, secure, sheltered, all the facilities are nice and at the moment it is very cheap. There is a grand plan to build a new city here but at the moment there are just a few government buildings and not much else. If all goes to plan, it should be an amazing place in a few years time. For now, it is a good place for us to leave the boat while we do some travelling around South East Asia.
Our first trip began in the middle of December last year and took us to Bangkok and that is where we saw in the beginning of 2010. After making sure Strummer was secure in the marina berth we packed our rucksacks and had a lift in the marina mini bus to the bus station at Gelang Patah. From there we caught the bus across the causeway to Singapore and then the MRT to Changi airport. Our Tiger Airways flight landed on time in Bangkok and we took a taxi to the "Trendy Apartments" (that is the name not a description).
We were met outside the apartment by Dave and Emma - well they were in a nearby bar as our taxi took less time than expected. We had a quick look at our apartment, left our bags and went up to Dave and Emma's for Champagne (fizzy wine anyway) and ham sandwiches. What a great welcome! Next it was straight out on a whirlwind tour of the local bars. I cannot remember the names of them all, but two of the more memorable were the Volks Bar (a VW camper van with tables and chairs on the pavement - also known as "The Caravan of Love"!) and a girlie bar in Nana Plaza. Nana Plaza is an "adult entertainment" area and we sat drinking our beers and watching the bikini clad girls dancing on the bar. Some of them were stunning but I had my doubts about a few of them. I asked Dave "OK, how many of them are ladyboys?" - he replied "All of them!" It was unbelievable. On the way home we stopped for a nightcap at a bar stall on the pavement - also run by ladyboys. Dave and Emma certainly gave us a good introduction to some of the seedier parts of Bangkok!
Our first few days in Bangkok were spent exploring the area around our apartment. The Sukhumvit area is home to many of the expats (and sexpats!) that live and work in Thailand. This means that there are quite a few "British Pubs" around. Our favourite was called the "Soi 8 Bar". A Soi is a small street that runs off a main road and most of them have a number rather than a name. The Soi 8 bar was a short walk from our apartment, did good food and had a nice atmosphere, so this really became our local bar. Another good pub that Dave and Emma took us to was the Bull's Head on Soi 33/1. Every Sunday between 5:00pm and 7:00pm they had "Toss the Boss" - you buy a pint and then the boss tosses a coin - if you win, the drink is free - if you lose, you pay the normal price. It was really good fun - especially on our last visit there when I won four pints in a row! On the way home from The Bulls Head was Soi Cowboy - one of the "adult entertainment" areas and an interesting place to sit and drink a beer and maybe eat a few fried insects! A little further on our route home was the "Fish and Chip" shop where we would stop for excellent bacon sandwiches.
The streets around our apartment were always buzzing with activity. Early in the morning there were stalls selling breakfast. Later in the morning these were replaced with stalls selling clothes, watches (all designer labels of course), knives, replica guns, Viagra and loads of other things you might need. In the evening new stalls would appear cooking all types of food - noodles, rice, chicken, sausages, fish, sausages on sticks, fried insects and many more. Still later in the evening the clothes and watch stalls would leave to be replaced with bars complete with tables and chairs arranged on the pavement. Many of these were right next to the busy main roads. In Bangkok there is a whole economy that exists solely on the pavement.
Dave and Emma have a number of expat friends that live in Bangkok and we had an enjoyable Christmas Day barbecue with them. The barbeque was by the rooftop swimming pool at the apartment of Kevin and Rachel on Soi 11. Excellent burgers cooked by Kevin and of course plenty of beer and wine. In fact we had a few nights out with our new expat friends including a great Thai meal on New Years Eve rounded off by plenty of beer at Temple's Bar - also on Soi 11.
It was not all fun and games in Bangkok - dentists are quite cheap in Thailand so we both went. Al had a couple of fillings and I had a tooth out - Ooowwww! This was the tooth that I first had problems with when crossing the pacific. I had the nerve removed in Tahiti and then, as the tooth was split, a temporary crown fitted in New Zealand. The idea was that the crown would hold the tooth together, but I knew there was only a 50% chance that this would work. Unfortunately it didn't and now I have one tooth less. It was right at the back, so I do not really miss it and it does feel a lot better now.
Towards the end of our time in Bangkok we decided we should do a few touristy things. We had been up the river on one of the public ferries and we'd been over to the Khao San Road where all the backpackers stay. Most of the time we had just been enjoying living ashore and doing things in the area near our apartment. Our first trip out was to the The Grand Palace. This is an amazing place with so much to see. We had been to Bangkok about 20 years ago and cannot believe we did not visit the Grand Palace then.
Our final trip out was with Dave and Emma along with Emma's sister Sophie and her daughter Tilly who had arrived a couple of days earlier for a holiday. We hired a minibus and driver to take us to the Bridge over the River Kwai and the Tiger Temple. The bus picked us up from the apartment early in the morning and it took an hour to get through the traffic and out of the city. Our first stop was at the Kanchanaburi war cemetery and the Thailand-Burma Railway museum. This is one of the cemeteries where prisoners of war that died building the railway for the occupying Japanese forces are buried. The railway is also known as Death Railway - around 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied POWs died during its construction. A short drive away is the Bridge over The River Kwai where we stopped for lunch and a stroll over the bridge.
The last stop of the day was at the Tiger Temple - a more cheerful place but also controversial as not everyone agrees that Tigers should be kept in this way. This is a Buddhist Temple that became a Tiger sanctuary after they began looking after a few abandoned Tiger cubs. They now have a number of fully grown Tigers and more cubs that have been born at the Temple. The Temple is open to visitors and you can have your photograph taken with the Tigers. They are chained up and most are sleeping - we were told that they are never drugged. It was interesting to be able to get so close to these beautiful wild animals if a little scary - even chained up, they could easily kill someone if they were annoyed.
Later that evening we all went to the Soi 8 bar for dinner - this was our last night in Bangkok. The next morning we took a taxi to the airport, flew back to Singapore and then by MRT and bus back to Puteri Harbour.
We have been back a couple of weeks now and have been keeping ourselves busy doing jobs around the boat. I have changed the rear crankshaft oil seal on the engine - it is done but I am waiting for some new flywheel bolts to arrive from England before I can put everything back together. Al has been cleaning (mould patrol!) and organising our next trip - we leave on Tuesday 26th for four weeks in Vietnam. We are flying to Hanoi and will make our way south from there by train via Hue to Ho Chi Minh City.
Next update when we get back.
Saturday 6th March 2010 - Puteri Harbour, Malaysia
We flew into Hanoi (in the north of Vietnam) on 26th January and spent ten days there. It is a bustling old city with 3 million people and almost as many motorbikes! Vietnam is the land of the motorbike, sharing the bumpy roads with buses and lorries but not many cars. Horns are tooted all the time to alert other road users that they are coming past (on either side) and also on approaching a cross roads (instead of stopping). Stopping for a red light seems to be optional. The technique for crossing the road is to walk across without looking or stopping - motorbikes ride around you. This is nerve racking at first but by the end of our month we had almost got used to it.
Whilst in Hanoi we went on a trip out to Halong Bay. This is a UNESCO world heritage sight which looks amazing in the photos but is full of tourist boats – hundreds of them.
We left Hanoi on an overnight train south to Hue. Our 'soft sleeper' cabin (4 berths) was shared with two Norwegians and the rest of the carriage was full of foreigners ("Foreigner" is actaully printed on your ticket when you buy it!). The journey was not smooth or quiet due the track having been bombed during the war and then patched up, but at least there were no motorbikes whizzing around us and we did manage to get some sleep.
We spent a couple of days in Hue, visited the citadel (where the emperor lived until 1945) and then caught the bus to Hoi An. This is a lovely old riverside town which reminded us of Italy - windy cobbled streets and lots of little shops. It was made even prettier as we were there in the run up to 'TET' (the Vietnamese new year) so the streets were decorated with lanterns everywhere.
After Hoi An we caught the bus back to Hue and boarded the train to go south to Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by the locals) - a 20 hour journey. This time there was no 'soft sleeper' carriage so we had 'hard sleeper' tickets. Apparently this did not mean we would be sleeping on wooden benches, it was just the Vietnamese version of - err - second and third class. This time we shared a six berth cabin with Vietnamese people. Two people only travelled overnight but the other two, a woman and her mother, were with us all the way. We assume they were visiting their family for TET - they had 9 parcels including a sack of rice and a large bag of cabbage! It was difficult to communicate but we did swap some of our Pringles for some of their homemade rice crackers - they were very tasty!
When we finally arrived at our hotel in Saigon we were told that our room was not available and would we like to stay in an apartment nearby? As we had already been 'bumped' like this when we arrived in Hanoi we got annoyed and were found a room for the night. The next morning, when we were no longer tired and hungry, the owner took us to see the apartment. It was great - air con, flat screen TV, balcony, washing machine etc. so we stayed there for a week.
Saigon is a more modern city than Hanoi, and there are even more motorbikes. There are big roads, which we crossed at traffic lights (most motorbikes stopped at these), and roundabouts which we avoided. We were there for TET, when it was quiet (apparently) as most people are on holiday. Most businesses were closed which meant that the pavements were clear, making walking around easier. The Vietnamese do everything on the pavement - the only pedestrians are tourists as the locals go everywhere on their motorbikes.
While in Saigon we went to see the Cu Chi tunnels used by the North Vietnamese to hide from the South Vietnamese and American troops in the war. There were over 250 kilometers of tiny tunnels around Saigon containing hospitals, kitchens and schools – we only went along a short passage in the top of the three levels but that was enough. We also stopped at the Cao Dai Great Temple where we watched the noon prayers. Our second trip out was a day trip to the Mekong Delta. There were various boat trips involved which made it a bit of a busmans holiday but it was a great day. Nige held a large Python and we both tried Snake Wine - neither were great experiences!
After a week in Saigon we took a 7 hour bus journey up into the mountains to the lakeside town of Dalat. We had been told this was a must see but we were disappointed. The lake was drained with work being done on the surrounding gardens, and the town was packed with Vietnamese tourists on their post TET holidays. Still it was nice to be in the cool mountain air. After three nights it was back on the bus to Saigon for one night then taxi, plane, MRT/underground, two buses and we were home.
Now we are back on the boat in the peace and quiet of Puteri Harbour, Malaysia. We have paid up to 8th March and then we will then start working our way slowly up to Langkawi. We plan to do some more land travel later in the year - probably to Cambodia and Laos - but for the moment life is back to normal.
Wednesday 25th April 2010 - Penang, Malaysia
We left Puteri Harbour as planned on the 9th March and were happy to be moving on again. Puteri Harbour is a great marina but there is nothing else there, so it can get a bit boring. Our route took us first to Pulau Pisang - a small island with a fish farm. We spent a rolly night in the exposed anchorage and were kept awake by a thunderstorm and small fishing boats with bright lights buzzing around. At first light the following morning we continued motoring northward (very little wind at this time of year near the equator). There are frequent thunderstorms with heavy rain, lightning and poor visibility in the Melacca Strait (there is one going on now as I write!). These usually occur at night, so we wanted to do most of our sailing or motoring during the day. We were heading for the marina at Melacca but could not get there before dark so we anchored for the night in the middle of nowhere. There is very little swell in this part of the Melacca Strait, so you can anchor anywhere where it is shallow enough. Again we had thunderstorms but fortunately the lightning kept away from us. The following morning the wind picked up and we had a great sail for about fifteen miles to Melacca where we tied up in the almost empty marina.
The Malaysian government has built a number of new marinas around the coast and this is one of them. Unfortunately the location of some of them along with the design of the sea walls means that they can be rolly due to swell and the wash of passing boats and some, including Melacca are also silting up. It is feared that Melacca marina will become unusable by yachts unless it is dredged. We had only about 20cm of water under the keel at low water and many yachts are not stopping here because it is too shallow for them.
The good thing about the marina in Melacca was that we could walk into town. Melacca is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are lots of historical buildings and of course there are shops and bars and restaurants. We had some great tandoori chicken at the Pak Putra Tandoori and Naan restaurant - you can watch them cooking in the tandoori ovens which are on the pavement. Jonkers Walk is the main tourist street with many renovated buildings, restaurants and a few bars. At weekends there is a night market and the road is closed to traffic so it is a pleasant place to spend some time. In one of the bars here we discovered that the most cost effective way to buy beer is by the bucket (five bottles in an ice bucket). The night we made this discovery it started to rain very heavily so our time in the bar was extended somewhat. We did not do much the following day!
Our next stop after Melacca was Port Dickson - about 35Nm up the coast. Port Dickson is a modern marina/resort development but the marina is already a bit scruffy. There is a restaurant and a bar here but both were a bit quiet so we only stayed a couple of nights before heading further north. This time we decided to keep going over night as the only anchorages are near Port Klang which is a busy commercial Port. We had not had any thunderstorms during our time in the marinas at Melacca and Port Dickson, so we thought we would be OK. This was wrong - we had a huge thunderstorm but managed to come through it unscathed. The following night we anchored in a picturesque bay at Pulau Pangkor where we watched some quite large fishing boats casting their nets right next to us. I think we were in one of their favourite fishing spots but they left before dark and we had a reasonable rest before leaving at 0400. Our plan was to leave early so we could make the anchorage between Pulau Penang and Pulau Jerejak before dark. We also thought we would avoid any thunderstorms as these seemed to occur earlier in the evening. Wrong again! At 0530 we were in the midst of another thunderstorm with fishing boats all around us - very scary. We had a close encounter with two fishing boats that were heading towards us from different directions. These guys do not show the correct navigation lights so it is almost impossible to tell which way they are going until they are very close. We managed to avoid both of them, the thunderstorm moved away and we continued on. Just before dark we dropped anchor near a couple of other yachts and a few shoreside restaurants. We had dinner and then listened to very loud Karaoke coming from one of the restaurants until about 0300. The following morning we motored about 8Nm up the coast to the marina in Georgetown which is the main city on the island of Penang.
The marina here has a bad reputation with yachties. We had been told that there is a strong current flowing through the marina which makes it difficult to manoeuvre and brings in lots of floating rubbish, it is affected by wash from the ferries, the floating breakwater is broken, the pontoons are in bad repair, it is shallow and is silting up, at low water it stinks and there is a very loud disco until 0300 on Friday and Saturday. Apart from all those things it is fine! There are some good points aswell - the showers are fine, there is a free washing machine (which is nice for Al!), there is an air-conditioned lounge with a flat screen TV and pool table and we can walk into town in a couple of minutes.
Like Melacca, Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site but it is not quite as touristy. The population is mainly of Chinese descent but there are also many Indians and Malays so it is an interesting place to be. The town was founded by the British so there are many old colonial buildings but there are also temples of various types. There are Indian and Chinese shops, bars and restuarants but there are also modern shopping malls, foodcourts and even the odd English Pub - although they do play wierd disco music at weekends. It is very cheap to eat out here - almost not worth buying food to cook although when we eat out there is a temptation to have a beer or two which does push the price up. Our regular eating places are the Kapitan Restaurant (Indian), The Red Garden Night Market - a foodcourt where you can eat Chinese, Thai, Korean, Filipino etc, and the Soho Pub which does a great Chicken and Leek pie with chips!
Apart from eating we have been doing some boat maintenance and we have also been to Kuala Lumpur for a week. We caught the ferry across to the mainland and then had a 5 hour bus ride to KL where we checked into the Citin Hotel that Al had found on the internet. It was very disappointing - OK for one night maybe but not for a week. The room was very small, the aircon barely worked at all, no WiFi and the TV had no English channels. That evening we wandered around and found a small hotel (Anggun Hotel) that had just recently opened - really nice room and breakfast served on the roof terrace. It was a bit more expensive but worth the money.
Kuala Lumpur is a very modern city with some great buildings including the famous Petronas Twin Towers - the city really does emphasise the progress that the Malaysian economy has made in recent years. We did all the usual touristy things - went up the KL Tower (expensive), went up the Petronas Towers to the skybridge (free - but you have to get up really early to get tickets), did a walking tour, went to the butterfly park. We also did some things that are great when you have been away from England for a long time - Al went to M & S, and we went to a pub where they had cider.
We are back on the boat in Penang now and will probably stay here a while longer. Our next trip will probably be by bus to Thailand at the end of May - we will need to leave the country so we can get new 90 day visas for Malaysia when we return.
That is all for now - we are off to the Red Garden for dinner.
Monday 28th June 2010 - Langkawi, Malaysia
As things turned out we did not spend too much longer in Penang - the conditions in the marina there eventually became too much and on 10th May we left for Langkawi. We spent a night anchored at Pulau Bidan on the way before anchoring in Langkawi off the main town of Kuah. Langkawi is a picturesque holiday island just south of the Thai border. There are a number of resorts here, three marinas and quite a few yachties about. We spent four nights in Kuah before heading off to sail around the island. This is not a huge feat as it is quite a small place.
We spent the first night of our circumnavigation in the Hole in The Wall anchorage - we had planned to stay a couple of nights but there were so many flies around in the evening we left the next morning. The next night we spent in Teluk Datai which was a bit more exposed but very pleasant - and no flies to pester us. Our next stop was the anchorage just outside the marina in Telaga where we spent a couple of nights before heading down to the marina on Rebak Island.
That is where we are now - the wet and squally South West monsoon season is upon us so we plan to hole up here until September when we will head up into Thailand. The marina here is well sheltered and is part of the Rebak Island resort. There is not a great deal here - a swimming pool, a gym, two bars and a restaurant in the resort and another small restaurant for yachties only next to the boatyard. It is a bit like Fantasy Island - the resort guests get ferried around in electric golf buggies (even though you can walk anywhere in about 10 minutes). Most of the island is covered with dense jungle and there are monkeys, large monitor lizards, snakes and a lot of birds.
Despite there being so little here we are managing to keep quite busy. Al is doing a lot of sewing after checking out some new techniques on the internet and has been planning a trip to Cambodia. I have been messing about with software and updating the website. You might have noticed some small changes in the look and feel, but underneath everything has changed and it is now much easier to maintain. We have had some sail work done and had a new stainless steel lift silencer made for the exhaust - the old one had started to leak. We also did a day trip on the ferry to Satun in Thailand so we could get our passports stamped for a further 90 days in Malaysia.
There is a regular ferry from the resort to the main island, so we are not completely stuck here. We usually go across once a week and hire a car from Mr. Din. He has a number of old bangers that he rents to the yachties for 40 Ringits (about £8) a day. There is no paperwork to fill in - just hand over the cash and off you go. I am not sure how legal it is but it is the only way to get around without using taxis.
On 14th July we are flying to Phnom Penh and we'll be backpacking in Cambodia for about 4 weeks. We'll then be back here to haul out and do the anti-fouling plus a few other jobs before we sail up to Phuket in Thailand.
Friday 27th August 2010 - Langkawi, Malaysia
Our flight from Langkawi to Phnom Penh went smoothly. We had to go via Kuala Lumpur so it took most of the day to get there and we took a taxi from the airport to The Hotel California 2. The rooms were basic but had everything the backpacker needs - WiFi, aircon, satellite TV, clean bed, shower and a bar downstairs with free coffee all day. The staff here were really friendly and we enjoyed having a beer in the bar when we went out each evening - and usually one or two when we got back. The hotel was by the riverside and just a short walk from the Royal Palace and a lot of good bars and restaurants. If we did not feel like walking there would always be a tuktuk ready and waiting - in fact you could not walk more than a few yards without hearing "Hello Sir, tuktuk?", then when I said no, we would hear "Hello Madam, tuktuk?"
We spent eight days in Phnom Penh and really enjoyed it. We ate some great French food and spent a few evenings sitting at the pavement cafes watching the world go by. A bit like Paris but significantly cheaper. We had a late night in Sharky's bar listening to a rock band and watching the bar girls. We did some touristy things like visiting the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. We also did some educational stuff like visiting the infamous S21 prison and the Killing Fields. S21 is not a nice place - it was originally a school but the Khmer Rouge did not believe in education so they turned it into a prison. In the region of 20,000 inmates were tortured here before being sent to the Killing Fields and a mass grave.
From Phnom Penh we travelled by bus south to Kampot. The bus was fine and most of the way we were on tarmac roads - just a few stretches that have not been completed yet. We stayed at the Rikitikitavi Hotel because Al liked the name - it was also very nice. Kampot is a small sleepy town and most places are shut by 10:00pm - we did however find the Bar Red where we stayed until 03:00am chatting with a few expats that live in the area. The following day we just wandered around the town. Our last day in Kampot was spent in a tuktuk on a countryside tour. This was quite an experience as the roads are very rough - we were bounced all over the place. We visited a couple of caves. The second cave was more like potholing but without any of the safety gear - it was a relief when we finally emerged back into daylight. We also stopped at a pepper farm and the small seaside town of Kep. Probably the best part of the day was just travelling through the countryside and seeing how the local people live.The following day we took a minibus to Sihanoukville. This was only a short journey and the bus was fine - just a flat tyre to replace and three live chickens loaded up with our rucksacks to make things interesting. There is not much to report about Sihanoukville - it is a beach resort with quite a few restaurants and bars but not much else. We stayed at the Reef Resort which was fine.
Our next journey was back to Phnom Penh and the Hotel California - a full size bus this time and quite a good road - tarmac all the way. We spent two more nights in Phnom Penh and revisited our favourite restaurants - Tarragon Chicken at the Riverside Bar and Steak Frites with a carafe of red wine at La Petit France. Our last day there was spent at the Russian market stocking up on designer t-shirts. There are many clothing factories in Cambodia and some of the products find their way to the local markets. We do not think these are fakes - they are probably seconds (or stolen?). US$5 for a polo shirt by Lacoste, Paul Smith or Tommy Hilfiger - it is a shame we could only fit a few in our rucksacks.
Next we journeyed further north to Battambang - the secong largest city in Cambodia. The bus this time was the worst of the whole trip - broken seats, struggling aircon and the aisle full of locals sitting on sacks of rice. Fortunately the road was good and it only took about 6 hours. We stayed at The Seng Hout hotel which was fine and only US$15 per night. Battambang is another fairly sleepy town but with some nice French colonial buildings. The highlight of our time here was a trip on the bamboo railway. The "trains" consist of two axles with wheels and on top of these rests a bamboo platform with a small engine. A rubber drive belt fits around the crankshaft pulley on the engine and another pulley on the rear axle. The driver uses a long stick to lever the engine backwards and so tensioning the drive belt - to slow down he just releases the stick. The train travels along a disused railway for about 6km and we were expecting a leisurely trip through the countryside. Wrong! these things are fast and the track is very uneven so we flew through the countryside and with nothing to hold onto expected to be thrown off into the bushes at any moment! We did make it to the far end of the track without incident and calmed our nerves with cold cans of Sprite at the trackside cafe. Then we had to go back - this time we met two trains coming the other way. As there was only one train going our way, our train was dismantled to let the others past - it sounds like a big hassle but actually only takes a minute or so.
After three nights in Battambang we went by river boat down the Stung Sangker river to Siem Reap. The river is a hive of actvity. People live in boats and floating houses on the river and houses on stilts beside the river. The journey was also a bit of an adventure as we broke down five times and had to stop for engine repairs. At one point the river was almost completely blocked with floating weed. It took ages to force a way through and then we had to stop to clear weed from the propellor. We finally arrived in Siem Reap and were only three hours late.
In Siem Reap we stayed at the Motherhome Guesthouse which is just a short walk from the town centre - or of course we could take a tuktuk. This is the most touristy part of Cambodia due to the proximity of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. We bought a three day temple pass that was valid for one week. That way we could do a day of temples and then have a day off. I was not sure I could stand three whole days of temple visiting but it was really quite good. The temples are all different and it was pleasant to spend each day wandering around the countryside from temple to temple in our tuktuk. Whilst in Siem Reap we also visited a silk farm and we stopped at the tuktuk factory with our tuktuk driver Neang to check on progress with his new tuktuk. We also bought a few more t-shirts to squeeze into our rucksacks. So, that brings us to the end of our holiday in Cambodia - we flew back from Siem Reap to Langkawi on 11th August.
After a few days rest in the marina it was all go again - we hauled out into the boat yard on 16th August. We worked on the boat from about 08:00am until early evening each day so it was pretty tiring. Al polished the topsides while I changed a couple of seacocks and treated some rust patches on the keel. We painted the gas bottles, re-aligned the prop shaft and applied two coats of anti-foul. It is not all fun living on a boat! Anyway, it is done now and we are back in the marina. We will be here for a few more days as we need a new engine start battery and we want to stock up with provisions. 24 cans of beer for 25 Ringits (about 20p per can) so we'll be getting a few of those! Then we'll be heading further north to Phuket in Thailand.
Tuesday 2nd November 2010 - Phuket, Thailand
On 8th September we finally escaped from Rebak marina with a stock of beer and numerous boxes of wine. Our first stop was the fuel dock at Telaga marina to fill our four new 20 litre jerry cans with diesel. We then motored (no wind as usual around here) north and across the border into Thailand en route to Phuket. We anchored overnight at Ko (Thai for island) Tarutao then at Ko Bulan, Ko Rok Nai and Ko Phi Phi Don before arriving in Ao (bay) Chalong at the south east corner of Phuket on Sunday 12th September. A fairly uneventul trip except the raw water pump decided to spring a leak and spray sea water all over the engine. I removed it and fitted the spare pump only to find this was leaking aswell - fortunately only a slight leak this time. More stuff to repair!
We checked in with customs, immigration and the harbour master on Monday morning and we were now officially in Thailand. The anchorage at Ao Chalong is spacious and well sheltered but there are a lot of boats there. Consequently we had a long dinghy ride to get ashore and in addition, there is no really good place to land the dinghy. The choices are on the beach (wet feet and sand in shoes), at the end of the kilometer long jetty (clamber up some girders and a long walk to the shore) or at some steps on the jetty (lots of slippery weed at low tide and need to be careful dinghy does not get wedged under the jetty as the tide rises). Despite these difficulties we stayed in Ao Chalong for just over a week. It was nice to be able to go ashore and find bars, restaurants, supermarkets and a dentist (Al had toothache when we arrived). Ao Chalong is not really the touristy part of Phuket but many of the dive boats and tourist speed boats are based here. Most people in the bars seem to work for the dive and tour companies or are other yachties. There also seem to be a number of massage establishments in Ao Chalong - it is impossible to walk along the road without hearing "Welcome! Massaaaaaage?"
After our stay in Ao Chalong we headed up the east coast and checked into Boat Lagoon marina for three nights. The marina is at the end of a very long tidal channel and it is only possible to enter or leave in a yacht at high tide. We also found it was very quiet there - plenty of boats there but not many other yachties. However, there are some good chandleries and a lot of good boat servicing operations closeby so we stocked up with a few spares that we needed and had both the raw water pumps overhauled.
From Boat Lagoon we motored further up the east coast and anchored for a night off Ko Nakha Yai before moving on to Yacht Haven where we anchored outside the marina. We decide that we wanted to spend a couple of nights in Patong, the most notorious touristy part of Phuket, so we checked into the marina for four nights. Later in the year we should be able to anchor in Patong bay, but during the South West monsoon season it is too rough on the west coast. We took a taxi down to Patong and checked into the Gallery Hotel - very nice place and not too expensive as it is low season until the end of October. We had a great Indian curry before heading down Bangla Road for a few beers. We started off in one of the many bars and had a few beers before wandering into Soi Crocodile where we sat at a bar and watched the ladyboys dancing on the bar in the middle of the street. As the night goes on their antics become more and more outrageous - cannot go into detail here! On our second night in Patong we met up with some of our Aussie yachty friends - they had been watching some Aussie rules football during the afternoon and we all ended up down Bangla Road again for another very late night.
We checked out of the marina at Yacht Haven but stayed at anchor just outside as our friends Daryl and Stuart were flying in from Hong Kong to stay a few nights at the Sala Phuket Resort just a few miles away. We had not seen Daryl for almost 20 years, so it was great to meet up again. We had a very nice Thai meal at their rather posh resort and a pleasant day out visiting Surin Beach and Nai Yarn Beach followed by some excellent seafood in a beach restaurant. We also spent a day on a boat trip into Phang Nga bay to see James Bond Island (parts of Goldfinger were filmed there) and some of the other islands. The weather unfortunately was not great and we spent some of the day wearing somerather nasty plastic ponchos in order to remain dry. However it was still a good day out and the scenery was spectacular even through the mist!
We spent a couple more nights at Yacht Haven before heading back down to Ao Chalong where we had more visitors arriving. We first met met Bob and Liz on their boat Yanina during our first winter in Almerimar and although their boat is now in the Caribbean they were coming to Thailand for a few weeks holiday. Being yachties they were quite happy to squeeze into our small forward cabin, wash with a few cupfulls of water and dinghy back and forth to the shore. So we had a few more busy days but this time we sent Bob and Liz up to Phang Nga bay and James Bond island on their own.
After our visitors left for Ko Samui we stayed in Ao Chalong for another week before heading back to Yacht Haven. We are now booked into the marina for a month so that we can have the teak seats and floor in the cockpit replaced. As I write there are two guys in the cockpit chiselling away at the old teak faced plywood that has been de-laminating since we set off from England. There is not a great deal to do at Yacht Haven but we'll be doing a visa run down to Penang in Malaysia next week. This consists of going by mini bus overnight to Penang where we go straight to the Thai consulate and apply for new 60 day visas. We should be able to collect our passports and new visas later the same day and after a night in an hotel we return in the mini bus to Phuket. We are also planning to spend a couple of weeks up in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand which will take us to December when we have some more friends arriving - it is so busy here! More about all that in our next update.
Tuesday 21st December 2010 - Phuket, Thailand
Our visa run to Penang went smoothly. The overnight trip in the mini bus was uncomfortable but not too bad. By 1000 the following morning our passports were at the Thai consulate and we were checked into the Continental Hotel. We slept during the morning and after lunch in the Hotel we went shopping for milk powder. We want milk powder for our passage back up to the Mediterranean and cannot find it anywhere in Thailand. Hopefully customs will be OK with us carrying big bags of white powder!
In the evening we visited some of our old haunts. I was particularly looking forward to a chicken and leek pie at the Soho Pub. Unfortunately, pies were off - their oven had broken down. We ate alternative fare and then wandered down Chulia street for a few more beers at the Betelnut Bar before heading back for some sleep. Next morning we set off in the minibus to the Thai consulate to collect our passports and then continued on to Phuket. We were dropped off at the marina about midnight - quite tired but with new visas to last us until the 10th of January next year.
We spent a couple of days back at the marina and arranged for Mali to renew the teak decks in our cockpit. Then we were off again on the overnight bus to Bangkok. This was a full size bus - much more comfortable than our mini bus trip but the air conditioning was vicious. We were freezing! We were wearing shorts and t-shirts as usual and wondered why other people were wearing jeans and jackets - they had obviously done this trip before. We arrived at Mo Chit bus station at 0600 and walked about half a kilometer to the Sky Train station. By 0830 we were fast asleep in our room at the Sawasdee Hotel on Sukhumvit, Soi 8. In the afternoon we went over to Pantip Plaza and bought a new battery for our laptop and in the evening went for a few beers and dinner at the Soi 8 bar. The next day we got up late and in the afternoon wandered around the MBK shopping centre. We were really just killing time until we caught the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai.
On the train we ordered dinner and two large Singha's (Thai beer) which was delivered to our seat soon after we left the station. About 2200 the guard converted the seats into bunks and it was time for bed. We were both in upper bunks on either side of the corridor. Al left a bag with some water and two packets of crisps on a rack in the corridor so we could both reach it. We both slept reasonably well and in the morning discovered that our crisps had gone - they had been stolen! Stupid place to leave them I suppose.
We arrived in Chiang Mai the next morning and took a taxi to the Yindee Stylish Guesthouse - nice room and good location in the old town. Chiang Mai is a large University town and has a nice laid back atmosphere. It is not as hectic as Bangkok and is a nice place to wander around. So we wandered around and checked out a few of the bars and restaurants (of which there are many). Then we discovered we had arrived just in time for the Loi Krathong festival, which was nice! The locals celebrate this for three days with fireworks all night, floating small boats made of flowers down the river and by launching thousands of paper hot air balloons. There is a picture of these balloons on the front of our Lonely Planet guide and we just turned up at the right time by accident. One evening we sat in the Blues Pub by the canal that surrounds the old town and watched as these balloons were prepared and released. After studying the technique we decided to have a go ourselves. One guy was selling balloons that were larger than the others so we bought one from him even though they were more expensive (100 baht or about £2). The balloon is a large paper cylinder closed at one end and with a wire holder at the other. A large round tablet is inserted into the wire holder and ignited whilst you carefully hold the ballon upright. It takes some time before the balloon is hot enough to float away and if released too early it will blow into the trees, or the traffic, or someones house! We managed to launch ours successfully and as it left our balloon vendor lit a string of firecrackers that were attached to the bottom of the balloon. Worth every baht - you do not get firecrackers with your cheap 30 baht balloons!
After a few days in Chiang Mai we caught the local bus to Chiang Dao. It is only an hour and a half on the bus but it is further north and higher up in the mountains. It is noticeably cooler, especially at night. The bus dropped us by the side of the road in the small town of Chiang Dao and we took a taxi (converted Toyota pickup truck) to The Nest which is a few kilometers out of town. At the Nest we checked into our hut for two nights and were looking forward to a nice meal in the restaurant later that evening. We then discovered that all the staff and the other guests were going into town to watch the festivities and the restaurant would be closed. No one had told us this beforehand so we were not too happy. It all worked out OK in the end as we ate early and the owner of the Nest said we would not have to pay for that night. Then they left us with a cooler full of Chang (another Thai beer). We had a great night getting quietly drunk on the verandah!
The next day we walked up the valley and visited a couple of temples and after another night in our hut we took the bus back to Chiang Mai. We stayed one night back at the Yindee Stylish Guesthouse and then took the bus back to Bangkok. This was a daytime bus for a change and we arrived back at the Sawasdee Hotel in the early evening. We are getting to feel like locals in Bangkok! We stayed a couple of nights before taking another overnight bus back to Phuket.
We hopped off the bus on the main road at about 0630 and walked through the village back to Yacht Haven marina where Strummer was looking very nice with all new teak in the cockpit. After a few days in the marina we sailed back to Ao Chalong in the south of the island to meet with our friends Dave and Emma (Yacht Five Flip Flops) who were coming to Phuket to work on the committee boat during the Kings Cup race week.
Dave and Emma were busy with the racing most days and with race week functions but we had a few nights out together. As with last year, they are going to spend a few months in Bangkok before going back to their boat in North America when the weather there gets warmer. After a few beers one evening, they persuaded us (or we persuaded ourselves?) that we should go to Bangkok again for Christmas and New Year. So, that is what we are doing - we are now back at Yacht Haven marina, we have an apartment booked for ten days in Bangkok and on Thursday (23rd) we'll be on the overnight bus again!
When we return after New Year we'll be getting ready to leave Thailand and head back to the Mediterranean. We are looking forward to getting back to the Med but it means passing through the Gulf of Aden and then up the Red Sea. The Somali pirates are a constant topic of conversation amongst all the yachties intending to head that way and everyone is trying to figure out the safest way to go. After much deliberation we have signed up to go with the Thailand to Turkey convoy (www.alondrasailing.com/ttt/welcome.html) - at least until we are part way up the Red Sea. We'll write more about that next year.