Stephen vs. Danny: We Won!

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I wrote a blog back in August about the friendly rivalry between my nephews Stephen and Danny about who was going to have the best Sophie Adventure Cruise. Stephen joined us for 3 weeks in August for a visit that was epic. His younger brother Dan joined us for a 2 week visit in October that turned out to be equally epic. The real winners of this contest? Me, Jenna, Leo, and Hazel. We had the pleasure of sharing our home for almost 2 months with family members who were a lot of fun AND served as excellent role models for their younger cousins. Well, at least for most of the time.

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“DanDaMan” arrived on flights from Switzerland on the evening of October 1, and we set out the next day on for the same basic loop around the “Dandaman” Sea that we took Stephen: Koh Racha, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, and Koh Hong. Unfortunately, when Dan landed the entire Phuket area was blanketed with smoke from the Sumatra palm oil fires that are plaguing the area, limiting our visibility. We also got off to a late start and tucked into the Chalong anchorage for our first night. The next morning headed down to Koh Rocha and grabbed the mooring on the west side anchorage, only to discover that the bar on the rocks overlooking the beach that Stephen and I enjoyed so much had been razed. So we went around the corner to Racha’s east coast to visit “Beer Beach”, which turned out to be a charmless wasteland of multiple tourist boats, small amounts of beach, and even smaller amounts of beer. So we decided to ditch Koh Racha altogether and head over to Koh Phi Phi. We spent a night anchored off Jasmin Restaurant, and then spent a week at Monkey Beach.

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Dan LOVED Monkey Beach. We swam every day, and he coached us on our flips and splash dives. We played Settlers of Catan. We went around the corner and into town for meals and onshore Sophie School. From a vacation point of view, Dan thought it was perfect. “After all the work on my PhD, this is exactly what I needed. Oooagh!”

One day we took the big dinghy and bombed the five miles over to Phi Phi Le, with a first stop at Maya Beach. Upon arrival, the kiddies were thrilled to discover that Dan had a big rip in the seat of his swim shorts. Dan was able to successfully manage the situation and enjoyed the spectacle of the hundreds of boats and thousands of tourists that crowd into this little beach.

After Maya Beach, we bombed around to the east side of Phi Phi Le and dropped a hook in the middle of the floating party boats. The boat next to us had 40 backpackers on board, and the owner gave each of them a tallboy can of Chang Beer that they all took into the water. They floated together in a little group, sipping their beers, as the owner then climbed 50 feet up the cliff on the side of the hong and did a magnificent backflip in front of the assembled fleet. It was pretty cool.

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When Stephen was with us, we became friends with some backpackers on Phi Phi. Actually, it was Hazel who made the initial connection. Adz and Audrey were playing Frisbee on the beach at Phi Phi at low tide, and Hazel worked her way into their game. An hour later they joined us for a drink at the beachside restaurant where we were hanging out. Adz is a tattoo artist, and he swung by later that evening to check out the situation while Stephen and I were getting out tattoos. He thought the local guy was doing a good job and was inking clean lines. We wound up inviting Adz and Audrey for a ride back to Phuket on Sophie, and they accepted and even spent a night on board. Adz was so happy at one point that he did a headstand.

We became friends with some backpackers while Danny was with us in Phi Phi as well, but this story is a bit more of a caper. Unfortunately, Leo woke up one morning feeling sick to his stomach, and Jenna suggested that Dan and I head into town to pick up some ginger ale and some beer (we were out.) Since Dan was on vacation, we also thought it would make sense if we stopped for a bite to eat. So we took the big dinghy over to the Rolling Stoned beach bar for a quick beer. 10 beers and one AWFUL hamburger later, we left and got the ginger ale and beer. As we walked across the low tide beach to the dinghy, Dan begged if we could join the pickup soccer game. We did, and we were terrible. We got in the dinghy and drove back to Sophie, where Jenna pointed out we had no beer or ginger ale with us. We had left them on the beach!

So we went back to Phi Phi, reloaded our drink bag, got into the dinghy, and then encountered a group of American kids hanging out in the water having fun and drinking beer. They seemed like our kind of people, so Danny and I invited them back to Sophie. After a little bit of consideration, they agreed, and Ella, Kevin, Maggie, Anna, and Shannon joined for a few hours on Monkey Beach.

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They had all recently graduated form Loyola Marymount University in Baltimore (which means they were Jesuit-trained, like me) and were taking the smart step of backpacking across Thailand before getting on with their careers and the rest of their lives. We hung out in the water for a few hours and had a great time, except that Kevin got bit by a monkey (it didn’t break his skin), I discovered that the new dinghy wouldn’t plane with 7 adults on board (which really bummed me out), and Jenna was so busy taking care of Leo that she never got her beer (she is a loving mother with incredible patience.) But we made some new friends and have a new story to tell. Also, as you can see from the photo, the Sumatra smoke was still with us.

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After a week in Phi Phi we headed up to Krabi to stock up on fresh produce and sing some karaoke at the Krabi River Marina. I got a haircut, and we took Dan to the wet market, the night market, the local temple, and to some of our favorite haunts. For karaoke, Dan opened the night with “Like a Virgin” which for some reason didn’t go over super-well with the local Thai crowd. The mike was passed to a group of ladies celebrating at a corner table, and we never got it back for the rest of the night. They did let Dan and his cousins dance with them, though.

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After Krabi, we took Dan up to Koh Hong and grabbed a mooring on the south side off the national park beach. The Sumatra smoke had cleared, and Dan finally got some sunny weather with spectacular views.

We took him into the beach, where he discovered that the fishies love themselves some Hazel.

But all good things, including Dan’s visit, must sometimes come to an end. Which means we couldn’t convince him to stay another a week. So after Koh Hong, we headed back to the Yacht Haven Marina in northern Phuket for one last meal with some of our cruising friends. On the way we stopped for lunch at the Paradise Resort on Koh Yao Noi. Hazel likes the big swing there.

Dan’s flight left at 8:00 PM the next day, so we had the opportunity to spend a last day exploring Phuket with him. We headed down to the Tree House Restaurant, where we had once taken Stephen, for lunch. Unfortunately it was closed. Jenna still hasn’t eaten there. So we instead headed all the way down to Chalong for a waterfront meal at Dickie’s Lighthouse.

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Dan enjoyed his last meal in Thailand. Unfortunately for me, I’ve been SUCH a good host for my nephews during their 5 weeks here that I’ve been eating and drinking this way during their entire visits. We’ve gone on a bit of a cleanse now before we host our next Adventure Cruise in November.

After lunch, we decided to drive up the hill and visit the Big Buddha statue that dominates southern Phuket. We’ve seen it from a distance dozens of times but never bothered to visit. What a mistake!

For starters, we passed multiple concessions that will take tourists on elephant rides, and they all have baby elephants out by the road. You can never see too many baby elephants!

At the top, there is a huge statue of Buddha that also serves as a temple, with monks inside singing prayers. If you turn your back on the temple, you can look out and see the “Dandaman Sea” and the loop we took over the last ten days with Dan. It was a great way to end his visit.

After the Big Buddha, we drove up Phuket’s west coast for one last sunset beach beer and then sadly dropped Dan off at the airport.

It was the end of two great visits that in our minds and hearts blended into one extended family fest, which is something that is especially important for Leo and Hazel as they continue to explore the other side of the world from where the rest of their family lives. Stephen and Daniel, thanks for the visits. We had a great time. Everybody is a winner!

 

Anchorages and MARINAS from Singapore to Phuket

IMG_1178Here is another post for boats following in our footsteps, where we document our stops on this 500 mile stretch of water in Malaysia and Thailand. Please note that this is the first time I am doing one of these waypoint blog posts where I include information on multiple marinas where we stopped. Yes, marinas. We’re not in Tonga any more.

Before we left Singapore, we were told that boats were fleeing Phuket to avoid the rainy, windy season known as the “southwest monsoon.”  The best time to head north to Thailand was during the “northeast monsoon” between November and March, when the weather is drier, the water is clearer, and a gentle wind blows from the land.

Now that we are up in Phuket, people here are telling us that the concept of a summertime southwest monsoon — aka the bad, rainy season — has become increasingly irrelevant. Perhaps it is a result of global warming. Our weather has been sunny, the water is clear, and the winds are quite gentle. For us, this has been a great time to begin exploring Thailand. And we recommend all of the anchorages and stops in this post to boats following us, with the exception of the anchorage in Telaga if the weather is squally.

Pulau Pisang
01.28.817N, 103.14.721E
We anchored behind this island on our first stop in Malaysia. It’s about 40 miles up the Malacca Strait from Singapore. It was nice to be on the hook again after a month of city life in a marina. Good holding in 20 feet of water. It was calm enough for me to scrape Singapore barnacles off our hull and props.

Pulau Besar
02.06.603N, 102.20.629E
This was another anchorage 70 miles up the strait from Pisang. We wound up anchoring on the south side of the island because it was getting dark when we arrived. It was little rolly.

Port Dickson
Admiral Marina
02.28.573N, 101.50.704E
marinaWe stayed at this marina for almost a week, using it as our home base for Sophie during our three day visit to Kuala Lumpur. The marina is clean and the staff was helpful. Their fuel dock was broken, but they brought 800 liters of diesel in jerrycans to Sophie’s dock. Once again, I got to pour them into our tanks. It was character building. The marina has a pool and an air conditioned bar with WiFi. That’s about it. We took a cab for the ten minute ride into town to clear into Malaysia Immigration/Customs/Harbormaster. It was a straightforward and friendly process. TripAdvisor claims that the best restaurant in Port Dickson is a pizza place by the beach. Do not eat there. In hindsight, we regret not making the effort to visit Melaka on a day trip, which is supposed to be beautiful and historic. But after our time in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, we wanted to get back into cruising mode.

Port Klang
Royal Selangor Yacht Club (RSYC)
03.00.322N, 101.23.413E
MLYS1999This was our next stop up the coast, and we docked in front of a beautiful facility on the river that connects Kuala Lumpur with the Indian Ocean. There was a strong current in the river, and Sophie strained against the floating dock. The RSYC has a reciprocal relationship with the Seattle Yacht Club, and during our visit we met the RSYC commodore and exchanged burgees with him. They had a big restaurant, a good bar, and a nice pool. We stayed two nights.

Pangkor Marina (Marina Island)
Pangkor
04.12.685N, 100.36.074E
MLYS2012Our next stop was 40 miles up the coast from Klang, and our arrival here was a little stressful. The sun was setting, we were hit by a squall, the marina entrance was not clearly marked on our charts, and we had to motor 3 miles past the marina to avoid a big reef that runs north-south through the channel. Other than that, it was great. The marina looks like it will be an awesome facility when construction is completed in 3 years. They have a boatyard with a haulout that is big enough to lift Sophie. And we met Jack and Jackie on Barbara Ann, who have subsequently become our friends.

Straits Quay Marina
Penang
05.27.539N, 100.19.094E
IMG_1012We loved loved loved Penang. It was a 90 mile run up the coast from Pangkor, a longer trip for Sophie than for most boats, because our mast cannot fit under the two bridges that connect Pulau Penang with the mainland. For our first night we anchored outside of the marina, but it was rolly. For the next 6 days we had a dock at this friendly and inexpensive marina with a promenade featuring 10 restaurants. Nearby access to two supermarkets for provisioning. Easy access into town. Great culture. Monkeys who steal beer. Penang has it all.

Kuah, Langkawi
06.18.733N, 099.50.801E
This was our first stop in Langkawi, and we stayed here for one night. There was excellent holding for our anchor, and we could easily check in to Immigration and the Harbormaster. The marina at Kuah was under construction, which made it off-limits for us. The city itself reminded us of Indonesian cities like Ambon or Sorong, full of small businesses but not easily walkable, so we moved on.

Telaga, Langkawi
06.21.764N, 099.40.677E
telagaWe spent over two weeks here, first in the anchorage and then in the marina. It is a great spot, and we will return here later this year. The holding in the anchorage was terrible, and multiple boats (including Sophie) dragged their anchors during squalls. The marina was much more protected and featured several excellent, inexpensive restaurants. They also had a machine that used an electric motor to pump diesel fuel directly into your boat. This was a first for us in almost 10 months. It is easy to rent a car for a day to head into town. Langkawi is a duty free port, which means there are no taxes paid for alcohol or for boat parts you ship in from the United States.

Pulau Singa Besar, Langkawi
06.13.598N, 099.44.800E
MLYS2857We left Telaga for 5 days with our friends Misti and Abi to enjoy watersports in this anchorage 9 miles south of Telaga. We swam, paddleboarded, barbecued, drank, and played a lot of board games. We were back in Sophie Adventure Cruises mode, and it was a lot of fun. We were told that a local cruiser organizes impromptu bonfire singalongs on the beach here every Saturday night, but he had to cancel the week we were there.

Ko Lipe, Thailand
06.29.651N, 099.17.774E
IMG20150722183737We finally left Malaysia and spent two nights anchored on the north side of Ko Lipe. We never went to shore and instead spent our time padleboarding, swimming, and conducting Sophie School. The Ko Lipe area is part of a National Park, and we used a park service mooring even though we were warned to not trust any moorings in Thailand. After we tied up to the mooring, we ran both engines in reverse at 2000 RPMs, and nothing broke. Ko Lipe becomes much more crowded with the beginning of the high season in November, and we will return.

Ko Tarutao
06.42.456N, 099.40.072E
THAI3030After Ko Lipe we motored 25 miles east to visit another Thai National Park at Ko Turatao. Initially we anchored on the northwest tip of the island (06.41.764N, 099.38.249E) in order to visit “Crocodile Cave”, a spot where you pull yourself a couple of hundred meters along a rope on a raft to check out stalagmites and bats. But as we motored a mile up the mangrove in our dingy to reach the cave entrance, we saw a massive thunderboomer cloud approaching from the east. Our dingy motor has been a little tenuous lately, and Sophie was anchored in a very exposed area. So we punted on the idea of the cave (for now), got back to the boat, and motored around the corner to a much more sheltered anchorage. We anchored in 40 feet of water and marveled at the hundreds of basketball-sized jellyfish slowly bouncing around the bay. We did not swim.

Ko Rok Nok, Ko Rok Nai
07.12.815N, 099.04.156E
THAI3018Our next stop was another Thai national park, and we picked up a mooring in the channel between these two small islands. Our first week of “monsoon” weather in Thailand was perfect, the water was crystal clear, and there were thousands of reef fish swimming under Sophie. We enjoyed a grand afternoon cavorting in the water. The next morning a bit of a squall showed up, and we were directly exposed to a southerly wind that would have pushed us onto a reef in about 5 seconds if our mooring line broke. We decided to leave that morning, knowing full well that we will return.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Ton Sai Bay
07.44.051N, 098.46.304E
WP_20150727_002Phi Phi Don is a backpacker tourist island and is very, very cool. We anchored in the main harbor, slightly to the west of the route that the ferries, speedboats, and longtails use. Next time we’ll anchor to the west, away from the traffic and closer to the wall. The village reminded us of a bigger version of Gili Air, with 10 blocks of walking streets filled with backpacker bars, dive shops, tattoo parlors, and foot massage stands. Wandering these streets were Russian girls in bikinis and Australian bros with bad tats and hats, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We stayed two nights and enjoyed some great people watching. We also caught up with our friends on Garuça Cat, whom we hadn’t seen since Bali. We will definitely be taking our nephews Steven and Dan here when they visit in the next few months.

Ko Phi Phi Le, Maya Bay
07.40.815N, 098.45.847E
pp1This day stop was literally spectacular, meaning “of or like a spectacle; marked by or given to an impressive, large-scale display.” Phi Phi Le is where the Leo DiCaprio movie “The Beach” was filmed, and it is apparently a required stop for every tourist who visits Phuket, which is 20 miles away. We arrived at 7:00 AM to grab one of the few mooring balls there, and by noon we counted over 50 high speed (500-1000+ hp outboards) tourist boats in the little bay. They would roar in, wait for their landing instructions from the BTC (Beach Traffic Controller), drop a sand hook off their bow, back 150 feet up to the beach, unload 20 tourists, then roar away. We counted a couple dozen of these boats lined up on the beach at one time, and later heard that during high season there are 2,000 boat trips a day to this little bay. Thankfully there is buoyed off swim area on the beach, and we simply sat in the water and marveled at the spectacle of thousands of tourists doing spinning panorama shots of themselves with their GoPros on selfie sticks. 

pplRemember, we’ve had most tropical beaches to ourselves for the last year, and this was a little more crowded. Phi Phi Le is a National Park, and we had to pay a beach landing fee of $40 for the family to enjoy the scene. It was worth every penny.

Ko Phi Phi Don, Laem Thong
07.46.744N, 098.45.956EWP_20150728_001
After the spectacle, we motored back up to Phi Phi Don and dropped the hook off of the sea gypsy village on the northeast coast of the island. It has a beautiful beach, nice coral, and wasn’t very crowded. There is a beach bar there named Jasmin, and we enjoyed a seven hour meal there, swapping stories with Peter, the Scot who’s married to Jasmin and serves as the restaurant’s official greeter and beer pourer. IMG20150728174023He’s quite a character, telling stories about Leo DiCaprio, Amy Winehouse, and his dark past in London. We will definitely be back.

Chalong, Phuket
07.48.965N, 098.21.574E
chalongWe could have stayed in the Phi Phi for a month (the kiddies never get tired of the fact that the islands’ name is pronounced “pee pee”), but we needed to officially check into Thailand so we motored over to Chalong harbor on the southern end of Phuket. On our way we caught our first tuna since November, thanks to advice we got from Peter. Apparently tuna and whale sharks are running through the islands here for the next few months, so we’ve got our lines back out after months of the fish nothingness that is otherwise known as Indonesia. Chalong has a one stop check-in center (Immigration, Customs, Harbormaster) all located in a single building at the end of a big pier that juts into the crowded harbor. Better yet, these different agencies use computers to share your information across their offices, so we only had to fill out a form one time, and that was on a computer! Amazing. We only spent one night here and anchored out from the main fleet. There are plenty of bars and tourist restaurants in the area, but we only stayed one night.

I continue to write on this blog that things on our little adventure keep getting better and better, and at some point you might begin to think that I am guilty of exaggeration. How could this be possible?

Come to Thailand, and you’ll understand.