Stephen vs. Danny: We Won!

20151020_082211

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.

20151010_125739

“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.

IMG_0216

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.

11954756_10206557972523606_6435973878493791788_n

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.

12112337_10153159152252543_697210671631044565_n[1]

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.

20151010_211856

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.

20151012_115338

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.

20151013_143123

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!

 

A Calm Between the Storms

IMG_0048
We mentioned a few blogs ago about how our nephew Stephen joined us for an epic 3 week visit in August, helping me with childcare and Sophie School during Jenna’s visit to the United States. Stephen returned to his home in Los Angeles on September 1st. His brother Daniel — aka “Dan da Man” — arrives on October 1st for a 2 week visit that we all hope will be equally epic.

So for the four of us on Sophie, September has turned out to be a calm period, similar in a way to the flat calm water in between two massive cannonball dives from our cat’s roof. How did we choose to spend our September?

Our Cruising Area
IMG_0512
Sophie has been cruising a patch of the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket (on the left of the map) and the Thai mainland (on the right) over the last 10 weeks. For September, we started out at the Yacht Haven Marina on the northern tip of Phuket and then worked our way clockwise as we visited “James Bond Island”, Ko Hong (Ko is Thai for island), the town of Krabi, and then Ko Phi Phi Don. We are currently back in Krabi for a few days and will head west to the Ao Po Marina on Phuket in time for Dan’s arrival.

Here is a quick runthrough of our September activities.

James Bond Island
The-Man-with-the-Golden-Gun_Roger-moore-plaid-jacket_mid-gun.bmp
Ko Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island, is the location from the film The Man With The Golden Gun where Roger Moore — wearing a wool plaid sportcoat — lands his seaplane on a beach in order to rescue a bikini-clad Britt Eckland, kill Christopher Lee, and recover the stolen Solex Agitator in order to help the world overcome the energy crisis created by the early 1970s OPEC oil embargo. In the movie, the island is remote and pristine. Roger Moore never breaks a sweat.
In reality, this island was one of the worst tourist traps we’ve visited on the entire cruise. There were 2,000 tourists trudging shoulder-to-shoulder from the landing beach up to the photo spot and then to the other beach which was filled with 20 shops selling plastic toys and wooden elephants. After 10 minutes I couldn’t take it any more and had to go back to the dinghy. I doubt we will return.

Ko Hong

After one night at James Bond Island, we headed 20 miles southeast to a mooring on the north side of Ko Hong, an island that is a national park. We spent a week here and loved every second of it. It was a great place for us to get back into tropical cruising mode. Jenna was able to get the kids back on track at Sophie School after the Jamie and Stephen teaching experience. I was able to get multiple boat projects done. We swam several times a day. We took the new dinghy and bombed around to the south side of the island to hang out on the beach (pictured above). We had sunny weather for a week. It’s a very happy place.

Krabi

I love Krabi.

It’s a city on a river on the mainland another 20 miles southeast from Ko Hong. We came here to restock our groceries and to renew our Thai visas at the local immigration office. As I’ve mentioned before, Krabi has a small karaoke marina on the river, and there is an esplanade that connects the marina with the town. For the first time since Penang, we were able to break the kids’ bikes out and ride up and down the waterfront.

IMG20150914150555

Hazel eventually developed the confidence to ride on city streets, so we took off to a cluster of local restaurants built on stilts over the mangrove.

I had the fish.

This was Jenna’s first visit to Krabi, and the kids loved taking their mother by the hand and showing her the town. We walked the market stalls, played Jenga, sang karaoke, and even found a coffee shop that let us watch the Patriots-Steelers game.

THAI3507

We visited the Buddhist shrine located at top of a local temple. The 1,260 steps up were quite an effort for all of us, but Leo believed that the view was worth it.

IMG20150913133333

Phi Phi

phi phi

After Krabi, we headed back down to Ko Phi Phi,  where we spent the next 10 days. I thought I would provide a map to give you some perspective. On our first night we anchored off the restaurant Jasmin on the northeast coast. This anchorage provides good holding and protection against westerly winds. We dinghied in to the restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal after a full day of school.

The seas were bouncy when we woke up the next morning, so we headed around the corner and grabbed a mooring in Ton Sai Bay. The main town of Ko Phi Phi Don is located on the isthmus between the two sides of the island. We continued our pattern of school and chores during the day followed by a late afternoon dinghy trip into town for a walk and dinner. We started using our small dinghy, “The Baby” every day and enjoyed it a lot.

After three days at the mooring, a wind from the south picked up, so we decided to head around to the Monkey Beach anchorage on the northwest side of the island. What a great decision! We spent a week here and think it is one of our favorite spots of our entire trip. Jenna said “When we left the US, I assumed all of our anchorages would be like this.” Monkey beach is around the corner from the town, so you can’t really see it. There is a nice beach. The beach has monkeys. There is coral and great swimming.

WP_20150919_027

The beach on the north side of the isthmus has a great scene, so we took The Baby in every day for meals or to conduct Sophie School sessions on shore. I have to say the kids did a great job at school throughout the entire month. They have an excellent teacher.

We celebrated Leo’s 11th birthday at Monkey Beach. Jenna made him an apple pie, along with linguini with clam sauce. It’s his favorite meal.

IMG_0073

Leo enjoys his new underwater camera and is spending a lot of time under the boat. He says it was his best birthday ever.

After a week at Monkey Beach, we woke up one night and discovered that the boat was dragging it’s anchor during a violent squall. Jenna and I stood an anchor watch, and the next morning we headed back up to Krabi. We’ve had heavy rain for the last two days and are glad to be on a dock again. Tomorrow we will leave and start heading west towards Ao Po on Phuket. We will be ready for the cannonball splash DandaMan creates when he arrives on Thursday.

We’ve had mostly sunny weather this month. All of the machines on the boat are working. The kids are back on track at school. We like Thailand, and we love to have the opportunity to share it with family and friends. And Hazel can now drive a dinghy.