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                             VISIT with BRUCE   -  Cruising Phang Nga to Phi Phi

Yacht Haven Marina

We spent several weeks at Yacht Haven Marina getting started on all the projects necessary for our annual maintenance and repairs to the boat. We outfitted Ascension with new upholstery for a very good price, about 1/2 of what it would have cost in Canada.

Although Yacht Haven is far from stores and facilities, we found the atmosphere friendly and the water cleaner than in other marinas.

March 8

We were very excited about my brother Bruce coming to see us from Canada! His flight arrived at 2:00 am and although tired, we had lots to talk about. With Ascension based at Yacht Haven, we could sail to some of the surrounding Phang Nga islands to escape the heat of the marina. So Bruce hopped on board, amidst the aftermath of boat repairs and ongoing projects, for a week of cruising.


Cruising the Isles

The following afternoon we pushed off from the dock and set sail for an island a few miles away at the mouth of the river leading to the marina. Not much wind but a leisurely trip across the smooth seas, passing longtails and fishing boats under an azure sky, the horizon sculpted with gleaming white cumulous towers.


KO WA YAI

We approached the tiny island of Ko Wa Yai amid a crowd of tour boats surrounded by kayaks swarming the sandy spit. We immediately went for a swim to cool off. Not long after, the daytrippers dispersed and we had the island to ourselves.

Ashore, there was a little beach with a bar that was not open. A few caretakers frequented a partially built resort which looked like it was in the process of being built or perhaps just abandoned when money ran out!

We walked around the area for a while, enjoying the view of some of the surrounding island in the Phang Nga Bay area.

Then time for Happy Hour and R & R as the sun slowly disappeared behind the surrounding craggy rocks and Ascension settled peacefully on anchor for the night.

March 9

Our destination - Ko Phanak, an island we had visited before and a favorite. We could see the rocky serrated shape looming in the distance. Surrounding us the distinctive towering rocks of Phang Nga emerged from the shallow waters.

KO PHANAK

Ko Phanak is a craggy limestone island with sheer sided cliffs poxed with caves, caverns and interesting crevices. It took us several tries to get the anchor set in the strong current.

 

We jumped in the dinghy and took a trip to the Hong entrance but decided that the tide was too low to enter.

So we circumnavigated the island by dinghy, exploring the lagoons, nooks and crannies, and the many caverns lacerating the rocky outcrops.

The precipitous limestone walls dripped with stalactites like wax on a candle.

Gnarly trees, ferns, vines and tropical plants clung to the rocky clefts.

Almost immediately we were approached by young men selling fresh prawns. After some hard bargaining we settled on a price.

 
We had several offers from other fishermen hoping to  sell us their catch also.

Our journey meandered into tranquil  bays, some with little sandy beaches bounded by the interminable fascinating rockery, a dramatic sampling of mother nature's artistic rendition.

Wading to the Hong

A patch of sand spilling between two limestone cliffs attracted us to beach the dinghy. By wading through the silty water around a rocky overhang, we came upon a small opening under the boulders where a creek emptied into the sea.

We crawled through the opening and entered the cave. The colorful granite lining the walls were sparkling with quartz and other minerals making for amazing designs

We waded into the dark passageway, our torch lighting our way. We had to be careful to watch for the low overhanging rocks and duck to avoid a collision!

We emerged into the bright hong, a Jurassic Park like hidden 'room' tangled with mangroves and bounded by sheer walls alive with climbing foliage.

Caving

Around the next bend on Ko Phanak we came upon another little sandy shore so beached the dinghy again. This indentation was actually the opening to a huge cave. The cave housed many caverns and we explored only one.

A Kaleidoscope of Colors

We climbed around and over the crevices and cracks and came upon the amazing terrace of greeny blue rocks that look like a water fall. The colors seem supernatural and the sea-etched stone 'steps' appear man made. Behind the cascading formation was a passageway to another cavern. The peculiar patterns and structure of the rock gave an eerie sense of being in another world!

 

We reluctantly departed the cave as the tide was rising fast and we hoped to time the entry to the Hong on the other side of the island.


Monkey Business

On the way back we passed a beach where monkeys were frolicking.

Unfortunately we did not time the tide exactly right and when we attempted to enter the cave to the largest Hong on the island, the current was far too strong for us to navigate the narrow, low dark channel. We retreated in defeat, pushing our way along the barnacle covered walls back to the entrance.

So back to the boat...it was Happy Hour!

KO RANG YAI

March 10   Leaving the pillars of Phang Nga Bay behind, we had a good sail, actually with some wind, to our next destination of  Ko Rang Yai.

The island boasts a pretty beach and a little resort that seemed to be the favorite camping area of the locals.

Hiking

We hiked around the island along a trail bordered with rubber trees. At the base of the spindly rubber tree trunks were the collection cups full of gooey latex.

The path twisted along the contour of the island, passing some lovely bays.

Back at the resort, we wandered around the grounds and visited the exhibits and shop supported by the Pearl Farm.

A Bird Sanctuary

We enjoyed beverages at the open air restaurant where resident peacocks roamed freely among the tables.

We agreed that the island had all the makings for the beginning of nice resort, although at the time we visited, there were no accommodation facilities, other than for camping.

March 11

Since the wind was favorable we made the decision to sail to Phi Phi Group of Islands, about a 5 hour sail away. We had a good breeze most of the way, which was a nice relief from the hot weather.


PHI PHI LEI

As Phi Phi Lei came into view we set our course for Maya Bay, looking forward to a swim.  A group of Thai fishing boats were rafted together at the anchorage entrance


 

We were able to easily pick up a mooring ball despite the anchorage being crowded with the usual array of tour boats.

Bruce was duly impressed by the beauty of Maya Bay with its high rock precipices dominating the shoreline.

Snorkeling

We all immediately took to the warm crystal clear water where we snorkeled among colorful fish. Gord and I retreated sooner than Bruce as the stingers were especially obnoxious that day!

The beach was filled with tourists so after our swim we headed to Phi Phi Don for a night of entertainment.

As we rounded the dramatic gigantic rock face on the end of Phi Phi Lei we noticed rock climbers secured by their ropes at an alarming altitude. We also noted the bamboo scaffolding used by the locals to climb amazing heights in search of bird's nests.


PHI PHI DON

We rounded the corner of Phi Phi Don and headed to the bottom of Ton Sai Bay, the hub of activity, with the assortment of resorts, all rebuilt after the recent Tsunami. We found a hole between fishing boats and set our anchor.

The shore was lined with longtails and speedboats. A immense span of fine white sand added to the picturesque backdrop of the palms against a background of lush hills and dramatic pinnacles

Touristville

A short walk along the beach to the main center brought us to a narrow cobblestone street, busy shops in a cheap and cheerful tourist ghetto of souvenir shops, mini-marts, dive centers, tour counters, massage joints, bars and restaurants..

There are no vehicles in Phi Phi Don, aside from a motorbike with a sidecar to transport items around town.

The Bucket Brigade Couldn't Save It!

Although there is a large choice of bars, we decided to return to the haunt that Gord, Chris and Craig frequented on our last visit to Phi Phi Don.

When we arrived at the breachfront location, we were horrified to see that the establishment, along with the entire strip of shops and restaurants, had been destroyed by fire!

Restaurants are a plenty but we made a poor choice as our service was horrific!

Bar Hopping

We walked along the beach surveying some of the action. The crowd at Phi Phi Don seemed to be a much younger group than the collection of tourists that were there at Christmas.

We competed with very loud music and watched some of the fire dancing over drinks.

Always a Party

There was a Half Moon Party in full swing at one bar. Although the Full Moon Parties are an icon in Thailand, there is always any excuse for a party. Hence you see New Moon, Half Moon, Quarter Moon...... Parties!

March 13

Circumnavigating Phi Phi Lei

We headed back over to Phi Phi Lei to do some exploring. The limestone island is riddled with caves, crevices and inlets that open up into hidden, silent lagoons. After picking up a mooring on the west side of Phi Phi Lei, we climbed in the dinghy and set off.

Viking Cave

Just north of Maya Bay is a huge cave, closed to the public, but we could see it clearly by dinghy. The cave is laden with a network of rickety tall bamboo trellises extending upward into the gloomy upper recesses of the cave's ceiling. Skilled workers dangerously climb to the highest reaches of the cave in search of delicate swiftlet saliva nests.

The nests are collected for Bird's Nest Soup, a Chinese delicacy that can bring as much as $1200 US per nest, more $ ounce for ounce than gold!

Bird's Nest Collecting is big business, lucrative and tightly controlled. The nests, made from the bird's spittle, are so precious that armed guards protect the sites off season to protect the baby swiftlets and the nests from poachers.

Our tour around the island led us to crevices and inlets, and tiny sandy beaches tucked unobtrusively in hidden spots. Everywhere we marveled at the abstract artwork formed by the stalactites hanging on the outside of the cliffs.

We squeezed through a narrow opening between two rocks and was able to enter a tiny lagoon where a tree chokers full of bats harboured a ruckus of squeaking activity.

Swimming to Music

At our favorite snorkel spot opposite the Hole in the Wall we tied our dinghy to a ball and joined a huge flock of other swimmers in the water. One of the longtails provided background music that reverberated off the surrounding cliffs. As usual the snorkeling was great, especially since some of the tour boats were attracting fish with food.  We spent a while there and by the time we left, we had the lagoon to ourselves.

MONKEY BEACH

We decided to spend the night on the other side of Phi Phi Don at Monkey Beach. We entered the shallow bay and joined several other boats at a very peaceful pretty spot. Ashore, the monkeys alluded us but the beach was gorgeous and we had it to ourselves.

 

After exploring the Bay including the Muslim fishing village, we enjoyed a quiet dinner on Ascension.

NAI HARN BEACH

March 14

We headed back to Phuket and again had a good sail part of the way back. We dropped the hook at Nai Harn because we could rent a car to take a quick tour of Patong before Bruce has to return to Canada.

PATONG BEACH

We met Bob, Becky and Tony at a restaurant in Kata Beach. Bruce was amazed that the old Reggae Bar at the end of the beach where he hung out 20 years ago was the same one that we favored during our stay at Kata. The bungalows that he stayed in had been replaced by the huge hotel that was the headquarters for the King's Cup!

After dinner Tony joined us for a trip to Patong to visit the Tiger Bar. We walked down Bangla Street, the various bars competing with each other by their loud music, promise for cheap beer, and beckoning girls.

The Thai Bar Scene

Tiger Bar is one of the many bars in the Patong area, actually a large conglomerate of Bars under the same roof, a virtual alleyway of table dancers and Thai girls on the prowl. Just as sleazy as I remembered it from before, the pubs were packed with a vibrant atmosphere of lighthearted fun and frivolousness.

We sat down at a bar and the boys were immediately involved in the popular FOURS game.

Bruce was determined to win a game and persevered over a few beers.

The girls are avid players and unbeatable!

The hours slipped away quickly and before we knew it we were rushing for the airport at breakneck speed to make it in time for the flight.

We were sorry to see Bruce leave and hope he will come and visit us again in another far off country!

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