There are a handful of places we’ll never forget from our months of sailing in Thailand. We found a lot to love (and a lot we could do without). These are our favorites spots: the places that capture, in one way or another, what for us was the best of cruising along the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand.
Koh Phayam. When we first arrived in January 2014 a friend with us exclaimed – “this is like Phuket in the 80s!” Without cars or utilities, this sleepy little island near the border of Myanmar is geared towards more basic travelers and the counterpoint to chaotic Phuket. With a scattering of beachfront bungalows, cool places like The Hippy Bar (with the apocalyptic look of its crazy post-tsunami driftwood construction), delicious and inexpensive little restaurants, and wide curve of beach- it’s a great spot for cruisers looking for a laid back atmosphere. That’s one of the big reasons we picked it as a destination to gather with friends for Christmas & New Year’s Eve in 2014. The only thing it’s lacking is nice water to swim in; it wasn’t as murky as some places, but it was pretty dead below the surface.
Phang Nga Bay. This stunning bay just north and east of Phuket is truly like fairlyland. As we approached it from the south and the wild spires of limestone islands began to take shape (see photo at the top of this post), we couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Inside many of these islands are ‘hongs’ – caves, from the Thai word for room. But what’s really special about these caves is that they’re often open to the sky after being accessed through a tunnel. Truly spectacular to paddle or swim into a hong, then be treated by blue skies overhead and lush greenery on the steep cliff sides up. Many, many daytripper boats come through here, but they tend to go to the same hongs over and over. Pick up a copy of The Hong Book online, written by cruisers, to find your way to a host of spots that won’t include a throng of tourists.
Satun. OK, so this isn’t exactly a beauty spot you go to anchor in. This was the shipyard where we spent 8 days in 2013, and about six weeks in 2014. But Satun goes down as one of my favorite places in Thailand for a few reasons. First, the utter lack of any tourism was incredibly refreshing in comparison to the rest of our experience in Thailand. Walk through the village to the market I might meet another person, or I might not, but at least when I did I knew it was purely out of mutual human interest and not because someone wanted to sell me something. That defined most of the rest of Thailand, and it really got old. We made some wonderful friends in Satun, among cruisers and local residents. When I think of the people we met in Thailand that I hope to see again, it’s Satun where we came together. And by being here a while, and having a peek and a connection to local families, we had a precious opportunity to give back to a community.
The Surin islands. These lovely islands are mostly uninhabited and offer a beautiful underwater environment to explore. The clarity was better than along the peninsula and the biodiversity was probably the best we saw in Thailand. The Surins compared favorably to the other Andaman Sea marine park archipelago- the Similans- because they are harder to get to (which translated to far fewer daytrippers) and the reef was healthier. It’s still not great, apparently damaged by area overfishing and sea warming- but it was probably closer to what the brochures sell than the other spots we dove in Thailand. We had ONE report from a boat in company of shark sighting, a hopeful sign that the reef isn’t a lost cause yet. Between 2014 and 2015 we spent nearly two weeks here: for more of the Surins underwater, browse these photos on Flickr.
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