Monday, January 5, 2009

5 January 2009

Thailand – or at least Phuket – closes down for even longer than Australia does over New Year. Businesses were mostly shut from the 30th till the 5th of January, which slowed down our preparations to leave Ao Chalong. The spinnaker pole is still not ready, even though we ordered it from Singapore months ago, and we’ve ordered new cushions for the cockpit to replace the old ones which were getting very hard. They should be ready in a fortnight, so we’re heading off for a couple of weeks’ sailing through the Surin and Similan Islands, starting at the top.

We had a farewell dinner with the Griersons off Lothlorien the night before we left. We’ve sailed with Lothlorien since last August, and they’re now heading over to Telaga boat harbour at Langkawi to get some work done on the boat, and for Alison and Sam to return to Darwin for school. It’ll seem a bit strange sailing without them somewhere nearby, or hearing ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ blaring over the VHF every so often!

Departed Ao Chalong very early and had a good sail, with a few hours of motoring, north to the beautiful island of Koh Phayam. We anchored in the middle of a deserted bay with 2 miles of white sand beach and lush forest behind. Closer inspection through the binoculars revealed some little thatched roof bungalows hidden among the trees, and two or three people on the beach, but nothing else. After all the overdeveloped resort islands so far, this was a delight.
As we began the anchoring process, Lex realised Ali still had her troll lines out. She raced to pull them in, and it looked like one had gone under the boat and seemed to be stuck. Lex was beside himself imagining the fishing line wrapped well around the propeller, when the line suddenly swam out by itself, with a metre-long mackerel attached to the lure! Fresh mackerel for dinner that night, and a heap of nummus – basically fresh raw fish marinated in lime juice, chillies, onion and garlic – wonderful! I’ve only ever used queenfish for nummus in Darwin, but mackerel worked perfectly and was delicious. I think the secret is making it straight out of the water.

Gwendolyn turned up a day later, and we spent several days here, feeling like we were on holidays (yes, sounds silly, but we did). There was surf on the beach, enough for the better co-ordinated to actually stand up on boards for a few seconds, but mostly good for body surfing. We walked and swam, and ate great food at open-air restaurants that were little more than kitchens with tables and seating next to them. No cars on the whole island, just motor bikes. The well-known Thai destinations like Phuket and Koh Samui and so on, must have looked like this twenty or thirty years ago. Laid back, relaxed, quiet and beautiful. There wasn’t anything to buy, or anyone trying to sell you anything, apart from the odd hand-painted sign offering a Thai massage.

Right: The beach at Koh Phayam

If you want a really relaxing holiday at the kind of island the brochures show but don’t deliver, come to Koh Phayam. Plane and bus to Ranong, and then a fast ferry – longtail – over to the island, where a motor-bike taxi then takes you across the island to the Bamboo Bungalows. Accommodation is about $30 Aust per night, and meals around 80 baht, about $4. No discos, no traffic, no tourist shops. People staying here were from all over the world, mostly families or couples.

One night we were woken by bright lights shining into our cabin and voices murmuring around the boat, ‘Oh no! We’ve dragged!’ was our immediate thought, as the fishing fleet came in every day and rafted up together at one end of the bay - we must have nudged up against them. We poked our heads out of the hatch to find a longtail fishing boat hard up against us, and several worried men untangling their net from our rudder and keel. They’d set their net too close to our boat and it had been dragged by the current underneath us. Took them a few goes to get it off. Then it happened again a few nights later! They probably weren’t impressed with us anchoring in the middle of their bay I guess, but they were pleasant about it.

Lex and Ali visited the rafted-up prawn trawlers one day and came back with a huge bag of ice, squid and crabs. So with all this fresh seafood, plus good food onshore, we’ve been dining extremely well!

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