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Friday, February 22, 2013

February 11 – 21, 2012 – Guests Aboard and Finally Cruising Around Phuket

Jo Van Os and Lex Silvester had sailed to Thailand from Darwin on their yacht a few years ago and had since returned home to Darwin. They had loved sailing through Indonesia, Malaysia and around Phuket and were a fantastic resource for us throughout our journey to Thailand. We were thrilled when they at last decided to join us here in mid-February. Their impending arrival gave us plenty of fuel to light a fire under our canvas maker, imploring him to get our dodger and bimini completed so that we could take them sailing.
Our friends arrived early morning, February 11th. We had dinner plans that first night with several of Jo and Lex's old friends from the marina, at our very favorite local restaurant called Coconut, owned and operated by a beautiful Thai woman named Pen. Her food is out of this world and very inexpensive. It is so good in fact, that I ordered several meals from her to take with us so we would not have to cook in this heat.

Muzza, our canvas maker had promised us the work would be completed and everything installed by the morning of Feb 12. Morning came and went – we got a call…delayed but still coming. We dined again with Nick, Zara and Roger for lunch at the Living Room here at Yacht Haven, while waiting for the tide change and for our canvas. Somehow it turned out to be a good thing that Muzza was running late because we had a little problem with a stay sail at the last minute causing Frank, Lex and Roger to scramble for a shackle. The canvas arrived in its dress-rehearsal form to get us going but would have to be returned for final touches. Everything was ready and looked great! But, Uh-oh! Something didn't look right. The zip out mid portion of the front windshield was made upside down. After all this time, we just could not believe this. We didn't have time to fool with it and, therefore, decided to just get going and deal with that after Jo and Lex's departure, so off we sailed for the south end of Phuket.

We caught terrific winds that nearly got us to our destination, but with the late start we barely made it to an anchorage a few miles shy of our target of Au Chalong before dark. We anchored, warmed up Pen's delicious prawn red curry and feasted on the back deck, watching the swell rock the boats about.

Up and at'em at dawn the next morning we made a stretch for the Similan islands, directly west of Phuket, in the Andaman Sea.  We arrived at Koh Miang's eastern side, managing to grab a spot in the swelly but stunningly beautiful anchorage that was teeming with tourists and loud powerful speed boats. The next morning we crept around to the western side where the waters were much calmer and the bay was very large but again, brimming with tourists; day-trippers from all over. The massive speed boats carrying 3 to 4 large outboards come roaring in, disgorge dozens of tourists who pour out onto the beach like army ants and set up shop for a couple of hours of swimming and roasting in the searing hot sun. This tiny island must see around 500+ tourists per day. It is unbelievable! We went to shore for lunch at the little beach cafĂ© that serves a delicious fried noodle with chicken dish, and while the boys were enjoying an after lunch ale we noticed that the majority of the tourists are Russians, Chinese and Koreans. They loved posing with and on our dinghy for photo-ops. I'll bet "t/t Destiny" is in a lot of Facebook pictures. The anchorage quieted down around 4 PM when the tourists departed, leaving us to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Swimming here is like diving into an aqua blue pool with a limestone bottom. The sand is so fine and soft it feels like flour between our toes. We are enjoying this so much after being tied to a dock for 2 months. For dinner we enjoyed Pen's aromatic and absolutely yummy green chicken curry by starlight with a little Jimmy Buffet playing in the background.

Next stop was Koh Similan where there are no cafes but plenty of tourists. The anchorage is even more beautiful than the one at Koh Miang. We stayed two days swimming and enjoying the beach. There is a popular hike to the top of the hill where many wander to watch the sunset. Surprisingly Frank's knee had done quite well on the cortisone, and he actually made the hike with no problem. We had feasted on our final meal from Pen – her outstanding seafood penang curry the previous night so tonight Lex treated us to his own special green chicken curry. True to his word it was wonderful!

We made for Phuket's Nai Yang beach on the 18th for Jo and Lex's final night with us, we were delighted to find many of our friends anchored there and happily introduced everyone, reintroducing some of them who had met Jo and Lex in Darwin. The best surprise of the night and a sweet way to end their trip was a visit from Mark and Laura of s/v Sabbatical III. They drove over from the Royal Phuket Marina to meet us for a very nice farewell dinner on the beach. Early the next morning Jo and Lex left. Unfortunately our generator had quit on us (again, argh!!!), so we made a quick two-day trip back around the island to our favorite berth back at Yacht Haven Marina.

Below:Mark, Jo, Laura, Frank, Lex, Barb - our last night together in Phuket

Jo, Barb, Lex Frank having lunch at the beach

Frank and Lex "reading"!
 Koh Similan

Saturday, February 2, 2013

January 2013 – An amazing and busy month in Phuket and Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 2 (Chiang Mai)

We had originally planned just the three nights in Chiang Mai to meet Jeff and Jeri Lyn on their way from Myanmar via a three-day stop in Chiang Mai. But Pauline and Martin hooked us up with an Aussie friend of theirs named Will Willis, who had moved just north of Chiang Mai. During an email exchange between them, Will invited us (sight unseen) to be his guest for a few nights, so on that recommendation we flew into Chiang Mai a few days earlier. We did the old, “… send me your photo so I’ll know what you look like”, exchange with Will and he picked us up at the airport, transporting us to Chez Willis where we met his Thai wife named Toy (pronounced “Doy”). I’m sure he took some ribbing on that – a Thai Toy! She and her two daughters, In and Som are absolutely adorable! We told Will that if they have a third child, they should name her “Nia”!

Will and Toy have carved out a garden of Eden on their acreage there in the countryside, where they have planted a few small crops of vegetables and fruits, carving out a tranquil haven for themselves and a beautiful place for visiting friends and family. The entire property is laced with Jackfruit trees, Mango trees, Banana trees, Papaya and they have planted an orchard of Mulberry Trees and even a rice field. They built their home as two separate buildings in an “L-design” with large porches across the front of each, overlooking a beautiful pond/pool. We felt as though we were in a B & B with a private villa. During the day, Will drove us around lunching along the rivers and into the mountain areas, very reminiscent of our own Colorado foothills. We even spent a morning in the natural hot springs pools at the nearby park. We really enjoyed some laid back time in the fresh country air. Being very cool at night we ended the evenings warming up at the fire pit in the back yard. The day of Jeff and Jeri Lyn’s arrival, Will, Toy and the girls made a family outing of driving us into town.

After they headed off, Frank and I went for a walk around, stopping for a delicious lunch at The Duke steakhouse and then we hit a gourmet grocery store around the corner, picking up snacks and drinks to have with Jeff and Jeri Lyn when they arrived. The city of Chiang Mai is incredibly multi-faceted. The old city is walled and was originally surrounded by a moat. We were just across the river from the historic old section. Our hotel, Rimping Village, provides complimentary bicycles to all guests, which we intended to use to go exploring the next day. Unfortunately Jeff and Jeri Lyn’s flight was running very late, so we killed even more time hanging out at the pool and then finally going for dinner. It turned out that snacks and drinks were a perfect way to greet them when they at last arrived much later.

The next morning at breakfast we made a plan – first ride into the historic old town for massages, grab lunch and go exploring. We found a spa that was advertised as one of the top recommended by Trip Advisor: Fah Lannah or something like that. The entrance and lobby were attractive and the prices were amazing! I think it was under $10 for an hour aromatherapy massage. All four of us were led into a room with mats on the floor and pillows, separated by curtains. At first we thought it resembled a hippie commune! Jeri Lyn and I were put next to one another – told to strip naked and lay facedown. They didn’t even close the curtain between us. It’s a good thing we’re close friends. They did close the curtain between her and the next pallet where they placed the guys. At first the massage was wonderful, but then the attendants began pulling on and twisting our arms and legs into positions they didn’t want to go! We could hear grunting and groaning coming from the men’s side of the curtains. It was really hard to relax and enjoy our own massages without giggling at their painful grunts and moans. It sounded as though they were being tortured over there. Toward the end of the massage, the lady got behind me, and laid down with her knees up into the middle of my back, literally bending me backward over her! Now this did hurt. I’m no limber lassie anymore! That is when I groaned as I could hear my spine cracking. Apparently this is their traditional Thai massage. It hurt like hell, nonetheless I felt pretty good when it was finished. The men were very displeased and it showed in the end when Jeri Lyn and I sat down for a foot massage they both practically ran out of there saying they were heading for a drink to assuage their pain. We didn’t see either of them again until dinnertime.  She and I left, riding around the winding streets just enjoying the sights, and sounds of the old town – not so much the smells! We lunched at a small open-air local spot, having some delicious but un-nameable dishes, followed by some serious browsing and window-shopping. We returned to the hotel close to 5 PM to find our men happily sipping drinks while watching something sporty on the TV.  We all freshened up before heading back into town via Tuk Tuk for an adventure at the night market and dinner in Old Town.

The night markets in Chiang Mai are a treasure trove and a tradition. We had a wonderful time buying silk scarves for next to nothing. I picked up a long black skirt and some trinkets and fun things to take back to our grandson, Trace. Jeff and Jer stocked up on gifts – they even had to buy a suitcase at the market to put their purchases in to get them home. We mentioned street food to Jeff for dinner, but he was having none of that. We ended up at a wonderful Asian Fusion restaurant overlooking the main street.

The next day we hired a driver to take us to the hot spots of Chiang Mai. He first drove us through the district where we visited the silk factory. The visit started with a display of live silk worms eating the Mulberry leaves then spinning the cocoons. Next the cocoons are soaked in liquid to soften them so that the silk thread can be loosened from the cocoon where it is spun in one long string onto a spinning wheel. The threads are then dyed with natural pigments by soaking them in the juice and various essences such as leaves, barks, herbs, etc., from which the colors have been extracted. The colored threads are then placed into a loom and hand-woven into the gorgeous fabrics on display in the shop. These fabrics and prints were very beautiful and so well made. They sold here for a fraction of the price of what we would pay back home.

We next toured the umbrella factory where the decorative bamboo umbrellas and other bamboo articles are made. Next was a lunch buffet stop at a place where we dined with several hundred of our closest tourist friends, finally realizing these drivers have a set routine whether you pay for the private gig or take a group tour you get thrown in with the masses. We didn’t have a lot of choice, however, we did choose to pass on several of the recommended stops, such as the jewelry shops, the snake farms, and creepy creatures.

 the silk worm eats the mulberry leaves

then it spins the cocoon of silk
silk being unwound from the cocoon

weaving the fabric
Our next stop was the Elephant kingdom where we watched a most amazing show of elephants performing feats we had never before seen. They played basketball and soccer. They threw darts at balloons with their trunks and actually popped them. There were several circus acts as well but then the best of all was when several elephants were set up with easels and paints, then holding a paintbrush with their trunks they each painted amazing pictures. Afterward the pictures were available for sale. People flocked to them so quickly they were sold out before we could get to one. 

The paintings by elephants.

After the elephant show we had one last stop on the agenda, which was the Tiger Kingdom/habitat where we could actually get into the cage and pet live tigers. It was a bit pricey but we were definitely all into this. As a group we got into the cages to visit the juvenile and medium size tigers where we were allowed to individually sit with some of them, but could only touch them on the back half of their bodies. They didn’t want us getting too close to their heads. We seriously enjoyed this. The tigers are absolutely beautiful and as soft as a kitten to touch. What an amazing treat this was!

Jeff, Jeri Lyn, Frank, Barb

 By the end of the day we were hot and sweaty beyond bearable, so we returned to the hotel for a rest and shower before dinner. We ventured back into the old section of town to a place Jeri Lyn and I had spotted on our bike outing. It offered excellent fresh Italian. We were “Thai-fooded-out”, and hadn’t had good Italian food in ages. It actually was surprisingly excellent. This was our last night together and we just didn’t want it to end, but the Martins had a very early flight out in the morning, and so we sadly bid them goodnight knowing we would not be getting up with them at the crack of dawn to see them off.