Although an avid traveller, I had yet to make it to the cultural mecca that is Thailand. Having heard stories mainly about its overcrowded beaches, obligatory elephant rides and dubious nightlife, I was in no hurry to make the trip. However, on the spur of the moment (and with a couple of free flights under our belts thanks to a previous airline mishap), my husband, Rowan, and I decided to down tools and catch the first available flight to the island of Phuket.
Phuket was everything we expected it to be – a melting pot of cultures mixed with tacky tourist souvenir shops, Western-influenced cuisine, gorgeous yet tourist-filled beaches and cheap pina coladas. But Phuket has another side we were determined to discover: a side that only the fortunate, or perhaps well-travelled, gets to experience. And that is a tour of this Asian wonderland powered by the breath of the wind: sailing.
With Google as my travel guide, I searched the internet for a holiday with a difference and chose a small sailing company run by an English-speaking Dutch man, Chris Jongerius. After a few informative and entertaining emails back and forth, I knew we had chosen the perfect company to spend a few days with sailing in the Phang Nga Bay, off the eastern coast of Phuket Island.
Our sailing adventure started from the scenic yet quiet region of Cape Panwa, located on the south eastern point of Phuket Island. We over-nighted in a well-run boutique hotel called Cloud 19 and used it as our base while in the area. I would highly recommend it for a couple of nights; great food (both Western and Thai offerings, though a little pricey), clean, large, comfortable rooms and a gorgeous pool area with great cocktails (www.cloud19phuket.com).
On the morning of our sail we were to meet Chris at a nearby bar, Secret Cove, describe by Chris as, “A really nicely run pub / bar / beach restaurant in a lifestyle area; quiet, end of the road …”. I loved that the description was a little removed from what my mind conjured up. The open-air, seaside ramshackle bar complete with resident sleepy dogs was a little unexpected – and completely and utterly perfect for our adventure.
On meeting Chris, we were instantly drawn into his slightly neurotic yet completely charming world. Chris is not your usual tour operator. What you see is literally what you get, with a few yarns over a couple of cups of coffee and more than a few well-enjoyed cigarettes thrown in.
We were informed by Chris that his senior skipper (funnily enough, also named Chris) was to take Rowan and me out on ‘The Prout’ – a sturdy, slow yacht originally from England – just like our English skipper (sturdy yes, casual, not slow, and with a boat-full of charm and good looks for good measure. Hello sailor!).
So in true Thai-style we eventually ambled to our home on the sea, the charming Prout, to begin our adventure sailing the high seas of Chalong Bay … with all essentials onboard: husband, teeny bikini (for me, not him), loads of beer and wine and charming Englishman skipper. We were set to sail.
In the past, I have had my fair share of sailing experience – in fact, one of my most impressive scars comes from a sailing trip during a patch of rough seas – despite being less than 10km from the mainland, an uncoordinated stumble in the toilet (after a few too many onboard beverages) left me permanently marked. I am proud to bear a stamp of my sailing experiences. But this trip was going to be unlike any sailing trip in the past – this trip was for pure sailing pleasure. We were in charge of our destiny (well, travel itinerary, at any rate).
Skipper Chris set about charting our course through the still and azure waters of Chalong Bay while Rowan and I got to at work … relaxing. We were able to participate in the ‘sailing’ as much or as little as we wanted. So taking full advantage of the situation, I proceeded to spend much of the trip relaxing and taking in the beauty of my watery surrounds.
I must say, there is nothing on earth that can bring inner calm like sailing (though I’m sure the true sailors out there will have loads of non-calming harrows to tell), but in my case, I was able to leave my busy, hectic life behind on the shores of Cape Panwa and let the gentle rolls of the waves of the sea envelop me with their calm. Or it may have been the wine. Either way, our sailing trip on the Prout was one of the highlights of my year. We sailed for much of the day, then dropped anchor when we felt the urge to swim in the crystal clear waters or take the dingy to one of the many surrounding islands for a spot of authentic Thai lunch. Nothing was too much effort. We simply sailed where the wind took us and stopped when it did. The trip was magical (once again, made all the better by the esky full with icy wine and beer, but magical all the same).
One of the best things about hiring a chartered yacht is the freedom to set your own pace and itinerary. Skipper Chris guided us through the channels of Chalong Bay and anchored at Ko Hi and Ko Mai Thon islands; all natural beauties rising out of the Andaman Sea, and then overnight anchored in the safe waters of Chalong Bay port. We even enjoyed local Thai takeaway onboard thanks to a quick dingy-ride to the mainland, washed down with Thai beer under a stunning sunset.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our overnight sailing adventures, Rowan and I were both keen to test our sailing abilities onboard a ‘real’ sailboat (as opposed to our slow-and-steady-wins-the-race Prout – much-loved but certainly not setting any speed records anytime soon). So, Dutchman Chris arranged for Skipper Chris to take us out on his pride and joy – The Frog – to experience sailing at its best. The Frog is a sporty ‘Firefly’ catamaran, complete with a trampoline deck area. They are known as the ‘Ferraris of the sea’. Skipper Chris instructed us on how to tack, set the spinnaker and trim the sails. It was action-packed, fast-paced and oh-so glorious fun! The Frog is a champion of a catamaran and I could feel the lure of the seas seducing my soul – it’s no wonder these guys live for the ocean air. It’s truly addictive.
So with our sea legs well and truly in place, Rowan and I headed back to dry land with a taste for the sea air on our tongues. It was an unforgettable, adventurous, relaxing trip that neither of us will forget for a long time. And we will be back to sail the seas of Phuket again someday. Soon, I hope.