The Yachting°com Sailing Guide to Thailand
Why sail to Thailand?
- Discover everything from bustling tourist centres and infamous beach parties to completely deserted bays and beaches.
- Ride elephants, discover Buddhist temples, or just relax with a massage and have some delicious food.
- The calm sea, beaches, and superb health services make Thailand the ideal place for an exotic holiday with kids.
Thai cuisine is famous the world over, but so far, there has been little talk of yachting in Thailand. This makes Thailand from the deck of a sailing yacht all the more attractive! From the deck, you will get a completely new perspective, be able to enjoy places without the daily grind of tourists and make your way to islands where nobody else normally goes.
The Yachting°com Sailing Guide to Thailand
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The Kingdom of Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is located in Southeast Asia. The main part of Thailand is inland, surrounded by Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Cambodia. The other part lies on the Malay Peninsula and neighbours Malaysia. This area also divides Thailand into two important areas - the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The Thai coastline is approximately 3,200 km in length. Thailand is a paradise for all kinds of tourists, for all kinds of reasons. More than 90% of Thais are Buddhist and becoming a monk is often seen as a rite of passage in society. Thais in principle, try to avoid conflict and losing face, so even major problems are often resolved with a smile. But where, and what sort of problems could be of concern to us? Let’s get back to the sea!
For sailors like ourselves, Thailand is divided into two areas: the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The Gulf of Thailand forms the sea east of the Malay Peninsula. In its eastern part lie the islands of Ko Chang, Ko Samet, Ko Sichang, and important cities such as Chanthaburi or the seaside resort of Pattaya. In the western part of the Gulf of Thailand, there are the trio of islands - Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao, as well as the Cha-am and Hua Hin leisure resorts and the town of Phetchaburi with its Khmer ruins. The distance between these areas is approximately 190 NM and there are few sailors here.
In contrast, the Andaman Sea is a popular destination for sailors. The island of Phuket is the starting point for sailing trips in this region which includes the province of Krabi (with the Phi Phi islands) and the province of Phang Nga. The area is famous for its beautiful limestone rock formations towering high above the sea, forming a unique panorama with an unbelievable variety of around 300 local islands and rocks. North of Phuket, you will find the Similan and Surin islands and to the south, the islands of Ko Lanta, Ko Muk, Ko Kradan, Ko Rok, as well as many others. The beautiful Tarutao National Park is near the border with Malaysia.
Weather and climate
Thailand lies in a monsoon area outside the tropical storm area. When planning a holiday in Thailand, all you need to do is become familiar with where and when it is raining at the time.
From around the end of November to the end of April, a northeasterly monsoon prevails, while for the rest of the year it is southwesterly. The strength of the wind is around 5-15 kn, and rarely exceeds 20-25 kn. The climate is tropical all year round, with temperatures around 30°C. During the northeasterly monsoon, there is more rainfall in the Gulf of Thailand, while in the Andaman Sea it is the drier season. However, during the southwesterly monsoon, it rains more in the Andaman Sea and less in the Gulf of Thailand.
Where to go and when? Ideally to the Andaman Sea from December to April, when it is driest with the best conditions for sailing, but you can go to Thailand at any time! There are always plenty of safe and beautiful spots to sail! From my personal experience, you can even sail the same route twice because when the monsoon changes, you feel like you're somewhere else entirely. But no matter what, it is always beautiful!
Thailand's largest island and top tourist destination in the Andaman Sea. You will likely land at the international airport in the north of Phuket and from there, head out to one of the four marinas. The most northerly and most used for chartering is Yacht Haven Marina, which is well-protected in the channel between Phuket and the mainland. At this marina, it is important to consider the tidal currents. In the Andaman Sea, the difference between high tide and low tide can be as much as 3 m! The other marinas are Ao Po, which is problem-free, Boat Lagoon, and the Royal Phuket Marina. At Boat Lagoon and the Royal Phuket Marina, you again have to watch the tide but this time because of the depth. That depth can be as shallow as 40 cm at low tide in the artificial channel. All of these marinas are located on the eastern coastline of Phuket and perfect for exploring Phang Nga Bay and the Krabi province. Along the western coast of Phuket, you will find numerous nice coves suitable for anchoring. They mostly align with Phuket's tourist centres, such as Patong, Karon, Kata, and the southernmost and most beautiful, Nai Harn. The busiest spot to moor on Phuket is Ao Chalong. Ao Chalong is the only place on Phuket where you can register if you plan to sail outside the borders of Thailand. Here, you will find a fuel station with the neighbouring town offering everything else you might need. You can also rent a car or motorbike from here to explore the island.
Ko Similan and Ko Surin
These are national parks 50 NM and 80 NM northwest of Phuket, respectively. You will find diving sites that are among the best in the world, uninhabited islands, secluded bays, and beautiful crystal-clear waters. If you are planning a vacation in search of solitude head in this direction. You’ll need to stock up in Phuket, as you will only find the local park manager’s depots and some very basic restaurants along the way.
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi comprises of two limestone islands belonging to the Krabi province.
Ko Phi Phi Don, is the larger and inhabited island of the two. This island is shaped like a butterfly (in profile) and is basically two rock formations connected by a sandy beach. On the beach, you will find plenty of restaurants, hotels, diving schools, masseurs, and shops with everything imaginable. The streets are full of tourists, but free of cars and motorbikes. In the evening, bars and dance clubs open their doors in what has become a party-paradise. Some bars lure customers with loud music, others with Thai boxing, but alcohol flows freely everywhere, and discos on the beach usually don’t close until sunrise.
Diving centres also advertise English-speaking instructors, so, if you like to dive, don’t hesitate to take this opportunity. There are a number of first-rate sites near Phi Phi but you should definitely consider heading south from the Phi Phi Islands to dive around the Bida Nai and Bida Noi cliffs, or the King Cruiser wreck. Everywhere you go, you will find an abundance of fish, coral, and with a little luck, even a whale shark!
There are several bays around the island of Phi Phi Don that are suitable for anchoring. The main bay and harbour is Ton Sai Bay, approached from the southern side. There is a lot of traffic, but it quietens down at night, and you should be able to sleep peacefully. If you want to use one of the many buoys, you’ll first need to verify that that buoy is actually available. The northwest bay, Loh Dalam Bay is much more picturesque and peaceful in the daytime. Here, it is necessary to monitor the far-reaching cliffs that make it impossible to land during low tide, and in the evening, you’ll be mooring in front of all the discos. The last option is Loh Lana Bay in the north. In high season it is calm and most of the buoys are free because local boats are moored up in Ton Sai Bay.
Ko Phi Phi Leh is the smaller, uninhabited island, but according to many travellers it is one of the most beautiful in the world. And this is no exaggeration. Mooring is in Maya Bay, which was made famous by the movie The Beach, starring Leonardo Di Caprio. During the day there are thousands of tourists, so it is necessary to arrive in the afternoon and spend the night. But it truly is one of the most wonderful places and a great spot for snorkelling and diving.
Another pleasant island where time has stood still. Though Ko Lanta is also tourist oriented, compared to bustling Phuket, it is exactly the kind of tourism most visitors to Thailand dream about. You’ll find everything here, just on a somewhat smaller scale. The traffic is calm which makes the idea of renting a moped and riding around the island incredibly appealing.
Anchoring is possible all along the western coast. The sea floor slopes away from the shore very gradually, and one beach follows another so all you need to do is choose. You’ll find the best mooring in the bay at Klong Dao Beach in the north and in Kantiang Bay in the south.
Just a short distance south of Ko Lanta lie several smaller islands, which are unmissable. Koh Ngai, Koh Kradan, and Koh Muk, each more beautiful than the last. It is hard to say which beach is the most beautiful here and tourist guides casually mention the "exceptionally high number of beautiful beaches". With a sailboat though, you have a whole different kind of freedom to move where you want, and you’ll discover that most of the time you are anchoring in absolute solitude. On these islands, you can also find small resorts and restaurants. But excellent snorkelling is to be found everywhere. There are a number of easy diving spots around the islands of Koh Ngai, Koh Waen and Koh Kradan but the biggest attraction to the west of Ko Muk Island is the so-called "hong", which translates as something like a "hole in the island". There are other, similar places in Thailand, but this one is, by far and away, the most beautiful. This "hong" is reached through an inconspicuous, 80 m long cave, which you have to swim through. A sea kayak offers an advantage here, but a watertight flashlight is an absolute necessity! At the end of the cave is a white beach and a couple of trees. All enclosed by perpendicular cliffs that soar to a tremendous height. Long ago, some say, pirates buried their treasure there.
The Koh Rok are two islands lying 10 NM west of Koh Kradan. Koh Rok Is one of Thailand's many national parks and with the exception of the ranger stations, are uninhabited. Over the day, boats crammed with day trippers (most of whom are divers) head there. But nowhere else will you find such clean waters or such amazing snorkelling and diving. Diving locations are virtually everywhere around the two islands. And again, the beaches are simply stunning. Mooring is between the islands on buoys but take care because not all buoys are in water that's deep enough for your boat.
This is another island which offers a good place to rest on your way south. It has a few resorts and restaurants, and there is a great beach to the northeast. Directly in front of the beach are two buoys that are good for sailboats. During a strong northeastern monsoon, it is better to moor at the south of the island and take the dinghy to the southern bay with its charming native village. But beware because entering this bay in your sailboat is now prohibited. The water and buoys that are usually there are gone, and it is dry during low tide.
Tarutao National Park
Tarutao National Park is in the south of Thailand, on the border with Malaysia and includes five main islands. The largest of these is Tarutao, and then there are the islands of Ko Adang, Ko Ravi, Ko Butang and Ko Lipe. There are several smaller islands in addition to this main group. The only tourist island is Ko Lipe. Ko Lipe is lively, and a lot of development has been going on there recently. All the beaches are already developed with hotels, and more and more motorbikes and tuk-tuks are buzzing around the island. Local tourism is almost comparable to Phi Phi Don - but that is where the similarity ends. The beaches on Ko Lipe and the surrounding islands will remind you more of the Similans, or perhaps the Seychelles. Maybe because huge oblong stones are strewn far and wide on the beautiful sandy-white beaches. In addition, you will find first-rate snorkelling and diving everywhere. That is, with the possible exception of the island of Tarutao. Tarutao is the island closest to the coast and the sea around it is shallow and full of plankton, so visibility is more limited. Generally speaking, in Thailand, the closer you are to the coast the cloudier the water gets. Tarutao is a beautiful, labyrinthine, mountainous island with long deserted beaches flanked by extensive mangroves. On the northwestern side of the island is the ranger station and a little further on, you will come upon a 300 m deep, pitch-black cave with many stalactites and stalagmites. You can head out to explore the island on your own or hire a local guide. Although Tarutao is a large island, it is practically deserted.
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