The Yachting°com Sailing Guide to Thailand
Why sail to Thailand?
- From busy tourist centres and famous beach parties, right through to deserted bays and beaches where you won’t meet another soul.
- You can ride elephants here, discover the local Buddhist temples, or just relax with a massage and have something tasty to eat.
- The calm, local sea, beaches, and superb health services make Thailand the ideal place for an exotic holiday with children.
Thai cuisine is famous the world over, but so far, there has not been so much talk about yachting in Thailand, and this makes Thailand from the deck of a sailing yacht all the more attractive! From the deck of "your own" boat, you will get a completely different perspective and you will be able to enjoy places usually brimful of visitors without the daily grind of tourists, and make your way to islands where nobody else normally goes.
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 for us—the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea. The length of the Thai coastline is approximately 3 200 km. Thailand is a paradise for all kinds of tourists, for all kind of reasons. More than 90% of Thais are Buddhist and every man in Thailand may become a monk at least once in his life! 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 major problems could possibly concern us? Let’s get back to the sea!
For yachtsmen 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, you will find a trio of islands—Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao, as well as the Cha-am and Hua Hin recreational centres and the town of Phetchaburi with Khmer culture ruins. The distance between these areas is approximately 190 NM and there are few yachtsmen here.
By comparison, the Andaman Sea is a very popular busy destination for yachtsmen. The starting point for sailing trips in this area is the island of Phuket, and this includes the Krabi area with the Ko Phi Phi islands and the Phang Nga area. The area is famous for its beautiful limestone rock formations towering high above the sea, forming a unique panorama with an unbeatable 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, and many more. 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! You will always find plenty of safe and beautiful places to sail! From my personal experience, I know you can sail the same route twice, and when the monsoon changes, you feel like you're somewhere else entirely, and yet it's always beautiful!
Thailand's largest island and the centre of events in the Andaman Sea. You will probably 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 maximum 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, this time because of the depth. That depth can be as shallow as just 40 cm at low tide in the artificial channel! All of these marinas are located on the eastern coastline of Phuket and invite you to explore Phang Nga Bay and the Krabi area. Along the western coast of Phuket, you will find several 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 anchorage on Phuket is Ao Chalong. Chalong is the only place on Phuket where you can register or sign out if you plan to sail outside the borders of Thailand. Here, you will find a fuel station, and the neighboring town offers 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 among the best in the world, uninhabited islands, secluded bays, and clear, beautiful seas. If you are planning a vacation "away from other people", head in this direction. You will need to stock up in Phuket, as you will only find the local park manager’s depots and very simple restaurants on the way.
Ko Phi Phi
Ko Phi Phi is comprised 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 formed of two rock formations connected by a sandy beach. The beach, however, is developed and the centre of all happenings. 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, many bars and dance clubs open their doors. Some of the 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! 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 plenty 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 sleep peacefully. If you want to use one of the many buoys, you’ll first need to verify that that buoy is really available! The northwest bay, Loh Dalam Bay is much more picturesque and more peaceful in the daytime. Here, it is necessary to watch the far-reaching cliffs that make it impossible to land during low tide, and in the evening you’ll be anchoring 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 a smaller, uninhabited island, but according to many travellers it is one of the most beautiful in the world! And this is no exaggeration! Anchoring is in Maya Bay, which was made famous by the movie The Beach, with Leonardo Di Caprio. During the day there are thousands of tourists, so it is necessary to arrive in the afternoon and spend the night. You will then definitely agree that there is no place that is more wonderful than this! Snorkelling and diving are possible beneath your boat!
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 rather calm, and so you will find the idea of renting a moped and riding around the island is incredibly appealing.
Anchoring is possible all over the western coast, the sea floor slopes away from the shore very gradually, and one beach follows another—all you need to do is choose! You’ll find the best anchoring in the bay at Klong Dao Beach in the north and in Kantiang Bay in the south.
A short distance south of Ko Lanta lie several smaller islands, which are unmissable! Ko Ngai, Ko Kradan, and Ko 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 will, and it will surely surprise you to find that most of the time you are anchoring in solitude! On these islands, you can also find small resorts and restaurants. But wonderful snorkelling is to be found everywhere. There are a number of easy diving spots around the islands of Ko Ngai, Ko Waen and Ko Kradan. 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 "hongu" 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 Ko Rok are two islands lying 10 NM west of Ko Kradan. Ko Rok Is one of of Thailand's many national parks and with the exception of the ranger stations, they 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 seas or such amazing snorkelling and diving. Diving locations are virtually everywhere around the two islands! And again, the beaches are simply awe-inspiring! Anchoring 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 anchor at the south of the island and take the dinghy to the southern bay with its charming native village. Beware! Entering this bay in your sailboat at this time is 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. In Thailand, the closer you are to the coast generally speaking, the cloudier the water gets! Tarutao is a beautiful, labyrinthine, mountainous island with long and uninhabited 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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