Thailand, formerly known as Siam, is a Southeast Asian nation well-known for its tropical beaches, ancient ruins, ornate temples, and stunning royal residences. Plus, it's one of the best places in the world to go sailing! It's got over 3,000 km of coastline and more than 1,000 islands. Sailing in Thailand is an amazing way to see the country and all its colours, flavours, and smells. Not sure where to sail or what to see? Check out this guide for the lowdown on sailing in Thailand.
Thailand is all about smiles. When you land in Bangkok or Phuket, the first thing you'll notice is all the smiling faces. And it's not just because of the amazing food, rich culture, and breathtaking tropical scenery complete with white sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, and crystal-clear water. Thailand is simply very welcoming to tourists. It's also a great alternative to the Caribbean for a yachting vacation. The charter industry is expanding quickly and attracting sailors from all over the globe.
Thailand's weather is governed by monsoons: when and how do they hit?
Thanks to its ideal location close to the equator and outside the main cyclone zone of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it is possible to sail in Thailand all year round. The climate is tropical with an average annual temperature of between 27 and 29 degrees Celsius.
The local weather is dominated by the monsoon and as a result, there are only two main seasons — the rainy season and the dry season (referred to as the southwest monsoon and the northeast monsoon). The seasonal winds are predictable, but if they change, the weather can shift quickly. The dry season is best suited for novice sailors, while more experienced sailors choose the wetter months of May to October.
Heavy storm clouds with torrential rain over the Anderman Sea, Thailand
Southwest monsoon: rainy season
Southwest monsoons are characterised by strong winds of 10-30 knots, often followed by rain showers and intense heat. The rainy season it brings usually starts in May and lasts until October. During this period it tends to be windy and therefore offers better sailing conditions than the dry season. Fortunately, the more frequent rains do not last very long — it usually rains for an hour or two in the afternoon or early evening. Despite the wind and rain, sailing from Phang Nga Bay to the Phi Phi Islands is always safe.
Northeast monsoon: dry season
The northeast monsoon, or so-called dry season, begins in November and ends in April. The winds at this time tend to be light and steady, with temperatures usually around 30 °C. The consistently dry and sunny weather provides the best sailing conditions, especially for those less experienced sailors.
YACHTING.COM TIP: Thailand lies in a monsoon region outside the range of dangerous tropical storms, so just keep an eye on what area is currently being plagued by rain. From the end of November to the end of April it rains more in the Gulf of Thailand but the rest of the time in the Andaman Islands.
Land of a thousand islands and with an enchanting mainland
Thailand consists of three parts — the landlocked part bordering Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos and Cambodia, the area located on the Malay Peninsula and more than 1,400 islands scattered over hundreds of kilometres of ocean. Only a handful of these islands are inhabited, so if you take a yacht trip here, you're guaranteed an unforgettable experience in the company of the macaques or Andaman parrots. As the islands are diverse, you'll find hidden beaches in secluded coves as well as a bustling city life full of colourful markets and vibrant nightlife.
Main sailing regions of Thailand
For us sailors, Thailand is divided into two destinations — the Andaman Sea (in the west of the country) and the Gulf of Thailand east of the Malay Peninsula.
The Andaman Sea is the heart of yachting in Thailand
The Andaman Sea is busier and more popular with sailors than the Gulf of Thailand. Most routes here start in the tourist resort of Phuket (on the island of the same name), specifically at its Yacht Haven Marina. Some charter companies also operate in the north of the island, but there aren't many.
Phuket Yacht Haven Marina on the island of Phuket
East of Phuket you can sail to the Krabi province with the islands of Ko Phi Phi, and the Phang Nga province. These places are famed for their beautiful limestone formations rising high out of the sea which form a unique panorama. More than 300 islands and rocks are waiting to be discovered there. North of Phuket, you'll find the Similan and Surin islands, while to the south you'll discover numerous islands such as Koh Lanta, Koh Muk, Koh Kradan and Koh Rok.
YACHTING.COM TIP: At the Villa Market near the Royal Phuket Marina, you can stock up on essentials and groceries. From 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, all local and international items are widely available.
The Gulf of Thailand and what's on offer there
The Gulf of Thailand is much less crowded than the Andaman Sea, so if you want to sail in a bit more privacy, this is the right choice.
Sanctuary of Truth temple building on Phuket island
The Gulf of Thailand forms the sea east of the Malay Peninsula. In its eastern part lie the islands of Koh Chang, Koh Samet and Koh Sichang, and cities such as Chanthaburi or the famed coastal resort of Pattaya. In the western part, you'll find the islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao. The coastline here is ideal for sailing between April and October.
Places you shouldn't miss in Thailand
Although Phuket is the main island, there are 32 other islands in the area that you can explore by yacht. After a long day of sailing, be sure to visit Bangla Road, where it's well worth staying at one of the unique hostels.
Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island
Phang Nga Bay is worth a visit, especially for its fascinating emerald-green waters with limestone karsts jutting out of the water. The most famous islands in the area are James Bond Island and Koh Panyee. However, the beaches around James Bond Island are frequented by many cruise ships, making the island get pretty crowded. In comparison, Koh Panyee is a remarkable village built entirely on stilts in shallow waters. A giant rock monolith behind the stilts serves as shelter. About 1,500 people live here, supplying restaurants with fresh local fish and tourists with beautiful handicrafts.
James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay
If you move south-eastwards along the coast from Phang Nga Bay to the Thai mainland, you come to the province of Krabi. Compared to Phuket, Krabi is quieter and you'll find incredible waters, breathtaking mountain scenery and beautiful beaches. It is worth stopping here during your voyage even just to replenish your supplies.
Snorkelling in the Koh Lanta archipelago
Koh Lanta is an archipelago of around 70 islands with white sandy beaches and a vibrant coral reef that's a perfect snorkelling spot. Nearby is Phi Phi, where you'll find the renowned beach from the film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Koh Surin National Park
One of the country's most famous island locations is Koh Surin National Marine Park, where you can get up close to whale sharks and manta rays, and swim among sea turtles. The Surin Islands are located in the Andaman Sea, which lies just off the west coast of Thailand.
Whale shark divers
3 sailing routes around Phuket
Week-long trip between Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman Sea
This route allows you to discover the best of Thailand. If you sail during the day and arrive at the anchorage in the evening, you'll avoid the hordes of tourists on motorboats and get to savour these picturesque places in peace and quiet.
Day 1: Phuket and getting ready for your trip
Day 2: Sirinat (24 NM, 4 hours and 50 minutes)
Day 3: Phang Nga (19 NM, 3 hours and 50 minutes)
Day 4: Krabi (33 NM, 6.5 hours)
Day 5: Phi Phi (17 NM, 3 hours and 20 minutes)
Day 6: Koh Racha Yai (30 NM, 6 hours)
Day 7: Phuket (18 NM, 3.5 hours)
Koh Hong Island in Krabi Province
7-day alternative route
Day 1: Phang Nga Bay (10 NM)
Day 2: Koh Yang (8 NM)
Day 3: Ao Nang Beach (15 NM)
Day 4: Phi Phi Islands (22 NM)
Day 5: Racha Islands (25 NM)
Day 6: Koh Kai Nok (15 NM)
Day 7: Phuket Yacht Haven Marina (15 NM)
YACHTING.COM TIP: The islands of Koh Samui, Surin and Similan are ideal for diving and snorkelling enthusiasts and are considered some of the best dive sites in the world. Thailand is definitely worth exploring not only on land, but also on and beneath the water's surface — from magnificent reefs to shipwrecks, deep chasms, caves, caverns, walls and tunnels. Check out our guide to 11 of the most beautiful snorkelling and scuba diving spots in Thailand.
Beach at Morgan Village in Mu Koh Surin National Park, Andaman Sea
Two-week sailing route from Phuket
Day 1: Phuket Yacht Haven Marina
Day 2: Naï Harn
Day 3: Thap Lamu
Day 4: Phra Thong Island
Day 5: Surin Islands
Day 6: Koh Muk
Day 7: Koh N'Gai
Day 8: Koh Rok-Nok / Koh Ha Yai
Day 9: Koh Ha Yai or Koh Phi Phi
Day 10: Koh Kai
Day 11: Phang Nga Bay
Day 12: Nai Harn
Day 13: Phuket Yacht Haven Marina
Boating to the Similan Islands
For the ultimate Treasure Island experience, anchor off the Similan Islands, whose Caribbean charm is loved by divers, birdwatchers and beach loungers alike. The archipelago of 11 islands is located about a hundred kilometres northeast of Phuket, and the stunning scenery here is protected by a national park. Although the Similan Islands are accessible from November to April, more sailing experience is required to reach them. If you are unsure, take the opportunity to hire the services of a professional skipper or crew to go with your boat.
"Sailing Rock" rock formation in the Similan Islands
YACHTING.COM TIP: The Similan Islands can only be visited during the northeast monsoon. But count on the fact that in January and February the winds are so light that you have to use engine power. During the southwest monsoon, the Similan Islands are closed to visitors.
When sailing in Thailand hop over to Malaysia
If you're already familiar with Thailand and want even more from your next boat rental there, then consider visiting Malaysian waters as well. Phuket is perfectly located near Myanmar, Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago, which opens up a whole other world of charter options. If you are planning a crossing from Thailand to Malaysia or vice versa, you can clear customs in Phuket (Chalong Bay) and Langkawi (Kuah Town). During the winter sailing season, there is also an immigration office on Koh Lipe.
The best spots to anchor in Thailand
Where you anchor in Thailand is partly dependent on the wind direction at that time of year. During the rainy season, it is not possible to anchor on the west coast of Phuket, so anchor on the east side of the islands or in sheltered bays. In Thailand, the most happening yachting centre is undisputedly the Royal Phuket Marina.
Something else you shouldn't miss out on in Thailand
Apart from the natural and underwater beauty, it would be a sin not to indulge in Thai cuisine. Although it is often based on rice, if you love noodles you won't be disappointed. According to a global survey by CNN Travel, seven popular Thai dishes have made it onto the list of the 50 tastiest dishes in the world, including Pad Thai, Thai fried rice, Som Tam, Tom Yam Goong, Massaman curry, green curry and Moo Nam Tok.
The famous Damnoen Saduak floating market
5 things sailors should beware of in Thailand
1. Tricky navigation
In Thai waters, great care must be taken when navigating. Especially in shallow waters and treacherous spots, you should trust physical nautical charts — GPS and plotters should only be used as support.
2. Night sailing is prohibited
Night sailing is prohibited in Thai and Malaysian waters. You should anchor by 4 pm. Think of the reduced visibility when it gets dark and do not take any risks.
3. High tide
Tides occur twice a day in Thailand and there is usually a 1.5 to 2.5-metre difference in height between the two — something you definitely won't encounter in the Mediterranean. Watch out for strong currents, especially when sailing in the straits between the islands and it is worth checking the tide times for each area online.
YACHTING.COM TIP: If you are looking for unique sailing experiences in exotic countries, then besides Thailand you might also enjoy French Polynesia in Oceania. Check out our detailed guide — Try sailing in an exotic paradise: all about French Polynesia. Or give yachting in the Seychelles a chance, where you can swim with turtles in the turquoise seas and discover breathtaking natural beauty.
4. Watch out for fishing nets
Along the west coast of Thailand, you'll come across hundreds of fishing nets 6-30 metres from the fishing boats and the net is not always deep enough to travel over. Seeing a small fishing boat is often the first warning sign that nets lie beneath the sea surface.
5. Lack of water in smaller places
Water and diesel can be refilled at marinas in Phuket, Chalong (south of Phuket) and Phi Phi. Keep in mind, however, that water supplies on smaller islands are quite scarce. Therefore, make sure to buy drinking water in advance. The best places for shopping are Phuket and Krabi, where there are both large supermarkets and renowned night markets. During your voyage, you can anchor at many of the larger islands and eat in the restaurants there. On some islands, such as Phi Phi, you can also buy fresh fruit and vegetables.
How to get to Thailand?
The country's main airport is Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), from where you can take a scheduled flight to Phuket — a yachting centre. Phuket Airport (HKT) itself is an intercontinental hub, with direct flights from Melbourne, Moscow, Manchester and Mumbai. Wherever you fly in from, make sure you get a window seat so you don't miss the moment when the plane descends over the aquamarine sea and lands just beyond the golden sands of Mai Khao beach. The yacht marinas are only a 20-30 minute drive from Phuket Airport and easily reached by taxi.
Souvenirs: what to bring home from Thailand?
Most likely, you'll finish your sailing adventure exactly where you started it. But before you leave Phuket, don't forget to take something to remember it by. The best souvenirs can be bought at the Chillva night market in Phuket's old town. The bazaar has its own distinct atmosphere and you'll find everything from street food, handmade jewellery, fried insects, silk textiles to cold beer that's tapped straight from disused shipping containers.
Which boat will you be taking to discover this Thai paradise?