Thai Island Dream: Part 6 (Ko Lipe, learning to dive)

Time line 4

Ko Lipe is surrounded by a group of islands that form the protected Ko Tarutao Marine National Park. It’s meant to be some incredible nature and we’d had plans to hire a long tail and go exploring, but Roman enjoyed the dive intro on the Aquila so much that he came up with a suggestion: Why not get certified?

Lipe has a good number of dive shops that have Lonely Planet’s stamp of approval, so we decided to go for it, and we signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver course the next day. I’ve added “Seeing the Tarutao National Park” to my to-do list for the next time we go on vacation in Thailand, but the diving was such a phenomenal experience; I have no regrets about saving the park for next time. 🙂

We ended up diving with a shop called Ocean Pro. Chilled out but professional, and if all their instructors are as good as the one we learned with then I can recommend them hands down. Rebecca was our teacher, a very cool chick from NYC of all places. She was informative but very fun and knew tons about the fantastic marine life we got to see in and around the coral reefs we dived at. We also bonded over the time we’d both spent working in the in the finance industry making the money to fuel our dreams. 🙂

Learning to trust the breath

The first time I went diving was back in 2002. Getting over a hard break up I decided to shake things up and do something completely new, so I took myself on a short island vacation to Aruba. Following the “be adventurous” theme, I signed up for one of those hotel one-day dive packages, where you learn the ropes in the pool in the morning and then do a simple dive in relatively shallow waters in the afternoon.

It sounds basic, and it is, but for me it was a big deal, because I’ve got a bit of a fear of drowning. I’m not sure where this might come from, but not being able to breathe really frightens me, more so than the normal person. I was fine during the pool practice, but I started to freak out as soon as my head went under the ocean water in the afternoon and I began hyperventilating.

Luckily the instructor saw me and was able to “talk me down” using eye contact and sign language. What happened then was amazing. Using my mind and my breath I was able to calm down enough until the wonder of the dive – the amazing feeling of floating through the water as though I were flying and the excitement of seeing beautiful fish in their natural habitat – overtook and completely replaced all of the irrational but massive fear I had been experiencing.

Power of the breath

Holding to and working consciously with breath is something I learned even more about as I began and developed my yoga practice shortly thereafter. It’s something that is so simple and yet so powerful; it never ceases to amaze me when I can reconnect to it.

It was therefore really interesting for me to come back to diving after my first experience years ago and after all the practice with breath work that I’ve had from yoga. In fact in some ways certain things were actually harder for me – yoga breathing is primarily through the nose and of course when you’re diving everything is through the regulator in your mouth, so I had to overcome some well-ingrained habits.

But it was fascinating and fun to see how big of effect conscious breathing has on diving. The amount to which you can regulate your depth or the amount of oxygen you use is astounding. It was especially eye-opening to me when I was diving with an underwater camera (this was after we’d completed our certification) – I was distracted by taking photos and didn’t pay attention to my breath at all and I went through my air twice as fast!

Dive fans

The course was pretty full on (the days started early and were full of painfully dorky PADI videos, above and underwater practice, independent study and practice quizzes until it was time to sleep) but fun, and we loved the dives so much that we signed up to join a fun dive (means that the crew would set up and clean up your gear for you and you can just show up 🙂 ) bright and early the next day and ended up diving at three different sites.

We didn’t see any big critters under water, but the reefs around the islands were just teeming with life. As soon as your head is under the surface (or sometimes even before!), there’s not a direction you can look where you wouldn’t see something interesting. Puffer fish, clark’s anemone fish, sting rays, trigger fish (some that tried to attack me! 🙂 ), clown fish (the Nemo fish, in case you didn’t know that already 😉 ), porcupine and goat fish, ornate ghost pipe fish, fancy looking lion fish, poisonous and camouflaged scorpion fish, eels, sea slugs and cucumbers – the list goes on. And the anenome and coral were gorgeous and fascinating too!

We couldn’t get enough of watching it all, and we definitely plan to make diving a part of the rest of our trip, depending on location and budget. 🙂

DSC 0841

Dive plan Rebecca drew up for one of the fun dives

We got to use Rebecca’s underwater camera one day. I have a lot to learn about underwater photography yet – the pics aren’t great, but here are some of them anyhow. 🙂 Full disclaimer: Most of the pics have been pretty heavily doctored in iPhoto to try to get the colors to match my memory…

IMG 0695

IMG 0707

Can you find Nemo? 🙂

IMG 0733  Version 2

Sea squirts – This particular version are one of my favorites, they are so pretty and such an amazing color in real life

IMG 0734

Porcupine fish

IMG 0789

Eels

IMG 0889

Can you see the scorpion fish in this photo?

Other random stuff
Just for myself, I want to remember:
– how amazing the sunsets were on Ko Lipe. Some of the most colorful and stunning we saw in all of Thailand, with the sky and ocean reflecting a ever-changing rainbow of pearly pastels at each other until the sun got low enough to turn it all to purple-grey.
DSC 0855
This is a photo of the least pretty sunset we saw on the island – and the only one I had my camera with me for. 😉

– the bizarre incident of breaking up the fight we happened upon as we walked back to our hotel one night, and how the Indian guy, Joseph, who was outnumbered and definitely getting his butt kicked, was happy when he finally found us a couple of days later to say thank you.
– the hilariously unenthusiastic and pathetic karaoke that was going on at the hotel down the street from ours. Hotel California with the words half remembered, sung by a guy who couldn’t even be bothered (or maybe was too ashamed?) to get up from his table. Cracked me up. 🙂
Advertisements

Thai Island Dream: Part 5 (Ko Lipe)

Time line 4

Our final stop in our Thai island dream was Ko Lipe, an island in Satun province not too far from the Malaysian border. We were reluctant to leave our idyllic spot at Ko Lanta, but were curious enough about what Lonely Planet was calling the “Deep South”, so we got up early, slurped down a last delicious coffee and got driven by the lovely Mango House manager to the dock at the other side of the island.

The speed boat we boarded cut along mangroves and through bright waters, making stops along the way to pick up more tourists who would wade with their luggage from the beach to the boat. Once the ship was full up, we stopped at a larger island and boarded a ferry. A journey of a few hours brought us to a floating dock off the waters of Ko Lipe, where we and our luggage were loaded into long tail taxis.

Another spectacular beach landing erased any regrets I had about leaving Ko Lanta. The sand was nearly white, the water was crystal clear – I could see coral and fish as I peered over the edge of the long tail boat! – and it felt wonderfully refreshing as we hopped overboard and walked onto the beach. I couldn’t wait to get my bathing suit on and go for a swim!

Luckily for us Ko Lipe is tiny, and it took no time to walk to our hotel and get settled.

DSC 0851

Long tail boat like the one that brought us on shore

The island and the hotel

Ko Lipe is more “Thailand Pavilion at Disney’s Epcot Center” than authentic Thai village. Unlike Ko Lanta, it seems to exist only for tourism. There’s not much we discovered in the way of culture or places like restaurants that were geared towards locals rather than tourists and the vibe was accordingly different.

That doesn’t stop the island and its beaches from being beautiful, and we really loved the immersion in nature we experienced there, but we were also grateful to be there after the high season. It was clear from the number of hotels and restaurants that the island could accommodate a LOT more visitors than we saw. We were told that during peak season the place is just packed with Europeans – especially Swedes for some reason.

The island has a main “walking street” – a sandy pedestrian path that links the two main beaches and is lined with roti stands (a Thai version of crepes), bars, restaurants, tour operators and convenience stores. Most hotels and bungalows tend to be located on the beaches.

We ended up at a spot that was a bit out of the way (which meant just a short walk to the main drag) at a hotel called The Reef. While it didn’t have the charm and beauty of Mango House, still, it was perfectly clean and modern and we really liked it.

The real highlight was the cats living at the hotel. The place had a lovely open lounge at the front, with low tables and pretty cushions set out on the wood floor. The staff had two teeny tiny little kittens that hung out there during opening hours, toddling between guests legs and getting their little kitten claws stuck on the cloth as they climbed up the pillows. SO cute. There was another cat, young but no longer a kitten, who also lived there and seemed to feel pretty displaced by the little fuzzball siblings. She was also way adorable and took a liking to us and was always trying to sneak into our room for some extra attention. Cute fest! 🙂

DSC 0866

Our room at The Reef

DSC 1058

Cutey cat

IMG 1642

Half of cutey cat’s competition, Fuzzball 1

IMG 1638

Fuzzball 1 close up

Lipe eats

We soon found some favorites for food on the island. Everything we ever ate at the Sunrise Beach Restaurant was delicious – we kept coming back for the curries and especially the fried fish with tons of garlic and green onion. Yum!

DSC 1062

DSC 0830

Konlay Thaifood on the “walking street” was a bit hit or miss – maybe different chefs for different days? – but the service was really friendly and good and I did have one of the best Pad Thais of our entire time in Thailand there.
I was also excited to find lemongrass salad on their menu. This was something I was introduced to while staying in Ban Krud and I absolutely loved it, but hadn’t found it again since. Any lemon grass I’ve bought in the West is always tough and woody, great to add flavor to a dish but never something I would have considered eating. The lemongrass used in the salads I had was young and tender with a really delicate flavor. The light dressing and chopped onion compliment the flavor perfectly and it makes for a light, addictive salad. I don’t know exactly what was in the different ones I had in Thailand, but this recipe I found online sounds about right, although no version I ate had pork in it and sometimes it had finely chopped lemongrass and cabbage mixed together: http://www.thaifoodplus.com/Thai/Recipes/Salad/Lemongrass_Spicy_Salad_Cooking.php

DSC 1044

I broke down and tried a roti for breakfast one day. Thank God it was towards the end of our stay or else I would have been in trouble. 😉 A thin, crispy/chewy crepe filled with peanut butter and bananas and drenched in condensed milk. Disgustingly heavy and sweet and filling and too much and OH SO DELICIOUS. 🙂

Thai Island Dream: Part 4 (Ko Lanta continued)

Time line 4

There was lots we enjoyed about Ko Lanta beyond the lovely accommodation.

Ban Lanta

The old town was small but charming. The one main street was lined with a nice mix of new and beautiful old wood buildings housing shops with bamboo cages of twittering birds out front, homes and plenty of ocean-facing restaurants. Away from the main strip, palms and gorgeous flowering trees shaded the streets. There was a long pier out over the water which seemed to be a local hang out and was a great place to catch the sunset.

The people living in that part of the island seemed chilled out and friendly. I got a kick out of the young girl (probably around 9 or 10) who was driving a tuk tuk around one evening while her kid brother swung from a small hammock suspended from the ceiling of the cab. Also fun was getting thumbs up and smiles from some of the local women about my fashion choice when I went for walks while wearing the lovely orange sarong I picked up at a market in Ban Krud.

DSC 0975

Main street

DSC 0727 2

Fishing boat

DSC 0974

Beautiful trees

Skooter expeditions

We spent a lot of time enjoying, eating and relaxing in Ban Lanta on the west coast, but we rented a scooter for part of our stay and had a blast zooming around the twisty roads and exploring. The center of the island is hilly and more rural than the coasts; sometimes we’d find ourselves winding along roads that curved through lush corridors of towering jungle, which I just loved. There were tons of mango trees on the island and I guess it was just coming into their prime season; was neat to see all the perfect green fruit hanging down from the branches on long, thin stems.

One of our exploratory drives ended up being an unexpected car (scooter) wash. We were on the island for Songkran, the New Year/water festival (learn more here). We knew that anyone on the streets was fair game, but things had seemed pretty tame on the island – until we took a road that led us down a hill where about five groups of kids were waiting in succession, each armed with big buckets. Needless to say, we came out the other end sopping wet and cracking up with laughter – especially when we realized we had come to a dead-end and would have to return through the line of fire. 🙂

DSC 0714

Songkran drive by. This photo is taken from the safety of our breakfast table – a truck full of people dousing folks on the street with buckets and water guns and the pedestrians fighting water with water. 🙂

We did spend some time on the east coast beaches and one afternoon we hung out for a while along the water’s edge, admiring incredible miniature sand sculptures made by equally minuscule artists.

IMG 1485

Amazingly beautiful crab creations! The whole beach was covered in these intricate designs.

Storm views

One other wonderful experience was stopping at a restaurant for a coffee. It was on the west coast, up a hill about a 15 minute drive from the old town, with a spectacular view of the coast, ocean and islands below. (In case you ever want to look for it, it’s a relatively new restaurant and I think it was called the Sea Gypsy and it was beyond the Viewpoint restaurant) We were about halfway through our drinks when we noticed storm clouds starting to move in over the water. The ocean started to change colors as the sunlight faded behind the clouds, and we could see fishermen returning to shore in their long tail boats. By the time our coffee was gone, the storm had arrived in earnest. The restaurant had a peaked thatch roof but no walls, so we had to grab our stuff and retreat to the central most point. Even then, we still were getting lightly sprayed as the wild winds whipped the heavy downpour through the air. The sheer volume of water coming down was just amazing, as were the powerful claps of lightning that hit nearby.

Eventually the storm began to lose steam and eased into a still heavy but less violent downpour, and we decided that we’d wait out the rain by eating dinner at the place. After we’d finished eating, the proud owners gave us a private tour – apparently they’d build the place, including the incredible wooden furniture pretty much on their own and they were really and rightly proud of it. By then, the rain had stopped completely, and we hopped onto our scooter and headed „home“ through dark roads swathed in fog and illuminated only by fireflies and our little headlight, trying our best to avoid the tons of frogs that were celebrating the rain by hopping through puddles all over the road. Really a magic evening. 🙂

DSC 1025

Retreating to the center of the restaurant during the storm. It’s hard to tell from the photo how heavily it was raining; suffice to say the ocean was aquamarine and the view went all the way to the coast before the rain arrived. Also, check out the nifty, handmade chairs. 🙂

Some other Ko Lanta pics

DSC 0723 2

I really loved the dark woods used in so many of the buildings in town. Here are the houses on the alley leading to our hotel room.

DSC 0758

Hotel detail; our front door

DSC 0779

Blue glass over a wooden door

DSC 0971

Ko Lanta was one of the islands hit by the 2004 tsunami; today there are evacuation signs everywhere

DSC 0979

The ocean changes color as a storm moves in (view from our balcony)

DSC 0782

Song bird in a store front in Ban Lanta

DSC 0763

Sunset view from our balcony

Thai Island Dream: Part 3 (Ko Lanta)

Time line 4

We woke from our last night on the Aquila to see the sun illuminating the next stop on our journey: Ko Lanta. We enjoyed one last breakfast on board, packed our things, searched for our long-forgotten shoes, said goodbye to the crew, hopped into the dinghy and headed for shore.

I have to say, I love arriving at a new place by beach. Splashing into the shallow waters, taking care to keep the luggage dry, and heading into town with bare, sandy feet to get our bearings – it’s all just tremendously romantic. 🙂

Ko Lanta managed to deliver on the tropical, romantic paradise atmosphere beyond our beach landing.

Island vibe

It’s a small island, with a population of about 20,000. While it’s got a good number of resorts and beaches catering to Westerners, there’s more tot he island than just tourism and it has a really nice, lived-in feeling that is lacking at some other islands. The population is an interesting mix of Thai Muslims and Buddhists and sea gypsies, the chao leh (pronounced something like “chow lay”).

We’d booked our hotel ahead and I’d been lured away from the beach hotels on the east coast by the description of Ko Lanta’s old town (Ban Lanta) on the west coast. Lonely Planet describes Ban Lanta as “the island’s original port and commercial centre…, a safe harbour for Arabic and Chinese trading vessels…, (where) some of the gracious and well-kept wooden stilt houses and shop fronts … are over 100 years old.”

We had booked a few nights at a boutique hotel called Mango House. In the end, we were so charmed by Ban Lanta, the rest of the island, and the beauty, relaxed vibe and friendly hospitality at Mango House that stayed for nearly a week!

Teakwood dream: Mango House

Mango House is a small collection of old, original buildings right over the water that have been tastefully renovated. They are rustic enough to feel really authentic – the doors are massive jobbies of ancient teak that leave gaps when closed, so sleeping under the provided mosquito netting is advisable; the floor boards in the simple, semi-outdoor kitchen area are gapped as well and let in glimpses of the illuminated sea water as it laps around the building’s posts – while still providing a lot of comfort (like effective air conditioning an in-room book and DVD collection).

Our room was huge and shared a spacious, hammock-equipped balcony overlooking the water with the room next door. It was a wonderful place to just hang out and watch the ocean change as the day light turned it different colors and the tides moved in and out of the harbor.

There was a cute restaurant/bar on the road in front of the rooms that was run by the same staff as the hotel. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the woman who managed it – she was totally sweet and friendly and welcoming. The menu was small but everything on it that we had was delicious. It served really good coffee, and awesome breakfast so it became our place to start the day while we were on the island. Just like the rooms, it was a gorgeous dark wood building, and apparently it was even an opium den for sailors and locals back in the day! 🙂

DSC 0691 2

Our room

DSC 0769

The view from our balcony

DSC 0819 2

Our super-sweet hostess (I wish I could remember her name! 😦 )

DSC 0695

Her cat liked to come visit us. Here she is, trying to break into our room. 😀

DSC 0706

View from inside the restaurant, flip flops outside the back entrance

DSC 0749

Best fresh fruit muesli & yogurt

DSC 0753 2

Buddha bar 🙂

Thai Island Dream: Part 2 (Phuket Boat Charter continued)

Time line 4

The three days on the Aquila passed like a dream. Hours melted leisurely from one to the other until the moments felt timeless. The scenery changed around us continually but gradually and, whether a gently rippling ocean marked by distant islands on a hazy horizon, towering cumulus clouds ablaze in a fiery sunset, peaceful strips of white beach on seemingly deserted islands or chunks of limestone the size of buildings covered in green foliage and appearing to hover over the water, it was always absolutely spectacular.

I lost track of time and the names of all the places we dropped anchor pretty quickly. Roman was more organized than me however, so thanks to him, here is the laundry list of places we apparently stopped to visit or spent the night anchored off of.

Koh Racha
Koh Mai Ton
Koh Phi Phi Don
Ko Yung
Ko Lanta

A lot of time was spent just chatting and enjoying the scenery and relaxed vibe on deck, napping in the sun, listening to music on the boat’s great sound system, snacking on coffee awesome fresh banana bread. When we weren’t doing that, there was plenty of other fun to be had.

Markus is a certified PADI instructor and gave us a basic intro to diving. The first morning we stopped at a resort beach where he took us through the beginner diver exercises in the clear waters just off shore. We spent the night by the shores of another island that had a great spot to do some easy diving. After a leisurely breakfast and getting warm in the sun, we got geared up, hopped into the dinghy, and got underwater to check out the underwater action.

I’d done a couple of hotel dive courses years ago, but it was Roman’s first dive. We both totally enjoyed it – except for the big patches of stinging particles we encountered. I got one big bunch right in the mouth – so painful! Luckily when you’re underwater no one can hear you curse! 😉  Aside from that though it was great – I love the feeling of moving in three dimensions under water like you’re flying, and the fish and other animals we got to see around the reef were fascinating and fun to see. It was enough to whet our appetite for more… 🙂

DSC 0327

View from the ship of the beach where we learned diving basics the first morning

Another thing I loved was swimming and kayaking right off the edge of the boat.

We went to the island where scenes from the movie “The Beach” were filmed. You can get there by the main beach but then you have to pay an entrance fee. We went via the back end of the island. Markus parked, and Roman, Narita and I hopped off and swam through deep, jewel-colored waters to a rickety ladder attached to sharp, craggy limestone. After clambering up the ropes and boards, we made it to a jungle path that led to the main beach. This was packed with tourists, but beautiful none-the-less, and we enjoyed a leisurely swim in light aquamarine waters book-ended by towering lime-stone cliffs before returning the way we came and swimming back to the Aquila.

DSC 0459

View from the ship of the ladder (top right corner) we swam to and climbed to get to the island from “The Beach”

We went kayaking at a couple of places. First within a lagoon created by another set of limestone cliffs. Apparently the place was usually full of tourist-packed motor-boats but we went late enough in the day that we had it nearly to ourselves. Roman and I were in one kayak and Markus and Narita in the other; it was surreal and fun to hear Markus’ perfect Swiss yodel echoing across the water and limestone walls. 😉 Roman and I did a solo kayak run the next day, exploring the edges of some massive limestone boulders off the shore of an island, where we got sprayed as the surf got sucked through small caves, watched beautiful crabs scale the vertical walls of rock and dare-devil swallows wing wildly from their cliff-side nests.

Snorkeling was also amazing. I’d never done that before and once I got the hang of it, I loved it and was totally mesmerized by the amazing world to be seen and experienced under the water.

DSC 0333

A school of sergeant major fish come to greet Roman (and beg for food) as he descends for some snorkelling

The food was also a major highlight – Uan is a phenomenal cook and the meals we got on board were hands down the best Thai food we had while in Thailand. The ingredients were fresh and the cooking was inspired – Uan didn’t plan ahead but let the ingredients and his mood lead the way. Breakfast was western – and even Swiss on occassion. 🙂 Sunday morning Markus was thoughtful enough to serve us Zopf with Nutella – the classic Sunday breakfast treat in Switzerland.

DSC 0337

Fresh tuna just pulled out of the ocean. It may be small but it still made blazin’ good sashimi!

DSC 0508 2

Fish in an incredible orange sauce with yellow peppers. I wish I had this recipe!!!

DSC 0509

The crew knew I am crazy about asparagus – so, asparagus with shrimp in a simply but delicious sauce

DSC 0689 2

Another incredible fish dish – tons of garlic and green onion = heaven for me and Roman

I really can’t rave enough about our time on board with Markus, Narita, Uan and (if I remember correctly!) Mai – so I’ll end the post here and let just some of the photos of the beautiful things we saw do the rest of the talking for me.

DSC 0354

Sunset, the first night on board

DSC 0367 2

The ship’s anchor, with marigold garlands

DSC 0424 2

Islands on the horizon

DSC 0430 2

Afternoon coffee on deck

DSC 0441 2

View from the deck during afternoon coffee…

DSC 0444 2

Long tail boat in front of limestone karst

DSC 0511 2

There was heat lightning each night we were on board. This photo is from the second night, docked off of Monkey Beach, when it was particularly beautiful. I tried for ages to capture it; in the dark on a moving ship with my camera, this shot (slightly altered in iPhoto) is the closest I got. The red dot on the water is a ship close by, the green dots on the horizon to the right are the neon lights from squid ships further afield.

DSC 0530

Our neighbor, morning at Monkey Beach

DSC 0541

Morning view

DSC 0676

Uan, Narita and Mai eating food they picked up on shore at Ko Lanta – way too hot for us farangs

DSC 0599 2

Sunset, the last night on board, off shore from Ko Lanta

Thai Island Dream: Part 1 (Phuket Boat Charter)

Time line 4

We spent the last two and a half weeks before my trip home with some absolutely amazing island hopping in the Andaman Sea along Thailand’s west coast.

We decided to skip the coast’s best-known beaches at Phuket and Krabi, but went all out setting up a dream itinerary:

Three days and three nights on a private boat, sailing and exploring islands on the way from Phuket to Ko Lanta.

A week taking in the beautiful views, tasty food and charms of Ko Lanta.

Another week getting our dive certification on and around the sun-drenched, white-sand beaches of Ko Lipe.

Certainly the most expensive bunch of travel we have done our entire trip, but we were helped out by an incredibly generous gift from Roman’s mom (thank you Petra! 🙂 ), and it was all so amazing – I’d do it again in a heartbeat if I could! 🙂

The beginning

We booked the boat with Phuket Boat Charter. The price was all-inclusive and covered the crew, including a chef, all food and drinks to our preferences and drop off at the island of our choice. All we had to do was meet Markus, the Swiss skipper, at the dock at the appointed time, and our adventure would begin.

We had booked the charter while we were still up in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province on the east coast, so we caught a VIP night bus (insanely decorated in deep blue and painfully bright neon – I felt like I was inside a black lit fishbowl – but comfortable enough, especially once the lights were off) from outside of Ban Krud to get down to Phuket.

The trip was easy enough and we found a room at dive shop called Crystal Clear. Their rooms were off of a stairwell at the back end of a lightly populated bar serviced by a somewhat intense lady-boy. The rooms themselves beautifully cool and clean in all white with a lovely, fluffy duvet on the bed that reminded me of Switzerland. We were staying in a part of town called Chalong, away from Phuket’s beaches but close to the dock and, conveniently, the immigration office where we had to extend our visas.

After a day and a half to rest up from the overnight drive and sort out admin, we woke up early and headed to Jimmy’s Lighthouse where we’d arranged to meet Markus. He and his cute Thai girlfriend (her name escapes me at the moment. 😦 She was totally sweet though. Maybe I’ll remember after some coffee…) were both totally easy-going and sweet and made us instantly comfortable. We took off our shoes (wouldn’t see them again for days!), loaded our bags and ourselves into an inflated dinghy and headed out to meet our boat.

First sight

The Aquila is a trimaran, a sailboat with three hulls. The central hull is the largest and holds the control room, a simple kitchen and dining room, space for the crew. The smaller outside hulls are bedrooms with private bathrooms, simple, but nice enough since the real place to be was on deck, which ended up serving as a superb out-door dining room, bar, lounge for reading, napping and sunbathing and pool-side.

Roman and I were both agape as we boarded the ship, gleeful at the realization that this was going to be our home and life for the next three days. Markus introduced us to his daughter, Narita, who was a fun addition to the party, and Uan, the chef who doubled as crew when an extra hand was needed, and invited us to relax at the breakfast table while the crew got us out of the harbor and on our way.

That pretty much set the tone for the whole trip. The crew was totally friendly and easy-going and the atmosphere was so relaxed. It felt like hanging out with friends. But when it came to meals, equipment prep and the like, we never had to lift a finger and we ended up feeling totally spoiled by Markus and company.

So, that first morning we sat on deck with a lovely breakfast, enjoying the morning sun glimmering off the bright waters of Phuket’s harbor as the island pulled away from us and we headed towards our first destination.

Quick post: current events 2

After three days hopping around the Andaman Ocean, we’ve now landed at Ko Lanta, a larger island south of Krabi, in time for the holiday Songkran. As I write this in a gorgeous little dark teakwood cafe (that apparentlyused to be an opium den!), folks on the street outside are splashing each other with buckets of water to ring in the Thai new year. We plan to go out later this afternoon, when things are at their hottest, to cool off with a good splash down. 🙂 For now though, me and the laptop are staying safe and dry indoors.

The cruise on the boat was AMAZING. I’ll post about it in detail later, but suffice to say, if you have any interest in sailing around Thailand’s west coast and have some extra funds to spend (it was not cheap, but worth it if you can afford it), I can definitely recommend Phuket Boat Charter. The crew was amazing – a perfect blend of chilled out and professional, totally welcoming and easy going and fun. The food was hands down the best we’ve had so far in Thailand. The scenery was so beautiful, we practically had to pinch ourselves to be sure it was real. Fantastic!

Now that we’re back on dry land, I hope I’ll (finally!) get caught up with this blog. Will get back to back filling on Myanmar shortly; we’ll see how far I actually get before our next stop. 😉