Nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is endowed with unparalleled tropical beauty. Of its four distinct regions, the southern peninsular reaches of the country are of the most interest to sailors. The cruising grounds off the east coast of the island of Phuket are among the finest anywhere. Towering pinnacles of limestone jut from the emerald-colored and sheltered waters of Phang-nga Bay. To the south, the famous Phi Phi Islands stand as jewels of the Andaman Sea. More than 130 picturesque isles lie within the province of Krabi alone, and the offshore marine preserves of the Similan and Surin islands are internationally famous as one of the world’s top scuba diving sites. A Phuket sailing vacation offers a multitude of scenic and secure anchorages, pristine white-sand beaches, rugged uninhabited islands, and lively nightlife and resorts. The warm, hospitable people of Thailand enhance the enjoyment of a Phuket yacht charter, making the sailing adventure all the more memorable in a nation often called the Land of Smiles.
The waters off Phuket’s east coast are situated in a protected swath of the Andaman Sea, ensuring excellent and safe sailing all year long. There is a wet and a dry season, all based on the monsoons that influence the weather and wind directions. On Thailand’s west coast, the northeast monsoon begins in November, ushering in light to moderate northeasterly winds between 10 and 20 knots, cooler temperatures, and drier conditions. In May, the southwest monsoon begins. Southwesterly winds gradually strengthen to more than 20 knots at the peak of the rainy season, which occurs in September and October. In most other rainy season months, it only rains for a couple of hours during the late afternoon. Daytime temperatures average 89°F (32°C) from July through February, and 61°F (16°C) at night. It’s hotter March through June. The tidal range can exceed eight feet, which creates swift tidal currents in narrow channels. Navigation is often line-of-sight. However, a careful eye on the chart and GPS is advised because of the numerous coral reefs. A Phuket sailing vacation is well within the reach of sailors confident in basic coastal navigation.
A Phuket yacht charter unfolds in an exotic part of the world with stunning scenery and easy passages, which is what makes sailing in Phang-nga Bay and the Andaman Sea so appealing. Secluded coves fringed with majestic limestone cliffs and pristine white-sand beaches indent many of the islands, and just offshore are coral reefs resplendent in hues of brown, orange, green, and blue. Marine parks set aside as natural preserves to protect the tropical birds and abundant sea life make exploring these waters a voyage into an unspoiled paradise. Enjoying the culture and savoring the local cuisine is a delightful aspect of a Phuket sailing vacation, as is the snorkeling and scuba diving. For sailors interested in nightlife, Phuket is known as Thailand’s premier resort island.
While enjoying the natural splendor of a Phuket sailing vacation, a visit to the manmade spectacle of the 140-acre Phuket FantaSea theme park is well worth the effort. Essentially, it’s a grand celebration of Thai culture in all of its pomp and glory, featuring Las Vegas-style theatrical productions at the 3,000-seat Palace of the Elephants made all the more dramatic with its reconstruction of a Sukhothai-era stone palace and herds of elephant statues. Of particular interest is the Fantasy of a Kingdom Culture-Illusion Show. Special effects, indoor pyrotechnics, acrobatics, and an elephant circus are highlights of the presentation. There is also Carnival Village, replete with shops and gaming activities. The 4,000-seat Golden Kinnaree Buffet Restaurant is a wonderland created in a Himmaphan forest setting, where Thai feasts prepared by world-class chefs tantalize and entice.
Cue the James Bond movie theme and relive in the mind’s eye scenes from the 1974 classic film, The Man With the Golden Gun starring Roger Moore, and a cruise to James Bond Island will be set in perfect context. Although it’s most often simply referred to as James Bond Island, this extraordinary isle within the protected confines of Phang-nga Bay is locally known as Koh Tapu. Its prominent limestone pinnacle helped give the film its exotic look, and it put this part of Thailand on the international map. The island is a major tourist destination, with beachside vendors and beer stands. It’s accessible via longtail boat tours from the anchorage at Koh Yang. The boat tour can also include a visit to the cliff-studded island of Koh Panyee, home to a traditional fishing village built on stilts over the shallow water.
The smaller of the two main isles of the Phi Phi group, Koh Phi Phi Le has an area of just four square miles. It’s one of the most scenic islands in the Andaman Sea, with numerous picturesque bays, gorgeous white-sand beaches, excellent snorkeling, and soaring limestone cliffs. One of the most striking features of the island is Maya Bay, where sheer cliffs soar more than 300 feet high on three sides. Several pristine white-sand beaches are ideal places to swim and sunbathe. The snorkeling is superb on the coral reefs teeming with tropical fish. The blockbuster hit movie The Beach was filmed in Maya Bay and released in 1999, which brought Phi Phi Le international fame for its spectacular setting and crystal clear waters.
About four miles north-northeast of Koh Kai, a rock outcrop rises from the seafloor and just barely breaks the surface of the Andaman Sea. It’s a favorite dive spot locals call Hin Musang. Nurse sharks and ominous looking but harmless leopard sharks thrive in the area, and in February and March enormous whale sharks also put in an appearance. The presence of these creatures in great numbers is how the rock came to be called Shark Point. Giant sea fans, purple soft coral, schools of colorful tropical fish, and crystal clear water that averages about 86°F (30°C) year round make scuba diving at Shark Point a highlight of any Phuket powerboat charter. Anemone Reef and the wreck of the 278-foot King Cruiser ferry that sank in 1997 are nearby.