Wake up to the distinct scent of the sea and drift off to dreamland as the breeze whispers, “Don’t be afraid, I am here. Close your eyes, breathe the salty air, and let the spirit of the ocean move you.”
Aboard the Blue Moon Catamaran in the middle of the pristine waters off Phuket, this is precisely how I felt as I embark on a day trip amongst the jiggered rock islands along the Eastern bounds of the Andaman Sea.
Escaping the hustle of Singapore in February, I blocked a quick weekend rendezvous in Phuket and cruised aboard this private catamaran with my family amongst the tiny, beautiful islands dotting around Phuket. Little did I know that it will be the last overseas trip I would undertake before the world moved into lockdown. This quiet, serene and refreshing getaway turned out to be a perfect opportunity for me to bond with my family, while in the company of stunning blue backdrops melting away to an orange sunset.
Sailing from Ao Po Grand Marina in Phuket to Phang Nga Bay
We boarded the luxurious 52 feet long catamaran ‘Blue Moon’ early in the morning from the Ao Po Grand Marina located on the eastern edge of Phuket. Manned by a well-trained crew of two and complete with 5 en-suite cabins, an ample salon with panoramic views, good sized deck areas to relax with two large bow trampolines that doubled as hammocks for lounging, being on board this yacht felt more like travelling in a sleek apartment with the blue sea as companion. Our Andaman adventure had begun.
Phang-nga is famous for spectacular scenery with limestone cliffs dramatically rising out of emerald green water. There are caves, secret lagoons and tiny secluded beaches, a few of which are still awaiting discovery. Phang Nga Bay is located 75 kilometres northeast of Phuket and is a national park surrounded by hundreds of unique limestone islands with names to match their shapes. In addition, there are magical stalactite caves and countless rocks and sea caves.
We were in awe of the beautiful island scapes surrounding Phuket and with a carefree agenda in mind, requested the Captain to explore the near-by islands at a leisurely speed, an advantage of sailing on your own yacht – there are no time tables to keep up with. Captain Jim knew exactly what we had in mind and set a gentle pace for the rest of the day. He suggested we explore the caves & secret lagoons at Koh Panak island, an experience, he promised, would take us up close and within the limestone towers.
Secret Lagoons and Sea Caves
Finding the entrance of sea caves within the base of limestone cliffs, exploring their dark pathways and finding oneself emerging into a hollow ‘hong’, a quiet and meditative sanctuary locked within a limestone karst island, with the sea cave the sole entrance and exit that ‘locks’ itself with high tide – this is an adventure best done with specialists on hand. Our brave Captain Jim, knowledgeable, experienced and well equipped, lead us – the fearful city dwellers – cautiously through dark winding pathways, littered with age old stalagmites and puddles of water on the rock floor. The only sound we could hear was water dripping from the ceiling of the cave, a constant reminder that the cave’s occupant – the tide – would be arriving soon.
A few minutes later, we emerged into the ‘hong’ – a large, secret opening enclosed by tall cliffs and the open blue sky for ceiling. No passing boat would have known that we were here. The sound of bird and the sight of a few mangrove trees and shrubs growing within the cracks of the cliff hinted of life in this stealthy hideaway. If imaginations were played out, this may have centuries ago, doubled as a villain’s lair or the ‘X’ on a pirate’s treasure map. Not in control of time nor tide, we hurried out back to the entrance, just in time to witness the water rise steadily by over half a meter and seal off the pathway and the cave entrance.
Ao Phang Nga National Park is home to many such caverns and caves, both discovered and those that have not been explored yet. We could have easily spent the entire day in this location, but such is the beauty of the surrounding jade-coloured water that called for us to continue exploring.
As Thailand opens its borders for tourists and a need for social distancing is in everyone’s mind, chartering a catamaran over the weekend is an excellent option to explore and unwind.
Back in the comfort of our luxurious catamaran, we refuelled and refreshed with Chef Nok at hand to treat us to a sumptuous feast of authentic vegetarian local cuisine. Our lazy day on board continued as Captain Jim charted our afternoon journey amidst the islands of Phang Nha Bay. We were at ease, playing hide and seek amongst the labyrinth of uninhibited rock islands. The protruding cliffs hanging precariously over the sea kept us amused as we relaxed on the two trampoline hammocks at the bow of the catamaran. With a canvas canopy sheltering us from the tropical sun and a strong breeze keeping everyone cool, our steady pace across the bay dissolved the afternoon into a sweet nothing – a ‘Dolce Vita’ moment experienced.
Sailing in this luxurious catamaran, Blue Moon, comes with its advantages. Apart from an expert staff on hand that ensures peace of mind, security, local knowledge and expertise, the catamaran is well equipped with snorkelling gear (masks and fins) and kayaks to double the fun. Having a charter adds to the luxury of not following a schedule or a direction laid out in an itinerary. If the green spec of island on the far left with a tiny cove appeals to the senses, the Captain is on hand to oblige at a moment’s notice. The shallow draft of the catamaran at 5 feet allows it to access remote locations which an ordinary single-hull yacht or a tourist ferry would generally avoid.
The interior of the catamaran comes with vertical windows in the salon which creates a spacious environment to lounge with a beautiful panoramic view of the sea. The open plan layout is lively with a dining area, lounge seating, TV entertainment and galley.
With five en-suite luxurious cabins, four of which are fitted with queen size beds & one with two single bunks and vast deck areas to enjoy, the Blue Moon catamaran is perfect for a family of ten. Blue Moon catamaran by Simpson Yacht Charter is a luxurious and a fun way to explore the islands that surround Phuket over either a day or a long weekend.
With the need to ensure social distance is maintained and general guidelines to avoid crowds, I am of the opinion that exploring Phuket’s many islands and waterways on your own private yacht is a safer and far more appealing activity as compared to visiting the usual tourist zones within Phuket. To explore, unwind and refresh with scenery that’s agreeable for the 1974 Bond, you are in for a treat the moment you step onboard.
Apart from the day trips, Simpson Yacht Charter has designed many more luxurious itineraries with the Blue Moon catamaran in mind that ranges from a weekend trip to a 15-day adventure. For a long weekend getaway, you fly in to Phuket on a Thursday night with dinner at the marina and then drinks on the boat. The crew makes final preparations to sail on the Friday morning while is enjoying breakfast at the marina. Friday’s ‘hectic’ schedule has fun slated for every hour of the day. Sail and snorkel along the coral reefs of Phuket and head back to land for dinner. Head out to a quiet bay for after-dinner drinks on board in the company of stars overhead and gentle waves; the crew sets the mood with candles, wine & cheese and anything else one desires. Saturday is all about cruising the Andaman Sea making stops along the way as per the desire of the day – snorkel amongst the marine life in national parks or snooze on a hammock with a chilled Champagne close by. The catamaran’s WIFI ensures all the moments get captured on Instagram on the fly. Saturday’s leisure spills over to Sunday, with the catamaran heading back to the marina as per the flight schedule out of Phuket.
The 15-day itinerary allows one to comprehensively cover the bay that includes Ko Racha Yaï, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta, Ko Muk, Ko Rok Nok, Ko Ha Yaï and Ko Kaï where one can walk from one island to another during low tide. For getting to experience crossing international waters from Thailand to Malaysia, their 12 day Phuket to Langkawi itinerary covers islands and beaches such as Ko Lipe Butang archipelago that are far away from tourist tracks and include marine parks that are very much pristine and rated as among the best in the world.
A private cruise on board a luxurious yacht can become a case of ‘plan, experience and repeat’.
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© This article was first published online in July 2020 – World Travel Magazine.