Thailand’s largest island, Phuket (pronounced ‘poo ket’) lies within the glorious, clear blue-green Andaman Sea. Near the equator, but safely outside the Pacific and Indian Ocean’s cyclone zone, its climate makes sailing possible all year round. Phuket’s tropical monsoon climate has two seasons; the rainy season (southwest monsoon) and the dry season (northeast monsoon). Unsurprisingly the most popular time for tourists is the beginning of dry season from November to February. Towards the end of the dry season the temperatures can get uncomfortably hot. This peak period is excellent for sailing as the weather is settled, visibility is good and the winds are predictable between 5 and 20 knots.
Places to visit
As a yacht charter destination Phuket has the advantage of being within easy distance of many other smaller islands – over 130 – and this makes for a very exciting and varied itinerary! To the north lie the Similan Islands but to reach them it’s wise to charter a yacht that has an engine as the winds heading north aren’t that strong. Catching a good headwind isn’t a problem if you decide to sail east to Ko Yao Noi or to Ko Yao Yai. To the south east lie the perennially popular Phi Phi (pronounced ‘pee pee’) Islands. Let’s take a look at the attractions around Phuket and its neighbours more closely.
Phuket’s coastline is a geologist’s dream. Beautiful, rugged limestone stacks dot the seas and gentle undulating beaches with gorgeous white sand attract sun worshippers. Untouched secluded coves can almost make you think that the island is still new and unexplored – an experience that’s becoming rarer year by year as further tourism development occurs.
The marine life is bountiful and diverse here; scuba diving or even snorkelling is a must if you want to witness some of the most remarkable fish and crustaceans that the Andaman Sea has to offer. Leopard sharks, giant manta rays, clown trigger fish and clownfish (think ‘Finding Nemo’) glide by or dart around vegetation. Even the elusive whale shark makes appearances from time to time. But for smaller spectacles then the attractive harlequin shrimps are quite a treat.
Phuket is also famed for several beautiful beaches including Patong Beach with its restaurants, bars and exciting nightlife. Looking for a more relaxed and quiet beach then Nai Thon is for you! Peaceful and undeveloped, these sandy shores are ideal for chilling out.
Ko Yao is a pair of islands in Phang Nga Bay comprising Ko Yao Yai and the smaller Ko Yao Noi. Located halfway between the east coast of Phuket and Krabi’s mainland coast, the islands’ sandy shores are a haven for beach lovers. Whether you want to sunbathe or walk under the shade of the tree canopy these islands are the epitome of paradise. There is also a plethora of dive sites within easy sailing distance such as the MS King Cruiser wreck and Anemone Reef which plays host to scuba tours.
The province that makes up the northern half of Phuket, Ko Lanta, offers fantastic scenery and mountainous terrain. This region isn’t very accessible to tourists and so is less developed and more serene. There are still many anchorage points around the eastern coast where you can dock and explore the beaches to some degree. You may even come across the local sea gypsies who still practice traditional crafts.
Ko Maphrao (Coconut Island)
Less than a kilometre off the east coast of Phuket lies the small island colloquially known as Coconut Island. Away from overdeveloped Phuket, Coconut Island is relatively unspoiled; without an electric grid network the only power comes from private generators. Off its coast are the amazing, floating seafood restaurants Bang Mud and The Black Crab. Here you can order from an authentic Thai menu instead of a tourist-oriented version. Although there are a couple of small beaches, some of the best sailing is around the southern coast where mangrove forests delight and you can catch sight of long-tailed macaque monkeys running and jumping through the canopies. If you look east you can catch sight of the distant Krabi province coastline and the Phi Phi Islands.
Phi Phi Islands
Showcasing how a yacht charter voyage around Phuket has something for everyone, the Phi Phi Islands are an archipelago with each island a worthy destination in itself. Gravity-defying limestone stacks rise out of emerald seas and transport you to otherworldly vistas. Ko Phi Phi Leh is the second largest island and it encompasses Maya Bay, the location used to film Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. The ‘Viking’ sea cave nearby has mysterious paintings featuring boats and what appears to be Scandinavian drakkar that has led to many rumours and ideas of their origins. Ko Phai – or Bamboo Island – named after what is grown there, is a haven for divers who explore the majesty of the coral reefs.
Choosing a boat
Many charter companies offer bareboat or crewed hire. Sailing conditions during the peak season are favourable and the short distance between locations is such that you can confidently navigate a bareboat with limited experience.
Bareboat charters can include ultra-modern catamarans like the Nautitech 40, Lagoon 400 S2 and slightly older Lagoon 380 and Lagoon 450. For a more modest price you can hire the monohull sailing vessels such as the Bavaria 32 through to the Bavaria 39.
If you choose the crewed option then you can take a berth on the large monohull Bavaria 45, 46 or the seriously long (15.65 metres) Beneteau 50.5. There is a wide selection of catamarans to choose from too. At the more affordable end of the market there is the Mahe 36 and Lagoon 380 but for a higher fee you can hire a luxury Lagoon 450 yacht.
With extensive coastlines of many islands and archipelagos a yacht charter to Phuket is understandably considered to be an amazing experience. Being able to enjoy the best of the developed cities and the traditional fishing villages while having your yacht ready to take you to glorious beaches and secluded spots is certainly very special. Each day is another adventure!