The Andaman

We had some absolute characters come to visit Thailand recently- Conor and Sara. One of the things I love about Conor is that he dreams big! So I wasn’t surprised when he said that he’d be renting a 40-ft sailboat in Phuket and planned on sailing the archipelago of islands in the Andaman Sea for a week, and asked if Nat and I would like to join. Conor lived for a while on a small, old sailboat in the various marinas of San Francisco, where he learned to sail the hard unforgiving way (youtube?). While he didn’t quite go full salt monster in those crusty years, he certainly lived among the salt monsters. He’s got a lot of grit and experience from his time in the oft-treacherous bay waters of the Golden Gate, so I knew that we could trust him to pilot us safely within the twisting coral-rimmed coasts of western Thailand.

Those two landed in Krabi around the twenty-first of November, and we met them at our little climber’s hostel in the jungle village of Tonsai. They were buzzing with energy at the amazing surroundings and somehow showed no signs of having just completed a twenty hour flight. The four of us got pad thai and beers on the beach and shot the shit as that smiling moon of Thailand rose. It felt so good to see an old friend, and I was really happy to meet Sara who i didn’t know too well at that time. Plus, Nat and I got to unleash our torrent of stories from Hindustan on them! 

The next day we went climbing, and climbed up to this high cave on the rock wall near the beach. We spelunked our way on through to the beautiful bay on the opposite side. Then all four of us climbed a super epic 4-pitch climb (~375 ft) above Tonsai called Humanality. The “crux” of this climb is this bit directly 350 feet above the beach bar where the wall just becomes blank… you have to let your body drop backward into the abyss, and grab onto a hanging stalactite to continue climbing upwards. See a poem I wrote about this climb HERE.

Anyway, then we went on to Phuket to pick up our sailboat. We started from Phuket Yacht Haven Marina and then turned north to navigate the archipelago of islands in Northwest Phang Nga bay. The weather the first day was dark and rainy and we could see the huge, looming shapes of each small coral island/karst ominous in the distance. We passed Ko Tapu, where they filmed some James Bond movie. There are thousands of islands of all sizes in Phang Nga. 

We anchored the first night in a little protected cove near Ko Hong & Ko Phanak. That night, some Thai fisherman paddled over to us and we bought some prawns, which we promptly stir-fried in butter and garlic.

The next day we continued sailing, heading towards the part of the bay near Krabi. At lunch we snagged a mooring ball near some deep water solo climbing and i tried my hand climbing some of the coral outcrops high over the blue water. I cut my hands and feet on the sharp rocks but we all had fun. 

Unfortunately, our boat broke down there due to some mechanical failure in the gearbox. We were stranded for a day while the boating company sent guys out on a speedboat to meet us with the replacement part. It was pretty tough stranded out there on the water. Our boat had a great sound system, the water was warm and clear, and fisherman were out and about slinging snapper, squid, and prawns. We had a cooler full of beers and we dipped into our supplies quite a bit while waiting for the repairmen.

We were on our way by midmorning the next day and unfortunately had to scratch our plan of climbing the karsts around the coast of Krabi. On a windless day under the power of our big diesel engine we sped southward towards the open ocean and Phi Phi island. 

As we traveled southwards, away from the mouths of the many rivers pouring off of Thailand and towards the open sea, the water cleared up immensely. It turned this deep blue color through which you could see at least thirty feet. We moored in a place called Maya Bay on Phi Phi and commenced the coolest snorkeling and diving i have ever experienced. There were Alice & Wonderland coral formations, schools of 50 or more fish, lobsters, crabs, and so much more. We spent the day diving and I learned all sorts of stuff about how to equalize my sinuses effectively to dive deep. I loved diving within the schools of fish and trying to stay in the center of the school as they lazily wound between shimmering coral spires beneath the waves.

In the evening, we anchored just a mile or so off of Phi Phi island, got all showered and dressed up, then took our inflatable motor-powered dinghy onto shore. It was pretty funny feeling dressed up like we were going to a bar, but first we just had to splutter a mile across the bay in our damp little dinghy. We tied the dinghy to a palm tree and went out on the town in Phi Phi! We found a string of bars on the beach (some bars literally in the ocean) that had tons of foreigners partying, eating, and generally being hedonistic. There were firedancers, a mechanical bull (tossed me off in around 35 seconds), beer for 80 baht, and people literally dancing at bars IN the ocean. This was a super commercialized and touristy spot, but it did feel good to dance our asses off after so many days on the boat.

Anyway at the end of the night we found our way back to the dinghy and boarded our boat anchored out at sea. The next day we went climbing and did some more diving around Phi Phi. Finally we had to sail back west to Phuket to return the boat, all in one piece, fortunately.

Back in Tonsai we had one more day, so we did the most adventurous climb we could think of. Conor & I took kayaks directly out to sea where there’s a 320 foot island karst called Ao Nang Tower sticking like a thumb out of the blue water. We clambered up onto that thing in between waves smashing against the coral, and climbed three of the hardest pitches I’ve ever climbed in the roasting sun to top out to an amazingly beautiful view of Ao Nang and the sea stretching out beyond. I could see a piece of the huge archipelago which we had traversed within for so many days just before.

With that, we bid farewell to our friends with tears in our eyes. I felt profoundly impacted by having seen those guys- maybe it was because we hadn’t seen our close friends in so long. Getting to see Ao Nang and everything again through their eyes and their excitement allowed me to reset and appreciate things freshly all over again. 

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