Day 1 – I flew from Mt Gambier to Melbourne where I met with 2 other agents, both from Melbourne. We flew with Malaysia Airlines through to Kuala Lumpur and spent our transit time of 3 hours in the Premium Plaza Lounge, recommended by my fellow travellers.
From there, we met a few of the other ladies at the gate before boarding to Phuket. They had found a hotel in KL Airport which offered showers and a light breakfast for a lesser cost than the lounge. I can now recommend this alternative experience to our clients.
Arrived in Phuket to a very long Customs and Immigration line, but it was a great time to get to know each other. It was interesting to witness travellers and their response to the Corona virus. There were many travellers wearing masks, and some people we noticed didn’t start wearing them until they arrived in Phuket, which seemed quite strange! We were screened and found there to be many opportunities for hand washing and hand sanitizing. We collected our luggage, met our transfer driver and travelled to Patong Beach to check in to our hotel. We were too early for check in, so went to hotel restaurant for lunch, drinks and later a swim in the infinity pool. Later that evening we attended our welcome meeting, met the rest of our group, and one of our guides Soon.
The Andamantra Resort is set on a steep hill, with the resort broken up into several blocks, a restaurant and several pools. The hotel has a shuttle bus that runs guests to their building, which then has stairs to the elevators to take you up to your room. This resort would only be suited to guests who can handle a lot of stairs as there are quite a few, even if you do make use of the elevators.
After our welcome meeting, we walked to a nearby Thai restaurant and enjoyed authentic Thai food, which was unlike any Thai cuisine I have eaten in Australia. Very very good! In our group, we not only had agents from the TC family, we also had agents from Canada, USA, Belgium, Germany, UK and Ireland. The roads are very busy, and you need to be extremely cautious of traffic.
Day 2 – After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and travelled to Phuket Old Town, via Khao Rang which is the mountain peak for a view of Phuket. Here we enjoyed a refreshment and I chose an iced coffee, which in Thailand is made using their local coffee and condensed milk! I decided, along with many others in the group, that this was the drink of choice! Once in Phuket Old Town, we enjoyed a couple of hours free time and our group chose an air-conditioned Mexican restaurant! After quickly admiring the street art and fitting in some shopping, we made our way to the Panwa Deep Sea Port to start our cruise.
On board, we were introduced to our other guide, Ae. She was hilarious and made each day so much fun with her antics. We were introduced to the rest of the crew and were assigned to our cabins. Soon after boarding, we set sail to our first destination Khao Lak. Later that evening was our welcome dinner. Each night at 7pm, we were briefed on the next day’s activities and how we needed to prepare for the day.
TRADITIONAL THAI STREET ART & OLD PHUKET TOWN BEACH
Day 3 – Khao Lak
Today we visited the Ban Nam Khem memorial which remembers those who lost their lives in the 2004 Tsunami. One of our guides volunteered during this time and helped with the cleanup. The stories she shared with us were truly heartbreaking. We spent the afternoon on Bangsak Beach swimming and eating the local cuisine. I tried a green papaya salad, which was divine!
BAN NAM KHEM MEMORIAL & WATERFALL
Day 4 – Mu Koh Kham
Today, we travelled by longtail boat to Baan Talay Nok village, also destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami, which has since been rebuilt. The Tsunami resulted in many fishermen losing their lives, and their equipment and even though the government helped the village to re-build, the community needed money to survive so the women learnt the skill of soap making for a 2nd income.
We sat down to a traditional lunch after a village tour and a soap making class. We all purchased some soap which helps contribute to their local village. This is a 100% Muslim community; therefore, we wore clothing to cover our shoulders and knees. The locals demonstrated their coconut opening and grating skills and we then watched as they made a traditional dessert, cooked in banana palm leaves. There was a little boy there who managed to capture everyone’s hearts.
COW WANDERING THE STREETS OF THE VILLAGE & SOAPS CREATED BY WOMEN IN THE VILLAGE
Day 5 – Mu Koh Kam
A day of relaxation, spending time on the beach with kayaks and paddle boards, or snorkeling. Time to just relax with your group, chat and swim. We enjoyed a Beach BBQ, cooked by the crew. It’s amazing, they transport all the food from the ship to the beach via Zodiac, cook and serve lunch, then back to the ship. Later, we travel back via longtail boat where they await us. Each day on return to the ship, the crew will greet you with a cool towel, iced tea and hand sanitizer!
Day 6 – Ko Phayam
After a night at sea, we arrived at the second largest island in Thailand. Another day of swimming, a beach BBQ, snorkeling and relaxing. Anytime, whilst at anchor, guests can swim from the boat at arrangement with the crew who will supervise via Zodiac.
Day 7 – 8, Ko Surin Tai
This is where we found the best snorkeling on our trip. The amount of coral and tropical fish was outstanding. I’ve never seen so much of both coral and fish in the one place. I tried to count the different varieties, but it would be impossible. Lunch was supplied once again, in an outside dining area on the island. These two afternoons spent swimming and relaxing on the most idyllic beaches you could possibly imagine.
We visited the Moken Village, and learnt about their traditions and culture. The Moken people are a seafaring ethnic group of Austronesian origin who still mostly live a seminomadic lifestyle. Many of the men work in tourism on the longtail boats we were being transported in, while the women make jewellery and sell to the tourists to help earn money. The village is made up of many houses made from palm leaves, up on stilts. Many houses were lost after a fire struck the island and have since been rebuilt with help from the government. The newer houses are still built from palm leaves but have solar panels and electricity.
The farewell dinner on night 8 was spectacular with extra special service and Thai food. We said our goodbyes to the crew, mostly to the waitresses and bar staff who you develop quite lovely friendships with because they treat you so well and look after your every need with a personal touch.
TROPICAL FISH SEEN WHILE SNORKELING, ONE OF MANY IDYLLIC BEACHES & THE MOKEN VILLAGE
Day 9 – This morning we arrived into Phuket back into port, split into our separate transfer groups and farewelled our guides and new friends. Some of us on later afternoon flights decided to organize a final shopping trip to Phuket Central where we enjoyed a Thai massage and lunch before heading to the airport.
Overall, this experience was one I would recommend. Although this vessel will no longer be servicing Thailand, it will be based in Greece and Indonesia. Small ship/adventure cruising is a fantastic way to see those smaller communities or more remote islands.
Thank you to Peregrine Adventures, Travellers Choice, Argyle Travel and Cruise and the fabulous group of travel agents and new friends I have made on the famil.
The experiences were phenomenal and another amazing trip I will treasure forever.
Bec Greening, Argyle Travel and Cruise