An adventure to Thailand & Malaysia...
4th January 2018
Aboard Star Clipper
South East Asia has always been an area of the world I have longed to explore. The typical images of the small wooden fishing boats floating peacefully on crystal clear waters, and the stunning yet rugged mountainous backdrops that pop out from the ocean, and the mouth-watering flavours of Thai cuisine are among the reasons that I’ve always been keen to visit - well my time has come, and I’m lucky enough to be experiencing it all on Star Clipper’s first 7 night voyage from Phuket!
Day 1 – London/Phuket
Our group flew with Etihad (via Abu Dhabi) which was two flights, the first of just over 7 hours and the second just over six. With a short 2-hour stopover, the journey is long but well worth it. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class on the first leg, which was on one of the new A380’s – WOW, what an incredible treat. The private roomy seat, which fully reclines into a bed, makes for a very comfortable start to the trip. The champagne was topped up several times even before take-off and this attentive service continued throughout the flight. If you’ve got a bit extra in the budget, I would highly recommend travelling in style…
We landed in Phuket local time around 6 pm, immigration was straightforward and our pre-booked taxi was there to meet us in arrivals. A short transfer of just 20 minutes and we arrived at our home for the next two nights, the Anantara Mai Kaho Villas. From taking just the first step into this property, my breath was completely taken away. The wooden bridges over the serene lakes, the low-lit lanterns and the soft music filling the air and the atmosphere screaming luxury was immediately relaxing. After a short check-in, we were shown to our pool villas. Every ‘room’ in this hotel has its own private swimming pool and is absolutely massive in size, hence the label ‘villa’.
The attention to detail was phenomenal and I knew straight away this was hands down one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. We were welcomed in the restaurant with the Thai Buffet, which had a very impressive choice of curries, noodles, seafood, rice, soups and many other oriental delights. As we were all very tired from the flight, so we had a light bite and some wine and retired to our private villas for a very peaceful night sleep.
Day 2 – Phuket
The following morning we met for a traditional Thai breakfast on the terrace. The grounds of the hotel really are gorgeous, the tropical greens and colourful flowers are budding in every corner, surrounded by the still waters and peaceful shrines hidden away. To enjoy a coffee and fresh fruit sitting out and admiring all of this was the perfect way to start the day. After breakfast, we participated in one of the hotels complimentary activities, a bike ride! Cycling around the local towns, roads and markets, stopping on a sandy beach, then at a local smoothie stall for fresh mango drinks was a great introduction to Phuket. A tiring 2 hours later we met back at the hotel for lunch overlooking the sea.
Most of the group headed down to the beach for a massage, priced at just 400 BAHTS for one hour which, converted, is about £10 - it was hard to resist! You could afford to have a massage on the beach every day in Thailand, which is definitely a highlight for me if you have the stamina to take it!
That evening, we made the short journey (5 minutes by local taxi) to a neighbouring hotel ‘The Sala’. This is a hotel we sell regularly, with a competitive price point and excellent location, it makes a great choice for a 2 or 3-night pre/post-cruise stay. The Sala was more modern in design, with beautiful whitewashed interiors, romantic outside bathrooms and a stunning seafront location, we were all really impressed. We dined poolside, lit by candlelight with the sound of the waves gently lapping at the shore - a perfect setting for our final night in Phuket.
Day 3 – Phuket/Star Clipper
With only a few hours left to see what Phuket has to offer, we opted for an island tour. Collecting us from the hotel, we embarked our air-conditioned minivan for the day and made our way to our first stop, a Buddhist temple. After removing our footwear we stepped into the temple, filled with an overwhelming amount of gold and Buddhist statues, we watched on in awe as the monks made their daily ritual and prayed on their knees. It felt a great privilege to be this close to them in such an intimate moment. From here we went on to Phuket Old town, where we had half an hour or so to stroll freely through the busy streets.
The multi-coloured buildings and cluttered shops made for a bustling atmosphere as cars sped past and locals went about their normal routines; we were immersed in the heart of the town. Our final stop before lunch was at the ‘Big Buddha’ a relatively new, huge, religious statue sitting high on top of a hill. The views looking down over the bay were stunning and the guest monkeys were posing for tourists pictures (as well as trying to pinch their belongings). Finally, we ended up at a restaurant near the port, where we had a huge amount of fresh seafood, noodles and stir-fried vegetables bought to our table. The excitement had started to build now as our final stop for the day was to be Star Clipper herself…
The Seaview hotel is just opposite the pier for Patong Bay, which is where the ship is at anchor. Star Clippers have a designated check-in area in the lobby at the hotel, where drinks and refreshments are provided whilst the relevant forms are filled in. Check-in opens at 4 pm and can be done anytime before 9 pm, however, I recommend doing so sooner rather than later so you can relax and enjoy your first night on board. The ship is a short tender ride from the pier and your luggage will meet you in your cabin, so it’s a very seamless, easy process.
We were shown to our category 4 cabin, 109, which situated on the Commodore deck was a well-appointed, well laid out and very comfortable space for the next 7 nights. Plenty of wardrobe space, a small dressing table area, one porthole window and an en-suite marble lined shower room made up the cabin configuration. Some cabins have a fixed double bed and others can be made up as a twin, which is what we had opted for, giving enough room to move around and in-between the beds. After a quick shower and change we made our way to the Tropical Bar for pre-dinner champagne (it would be rude not too) and as past passengers, we all received a bottle of house champers in our cabin, a lovely touch.
A wonderful welcome dinner in the Clipper dining room was accompanied by three Thai ladies entertaining the crowd with traditional dancing, just in the background but a lovely addition. Six courses are available every night from the à la carte menu and the food is excellent quality with plenty of choice. Throughout the week there was always a ‘Thai special’, usually a curry; it was great to see the ship making the most of the local flavours!
Sail away on the first night is like a scene from a movie. Stood up on deck under the night sky, sipping another glass of cold champagne and watching the Captain and officers expertly echo the orders to the crew, as they start to pull on the ropes and the cream sails start to unfurl above us all. ‘Conquest of Paradise’ a classical piece of music by a composer called Vangelis, is played through the speakers and as the music fills the air, the sails rise above us and we set sail off into the calm waters of Thailand, using only the stars in the sky as our lights – a truly magical moment.
One member of our group was turning 50 the next day so we had to celebrate in style at midnight! Back in the Tropical Bar, more champagne was cracked open and we danced the night away to the resident musician, Charlie’s playlist, which had a surprising range of classics, right up to chart music from today, something for everyone! A quick midnight snack in the Piano Lounge and we were ready for bed, looking forward to our first port of call on the Northern route we were sailing.
Day 4 – Ko Surin
The Star Clipper dropped anchor off of Ko Surin National Park at midday. So after a leisurely breakfast on board and a scenic arrival watched from the decks, we took the tender across to the island to see what it had to offer. Peter the Cruise Director, had pointed out that this was one of the best spots on the itinerary for snorkelling and as this activity is complimentary on Star Clippers. Lots of guests hired their snorkel equipment for the week and eagerly ventured out on the ‘snorkel safari’. One of our group members did so and said it was incredible, many colourful fishes were spotted and as a pro snorkeler in South East Asia, she was not disappointed! The rest of us took the easy option and instead opted for a slow stroll on the beach.
After an ankle deep wet landing from the tender, we stepped on to the small isolated beach. Here we found a large campsite, which presumably was for backpackers and local schools, with some basic facilities including toilets and a small café, all available for us to use - such a convenience! We wandered around to a quieter beach through some woodland where we had some lovely views of the ship in the distance. Unfortunately for us, the weather wasn’t brilliant, so we didn’t get to see this island in the best light, and we were quite chilly so our stay there was short-lived before we took the tender back to the ship.
Day 5 – Ko Similan
The Similan islands are famous for their crystal glass waters and powdery white beaches. Fringed with palm trees and rocky backgrounds, this is a really popular spot for snorkelers and divers alike, attracting various tourist day trips from other islands. The small cove was busy today; another wet landing and we found a nice spot on the beach to set up our towels for a spot of sunbathing. After a morning of relaxation, we decided to take the steep trek up ‘snail rock’ a pedestrian route which was being taken by many other tourists, and although was a little ‘adventurous’ in places, it was well worth the climb – the views were outstanding! A great sense of achievement standing at the summit, posing for the ‘money shot’ and a real thrill to be looking down on one of the most spectacular stretches of white sand I’d ever seen.
After a few hours, we took the tender back to the ship, just in time for ‘snack time’, which is a small buffet selection served in the Tropical Bar. There is always one ‘hot option’ ranging from chicken wings to calamari and Taco’s to name but a few, alongside traditional sandwiches and biscuits for those after a more ‘afternoon tea’ style. Cocktail of the day was ‘Singapore Sling’ which, at 5 euros a glass, is the perfect way to wash down the afternoon treats. Charlie, the musician, plays background music whilst guests chat and exchange stories about the day so far, the atmosphere is light and relaxed, as always.
After a quick change, it was time to head to the dining room again for another wonderful dinner. If there’s ever an occasion where you don’t fancy anything on the menu, you are invited to request a steak or a pasta dish. Tonight I went for the pasta, which was spaghetti Pomodoro, which I asked for with extra chilli and was delicious. We had house wine with dinner every night which was lovely; the white was a choice of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc and the Red was a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. At just 16 euros a bottle, this is a very affordable choice for the evenings, although there is an extensive wine list available should you wish to push the boat out (pun intended!).
This evening’s entertainment is one of my favourites - ‘The Star Clipper Frog Race’! Teams begin to form on the decks and the wooden frogs are strung up with the rope, tied at one end of the bar to the other – using your hands on the rope, the objective is to make the frog leap across the decks to the other side, and the fastest team (rally style) wins the bottle of prosecco. The excitement and competitive streaks fill the air with many laughs had by all - a perfect example of our ‘light-hearted and low key entertainment’!
Day 6 – Langkawi
Today was my favourite port of call. Having visited Malaysia many years ago, I already had fond memories of the country. Friendly people, beautiful landscapes, a wealth of activities and the list goes on… I’d never been to Langkawi before so was excited to explore this new destination. Using the local maps provided by the ship that morning (very useful) we pinpointed a few areas we liked the look of for a visit. We approached a local taxi at the port and agreed on a price for the day and were on our way – really simple and reasonable way to do things.
Our first stop was the ‘Oriental Village’ a shopping centre positioned around a beautiful lake, with lanterns, small boats and other decorative items making the ‘oriental’ feel very real. Within the village was the ‘Langkawi Cable Car’, which we all decided we wanted to do. Instead of queuing for 2 hours, which we were advised was the length of time we would wait, we bought fast track tickets for an extra £10 and headed straight up to the top. The experience of going up was amazing, slightly scary and wonderful all at the same time. The view got increasingly better the higher we went (so high my ears popped!) and the lush greenery of the island, contrasted with the clear blue waters around the sandy coastline was my favourite sight of all. Once at the top, we walked across the sky bridge, suspended 1,700 m above sea level and framing a wonderful jungle below, a really breath-taking moment.
Lunch in the Oriental Village was easy, as there was a ‘food village’ with plenty of choice. We opted for pizzas and cokes – not very local, but tasty all the same, before carrying on with our journey. Now for a ‘beach stop’ at our request.
As we stepped down from the minivan, through the various market stalls and past the trees, I had to stand still. The beach laid out in front of me was paradise. Miles of talcy white sand, the lagoon-style sea as calm as bath water - so calm you couldn’t even hear the tiny waves lapping at the shore. Finding a spot right by the shoreline, we had an hour to soak up the surroundings, which we certainly made the most of. I went as far as checking out the name of the hotel I could see nearby, as this is definitely a beach I could return to and spend a fortnight on!
Back at the ship, we sipped on ice cold beers as we reminisced about the day we’d had. Langkawi is stunning and a real highlight of the itinerary for me.
Day 7 – Ko Rok Nok
We didn’t arrive into Ko Rok Nok until midday, so another leisurely morning on board was welcome, taking a sun lounger up on deck, reading a book in the Piano Lounge, or maybe, if you’re feeling brave, climbing the rigging up to the crow’s nest. There was plenty to do until we dropped anchor in our next port of call.
We had lunch before disembarking today, the Oriental lunch buffet is an array of delights from beef satay, noodles, freshly carved pork, salads and stir-fried vegetables - plenty of choice for everyone. It’s always hard to resist the desserts at lunchtime, so today I didn’t even try, the bread and butter pudding was divine.
An afternoon of snorkelling and kayaking was in order! Some of the group took kayaks and went across the bay to another island, where they found one park ranger and several small dragons! The photographs they took were incredible and eagerly shared with the rest of the group on their return – quite an adventure!
Day 8 – Ko Kraden
As real sun worshippers, we were keen to be on the first tender to the beach at 10 am and were glad we had done so. As we stepped onto the sandy shores, we were pleased to see an array of sun loungers stacked up, belonging to the Anantara hotel situated on the island. A staff member approached us and explained that as long as we ordered a drink from the hotel bar, we could use the sun loungers all day long. We happily ordered a round of mojitos whilst he set up our sunning stations for the day. After a few days of lying on beach towels on the sand, the comfort of the sun loungers was a real delight.
Today was beach BBQ day – this is always a highlight of the Star Clippers sailings. The crew of chefs, waiters and bar staff come across and set up an impressive area of salads, bread, freshly barbecued meats and fish and of course the famous deserts. I had a cheeseburger AND a hot dog, lots of fresh salad and an ice cold can of coke - charged back to my onboard account from the beach, which was very convenient! After lunch, we had until 1730 to enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful island of Ko Kraden - so we decided to hunt down another beach massage! Again, at the equivalent of just £10 for a one-hour full body Thai massage, we settled into the beach shacks. This was the perfect location for a relaxing treatment and an even more perfect way to spend the afternoon.
Tonight was ‘Captain’s Night’ which is a lovely occasion on board. Our dress code day and night is ‘casual elegance’ with no formal dress required, even on Captain’s Night, however, some guests enjoy getting a bit more glitzy for the event, which is, of course, welcomed. A menu of Chateaubriand or lobster tail is tantalising on the taste buds. We treated ourselves to a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc tonight, which didn’t disappoint, and the complimentary glass of bubbles was handed out prior to the Captain’s speech. Captain Sergey has a very warm way about him, approachable and kind. Having sailed with the company for many years, he really feels part of the family and works very hard to make every guest feel the same way. His genuine words were met with rounds of applause as we toasted good health and happy sailing!
The Talent Show on Star Clippers always falls on Captain’s Night and is a show made up of crew and passengers alike showing off their various talents. From a traditional Goan dance from the dining room waiters to a man serenading his wife for their wedding anniversary and a comedy sketch from the sports team - there was laughter, tears and eventually dancing, as everyone got involved and filled the dance floor into the night.
Day 9 – Phang Nga Bay/Ko Hong
This morning was very special. We were all given the opportunity to take a tender from the ship, and follow her whilst she proudly boasted under full sail – a magnificent site. Her four mast barquentine style is the most elegant tall ship of all, gracefully gliding the turquoise waters, expertly navigating her way through the famous Phang Nga Bay. I must have taken over a hundred photographs of the ship, it was hard to stop, at times finding it hard to believe the beauty that we were witnessing and desperate to catch every moment, although no picture does the experience justice, truly fantastic.
There was an excursion to ‘James Bond Island’ today, which a lot of the passengers took, but we decided to go to the beach that the ship’s tender took us too – Ko Hong. Two small bays connected together, our barman sat with his cool box full of drinks and more bath-like water to cool down in was the order of the day. The sports team were perched and ready for the off should anyone wish to take on any of the water-based activities today, snorkelling, kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding and paddle boarding are all available free of charge to our guests. Our last lazy day on the beaches of Thailand was today, so we soaked up every last moment of the gorgeous sunshine before taking a tender back to the ship for our last sail away.
It was a stunning sail away at dusk, the sky was the most intense red I’d seen, the soft classical tones swept around the deck and the cream sails dramatically unfurled for one last time...
Tonight we had to have our suitcases packed and outside our cabins so that the crew could collect them and take them off of the ship for us the next day. After ‘the last supper’ most retired early to finish the last of the packing and get a good night’s sleep, as a long day of travelling was ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 10 – Phuket/London
A copy of our bill was posted in our cabin once the bar closed on the final night and a simple signature and handed in at the checkout desk then enables us to disembark the ship. We were back at the Seaview Hotel by 10 am, where guests are welcome to spend the day until their transfer leaves for the airport. We weren’t due to fly until later that evening, so we had the full day ahead in Patong.
We headed on foot to the local street markets, where we haggled and purchased incense sticks, novelty pencils and elephant handbags. The hustle and bustle of this area is very strong, a lively town centre with lots to see and do. We walked into the main town past many bars and clubs and imagined how lively it must be at night time with the bright lights!
After a quick lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant, we headed back to the hotel in a tuk-tuk and spent the last few hours lazing by the pool, with towels and sunbeds provided to all Star Clippers guests. Use of the hotel facilities was complimentary and very handy. After one final ‘Chang’ at the bar, we showered and headed back to Phuket airport for our long journey home.
Lots of passengers were staying on for week 2 (Southern route) which is a great way to see even more of Thailand and Malaysia, and well worth thinking about once taking the long trip over there, to extend your stay further!