Alison's Experiences in Thailand and Malaysia - Part One
18th January 2018
Thailand has been my go-to holiday destination every year for the last 20 plus years, but I’ve always opted for a hotel-stay of some description. This, however, was a trip with a difference - my first experience on one of our smaller yachts, the Star Clipper.
In December 2017, I was lucky enough to take a small group of travel agents away with me on a work trip. Upon arrival at Birmingham Airport, we were told at check-in that we’d all been upgraded to Business Class on Turkish Airlines – what a way to start a trip! This gave us access to the lounge at Birmingham Airport and also the incredible lounge at Istanbul Airport, which is simply huge! You can enjoy every kind of drink and snack imaginable and there is also a wide range of entertainment areas for the kids.
Business Class was an absolute treat, we had the large reclining seats from Birmingham to Istanbul followed by a flatbed from Istanbul to Bangkok and we even had our own chef on board. The food was amazing, the service was good and we all arrived reasonably well rested.
We had a quick overnight stop in Bangkok, where we decided to get into a couple of taxis for a drive around. Taxis are generally cheap but beware, the traffic is dreadful at all hours of the day, so if you’re anywhere near the sky train it is suggested to plump for that option instead. We were staying at the Anantara, which is a little way out of the main tourist areas but very easy to get around. There are many temples to visit, but a ride along the river or a crazy journey in a tuk-tuk is an absolute must, as they both offer a cheap and fun way of getting around.
Our first meal together in Bangkok was at a very famous restaurant, Cabbages & Condoms, they serve good, well-priced food in a lovely courtyard setting. The restaurant has been going for years and makes it into many guidebooks for its unusual statues and artwork which are – you guessed it - all made out of condoms… But there is nothing seedy about it. Patpong, on the other hand, is very colourful, with streets that are lined with late-night market stalls ready to embrace bargain hunters as well as a number of bars to sit in and people watch. Bangkok is very safe and a really fun city – it is certainly worth a couple of nights here.
The next morning we were up early for our Air Asia flight down to Phuket. It was going to make such a change to see the beautiful Thai and Malaysian coastlines from a sailing ship rather than doing a land-based holiday and doing the odd boat trip.
As we travelled down into Patong Bay in our taxi, we caught our first glimpse of our home for the next week. The excitement started to build. Star Clipper - one of our smaller four-masted yachts – was looking majestic on the horizon.
Check-in was incredibly easy at the Seaview Hotel in Patong. We left our bags, checked ourselves in and went to explore Patong. About a 10-minute walk is all that is required before you arrive at the centre of Patong, where you will discover a crazy district full of shops, bars, restaurants and everything you could possibly want. Alternatively, you can just chill at the hotel and they’ll provide you with towels, or you can go and have your first massage of the trip – a real must when you’re in Thailand!
We boarded the ship at around 4pm and were met by the smiling staff who greeted us with a wonderful cocktail. After a wander around and a spot of unpacking, we were back up on deck for the all-important lifeboat drill. By this time, we’d worked up quite an appetite so it was time for a welcome drink in the bar together and it was great to see Alberto - the head bartender who I had previously met on Royal Clipper. That’s just one of the many great things about sailing on a smaller ship - you get to see familiar faces and make new friends very easily.
After a glass of prosecco each (only £3.50), we headed down for our first feast, all served by friendly smiling waiters in the main dining room that seats all passengers. There was a wide choice on offer, with meat, fish, vegetarian options, and - if nothing suited - there was always steak and chips, and a pasta dish on offer each night. Tonight, I went for the mushroom soup followed by the salmon, which was cooked in a lemon butter sauce – delicious! One of the highlights for me each night was the beautiful homemade bread and speciality butter served with it – definitely not to be missed!
Sail away tonight was at 10pm, so we headed up on deck for our first sight of Star Clipper being all lit up. As the haunting music of Vangelis, Conquest of Paradise, filled the air, the sails were raised for the first time. It’s a truly magical experience watching all of the sails go up and every time you see something slightly different. We were then entertained by Jerby, who was truly talented on the piano and electric keyboard and had everyone up dancing in the Tropical Bar until the early hours. By this time, new friends and memories had been made.
Two of the most amazing things about embarking on a cruise is only having to unpack once and being able to wake up somewhere new every day. Our first breakfast was a delight, there was plenty on offer – cereals, breads, pastries, bacon, sausage, eggs and a fresh omelette station. Captain Sergey welcomed us all on board the following morning after breakfast and introduced us all to the crew that was there to look after us for the week. We could see the beautiful scenery passing by on either side as we headed to our first port of call, Ko Butang.
Ko Butang was quite a small beach, but perfect to try out some water sports. For those that were interested in diving, we had a ‘Dive Master’ on board, who took people out and provided necessary training. For those of us that preferred to be on top of the water, there was kayaking, water skiing, wakeboarding, sailing and snorkelling on offer and complimentary for all guests. There was a local Thai guy selling drinks on the beach, so we didn’t need to worry about keeping refreshed.
After a chilled afternoon, we headed back in time for afternoon tea and what a treat this was! Some days we had sandwiches, other days we had hot snacks, both of which would be served with lots of homemade biscuits or cakes and fresh fruit. We would then wash it all down with a nice cup of tea (tea and coffee are available every day free of charge).
Tonight’s entertainment was the fashion show. While there isn’t a shopping mall on board, all of the three ships have their own ‘Sloop Shop’ selling Star Clippers tastefully branded goods. These range from shorts to dresses and jackets to hats – with something for everyone and these were all modelled by the staff for us all to see. Afterwards, it was disco time with Jerby who, once again, had everyone up dancing. For those that wanted a quieter evening, there is always the Piano Bar or the Library - two nice areas of the ship where you can enjoy a quieter atmosphere or play board games.
A lot of us also chose to sit up on deck in the evening under the sails and watch the stars. It’s so dark on the sea at night, which makes it a perfect place for star-gazing.
Our next port of call was Penang in Malaysia - not the prettiest of ports, but there are lots of excursions available including the Penang Grand Island Tour, Jungle Trekking, a Malay Cooking Class, and the Orangutan Island trip. We chose the Orangutan trip which took us to Bukit Merah - home to about 25 Orangutans. Here, the orphans are nurtured and rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. These lovely intelligent creatures can be seen swinging from the trees and being fed on their feeding platforms.
Once back on board, we had the chance to play some deck golf. For those brave souls, there was also a wonderful opportunity to climb the mast up to the crow’s nest. This is a must for anyone that has a good head for heights and a truly one-off experience. Another evening sail away was followed by a fabulous evening meal, where I had a beautiful pork dish. Dinner was followed by a talk from Captain Sergey about his adventures navigating these beautiful tall ships through foreign waters.
CONTINUE TO PART 2