Cruising Guide: East of Phuket
In the waters between Phuket and Krabi

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The area (click for a blow up)
(Click on any photo or map for a blow up)

This is really not a cruising guide, but I think it is a funny title. Rather this report covers a two week-cruise in the waters between Phuket and Krabi and provides a suggested itinerary for anybody who is thinking about doing the same. The recommended real cruising guides to the area are mentioned at the end of this report.

The total distance is maximum 150-200 nm depending on the route chosen. The trip can be done in 7 days, but 10-14 would be ideal. You can cruise these waters any time of the year, but it would be best during the NE monsoon (December to April). During the SW monsoon it is also possible to find shelter for anchoring, but the options are more limited around Krabi and Koh Racha Yai.

Our latest cruise on this route took place around New Year and early January 2012. Aboard we had our son Jens.

Heading north from Koh Rang Yai towards James Bond Island on a cloudy morning - soon it cleared and the sun was shining.
The large island ahead is 400m high. Looking closely you can detect a mast of a sailboat about mid-island.
Here is a photo of the same area, taken on a previous trip.
Below, we are approaching our anchorage near the narrow pinnacle left of centre. From there we visited James Bond Island by dinghy.

The route is best sailed clockwise (at least during the NE monsoon), but expect a lot of motoring. There are 3 marinas on the east coast of Phuket, that provide starting points. Or you could begin the cruise in Ao Chalong, the main small boat anchorage of the area (see map above). Of the marinas, Yacht Haven is close to the airport, but Boat Lagoon has the best services and is closer to Phuket Town and the beaches on the SW coast. However, there is access to BL only during high tide, while there are now tidal restrictions for the other two marinas.

Koh Rang Yai is an attractive island just outside of the entrance channel to Boat Lagoon. This is a nice and convenient place to anchor and wait for high tide if one plans to enter the marina or it could also be your first anchorage, if departing from Boat Lagoon late in the day. There is a nice beach, a restaurant and a shop where one can buy pearls cultivated in the bay. See our April 2011 blog post of this location HERE.

The famous pinnacle at James Bond Island
Mandatory photo of Bond, Jens Bond
During our visit to James Bond Island
we anchored at the foot of this pinnacle
at Koh Yang

Phang Nga Bay with its spectacular limestone islands must be one of the geographical wonders of the world. Our first report from this area was posted two years ago: HERE.

The area is plagued during the days by thousands of tourists arriving in speedboats and longtails, but cruisers have the advantage of the quiet mornings and evenings, when one is practically alone. If you visit James Bond Island, the Sea Gypsy village or the caves (hongs) before 10AM or after 4PM you will have them for yourself.

Leaving Phang Nga Bay - Krabi next
The pinnacle we anchored at is on the horizon
We had a name for this formation near
Rai Lei Beach in Ao Nang Bay ..
.. and this rock on Koh Dam Khwan
is called Chicken Head

Phang Nga bay is protected from the ocean swell and one can find anchorages almost anywhere in depths between 5-10 metres on the leward side (east or west depending on the prevailing monsoon) of many of the rocky islands. The holding is usually excellent in mud and a pressurised deck wash hose for cleaning the chain will be appreciated. The water is not clear here because of a combination of the muddy bottom, the estuaries and the tidal movement. Serious swimming will have to be postponed until the Krabi area.

On the way to or from James Bond Island I recommend a stop at Koh Hong (not to be confused with another island by the same name mentioned later) if you can time it to avoid the tourists. Here you can take the dinghy into the beautiful hong with its enclosed pool and large chimney opening.

Panorama of Koh Dam Hok from NE. Looking closely (click on it) you can see people on the beach and understand the size of the boulder to the right.
The panorama below shows a closer look of the sand spit to the left (clicking on it gets you even closer).

The trip from James Bond Island to the Krabi area can be done in one day or you can stop for instance at Koh Roi, Koh Pak Bia and/or Koh Hong (not the one in Phang Nga Bay mentioned earlier).

Anchoring in the wide Ao Nang bay is normally possible only during the NE monsoon. Other times of the year you need to find protection from the swell behind islands in the Koh Dam group, just a mile or two to the southeast. (The two panoramas above are from those islands.)

Being anchored at the eastern end of Ao Nang (Laem Nang area) will drive you crazy because of the heavy traffic of local longtails (without silencers) transporting tourists to and from the easternmost beaches (which have no road access). It is better to favour the west side closer to Koh Sam. Restaurants, hotels and shops are all along the main beach at Ao Nang. It is 20 km by car from Krabi.

Phuket's Boat Lagoon Marina recently opened a sister facility at downtown Krabi, called Krabi Boat Lagoon. We have not visited this marina and do not know how to approach it trough the shallow waters in that area.

Phi Phi Don postcard, looking from the "eastern island" along the connecting isthmus.
The Yongkasem anchorage is at the little bay to the right on the other side.
Phi Phi Lei can be seen in the background to the left.

The Phi Phi Islands are our next destination, less than 20 nm down wind (in the NE monsoon) from the Krabi area. Phi Phi Don is the main island, geologically two islands connected by a sand spit. Ton Sai Bay is the main (and well sheltered) harbour, but it is completely congested by anchored and moored boats and ferries constantly coming and going. We suggest staying at Yongkasem, a bay on the north side of the westernmost of the islands. However, depths are in excess of 15 metres, but if you are lucky you may be able to pick up a mooring.

Phi Phi Don was particularly badly hit by the 2004 tsunami.

Approaching Phi Phi Lei
Maya Beach on a postcard

The spectacular Maya Bay at Phi Phi Lei island was the location for the film "The Beach", starring Leonardo di Caprio. We prefer not to stay over night in Maya Bay, although anchoring is possible and there are also moorings. The huge number of day trippers makes this bay also very crowded and noisy during the day-light hours. But it is worth driving in there for some snap shots on the way from Phi Phi Don to Koh Racha Yai.

This panorama is from the mouth of Maya Bay (oposite view of the postcard a couple of paragraphs earlier.

23 nm to the SW from Phi Phi, and only about 12 nm south of Phuket Island, lies Koh Racha Yai, where you will find the clearest waters around this area. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos suitable for this report, so I have to borrow the two ones below, with all credits to the indicated web sites. The bay provides excellent shelter during the NE monsoon only, but anchorage can reportedly be found on the east side of the island during the SW monsoon.

The NW bay of Racha Yai
Source: (see review below)
The beach at Racha Yai

From Koh Racha Yai it is a short easy sail to our favourite beach anchorage, at Nai Harn Bay. This bay sometimes suffers from ground swell, which can make dinghy landing difficult. When this happens it is better to take the dinghy either to the small beach on the north side of the bay or to another small beach on the south side, at the foot of Promthep Cape.

Nai Harn is a favourite place for cruisers over Christmas and New Year.

Between 2009-2012 we spent three New Year's Eves here in a row. This photo at Promthep Cape with Nai Harn in the background is from 2009 when we counted more than 80 yachts at anchor.

Like Phi Phi Don, Nai Harn was badly hit by the 2004 tsunami.

Ao Chalong (Chalong Bay) viewed from the Great Buddha monument on the hill above.

Chalong Bay is the main small boat anchorage in Phuket, concentrated around and outside the long pier seen in the photo. This is also usually the first stop for transient cruiser as it is the location of customs and immigration. Shelter is adequate in both seasons. However, there are an awful lot of moorings and anchored boats. Also, in the NE monsoon, the water often gets quite choppy in the afternoon breeze making for a wet dinghy ride from shore. We prefer, after shopping groceries in Chalong village, to move over to the east shore (opposite) and anchor at Panwa Bali in front of the beach in the centre of the photo.

If you are returning to one of the marinas on Phuket's east coast it is a good idea to try to take advantage of a rising tide, which will make a big difference with respect to the duration of the trip.

This satellite view illustrates well why the waters in Phang Nga Bay are murky.

I take the opportunity also to remind you of a covenient anchorage in the south facing bay of Koh Yao Yai in the centre. It is centrally located halfway between Phuket and Krabi and almost equal distance from all the other anchorages in the south. This anchorage is also close to many great dive and snorkelling locations.

(Don't forget to click on the map).

Those who need to stay connected all the time will like to know that we had internet connection at all our anchorages except Koh Roi and Koh Pak Bia using a local pre-paid SIM card (AIS).

Other reports relating to this article:

- Cruising from Langkawi to Phuket (report #60)
- Tsunami Again? (Blog post: December 26, 2009)
- A Visit to James Bond Island (Blog post: January 13, 2010)
- (Our first) Cruise in Phang Nga Bay (report #61)
- Scorpio Goes Tourist - Views from Phulet and Langkawi (report #62)

We recommend picking up a copy of the Andaman Sea Pilot (sometimes perhaps titled Sail Thailand and recently The Southeast Asia Pilot) and taking a look at their electronic version HERE. These are very useful guides, but they lack planning charts of the areas and sometimes it is difficult to figure out how the islands are located in relation to each other.

Hope this helps, and have fun.