Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009 - Ao Chalong, Phuket Province, Thailand

The most remarkable thing happened on the way from Phi Phi Don to Phuket - we sailed! For the first time in days we were able to turn the motor off and sail. For several hours there was no sound but that of the hull cutting through the water. There wasn't a longtail in sight (or earshot). It was so peaceful that we hesitated to turn the engine on, even as our boatspeed fell into the low threes as we approached Chalong Bay.

We arrived at Ao Chalong on Monday afternoon with enough time to shower and get to the Immigration office before they closed for the day at 3pm (nice hours). It was only after the Customs officer handed me a bill for 600 Baht (approx $18) and wished me a happy something or other that I discovered that our gambit to arrive on Monday (rather than a weekend) and avoid overtime fees had failed miserably.

After clearing in, we found a taxi and hightailed it into Phuket Town to start the process of getting our India visas for our upcoming trip to the Andaman Islands. The travel agency was technically closed for the holiday, but the woman inside watching television had failed to lock the door, so we pushed our way in to find out what items we should have in hand when we returned the next day.

Applying for an Indian visa in Thailand involves the following: (a) two 2 inch passport photos with a blue background per applicant, (b) a completed application in black pen, (c) a travel itinerary with vessel and crew details, and (d) 4700 Baht per applicant. We decided not to pay extra to get the special Andaman Islands endorsement on our visa, as that would automatically limit our time in the Andamans to 15 days. For the last few years, yachties arriving in Port Blair, India with a tourist visa with no special endorsements have been given a 30 day permit to visit the Andamans. We couldn't figure out why we should pay extra to limit our time in the Andamans to 15 days.

The next morning we returned to Emotion Travel with all the required documentation and applied for standard six month tourist visas, which we hope the authorities in Port Blair will continue to accept. The travel agent told us that it will take 10 working days to receive our visas. Already burned once by an unexpected public Thai holiday, Sten asked how many more holidays there were in the next few weeks.

The rest of Tuesday was spent visiting hardware stores and chandleries (because you can never have too many spare parts - Sten's personal mantra) and checking out one of the local supermarkets. After doing the bulk of our Indian Ocean provisioning in Singapore (specialty items like bottled lime juice, whole wheat flour, decent crackers, walnuts, pecans and tahini paste), Penang (almost everything else, specifically cheese, dry goods, sauces, condiments, canned and frozen veggies and junk food) and Langkawi (frozen meat, booze and chocolate), we're in really good shape. All we have to do in Thailand is buy Indian curry pastes, popcorn, fresh fruit and veggies, juice and UHT milk (which is proving to be more difficult than expected). So how is it that we managed to fill a whole shopping cart at Big C? Other than popcorn (4lbs of kernels!), we didn't buy anything on my list. But we couldn't pass up a bunch of sauces that we just had to have after using them in our Thai cooking class and some more junk food for satisfying those night watch munchies. You know you've crossed some sort of line from regular grocery shopping to provisioning when the guys in line in front of you take one look at your cart and ask if you are opening a store.

On Wednesday morning we brought in our disintegrating sailcover to a local canvas shop. Then we scouted around for a new faucet for the galley sink (the current one is leaking) and a bronze ball valve to replace the one that is jammed in the forward head (stainless and brass is no problem, but bronze is proving to be more illusive). After a lunch of shabu shabu, we checked out the Tesco Lotus supermarket just down the road from the anchorage and updated the blog. Along the way I found some cheap plastic bins to line the v-berth with so that we can carry lots of extra fresh veggies with us to Chagos. We stuck pretty close to the harbor as we had late afternoon dentist appointments, but Sten did manage to find a place to get an absolutely terrible haircut. Luckily our dentist was more skillful than his barber. Continuing our survey of the cost of dental care around the world, I can now report that each of our checkups and cleanings cost about $18 (the same as the overtime fee for clearing into the country on a holiday).

Today we headed back to Phuket Town to pick up some spare refrigeration compressor belts that Sten ordered on Tuesday. It was unbearably hot today, so we ducked into Kopi Phuket for some iced coffee and iced tea to cool ourselves down. Then we headed over to yet another grocery store - Tops Market at the Robinson department store. Some other cruisers had raved about the place. And they did have a very nice selection of goods, including large boxes of UHT milk and Carr's water crackers. But so far, of the local market options. I've been most impressed with Big C.

We've taken all manner of transport to get back and forth from Ao Chalong to Phuket Town: taxi, bus, and tuk tuk (a small truck with benches in the back). The tuk tuk guys keep trying to get us to stop at a shop along the way. We understand that in exchange for us browsing and possibly buying something, they will receive gas coupons or some other compensation from the store owner. But with items destined for the fridge quickly coming to air temperature in our grocery bags, we would rather pay a little extra to just get back to the boat. There is one mode of transport we haven't been willing to try. Since we don't have health insurance, we won't risk catching a ride from one of the many scooter taxis that ply their trade at every major intersection.

This afternoon we picked up a new galley faucet at the newly opened Home Pro, just past the Ao Chalong circle on the road to Wat Chalong. Next door to Home Pro is a brand new grocery store, which should be open by the time we return to Ao Chalong to clear out of Thailand. Then we dodged traffic to reach the brand new Chalong branch of Chokpaiboon Bearings. This chain of marine hardware stores has branches in Phuket Town and Boat Lagoon, which is great for the boats that are hauled out or doing major work in the marina there. But for boats just passing through Thailand, there hasn't been a good chandlery close to the bay we all have to visit to clear in and out of the country. Chokpaiboon's new Chalong branch rectifies this problem. The store isn't fully operational yet, but they were happy to "interoffice" the bronze ball valve we needed from the Boat Lagoon branch. We were tickled to be their first customers. After picking up our ball valve, we headed down the road to Palm Sails to pick up our repaired sailcover and sailbag. Loaded down with enough bits and pieces to keep Sten in full project mode while we spend the next two weeks cruising Phang-Nga Bay, we headed back to the boat.

We haven't seen much of the island yet, but so far my favorite thing about Phuket is the big white Buddha smiling down on us from a hill above Ao Chalong.

3 comments:

mikkiel said...

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mikkiel said...

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Hamster said...

Try this thai cooking site. You'll like it.
www.thaifoodtonight.com
It's got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along.