Sand, Sea, Sun and Salt Air ~ Sailing around Koh Phangan, Thailand

Red flowering hibiscus and other plants against a low fence, sail boats and catamarans on a turquoise sea behind.

Boats off Bang Rak Beach, Mermaid Resort, Koh Samui

White coral sands, emerald green seas, copious sunshine and fresh, briny salt air: truly a perfect three days. A little more wind would have been nice, especially as we were trying to sail, but really – you can’t have everything!

Whenever we are on one of Thailand’s many islands, we try to spend some time on the water: whether that be a romantic sunset cruise, a busy island- and beach-hopping trip on a speedboat, a slow snorkelling trip on one of the fishing boats outfitted for tourists, a kayak paddle through limestone caves, or a quiet sail around one of the many bays. On our most recent trip to Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand, we decided to practice our nascent sailing skills, and chartered a small (26′ Mac Gregor) sailboat and skipper for three days.

Our experiences of boats and skippers in Thailand have been patchy: we’ve sailed with some excellent and knowledgeable people, young and older, from around the world. But we’ve also had trips where the dinghy has been lost, the motor has refused to work, the water has run out and the food has spoilt. We’ve slept aboard in stiflingly hot berths over noisy motors or under dripping hatches where we fight off mosquitos. So, I was really pleased when I found out that Armin Kundke (Kunta), the owner-operator of Samui Ocean Sports & Yacht Charter, rather than one of his staff, was to be our sailing and island guide. I’ve no doubt that the staff are excellent, but it’s always better to deal with the boss!

The Samui archipelago must be one of the safest, most pleasant places to sail: the surrounding Gulf ensures that the waves virtually never exceed ten feet in height, the waters are warm enough for swimming and clear enough that you can easily see the coral reefs and other underwater obstacles, and a safe, secluded shelter is never far away. Ideal for us. And the dearth of wind just meant more time for me to take pictures.

Two men at the helm of a small sailboat.

Skipper Kunta keeps a watchful eye as the helmsman steers a course.

A red dinghy dragging behind a boat on turquoise waters. Mountains in the distance.

With our dinghy firmly in tow, we leave the Big Buddha and Koh Samui behind us.

A rocky, tropical coast viewed from behind a black-edged mainsail.

After only two hours on the water, the coast of Koh Phangan is within reach.

Even with low winds, we reached our first coral reef and snorkel-spot off Haad Rin Nok in less than two hours. After a splash around in the water, we climbed back aboard our boat, the Viva 2, for the short cruise around the next point before anchoring at our lunch destination.

Low-lying limestone rocks in emerald waters.

The waters of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan are quiet, giving a feeling of peace.

A tattered Thai flag on the sail shrouds of a sailboat, rocky tropical coast behind.

Our tattered flag waves as we leave Laem Ta To (Koh Phangan) behind.

Rickety wooden steps leading up to a grass hut, Haad Yuan, Thailand

One of Thailand's most iconic spots: the wooden walkway on Haad Yuan, Koh Phangan.

A round bamboo hut, emerald waters and rocks and forest. Haad Yuan

Thai food is always fresh and tasty; at the Bamboo Hut, Haad Yuan, it is served up with a peerless view.

Portrait: Thai man with long hair and a green headscarf.

The locals are pretty chilled-out; the living is easy on Haad Yuan.

Plastic chairs and colourful beach umbrellas on white tropical sands.

Visitors lounge on beach chairs on a postcard-perfect beach. Haad Yuan, Koh Phangan.

Blue water, white rocks - looking like and elephant in the water - and green palm trees.

The rocks take on beautiful shapes: I thought this looked like an elephant bathing.

Palms and their shadows on white sands.

Long afternoon shadows on the sands of Haad Yao.

Long shadows of palm trees over white sands and into blue-green tropical water.

Almost deserted ~ Haad Yao in the afternoon.

Footprints in rough coral sand, Haad Yao

Walk with me... Haad Yao

Twin master wooden schooner on blue waters

The beautiful lines and finish of the Naga make us feel very rough and small by comparison!

Rocks and a small island with two palms on the horizon

Low afternoon light falls on the rocky islands of the east coast of Koh Phangan.

A backpacker haven, Koh Phangan attracts a lot of budget travellers who come in from the mainland on the regular ferry runs. It featured in the 1996 novel “The Beach” (although the movie of the same name was filmed on Koh Phi Phi, quite some distance away) and is probably best known for its riotous all-night Full Moon parties which draw young Westerners to the island in over-crowded boat-loads.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to see quiet beach after quiet beach on the less-populated east coast as we sailed north, and to find charming little resorts nestled into the hillsides. For the most part, big-money developments haven’t made it here yet, and the parts of the island we saw retain the beach-castaway feel – but with the modern comforts of hot water, air conditioning, and wifi.

At Haad Than Sadet, where we stayed overnight in modest bungalows, we had the added bonus of a superb breakfast – an absolute treat in Thailand where “American Breakfast” is the one meal that small “resorts” generally ruin – before setting sail and motor again for points north.

Small swallow on a sailboat shroud.

A tiny swallow catches a lift in our shrouds as we head north.

Broken concrete on a beach, wooden fishing boats in shallow waters.

Low-lying waters between Haad Mae Haad and Koh Ma.

Thai man in a wooden fishing boat, working on his floats.

Cleaning the Floats

Rusty anchor on sand in shallow green water.

Anchored in Mae Haad Bay

Portrait: Thai man in a wooden fishing boat, cleaning floats.

I had a long chat with Chai, a local who has fished these waters for 20+ years. He introduced me to WindGURU, an internet site designed for wind- and kite-surfers, etc. to predict weather conditions.

Portrait: Southern Thai baby - sleeping

Little treasure: nestled in on the corner of a beach massage table is the owner's grand daughter.

Large Thai wooden fishing boat, mountains behind.

As we head back to Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai for the night, heavily laden fishing boats head out.

Low sun on the back canopy of a sailboat, silhouette of a dinghy on the water behind.

The winds die and the sun lowers, so we chug back to harbour.

On our third morning, after another excellent breakfast at the Dolphin Bungalows, we set off south for a short walk and jungle swim in COLD water before returning to Koh Samui.

Low muddy waters pooling in a jungle falls.

A favourite location for generations of Thai Kings, the waterfalls of Than Sadet are a perfect place to cool off.

Jungle waterfalls and pools.

A white dog joins us on our visit to the upper falls.

White plastic chairs on a beach, bungalows on a rain-forest hill behind.

The beach chairs of Haad Than Sadet sit empty.

Ropes tied on the mast of a mainsail.


Close-up: Tatters of a red white and blue flag and green telltales against a sail.

Almost abstract: Tatters and Tails

Two men on a small sailboat.

Riding home.

Close-up: Shackles and ropes on a sail boom

Shackles and Bits

Close-up: sand anchor on the prow of a sailboat.

Samui in sight.

Text: Safe Sailing

What a perfect place!

We’ll be back one day ~ hopefully with a bit more wind.

  • Signe Westerberg - May 4, 2012 - 12:04 am

    WOW…Magic and how Beautiful. I can only imagine living in such an idyllic location, those houses above Haad Than Sadet are amazing and to think of that view on your doorstep every day is what dreams are made of, a boat to sail the local waters can’t imagine anything more.ReplyCancel

  • kunta - May 6, 2012 - 1:21 pm

    Dear Ursula and Gabe,
    thank you so much for the good reviews, really apreciate and had a great time with you on this cruise! Super nice Blog you made there with wonderful pictures! hope you come sailing soon again, there is a lot more out there to explore!
    all the best

    • Ursula - May 6, 2012 - 4:38 pm

      [with an Austrian accent] Ve’ll be BACK! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Dietmut - May 7, 2012 - 6:34 pm

    In Holland it’s still cold. a little bit warm I get it from your nice story and images. Greetings DietmutReplyCancel

    • Ursula - May 8, 2012 - 4:33 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Dietmut. I’d love to get to Holland for the spring flowers one year! Enjoy. 🙂ReplyCancel

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