‘Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines, Sail from safe harbour and catch the wind in your sails… Explore, Dream and Discover’ - Mark Twain, Great American Writer
Phuket - Ko Surin - Ko Similan - Ko Rok Nok - Langkawi - Ko Kradan - Ao Phang Nga - Ko Hoong – Phuket
Over the years we have sold a number of Star Clippers sailings to our customers…often combining them with luxurious hotel stays and even train journeys on the Eastern Oriental Express.
Each time we made a booking you could sense the calm excitement in the customer when confirming their booking and later on our ‘return from holiday’ contact to see how their holiday went, we always received favourable and fervid comment about the time they had spent on board, the destinations they had visited, the fellow passengers they met and above all the enriching and relaxing time they had experienced.
So that was it…It was something that we both had to do. We had cruised many times before on ships of all sizes…but never a ship (we have since learned to call it ‘boat’ – Thank You Captain Yuri) this small…Never with so few passengers on board…Not with sails before…What on earth would it be like?...Could we adapt…would we regret it as soon as we boarded – Well let’s find out…
Having looked at the itinerary it all seemed just about right. Seven nights on board ‘Star Clipper’, their smallest boat in the fleet alongside her twin ‘Star Flyer’. 360ft long and 50ft wide…a tonnage of 2298 and a crew of 74 to look after 170 passengers. Four masts with 16 sails with a sail coverage area of 36,000 square feet. See I had done my research but sadly when we had the on board quiz I wasn’t quite quick enough to run and ring the ships bell to answer the question…Too many cocktails and nibbles I think plus the disadvantage of a rather excited gentleman from Switzerland who was their equivalent of Mo Farah !
Travelling all the way to Phuket did seem a fair way to travel for just the seven nights so we booked a few nights at a rather nice hotel up on Bang Toa Bay…The Dusit Thani Laguna… About an hour’s drive to Patong Bay where the boat is anchored for these sailings.
*Dusit Thani Laguna Hotel, Phuket
We were aware that we could check-in for the sailing at The Seaview Hotel at the very end of Patong Bay between midday and 4pm with transfers to the boat by tender commencing at 4pm.
Star Clippers do provide a courtesy room and the check-in area is in the basement lobby of the hotel. Enough there really with tables and chairs, toilet facilities and refreshments. Very helpful staff from the boat meet you there and go through the check-in procedure with you.
I must admit it can be a bit of a wait so do consider perhaps using the hotel pool facility or if you have not booked accommodation through Star Clippers consider perhaps one night at this hotel beforehand then you can have a relaxing check-out and consequent check-in for the sailing.
We did go out into Patong centre for a walk around but it is a very busy place, extremely hot and humid and albeit the beach is quite nice the resort is a little ‘in your face’ so we decided to find a couple of nice bars and cafes and have some lunch.
Before we knew it we were back at the Seaview Hotel and the exciting announcement came out ‘Ladies and Gentleman …You can now board the Star Clipper’
Our luggage had already safely been taken care of so we walked a hundred or so meters to the jetty and walked down to the tender where we were met by the smiling friendly faces of the Star Clippers crew.
Our passes were checked and we boarded the tender and we made our way across the Bay to the boat. By now the excitement inside of me was like that ten year old child I used to be!!
We boarded the Star Clipper from the tender having been shown the safety grip that they favoured guests to use when transferring from one vessel to another and soon we were on board and were being welcomed with a nice refreshing cocktail.
Within minutes we were guided into the Library where we checked-in again and gave over our passports and were given our cabin keys (two of them one each and yes proper keys). Be careful not to lose your cabin key as if you do there is a 50 Euro cost…and rightfully so.
We had been allocated cabin 311 – situated on Clipper Deck and of Category 3 status. This cabin had a porthole, a double bed and a well-equipped but compact bathroom. We did not expect our usual sprawling cabin like we have experienced on the larger ocean going vessels…we knew it would be smaller as after all… in my opinion Star Clipper is more like a private yacht than a ship.
There was ample storage space in the cabin…the bed was up against the side of the ship so whoever sleeps on the left has to climb over but no real problem. There was a TV in the cabin (we never felt the need to use it) and a nice comfortable bed. It was serviced each morning and there was a bed ‘turn down’ with chocolates each evening. As mentioned the bathroom was small but the shower large enough, with ample storage and toiletries were constantly re-stocked. The air conditioning was not the strongest but we never had an uncomfortable night’s sleep because of it.
On an aside I think it is a good thing to have a smaller cabin – it makes you spend more time around the ship relaxing and talking to fellow passengers and making new friends. On day of boarding we had our safety at sea drill followed by another one later that evening…followed by a lovely dinner.
Breakfast – They have an ‘Early Riser’ Breakfast in the Piano Bar consisting of fruits and pastries and juices (24hr coffee machine also in the Piano Bar). They also have Buffet Breakfast in the main dining room with waiter service for tea and coffee. Excellent choices from meats and cheeses…to hot dishes, eggs, bacon, sausage etc….even an omelette station…the list could go on…fresh fruits…pancakes and maple syrup…muffins….jams and pastries…..in fact the list has gone on…
Lunch – Buffet service in the main dining room with a good selection of hot and cold dishes. Once on the sailing we had a BBQ lunch on the beach…very salubrious indeed.
Dinner – Table Service in the main dining room. The ship was half full so not crowded and you could choose because of this to either sit at a table for two or join other guests on a larger table. Dinner consisted of a good choice of starters – Soups – Salads – Sorbets – Main course and dessert.
We found the drinks on board to be extremely well priced….at dinner a bottle of house wine from 16 Euros and beers from 3 Euros with cocktails averaging just under 6 euros…excellent value and good measures.
Just before midnight they would bring a snack up to the Piano Bar and this would consist of a pasta dish…or some cheeses or some freshly made spring rolls with dipping source – more than enough plus each day at 5pm they would bring out snacks of sandwiches, salads, cakes and biscuits onto the Tropical Bar outdoors…..so in essence it is very hard to go hungry on Star Clippers!!
After dinner we made our way up to the main deck with the rest of the passengers and crew as we were about to leave Patong Bay. The lights on the ship were lit….suddenly the sails began to rise and bellow and to the mystical sounds of Vangelis’ ‘Conquest of Paradise’ we silently glided out of the Bay and headed towards our first destination. It was truly a magical moment that we had heard about…thought about…and now we were there experiencing it – truly amazing…
(I won’t put any pictures of this on here as I think it is something you need to see and experience for yourselves…).
After an introduction to the Star Clippers crew via the Cruise Director Monica (from Brazil) and Captain Yuri we learned a bit about the ship itself and how it sailed the seas – very interesting. A bit of light lunch and then we began to arrive at our first destination – Ko Surin.
Ko Surin is a national park comprising five islands approximately 40 miles from shore. Today was a relaxing ‘beach day’ and so the adventure began. After breakfast we decided to head to the beaches…so we climbed down the boats gangway and boarded the tender and set off where we were met by one of the ship’s crew Otto driving the Zodiac (dinghy speedboat). We had to step from the tender onto the Zodiac and balance ourselves on the side of the boat whilst he drove us to the shore.
On arrival we did our ‘wet landing’….I managed to simply slide around and step down into the water…Ann decided to have a different plan of action to which gave us a good giggle…but we made it in the end.
The crystal waters and scenery was spectacular…at first there were quite a few visitors to the islands but within an hour most had suddenly disappeared which gave us time to sit back and relax and enjoy the vista in front of us…. Heaven…A true Robinson Crusoe moment.
We woke up early and went up on top deck as we were pulling into the Similan Islands – a very hot day indeed with the sun glaring down on us and lighting up yet more crystal clear waters and the huge boulders that encased the beaches of these islands.
We had made a last minute decision to do the excursion…yes we had decided to go off on a river raft ride and apparently bathe with some elephants…an everyday occurrence I believe!!
About twenty passengers decided to do this excursion so we all met on top deck and again descended the steps to join a powerboat that had pulled up alongside. A few careful steps (and a bit of a stumble from me to the laughs of others) and we were on board…powering it at high speed across the waters with the Star Clipper becoming an ever reducing sight between the beautiful islands.
The crossing was a bit long…around an hour and a half but the boats crew kept us entertained and provided us with fresh beverages and fruit and even stopped to show us the passing pod of dolphin leaping in and out of the ocean as they moved along – fabulous.
I have to admit that you do need a reasonable level of fitness and agility to do these particular excursions – from climbing down into the boat and being able to climb on to the bamboo rafts and even to getting in with the elephants for bath time…nothing too energetic but a good bit of stability is a benefit plus do not forget these are quite long hot and humid sweaty days - but WELL worth the discomfort at times….
The river raft took us for about forty minutes down a gently flowing river with an abundance of tropical forestry and wild animals such as monkeys, frogs and snakes (thankfully out of arms way). I am not too sure our raft driver was too happy at me when I boarded as I am sure he muttered something like couldn’t I have stayed off the buffet last night – only joking!!
After the river ride we were then taken for some rather nice Thai lunch in Khao Laok …complete with tasty green chillies though there were more subtle dishes I obviously didn’t take a big gulp of!!
After lunch we were driven in the sanctuary that was our air-conditioned mini bus to the Elephant Reserve. These elephants used to work the land but they were taken in with a view to releasing them back into the wild…but they kept coming back so now they are well looked after and take part now and again in this interaction with tourists from us both feeding and bathing them.
After our time with the elephants we were driven to look at some conservation work that was going on with some sea turtles and then we headed back to port for our return journey by power boat to the Star Clipper. Another hour and a half journey and I must admit we were all a tad tired by the time we reached our haven but the boats crew again looked after us during the crossing and before we knew it we were back on board …quick dip in the pool and eventually enjoying a well-deserved ice cold beer….or two…maybe it was possibly three as I then lost count!
Another day in Elysium..Now we were arriving in an area of beautiful coral reefs and islands that make up this national park. Gorgeous white beaches and the ever familiar sight of crystal clear waters…ideal for snorkelling or for the more adventurous some Scuba (this can be arranged prior to the cruise at a supplement with expert tuition and guidance)…this was another day or relaxing and de-stress from the everyday humdrum back home …after all this is one of the reasons for choosing this kind of trip…so much so that that morning I completely forgot to take my daily meds…now that shows HOW relaxed and chilled I was…haha...
A quick trip by tender and another wet landing and we were on the most fabulous beach in advance of the other tourists who would no doubt venture along a bit later in the day. The SC crew had set up the mini-bar on the beach – Perfect…and the abundance of free water sports facilities were already in place….sea kayaking…paddle boarding…snorkelling….sail boats….water skiing…lots of things to take part it…we just went that day for a bit of snorkelling (just to mention the young Sports Crew work SO hard…..getting everything ready for the guests…preparing the equipment and cleaning it all down at the end…long days for them and they don’t stop even when they get back to the boat).
*The waters here were so crystal clear – absolute paradise….
Another chilled evening on board with a fine dinner and chatting with newly made friends…even had time for a bit of catch up with business due to their reasonably priced on board internet…though you can only normally use it properly in the Piano Bar….or if you stretch out and hold a wire coat hanger…sometimes the outdoor Tropical bar!!
We again did not intend doing an excursion in Langkawi…but after the excellent excursion talk the day before by the lovely Monica the Cruise Director…(she had done her job well and convinced us to book…).
We had never visited this part of the world before so we thought ‘in for a penny in for a pound’…the full days trip was reasonably priced at around 115 Euros per person…including a lunch and the relevant entrance fees plus the added advantage of an air-conditioned coach and very ‘chatty’ guide.
We had not even bought any local currency (apparently called ringgit??) so we had very kindly been offered by our new friend Elsa to use some of her money if need be at an extortionate interest rate (only joking Elsa you were a star and saviour that day).
We boarded the coach…quite a few were on this trip… and headed off firstly the Mangroves and swamps of the Kilim River. Here we quickly boarded some high-powered river boats and in the very welcoming breeze began to wind our way through the mountains and mangroves until we came across the area where the sea eagles swooped down to feed near the island of Pulau Singa Besar.
On our way back we then called into a floating village and saw some of the local fish and crustaceans prone to that area whilst listening to the chattering of the cheeky mountain monkeys nearby.
Giving the local floating WC a miss we then headed back to the coach (Mrs B purchasing a great bargain top for around £7 on the way – she never misses a bargain) and then we headed inland being told about the mangroves and their ecological importance and then calling off at a rubber tree plantation to see how they sapped the trees.
On we moved again this time towards the peak of Gungung Machinchang where we were then to ride the cable car….and what a cable car!!...2.2 km in length and the worlds steepest cable car journey and not really for the faint hearted…or those in our gondola who were muttering expletives…they know who they are !!..haha… 680m high and the gradient of 42 degrees…spectacular…if you like heights.
Once at the top (we kissed the ground) we had spectacular views of the Telaga Tujuh waterfall and 360 degree views of the island and her 99 outer lying islands. At the very top are two large viewing platforms as well as restaurants and rest rooms plus the ability to cross a bridge to another viewing platform.
At the top we were met with some rather cheeky baby monkeys though they seemed more interested in what was in our bags rather than us…and certainly did not show any fear of humans…
Before we knew it….it was time to start heading down to the bottom again….well we did not have much option really and after fifteen minutes of sweaty palms…a few mutterings when we hit the rumble stations we made it back home safely.
At the bottom of the cable car they seem to have built a bit of a shopping village/resort type of place…some shops…..restaurants etc so ideal to buy any gifts or anything.
Back on the coach we called on our way back to a burial place of Mkam Mahsuir…some doomed princess apparently from hundreds of years ago who placed a curse on the island…here we saw some replica Malaysian houses built of stilts and built so that they were extremely cool when you walked round them….erm…not on that hot day alas…
So another long and enjoyable day and a short journey back to the boat which was anchored proudly and I must admit is a truly welcoming sight indeed….no tender this time…just a six foot gang plank – simples!
That evening I was brave and decided that as the boat sailed I would climb over the front (you are allowed by the way) and sit in the netting area at the very front taking in the sunset…sea air and chatting to the other passengers who had dared to do the same – it was marvellous….beautiful views indeed.
One of 47 islands in the Talay Trang Archipelago and part of the Had Chao Mai National Park. Another haven of clear blue turquoise waters and it was in these very waters that the Star Clipper laid anchor and we jumped aboard the tenders towards the white sandy beaches…and yes you guessed it another wet landing.
Immigration came on board as we were entering Thailand once again so all were up at 8am and the small queue formed outside of the Library and we were in and out in no time…passports all stamped and visa cards checked…twenty minutes later and the Thai Immigration were all enjoying a courtesy breakfast downstairs…all done with a happy Thai smile.
Today was ultimate beach day and the crew had taken over tables and cooking facilities to enable them to prepare a sumptuous lunch consisting of BBQ meats…salads…fruits and desserts…the mini bar was there with ice cold beers…Jerby the ships musician was chilled out in his holiday shirt and strumming his guitar for us with some favourable tunes…what a scenario…how idyllic…this was the life!!
Time for a bit of snorkelling…sunbathing…a swim around the headland followed by the lovely lunch and then the other tourists began to arrive at the island so for us it was time to jump back in the tender…get back to Star Clipper…grab a cocktail and sit at the back of the ship on a sun lounger enjoying the views...
Well from the moment I got out of bed the theme music was paying in my head – today was James Bond Day and whether I was James himself…or Oddjob…I didn’t care one iota…
After breakfast we began sailing through Phang Nga Bay and its many beautiful limestone islands. Here the ship was under the command of Captain Yuri who never took his eye off the game despite a few fellow passengers thinking he had time for photo stops with them…ermm…in my books not when a man is busy give him a break…haha.
We dropped anchor and the tenders got lowered…here you were given an option should you want to go out in the tenders around the little islands with the added ability to take some pictures of the Star Clipper in the bay.
It was hot and clammy but once the tender moved we soon cooled down…we could see the Star Clipper fading into the distance and thus we began our hour tour of these wonderful structures. After an hour we were told to turn around and there suddenly was Star Clipper…in her full glory with all her sails billowing in the wind…she sailed past us majestically and silently and we began the chase by following her…it was a spectacular sight and one I will remember forever.
As we neared her she slowed down and then to our surprise the crew came out and all stood on the Bowsprit waving down at us… I was back to being aged ten again…I wanted to be stood on it too…it was an incredible sight.
So after these incredible views and photo opportunities we climbed back on board and had a quick bite to eat and then awaited our speedboat ride that would eventually take us through Phang Nga Bay and towards the infamous James Bond Island.
Our three engine boat soon arrived and we jumped into the very front of the speedboat in the open sunshine (not perhaps too good an idea on a red hot day) and set off at high speed through all the various islands stopping off en-route to take a close look to the caves and grottos of the area.
Eventually we came across our first port of call…Koh Panyi village – founded in the 18th Century by Nomadic Malaysian fishermen and built on stilts in the shallow waters. Here we got off and had a walk around the many intricate alleyways of shops…got pestered by the cute but determined children trying to sell us pencils and toys (Alan Sugar eat your heart out!) …purchased a Thai silk sarong for when I next go to Sainsbury’s (as you do) and had some lunch.
A short while later we were back on the speedboat and winding our way through the mangroves and limestone structures again until we reached our destination – James Bond Island (aka Khao Phing Kan and Ko Ta Pu) featured in the 1974 film The Man With The Golden Gun starring Roger Moore.
Famous for its 66ft tall islet it was the films hidden home of Bonds nemesis Francisco Scaramanga and today luckily boats are not allowed near it in case they damage its fragile structure.
The tour organiser had arranged for us to visit late in the day to avoid the masses who visit it daily and when we got there it was just about right – alas some of the stalls had closed (shame for Mrs B as no chance finally of a fridge magnet here!!) save one local lady who had stayed open for ‘Happy hour’…
We stayed here for around half an hour for the usual walk around and photo opportunities and then it was back in the boat for our final journey back to the boat and sadly our last evening on board ship.
** James Bond Island – Found out later that Mrs B had managed to trace and buy a fridge magnet!!
So back to the Star Clipper and an enjoyable evening on board with some newly made acquaintances and friendly crew…..Evenings on board Star Clipper are low key…No large cabaret shows…no people twirling around on curtains or ice skaters doing a triple salchow….It is more have dinner and then people gather in the open air bar and chat.
The crew do put on entertainment such as quizzes….Deck games (silly but extreme fun)…setting up an old sail on the aft deck in the open air to watch a black and white film about cornering the Capes at the turn of the century…..above all the excellent mixed crew and passenger show showcasing some exceptional talents from both sides.
On board is the resident pianist, singer, guitarist and DJ Jerby who works his socks off bringing you quality entertainment each evening. All the staff on board work extremely hard and deserved all the applause they got.
Usually I am always ready for home…but not on this occasion as I could have happily stayed on board another week. It was what we expected – but better!!....We have never had such a relaxing time in years and we feel it totally refreshed our batteries and we are grateful that we were able to partake in such a journey. This holiday will stay for us forever and we cannot recommend it highly enough.
If you want to experience life and reward yourself…then book yourself a Star Clipper….
Take care All x
This is not an ultra-luxury ship and it does not purport to be …it is an ultra-luxury experience and that for me is more than enough…I would put the ship at 4-5 stars.
Do not expect lavish lounges and masses of entertainment….instead expect to make new friends and socialise as at the end of the day…there are not many passengers on board so you do get to know everyone whether it is a deep conversation or just a courtesy nod of the head and ‘hello’.
Cabins are quite small and they do have a boat/large yacht feel to them. They are nicely furnished but a little dated (but that’s the charm of it) beds are comfortable…bathrooms quite small but perfectly functional…lots of nice free toiletries…chocolates on your pillow at night/turn down service etc.
In my opinion you do need to be a little active and I do feel in particular on this itinerary that anyone with any mobility issues ‘may’ struggle a bit. There are steps around the ship…and the top deck is a working deck so lots of ropes to duck under things to step over and especially when tendering/Zodiac’ing it is a bit of a balancing act at times.
The pools are salt water and I found the one at the back a little quieter plus it had the tarpaulin cover over it too.
On our cruise the ship was half full so all was spacious – I could imagine that if the ship was full there may be limited space in hot weather under any shaded areas on deck…but still plenty sunbeds for all.
The food I found to be very good…not Michelin star but a good varied choice to suit all taste. As mentioned before the drinks prices I found to be excellent and good value. The Bar staff get to know you well (perhaps me too well) and know your drink before you ask for it and even your cabin number.
If you do this itinerary then do consider a few nights in Phuket – in my opinion Patong for a few nights may be a bit much as it is lively brash and in your face….where we stayed up at Bang Tao was perfect and not far away from where the Star Clipper is anchored.
On departure day we booked our own air conditioned SUV at a cost of around £21 to take us to the airport. Turned up bang on time and excellent service. Phuket Airport has reasonable facilities and shops. We flew Manchester to Dubai with Emirates and then on to Phuket. 7 hour flight to Dubai with 2 hour turnover then around just over 5 hours to Phuket. Takes a little longer coming home…
Example of typical dinner on board
So did we enjoy our time on board Star Clipper….too right we did and ready to book again. Safe journeys wherever you go…and this photograph below I think sums up our whole experience.