Thailand’s yacht-charter scene sets sail from the county’s largest island: Phuket. Pinch yourself – because the topaz waters in the surrounding Phang Nga Bay stay warm all year round. The best news? Thailand has over 1,400 other islands scattered across miles and miles of ocean – and only a handful are inhabited. The rest are the domain of macaque monkeys and Andaman parakeets. Make one of them your home from home as you sail around Thailand and its many islands.
Coral Island – a short sail south of Phuket – does what it says on the tin. Anchor offshore beyond the reef for snorkels with nudibranchs and lionfish. Seeking solitude? Coral Island hosts just one rather fancy resort – after day-trippers return to Phuket, the island’s three beaches are all yours.
For the ultimate Treasure Island experience, anchor off the Similan Islands. The 11-island archipelago sits around 100km (62mi) northeast of Phuket and is protected within a national park. The islands are accessible from November until April, although sailing experience or a skipper is required to reach them. Scuba divers, bird watchers and beach bums will fall in love with the Similan Islands’ Caribbean allure. The action revolves around turtle snorkelling, cliff jumping and annoying the heck out of work friends on Instagram.
Shop for far-out souvenirs in the warm night air at Phuket Old Town’s Chillva Night Market. The bazaar’s vibe is boho bling where you’ll find street eats, handmade jewellery, fried insects, silk textiles and cold beer, flogged from repurposed shipping containers.
Royal Phuket Marina is by far the hottest yachting hub in Thailand. The harbour hosts restaurants, co-working spaces and regular regattas – plus scores of yachts from single-day explorers to 35m (114ft)-long superyachts. It’s little wonder the marina holds the prestigious 5 Gold Anchor Award from the Yacht Harbour Association. Need a mooring? Call VHF channel 79 or book one of the 100 berths online. As Phuket is the yacht-charter capital of Thailand, you’ll find dozens of tiny marinas, restaurant tie-up docks and yacht-friendly islets nearby – such as Ao Po Grand Marina, which leads directly onto the northern islands of Phang Nga Bay and the safe anchorage of Ao Chalong on Phuket’s southern tip.
Phuket sits at the cultural crossroads of Thailand. The island has welcomed Chinese, Malay, Portuguese and French influences – with each group imparting their recipes, too. Dishes are generally laden with seafood, pork and Thai spices. These include gaeng som, a sour tamarind curry with fish paste and o-aew, a thirst-quenching jelly dessert containing watermelon and shaved ice. Among the most polished addresses is seafood at the Trisara Resort. Expect a Michelin-rated medley of market-fresh amberjack paired with fresh greens from the restaurant’s organic garden – all elevated into time-honoured “Thai Mama” recipes. Rawai seafood market isn’t for the faint-hearted, however – point-and-order at thousands of bubbling aquarium tanks containing giant clams and tiger prawns. An adjoining restaurant will fry up your seafood purchase.
Sail around the scenic islands of Thailand with a boat rental. The translucent waters of the Andaman Sea are brought alive on a chartered SamBoat. Choose from twin-hull leisure catamarans – with the space of far larger craft, including six cabins and vast deck space. Or push the boat out with a Silvercraft yacht – the perfect skippered dayboat for exploring the offbeat islets of Phang Nga Bay.
Villa Market near Royal Phuket Marina is where yachties shop for at-sea essentials and cocktail treats. Every international bite – from Bertolli olive oil to Alpen muesli – is readily available from 9am to 9pm.
The King’s Cup Regatta – which takes place in Phuket each December – is the most prestigious in all of South East Asia. Count on up to 100 big boats competing in a week of fast sailing around the southerly islands of Phuket. These include Koh Lon – a secluded beachy gem where swings dangle from coconut trees.
Gentle tides, warm winds and a sandy seabed render Phuket as Thailand’s year-round cruising destination – where the dry season from November to April is best for novice sailors. Northeasterly winds promise dry spells and gentle breezes, although sunny days become scorching by April. More serious sailors select the wetter season from May to October. Southwesterly monsoons usher up to Force 6 winds, with rainy squalls followed by intense heat. That said, there’s always safe sailing in Phang Nga Bay down to the Phi Phi Islands.
Phuket airport is the intercontinental hub for the yacht charter scene in Thailand – with direct flights from Melbourne, Moscow, Manchester and Mumbai. The airport approach highlights the allure as jets descend over an aquamarine sea, then land just past the golden sands of Mai Khao Beach. Marina and yacht charter options are within an easy 20-30 minute drive away.