North of the Malaysian border, the first main Thai ports are Narathiwat and Pattani, both commercial fishing harbours. Not usually on the itinerary of cruising yachts, they can be entered through well-buoyed channels.
Most yachts cruising into the Gulf from the south go straight for Koh Samui, and this is permissible if no landfall is made.
The well heads and rigs of the gas fields in Thai waters are well offshore and unlikely to be encountered unless heading on a more northerly course direct for Pattaya.
The weather patterns are similar to the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand, except that the southwest monsoon is dryer in the lee of the peninsula. There is only one high tide per day in the Gulf of Thailand.
The 100 miles of coastline from the border to Songkhla is well charted in Thai charts 206 and 230, so is not covered in detail here.
A stopover in Songkhla offers a good opportunity to explore Southern Thailand; the west coast is only 90 km by road. Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and surrounding islands are the first point of real interest for the cruising yachtsman. Busy Samui is the main centre of the group.
To the north are Chumpon, Prachuab Khirikhan and Petchaburi, all large fishing ports serving the huge Thai fleet trawling the Gulf. There is a small marina at Pranburi, 30 miles north of Prachuab, in the mouth of the river, inside the fishing port.
At the head of the Gulf are the low marshy areas just south of Bangkok and the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, gateway to Thailand’s Central Plain and much of Thailand’s rich history.
North of Chumporn there are a few small fishing ports, but nothing of much interest to cruising yachts.
The famous resort town of Hua Hin, where the main railway between Bangkok and Singapore runs parallel to the coast, has a royal palace and some excellent resorts.
It is a favourite weekend destination from Bangkok. However there are no real anchoring possibilities other than off the open beach in the right conditions
The port of Songkhla lies at the mouth of an inland waterway and is the best first point of entry into Thai waters. A large commercial port, at the mouth of the river services the supply vessels for the offshore rigs to the east.
A vibrant town, it is the administrative centre for the province of Songkhla, although Hadyai- just 20 KM inland is a much larger city as it straddles the main peninsular railway between Bangkok and Singapore.
Hadyai is a border town and hosts many visitors from Malaysia who flock to Thailand for the cheap shopping and nightlife. The airport offers direct flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Phuket.
North of Songkhla, the coast up to Nakhon Sri Thammarat is a long uninteresting stretch of beach backed by prawn farms. There is nothing of note for cruising vessels and most continue up to the Samui islands after leaving Songkhla.
This section covers the area bounded by Koh Tao, the Ang Thong National Park group, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui to the east, and Chumpon to the west.
Generally speaking, the islands lie in a shallow part of the Gulf of Thailand, off the east coast of the southern peninsula where the waters are rather turbid, with poor visibility for snorkelling.
Koh Tao and the islands adjacent to Chumpon are a notable exception, with Koh Tao in particular offering clear waters and the best diving in the western Gulf.
Koh Samui and, more recently, Koh Phangan have become major tourist destinations, and are accessible by a variety of sea craft from the mainland. Koh Samui also has a private airport, operated by Bangkok Airways, with connections to Bangkok, Singapore, Phuket and Pattaya. Thai Airways, previously restricted to Surat Thani airport, now also flies into Samui.
Monsoon wind patterns are the same as for the rest of the country. However, from May until October, during the southwest monsoon, the seas are calmer than the Andaman due to the protection of the Malay Peninsula, and there is less rainfall. In fact, Koh Samui enjoys some of its finest days during the months of July to September.
Conversely, during Phuket’s fine but windy weather from November to February, Samui is lashed by strong northeast monsoon storms, and the seas can be rough. The South China Sea is influenced by the Pacific Ocean, and most of the year there will be only one high tide per day, as compared to the Andaman Sea, which has two tides daily.
Technical support for cruising and charter vessels is still very limited. However, Sunsail currently operates a charter base from Ao Bo Phut. Good workshops and hardware stores are found in the towns of Nathon (on Samui), Surat Thani, Chumpon and Nakorn Sri Thammarat (on the mainland). There are plans to build a marina in Ao Bo Phut, but at the time of writing no completion date has been set.
Samui Island is a rare gem. Preserving the idyllic simplicity of a tropical hideaway, it is characterised by beaches of powdery white sand backed by many hotels and bungalow resorts.
All beach bungalows have their own restaurants; small establishments are becoming increasingly rare. Fresh seafood and tropical fruits are the natural specialities of Samui, with emphasis on coconut sauces, though you’ll find menus sufficiently varied to cater to all tastes.
The island, Thailand’s third largest, measuring 22 km at its widest point and 26 km in maximum length, is one of a group of more than 80 tropical islands, only a few of which are inhabited.
A mountain ridge runs east to west; most of the hinterland comprises forested hills. The rich hues of wild vegetation are dappled with the contrasting greens of coconut palms and emerald paddy.
The most developed bays are Chaweng and Lamai, both on the east coast and featured as anchorages here.
Principal among Samui’s natural sights are two picturesque waterfalls, Hin Lat and Na Muang; on neighbouring Koh Fan, connected to Samui by a causeway, is Wat Hin Ngu temple and meditation centre. At the southern end of Lamai bay are the phallic granite rock formations of Hin Ta and Hin Yai.
A 50-km concrete and tar ring-road skirts Samui’s coastline, giving ready access to all beaches and the administrative centre of Na Thon, where most of the ferries arrive. The best transport is a motorbike which can be readily hired.
In some areas, Samui retains its charm, but the ribbon development along the main ring-road is almost unbroken. Shops and supermarkets are found all over the island, while the majority of the nightlife is concentrated in Chaweng and Lamai.
It is said that around four million coconut trees grow on Samui, a resource that used to be the island’s economic mainstay. Fruit crops and fishing were once the only other industries, yet today tourism is the main source of income.
We list only the main anchorages, although there are many other options (see Thai Chart 243).
The city of Surat Thani is the capital of the province of the same name and means “City of the Good”. The main town is nestled close to the coast facing northeast at the mouth of the Ta Pi River. The city fringes the huge bay of Ao Ban Don which is shallow, lacklustre and uninviting.
Ferries to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and the Ang Thong National Park islands depart from the town jetty in the river and eastern provincial centre of Don Sak 22 km by road northeast of the city. There are Immigration offices in town and on Koh Samui for yachts checking into Thailand.
Donsak is the main car and passenger departure point and is on Highway 4041. There are two ferry operators, each with their own jetty, Songserm and Raja. Pleasure and private yachts need to make advance arrangements before using the jetty.
Anchorage can be found virtually anywhere along the coast in 5-10 metres; a very small town adjoins the ferry terminals, where supplies can be found.
While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this book is accurate, the charts of anchorages are based on personal experience and satellite imagery and are intended as a guide only. They should not be used for navigation. Please refer to Official Hydrographic Charts of the respective countries.
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