Star Clippers’ new cruises in Thailand prove to be the ultimate sun, sea and sand getaway.
The haunting strains of Vangelis’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise fill the night sky, ropes creak, acres of canvas inch their way up the tall masts and Star Clipper slips away from her anchorage in Patong Bay in the island of Phuket. My sailing adventure off the coast of Thailand has begun.
I use the term ‘sailing’ advisedly. All ships sail, but Star Clipper is the real deal.
One of three ships owned by the operator, it has four masts, 36,000 square feet of canvas and our captain is under instructions to sail whenever possible. And he does. On this new island-hopping cruise in Asia, if we are moving, we are sailing.
Each morning, I join Peter, the cruise director, on the open deck for story time, when he shows us our location on the ship’s charts and talks about the day’s events, local culture, history and navigational secrets.
I learn we are just south of Myanmar, that sea gypsies live nearby, that Star Clipper can reach 17 knots if the wind is favourable – “that’s faster than an engine but not fun!” – and that the black ball on the rigging tells other ships we are at anchor.
Come the evening, Peter has talks on everything from the history of the Star Clipper ships to pirates. He hosts a fun quiz and a fashion show, which basically involves the sports team modelling garments from the on-board shop to drum up sales. And that, along with Charly on the keyboard, is the entertainment. This is not a cruise for clients who crave dressy evenings – shorts at dinner is fine – or song-and-dance shows.
First stop is Ko Surin – Ko is Thai for island – where some are going snorkelling, while I join those heading to the beach. As Star Clipper is at anchor, that necessitates climbing down a wobbly ladder into a tender. At the beach, we have to clamber down another ladder into fairly deep water. And of course, it’s the same process in reverse to get back on board.
This is the procedure at every island bar one so not only is a good degree of mobility needed to get ashore, but you’re advised to take as little as possible. Clothes dry out if you slip in the water; iPhones and cameras do not. Ko Surin is a pretty place with a lovely beach and clear blue water that the snorkellers tell me is teeming with marine life. Ko Similan, which we visit the following day, is equally picturesque and excellent for divers.
Next day, we arrive at Ko Rok Nok, also known as Bird Island, a beautiful spot – or it would have been if hadn’t chosen that day to rain. Luckily the clouds disappeared for our day in Langkawi, an island one hour by ferry off the coast of Malaysia.
This is the only time during the cruise that Star Clipper docks. I was going on a round-island excursion (€90 per person) that took us in search of wild sea eagles in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park and on one of the steepest cable cars in the world to the top of Mount Machinchang, some 2,322 feet above sea level. Not ideal for those with vertigo.
We set sail again at 5.30pm, bound for Ko Kradan, where the crew set up a lunch barbecue on the beach. This is my favourite island – and not because of my burger and beer lunch. The sun is shining, the water is beautiful. Just heavenly.
But it has stiff competition because next day we are in Phang Nga Bay, an area littered with scenic limestone karsts – think Halong Bay in Vietnam. Not only that, but we’re going out in the Zodiacs so we can see the ship in full sail.
I’m in a Zodiac with Peter, zigzagging between the karsts, learning about the people who collect birds’ nests from caves here to sell in China – dangerous work but the reward is about $2,000 for 1kg – and circling around Star Clipper.
A speedboat excursion that afternoon visits James Bond Island, where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. I’ve been before so I stay on board, soaking up some last rays of sun before we disembark tomorrow. The adventure is over but I know the fabulous memories will never fade.
Sample package: A seven-night Northern cruise round-trip from Phuket leads in at £1,325 per person departing on November 4, excluding flights. starclippers.co.uk