The Sabang Marine Festival - 2016 - was extremely well organised, a lot of fun, and facilitated the healthy and happy mixing of many different cultures. 18 boats from all around the world participated and the visiting sailors included Australian, Swiss, French, American, Canadian, Malaysian, Thai, English, South African, Zambian, German, Italian, Czech, New Zealand, Swedish and New Caledonian. The participants, of which we were two, enjoyed many organised activities such as cultural performances, a tour of Banda Aceh and the Tsunami museum, as well as interactive games including tug-of-war, greasy pole climbing and canoe races.
This years Sabang Marine Festival (SMF), only the second time this event has been staged, was held on Pulau Weh between 26 - 30 April 2016. Organised by the BPKS the festival's main objective is to promote the Sabang area as an international destination. The festival is particularly aimed at increasing visitors sailing their own yachts to use Pulau Weh as a check-in or check-out point (Indonesia immigration etc). Indonesia has made some changes to their rigorous visa and sailing permit laws which now enable cruisers to enjoy longer stays in Indonesia with, we hope, minimal fuss and no need to procure an agent.
Sabang is a city in the Aceh Province of Indonesia. Sabang is comprised of five islands, the biggest being Palau Weh. Pulau Weh is home to the local Sabang government and the centre of Sabang. Palau Weh is also an active volcanic area, has some spectacular snorkel and dive sites, waterfalls and historic Japanese world war two bunkers. For a small island it is jam packed with things to do.
Boats began arriving as early as the 20th of April. For those of us that arrived early, the check-in procedure probably took a little longer as the officials were expecting the boats to check in between the 23-25th April. However, those of us that may have had a longer wait for check in did get in a few extra days of snorkelling. And I gotta say wow... when I jumped in the nearly-crystal-clear water I was speechless... well not quite, I still managed a bit of snorkel babble! The marine life is quite simply astonishing! We had fish, of so many varieties, swimming every which way around us.
For the rest of the visiting boats the clearance, into Indonesia, was a predominately painless experience with the BPKS accommodating all of the necessary officials in the one room of their office building. Participants were instructed to raise there quarantine flag and await the arrival of officials from the quarantine office, immigration and customs, after which they were directed to the office to complete paperwork. Online visa applications, done before hand, sped up the process.
On the night of the 25th of April the festival officially opened with a welcome dinner, speeches and entertainment. Throughout the next five days all sailors were fed three delicious meals a day by our hosts.
The first day we went to a large gathering at the Sabang Fair. We were greeted with a welcome dance and presented with a little green leaf-wrapped package. It turned out it was betel nut. It was in a little bundle - the betel nut was wrapped inside a leaf and held together with a clove. The way to eat it is by putting the whole thing in your mouth and chewing it. It is ok to swallow it or to spit it out. 'twas not my cuppa tea!
The day progressed with a few speeches, one done by yours truly, and then we were entertained by some very talented artist. The festival was enjoyed as much by the locals as by the tourists! The Sabang Fair was packed with families all just as enthralled in the performances as we were.
We had a few hours to ourselves in the afternoon before dinner. While relaxing on our boat we were kept amused by a couple of PPC's (powered parachutes). After another scrumptious Indonesian dinner we went back to the Sabang Fair for more entertainment. This time the crowd was huge and there were rock bands and fireworks!
The alluring islands of the Mu Koh Similan are nothing short of magnificent! This island archipelago encompasses 11 islands and has some of the best snorkelling and diving you will find in Thailand. Most of the islands have a coastline of striking granite boulders which plunge to great depths; balanced precariously atop these are more granite boulders giving the Similans a dramatic picturesque both below and above the waterline. Some islands have beaches of fine white sand, seemingly untouched by human feet..... until the tourists arrive!
Located in the Andaman Sea, just 60NM northwest of Phuket, Mu Koh Similan National Park is a popular place for snorkelling and diving. The ranger headquarters are on Koh Miang (marked in black on map below) along with a restaurant, cafe, and accommodation which also includes a campsite. Koh Miang has a few nature trails and nice beaches. Koh Similan (yellow marker) has a restaurant, campsite, a couple of nature trails and a beach that is considered one of the best in the park. More on accommodation here. But that aside, what people really come to the Similan Islands for is the snorkelling and diving!
The coral in the Similan Islands did suffer from coral bleaching in 2010 which did kill quite a lot of it. However, the coral is regenerating well and there is lots to see. The marine life in this national park is quite simply stunning. There is an impressive variety of fish to be found along with turtles, moray eels and much much more. You will find a list of all I could identify at the end of this blog.
The snorkelling and diving is all the more thrilling due to the colossal boulders that plunge to vast depths, at the water's edge, turning the Similan underwater world into a labyrinth of caves and swim-throughs - much like an adventure playground.
The Similan Islands have become a popular destination for yachties cruising Thailand during the NE monsoon season. There are many moorings buoys available and if you are after a little peace and quiet you can find it... even if it is only before 10:00 and after 16:00 when the bulk of the tourists leave.
Our first mooring and snorkelling spot was at Koh Bunya (red marker). We arrived during the busy part of the day when tourists were being ferried in and out of this popular snorkelling destination. Be aware of all the tourist boats coming and going as you snorkel, they don't slow down much. The snorkelling - around monolithic boulders - was really very good, as was the huge variety of fish.
We moved on the next morning to Koh Miang (black marker) to meet up with some fellow sailors - Phil and Helen from SV Meridian. We picked up a mooring but soon moved on as it was a bit rolly. It was only going to get worse as this is one of the main beaches at which the tour boats drop their passengers. With the fast-boats roaring in and out, it can feel like you are in heavy seas!
We grabbed up a mooring at Koh Payu (purple marker). The mooring was close to the shore but it was the only one that remained free at this busy snorkelling site. It was a gorgeous spot and we wanted to overnight there so we had to make some sacrifices! For one, we were surrounded by tourist and tour boats. We found ourselves in the hub of all the excitement and then the tour boats began to tie onto our stern. That certainly caused some feelings of apprehension. Those feelings were raised to levels of anxiety - that required a stiff drink - when the tide changed and we had one of the tour boats raft up to us. Thorfinn’s hull had only recently been painted and we loathed to have her scratched. But alls well that ends well.
The next morning we went to Koh Similan (yellow marker) for a snorkel. It wasn't the best of snorkels. However, there is still much to see if you are looking for it (I did find a clownfish) but there are so many great spots that I would give this one a miss if I had time restraints.
We spent the rest of the time on a mooring on Koh Miang (orange marker). We could snorkel directly from our boat which is always good fun. The snorkelling was good and lots of dive boats came to this area for diving. While moored here we snorkelled at Koh Ha (green marker). We snorkelled around Koh Ha and it was a gorgeous snorkelling site. There is a wreck of a large fishing boat - approximately where the green marker is - and it makes for an interesting exploration as do the caves and swim throughs in the area. We also snorkelled the south east corner of Koh Miang. This is a nice area with large boulders with many fish! If you want excellent snorkelling and diving in Thailand, a visit to Koh Similan will be well worth your time.
Travel Note (April2016)
Mu means group and Koh means Island, therefore Mu Koh is a group of Islands, thus The Similan Archipelago!
Moorings - quite a few are available. I don't think you are allowed to drop your anchor.
Supplies - stock up before you go - no grocery stores, fuel etc
Land based travel
Getting there - From Thap Lamu Pier at Khoa lak. Day trips can also be organised from Phuket. More information here.
Accommodation - Mu Koh Similan accommodation.
Things to do - snorkelling, diving, walking, bird watching.
More info - Mu Ko Similan National Park.
More info on the coral bleaching and the effect of tourism on the reefs at Koh Similans read - 12th International Coral Reef Symposium.
Wow! These islands are gorgeous! I wasn't sure what to expect... I thought perhaps they would be similar to Koh Lipe - a touristy island surround by smaller islands and good snorkelling spots.
Those of you who have been to the Surin Islands would now be aware that I did very little research of the area before I went. What I discovered was that the Surin islands are beautiful and still rather remote, with little more to do than snorkelling, diving and relaxing. We had found paradise!
Mu Koh Surin National Park is comprised of 5 islands. Koh Surin Nua (north) and Koh Surin Tai (south) are the largest, followed by Koh Pachumba, Koh Torinla and Koh Chi. (The names of the islands vary depending on what map you are looking at... don't ask me why, they just do and not only in this area but many of the Thailand islands.)
Our first stop after sailing from Koh Phayam was at Koh Chi (red marker on the map above). I was completely smitten with this little island when I saw it; it is just stupendous! We had to anchor on the southern side of the island due to the prevailing wind and the water was very deep which posed some problems. We had to get quite close to the rocky shoreline in order to anchor and we obviously had to think carefully about our choice to do so, because if the weather conditions changed we might end up in a precarious position. From checking the weather the day before we were reassured by the fact that the weather was suppose to remain stable for the next five days and we so wanted to stay, so we did. We anchored in this little bit of paradise and went snorkelling.
Well if I was smitten with Koh Chi before I got in the water I was completely captivated, enchanted and so totally in love with the place when I plunged into the alluring blue water and swam with schools of fish. Just amazing. This quickly made it into our top 5 snorkel sites!
Monolithic granite boulders plummet precipitously into the limpid depths, turning this underwater world into a sublime mystical place of exploration. It was a spectacular snorkel as we meandered around boulders and through caves sharing our journey with hundred of fish. We stayed for two nights and enjoyed three days of snorkelling before we moved on. In that time we snorkelled almost the entire circumference of the island. We saw an abundance of fish of many varied types including a black tip reef shark and we watched a large reef octopus making its way across the sea floor. I will write a list of all the life I could identify, while snorkelling the Surin Islands at the bottom of this post.
We were loath to leave our newly found nirvana, but it was time to move on and we reluctantly pulled up the anchor and motored around to Ao Mai Ngam ( yellow marker), a large bay on Koh Surin Nua. We didn't go ashore at Hat Mai Ngam, we just picked up a mooring in the late afternoon, and went for a snorkel before the sun set.
Hat Mai Ngam (grey marker) is one of only two places at which the national park has accommodation and a restaurant. The accommodation is mostly camping but there are a few bungalows for larger groups. It is all very basic, and from what I have read about it... the place is a paradise!
The next morning we moored at Koh Pachumba (green marker) for an early snorkel. When we first jumped into the water we were shocked by the dead staghorn coral, but as we snorkelled further afield we found some beautiful coral gardens alive with a dazzling variety of colourful fish.
I have since found out that the coral around the Surin Islands suffered in 2010 from warmer than average waters which caused coral bleaching and the death of large amounts of coral. The coral is regenerating well and there is a lot of new coral to see - don't let it put you off - the snorkelling here is fabulous! More about the coral bleaching.
After our early morning swim we stopped between the two larger islands (white marker) and went off to explore. Snorkelling around this area was really very pleasant and we got to see a couple of turtles and lots of large fish. At Ao Kong Khad we found the ranger station (black marker), along with the second camp area, bungalows, a restaurant, information centre and tourists, mostly day trippers who, at that time of day, were all piling on the fast boats for their trip back to the main land.
Longtail boats at Kong Khad
Restaurant at Kong Khad
Our next stop was between Koh Torinla and Koh Surin Tai (orange marker) for another snorkel. This area was really good. Again the area was alive with large fish, colourful fish, and huge schools of fish. We saw a turtle and a black tip reef shark! Awesome!
We moved onto another bay on Koh Surin Nua (pink marker) and picked up a mooring. The beach here is beautiful but access to it is not easy when the tide is out and the reef and rocks are exposed. We did however find the time to string up our hammock under a tree and relax in the shade with a book. The next morning we arrived at our little spot on the beach at high tide to find we now had waterfront living!
After three nights moored off Koh Surin Nua it was time to move on. Mu Koh Surin National Park is the perfect place to go to escape the rat race, snorkel, dive, explore and relax. We will be sure to visit again but for now it is time to continue our journey...off to the Similan Islands and more snorkelling!
Notes (March 2016)
When - The national Park is closed between May - Nov or mid Oct
Cost - National park cost is 500 Baht per person for 5 days and for the boat it was 200 Baht per day.
Getting there - if you are not sailing your own yacht you can get there from Khuriburi. There is more information about getting to Koh Surin in the links below.
Cruising - there are a good amount of well maintained moorings.
Cash - bring cash as there are no banks or ATMs
Accommodation - The National Park has two areas with accommodation - the headquarters at Ao Kong Khad and Hat Mai Ngam, both are on Koh Surin Nua and both offer beachfront camping, a restaurant, and shower facilities. The headquarter site also has rooms available to rent and there are a couple of bungalows at Hat Mai Ngam.
The National Park has has tents for rent (all ready set up and ready to use) but you can also use your own. Hat Mai Ngam is a larger site with larger beach.
Restaurant - Each campsite has a restaurant that offers Thai food three times a day. We ate at the restaurant at Kong Khad. The food was good and surprisingly not expensive.
Power - Electricity only runs from 18:00 to 22:00 each evening.
Moken Sea Nomads - you can visit the sea gypsies in a village called Bon Bay on Koh Surin Tai. We didn't go there so I can't tell you anything from my experience. The following quotes are taken from Andaman Discovery web page (the first link on the list below) -
"You are encouraged to visit the Moken, but there is a better way of doing this than simply arriving, walking round the village, and staring at people as they go about their daily lives"
"With the people that you see, make eye contact and smile, as you are a guest in their village, not in a museum"
"There are few economic opportunities for the Moken, so if you can, rent a Moken long-tail boat to visit the island."
"An easy way to contribute is to purchase their hand-woven pandanus leaf mats and bracelets or their intricate model kabang boats. Don't be tight and haggle -- they are very cheap already"
For more information visit these sites -
|Adelaide, South Australia
|Dwayne & Kelly Turpin
|After seven years of planning we sold the house and moved aboard Thorfinn in October 2013. Our journey started in May 2014 in Australia and, if all goes well, it will continue for many years with many seas to sail and places to visit.
|Intrepid sailors, perpetual travellers, enthusiastic fisher people and lovers of food. Visit our other blogs at http://trippinturpins.com http://gourmetfromthegalley.com Like our Facebook page - Trippin' Turpins - A Sailing Adventure.