Well, it promised to be different, and it both was and was not; but Christmas and New Year in Thailand was lovely!
Yachts, as you may know, are generally a touch sort on storage space, so we do not have a box of Christmas decorations / tinsel / tree... so began the improvising: first preparations for Christmas were done in Langkawi (Malaysia, a wholly Muslim country, so it was a surprise to go to a large supermarket and find, not just a large rack of Christmas decorations and cards for sale, but the ladies behind the tills wearing typical red and white Christmas hats! One of them mentioned that at Christmas they become” just a little bit Christian”…! Prudent businessmen, some of the stores are Chinese-owned and they know their market; in fact, although pork is not allowed in Malaysia, yachties know where to buy it: “past the market, third road left, fourth house on the left, wait till there are no Muslims in the shop then ask quietly and they will go to their back freezers….” We supplemented our decorations with beautiful pieces of driftwood and lovely rocks collected on a beach at our (so-far) southernmost Malaysian anchorage in a beautiful fjord-like setting with island cliffs soaring up on both sides of a narrow channel in which we were anchored.
Our wherewithal was taken up to Thailand, where we cleared into the country while based in Ao Chalong (Bay on the south of Phuket Island) and spent a week doing chores, dentists (Irene’s temporary filling of Rolf’s molar won no awards), computer work and shopping… finding pork and Christmas products easy to come by. Phuket really had Christmas blooming, with decorations and carols in the big centres; however, public Christmas displays only start appearing about mid-December here, very different from the October start we remember from SA, and the extent of the decoration in Phuket was beautiful but far more subtle in quantity.
So we sat on our boat in rolly Ao Chalong, looking up at the Big Buddha at the highest point, listening to the many firecrackers set off by Buddhists to chase away bad spirits and in the evenings hearing the Muslims called to worship over loudspeakers in the nearby village, all as we sorted out our small Christmas arrangement... what an amazing experience! Note the two decorative captains...
The NE monsoon season only really set in on 20 December, making it reasonable for boats to start enjoying the western (tourist) beaches of Phuket at last. Unseasonal SW monsoon winds had caught many unawares, tossing about a dozen of the very expensive King’s Cup Regatta racing yachts onto a west-facing beach, along with one cruising yacht. The rest of the cruising fleet had retreated to sheltered waters or anchored at a safer distance from the beach and used real anchors!
Various previous trips by scooter to the west coast beaches in the low (SW monsoon) season had revealed beautiful beaches but little provision for tourists. In the current high season, what a hugely different picture the beaches are! Huge expanses of beautiful white sand, bedecked from end to end with gay umbrellas and countless loungers; food stalls, bars, massage stands at regular intervals..... what a treat! THIS is what cruising is about... easy anchorages, beautiful clear seas, stunning coves and beaches which can generally be accessed easily with the dinghy, giving the option of beach walks, shore food and massages!
The evenings in high season are very beautiful: warm, balmy, starry, twinkly colourful shore lights and decorations reflected in the sea … but it turns out these evenings are not restful. Every night from about 23 December to 30 December, no matter which beach we were anchored off (with the exception of one day-only beach), we watched and listened from the boat as fire-dancers twirled their flaming two-headed batons, fireworks were sent up and parties on shore continued loudly until at least 3 am. Noise travels well over water… and not much sleep was enjoyed by some.
Lifting anchor and moving to the next beach every two days was a great routine until we reached Nai (Beach) Yang, our planned Christmas beach, alongside Phuket airport... where the planes appeared to be landing on a beach towel at times!
Our BEST (well, only) gift…. an OOB.
Something else new for Ketoro: we had one of these on board!
Thai people love to celebrate. The Thai New year, in April, is celebrated with great gusto, apparently; so is the Chinese New Year; and we can attest to the fact that the night of 31 December is a huge night in their calendar! The parties on every previous evening did not prepare us for the enormity of the spectacle of the New Years’ Eve celebrations on Patong Beach. We sailed into Patong Bay about midday to anchor near friends, on whose large catamaran a group of us was to gather for the evening. By the time evening fell, there were well over 100 sailing yachts around us, as well as other “gin palaces” and fancy large charter motor boats.
So Christmas and New Year in Thailand, surrounded by the pragmatism and tolerance of the local communities and the kindness and warmth of new-found friends, was wonderful!