Here’s a dream for you: You’re on a sparkling white yacht with a gleaming teak cabin, sitting in your bathing suit with a gentle, warm breeze coming over your shoulder and a cool drink at your elbow. Just across the turquoise water, limestone walls slide slowly by, towering over small, secret bays with golden beaches. Welcome to Phang Nga Bay, Phuket’s maritime playground.
As the sun sets (and Phuket is famed for its spectacular sunsets), your crew drop the sails and you motor quietly back to the marina. You step onto the pontoon and head for a delightful relaxed dinner under the stars while your crew bed the boat down for the night. There are already plenty of people living this luxurious dream in Phuket thanks to the island’s gorgeous waters and the marinas that have grown up to service the demand.
The Charmed Lifestyle
Phuket has natural advantages that attract sailors from around the world: balmy temperatures year-round (let’s face it – there’s nothing less dreamy than freezing rain coming in sideways), stunning tropical scenery, safe waters and a fabulous lifestyle on shore. On top of that, even the luxury life is cheaper in Phuket than most other marine centers in Asia and a lot cheaper than the Mediterranean, say, or the Caribbean.
“In Phuket, you can find all kinds of good services for yachts, and it is not expensive. The fuel is still cheap,” says Mark Ray, Marina Manager of the 350-berth Royal Phuket Marina just north of Phuket City. “In the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, prices are a lot more expensive and there you have [more variable] seasons and things like hurricanes that stop you from sailing. But here you can sail all year round, even in the rainy season. One other important point: Phuket is not a crowded island,” says Mr Ray.
These advantages also mean there are plenty of yachts in Phuket and the region around it. The oldest and biggest regatta, dating back 20 years, is the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta each December. In February there is the Phang Nga Bay Regatta and in July there is Phuket Race Week.
Further afield, there is the Royal Langkawi International Regatta, also in February, and featuring the Phuket-Langkawi Champagne Run; Malaysia’s Raja Muda Selangor International Regatta and many others.
Long distance sailors are also attracted to the annual Sail Indonesia/Sail Asia series, which takes boats hopping from Darwin in Australia through the spice islands of Indonesia to Singapore and then on to Langkawi. Many of the yachts taking part then head for Phuket (where else?) to wait for the trade winds to take them across the Indian Ocean towards Europe.
The Three Marinas
Over the past few years, Phuket has gradually moved up the scale to become a holiday location of choice for the glitterati, the flickerati and the just plain wealthy.
The high-end homes being built to serve this market are one sign of this. The marinas are another.
The island currently has three marinas; apart from the Royal Phuket Marina, there is the 170-berth Boat Lagoon Marina, right next door, and the 220-berth Yacht Haven Marina, on the northeast coast, not far from the airport. This is the island’s only deep-water marina, which is why it attracts some of the world’s most beautiful megayachts.
“Today there are enough marinas,” says Zara Tremlett, Yacht Haven’s Assistant Marina Manager. “But in two years we shall need one or two more, depending on their size and facilities. It would be very good to have another marina by next season, which we believe will happen. Choice and competition are always good,” she says.
More Marinas Coming
Among the most talked-about plans for Phuket is the 73-berth marina to be built at Barama Bay, an 80-acre private island in sheltered waters a kilometre off Phuket’s east coast. Apart from multi-million-dollar homes, the island will have a hotel managed by Jumeirah which also runs Dubai’s ultra-luxury Bourj Al Arab hotel, better known as the “Sail”.
Not far from Barama Bay will be the 100-berth Ao Por Marina and the 36-berth marina exclusively for residents of the Cape Yamu villas and guests of The Yamu, the 5-star-plus hotel on the cape.
There’s also been a lot of talk about the construction of a 1.7-billion-baht Layan Marina at the north end of Bang Tao Beach, the first marina on the island’s less-sheltered west coast. When done, the marina will be for the exclusive use for those buying or renting homes in the project. The Thai government is also getting in on the act with plans to build a marina in Chalong Bay, long a favorite anchorage for yachts.
No Need Ever to Leave
Behind all of this is the attitude of the local people, the Thais. Mr Ray says, “I have been working in Asia for the last 30 years, and I find that Thais are naturals at the service industry. It is like they were born to it.”
Put that together with the tropical weather, the scenery, all the luxury facilities and – of course – the value for money, and it’s easy to see why yachts from all over the world head for the island, and why many end up staying for years. After all, this is living the dream.