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Weekend boat cruising off the coast of Phuket

Rebecca Bisset heads offshore for a completely different Thailand travel experience.

I was invited for a weekend cruise off the coast of Phuket on the Merdeka 3, a custom-made wooden Indonesian phinisi (two-masted boat) available for charter. Merdeka 3 is the brand new, bigger sister of Merdeka 1, which was having a bit of a revamp at the time. (I’m not sure what happened to number 2!)

Phuket boating
View of the front of Merdeka 3

Having been to Phuket several times over the years and even backpacked there in my youth, I thought I knew it and had done it, but this “cruisy” way of seeing things is a whole new experience. The islands are spectacular: large rust-coloured walls of stone pushing up through the water. Inside these giant formations you find little havens, and sometimes an entire enclosed sea, while others have small islands with their own ecosystems, mangroves, bats and other interesting creatures.

We got taken in the boat’s motor dinghy through caves to explore these places, sometimes having to lie flat down on the bottom to get through the openings. We also took out the kayaks that are onboard and cruised silently along the coast and found ourselves at uninhabited beaches. It really is an extraordinary way to explore.

Phuket boating
Getting ready for some kayaking

The Merdeka 3 has four double beds (all with ensuites) that open up practically onto the water; it’s amazing to wake up to your own sea view! A further two berths are below; these have three beds each and are better for kids.

You don’t have to worry about food – unless you’re concerned about eating too much, that is; we seemed to have a constant flow of meals, snacks and alcohol coming our way. You could probably catch your own dinner, if you’re lucky – rods and tackle are available if you feel so inclined. And, if you’d rather be swimming with the fishes, there are goggles and snorkels to use.

Two large living areas make the set-up feel so spacious, and one of them doubles as a massage parlour, with a masseuse available around the clock to sort out those knotty areas. The top deck is great for tanning, drinking cocktails and watching for meteorites. Unluckily for us, it started to rain around midnight on both nights (it was the rainy season, so lots of short showers) – this is usually the best time to see them; either way, lying up there with the gentle rocking motion and the near silence is special enough on its own.

Phuket boating

The owners operate a Party Weekend Package and a Chilled Private Charter for weekends and weekdays. Merdeka 1 is 85 feet and Merdeka 3 is 100 feet, so there’s plenty of space for you to have a real party. With eight of us on board Merdeka 3, plus crew, it felt pretty empty; it can sleep up to 16 comfortably – plus there’s plenty of space for others to sleep on deck, under cover – and it can cater for a party of up to 70! And the best part of its large size and catamaran base is that there’s very little movement.

The Party Weekend Package is a fixed itinerary cruise that departs Friday night from Ao Por in Phuket’s northeast (near the airport), visits Krabi or Phi Phi (weather permitting), and arrives back in Chalong Bay in the south on Sunday evening. The Chilled Private Charter can be customised to specific requirements – you’re encouraged to limit numbers to around 12 people for a more relaxed and exclusive experience. You can also choose where you want to go in the area around Phang Nga Bay and Krabi and Phi Phi islands – this means you can avoid the crowds.

Living area
Enjoying a meal at one of the spacious living areas

Both cruise types include full board and lodging, all meals plus snacks and fruit, free massage, use of snorkelling equipment, and free soft drinks, water and beer, plus additional alcoholic drinks for the Chilled Private Charter. Depending on which boat you’re on, and the size of the group, the cost can start from as little as S$160 per person for the party package, and from S$2,350 (total) per day for the private charter. You just need to arrange 30 percent of the price as a deposit, and then pay the balance one week prior to your cruise.

As the owner Neil Dibb says: “It’s a rustic and cultural experience for people who enjoy being with nature, and who relish private time in the company of good friends and family.” I would completely agree!

This is an article that first appeared in the November 2016 edition of Expat Living. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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