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14 December 2016

Thailand V.I.P FAM Trip

Tuesday, 29th November / Wednesday, 30th November 

When I had first received my invite in April to attend this amazing trip, it seemed so far away and now the day had finally arrived! 

As I wasn't meeting the group until 5pm I decided to fly down to Heathrow. I figured it would be easier to change terminals rather than get the train and have to carry my suitcase across London!

I met the group (escorted by Fay McCormack, General Manager and Danielle Dudley, UK Sales Manager) at the Etihad check-in desk. We were all excited to be visiting Thailand and especially spending time onboard Star Clipper as she returned to Thailand after a 6 year absence . After the introductions we checked in and were delighted to be told that we had been upgraded to business class for the first leg of our flight (at this point I just had to ring Tony and Sam and tell them the good news, they were both very jealous!!). We made our way to the lounge where we celebrated with Champagne and got to know each other better. It was then time to board the flight and our journey began.

The flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi went very quick, more champagne then dinner with wine, a chance to sample the flat beds (amazing!!). Then before we knew it we had arrived at Abu Dhabi where we were to connect with our onward flight to Phuket. Transit went smoothly and we were on our way again. The flight from Abu Dhabi to Phuket was slightly shorter than our first flight and even in economy we did manage to get some sleep. We filled in our tourist entry cards ready for arrival.

On arrival at Phuket, immigration was very slow, however by the time we got to the baggage carousel our cases were all there ready to collect. We were then escorted to the Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas where we were to stay for the first two nights.

We received such a fabulous welcome, we were given flowers, juice and warm towels before being escorted to our own private villas. The villas were amazing, I was so tempted to jump straight into my huge pool but decided to wait until the next morning. After all, we had arranged to freshen up and then meet for dinner. Dinner was a buffet with a wide choice of curries, rice and salad. Mindful of the 7 hour time difference and our long flights we decided to call it a night after dinner and all retired back to our own villas.  

Thursday, 1st December 

After a very comfortable sleep, we met for breakfast (buffet with a huge selection), then had the day to ourselves. The fitter (and younger) members of the group went on an escorted bike ride, I did consider joining them but somehow my private pool back at the villa held more appeal. Lunch today was at Sea Fire Salt, which is in the resort. Already it was very evident that we were going to eat well on this trip and have some delicious food. Lunch today was no exception. The buffet consisted of meat, fish, and vegetables, all with spices, herbs and very tasty sauces. Some of the dishes were cooked directly on Himalayan salt blocks.

This afternoon we were free to do what we wanted to do; relax after a long bike ride or more of the same for those of us who had spent the morning relaxing. 

In the evening we were taken to the SALA Phuket for a hotel inspection and dinner. This resort property combines historical Sino-Portuguese architecture with modern 5 star facilities. Most of the properties here had private swimming pools. We had dinner overlooking the stunning beach. After dinner we returned to the Anantara and had a last drink in the Tree Top Bar before bed. Tomorrow we would be joining the Star Clipper for our 7 night sailing. 

Friday, 2nd December 

Today we had a tour of Phuket visiting a Buddhist temple, a Buddha statue and had time for lunch at The Kang Eang @Pier. Another tasty buffet. We were then taken to the Seaview Hotel, Patong Bay to check in for our sailing. We were greeted by very friendly staff.  There is a room exclusively for Star Clipper guests with tea/coffee and soft drinks. Passengers leave their luggage here and it is taken on to the ship for you. After check in we made our way to the pier to get the tender to the ship. It is a short walk (a slow 10 minute walk at most) and then the tender took about 15 minutes.  We were greeted by Captain Sergey Tunikov and given our welcome onboard cocktail. The first few moments onboard are always magical and even though this was my 10th time experiencing one of the ships I still got chills.

We went to the library to have our photos taken for our identity cards and then went to our cabins to freshen up and wait for our cases, they arrived very quickly.

At 18.30 we attended the life boat drill which, due to international maritime regulations, participation is compulsory for all passengers. This was followed by dinner and then drinks in the bar. Sail away was postponed as due to the heavy rain some passengers had been delayed.   

Saturday, 3rd December

Today before we anchored off Ko Surin, all passengers had to attend another life boat drill after which we met the captain and the crew. Our cruise director (Peter Kissner) gave us some information about the weeks sailing, and advised us that there would be many wet landings so he hoped we had bought our swimming shoes with us. After a quick lunch we took the tender ashore and indeed Peter was correct, our first of many wet landings. There were plenty of crew members around to help the passengers out of the tender and to hold our belongings as we landed in the sea, great fun. The sea was an amazing colour, beautiful. This stop was very picturesque, we walked along the sandy beach, some of us went scuba diving, and others just enjoyed the views. There was no kiosk or anyone on the beach selling drinks so it would be a good idea to perhaps take a bottle of water with you. The weather was still quite cloudy at this point and the tender back to the ship was a bit choppy.

We made it back onboard to attend Peters talk (today was SPV Star Clipper and her sailing area in South East Asia). Peter is a fabulous Cruise director, every day he gave a talk which was always very popular. A leisurely change and freshen up then it was time for a pre-dinner drink with the group to chat about our first day and then time for dinner followed by the Star Clipper fashion show (I was asked if I wanted to take part but, unlike Sam, I managed to get out of it!).

Sunday, 4th December

We were at Ko Miang today, Similan Maritime National Park. This is one of the best places to Scuba dive. The landing today we were up to our waists, so a good idea to just wear a swimming costume and have your clothes in your bag with your beach towel. Another very pretty beach which did have soft drinks available to buy. We had a walk up to the view point, which was quite a climb but well worth the view when we got to the top. A good view of the Star Clipper too. The weather had started to improve too so all things were good.

Tonight’s entertainment on board was the Frog racing which is always popular with the guests.

Monday, 5th December

After breakfast I attended Peters talk up on deck as we weren’t due to arrive in Ko Rok Nok until midday. Today Peter talked to us about the 7 largest tall ships. The Royal Clipper is based on the Preussen and the Flying Clipper will be based on the largest tall ship ever built- The France 2.

There was also time to participate in "laughing is the best medicine" with Karl from the sports team. As you can imagine by the title we just spent 15 minutes doing nothing but laughing - very entertaining indeed.

After lunch we took the tenders ashore. Peter did warn us that there might be iguanas here. They won’t pester you if you don’t attract their attention, if you get too close to them they will shake their tails at you. Rather disappointingly we didn’t see any anyway. As always, water sports and beach activities were available ashore with the sports team. Star Clipper also have an independent PADI qualified diving instructor aboard the Star Clipper, he is not part of the crew but works independently using the ship as a dive base only.

Today we also had to fill in immigration cards ready for Ko Kraden on Wednesday, as we were visiting Malaysia on Wednesday and returning back to Thailand on Thursday. 

Tuesday, 6th December

Today we woke up at port in Langkawi, Malaysia. We were given maps onboard and then headed ashore. At the port entrance there were taxi drivers waiting and we found a driver to take the 6 of us on an Island tour. We pointed to the map and told him where we would like to go and what time we had to be back at the ship and negotiated a price. (15 Euros per person, not really sure how that happened as we paid him in Malaysian Ringgits, but luckily one of the group was good at exchange rates!!). First stop a place to exchange Thai Bahts into local currency and a cash point and then off we went with our driver Rocky. He was very friendly and stopped whenever we asked him to so that we could take photos.

We had asked him to take us to the Oriental Village, a very pretty place with a choice of restaurants and a cable car ride. We decided to pay the extra 50 Ringgits (approx. £9.00) to jump the queue which was well worth it. There were huge queues at each of the three stops and we just got straight on, no waiting in the heat for us. Today was the hottest day so far so we were so pleased not to have to stand in long queues. In actual fact we probably wouldn’t have had the time to do so anyway. After our cable car ride we decided to have lunch in the village. Between the 6 of us we had enough currency left for 2 pizzas and 4 drinks, it was such fun deciding on which pizzas to order.  

After lunch we went in search of Rocky who had waited outside for us and then he took us to another stunning beach for a swim and a relaxing afternoon before taking us back to port.

Malaysia is actually an hour ahead of Thailand, however we were told that the ship would stay on Thai time and not adjust to Malaysian time. (Unfortunately my phone decided to adjust itself to Malaysian time and as a result my alarm had me up and dressed an hour before I needed to be!!) We said our thank you's and goodbyes to Rocky and went back on board. Peters talk today was about the Star Flyers experiences during the Tsunami in 2004, a very emotional talk to listen too.  

Tonight was the repeaters cocktail party with the captain. 68% of the passengers were repeaters! 

Wednesday, 7th December

The weather had been improving every day, getting hotter and sunnier too. Today was the beach BBQ day at Ko Kraden. We went ashore just before lunch time, there was plenty of shade available for those who didn’t want to be in the sun all the time.

There is an Anatara Beach Club which has lots of sunbeds at no charge (though they did ask us to buy just one drink each). The wet landing was much shallower today. Captain Sergey told us to take some bread ashore to feed the fish. They were amazing, such beautiful colours and they swam right up to us to get the food. A good photo opportunity. There were even some small barracudas swimming around us too.

A couple of the group went off to have a massage on the beach and there was also a mini mart ashore too. Another beautiful beach with soft white sand and turquoise sea.

Captain's night tonight. 4 of our group were invited to join the captain, so the rest of us decided to have a party of our own, champagne before dinner and a table exclusively for us.

Thursday, 8th December

All too soon our last day onboard was here. There was an opportunity to take an excursion to James Bond Island. Not being a fan of James Bond I didn't take the excursion, however as this was only one of two ports offering excursions a few people took this excursion. Sailing into Ao Phang Nga today (a maritime national park), the passage was amazing, another photo opportunity. A deck lunch and then we took the tender ashore. A jetty landing today so no getting wet today. Another leisurely swim in the sea, a read of my book ashore and then the tender back to the ship to start packing.

Friday, 9th December    

Well time to leave the wonderful Star Clipper again. After breakfast we paid our bills, said our goodbyes to Captain Sergey and his crew and took the tender back to shore. When we arrived at the port we walked along to the Seaview, located our luggage which we then put in the storage room and went out exploring Penang Bay.

We were told that there was a shopping mall a 5 minute walk away so headed for there it actually took closer to half an hour! Although we did stop on the way for a coffee. Inside the mall there are stores but on the ground floor there are a lot of market type stalls, very interesting to walk around and see all the locally made goods. We stayed in the mall for lunch and then headed back to the Seaview for showers and to wait for our transfer back to the airport. By now passengers were arriving to start their Star Clipper sailing so the room was quite busy but there were hotel staff and Star Clipper crew around to help.

After check in we went through to immigration. I would recommend that you leave plenty of time to do this as the process was quite slow. The immigration guys did seem to be confused by the fact that we had only arrived in Thailand on Thursday and were leaving again on Friday as our passports had been stamped again after our visit to Langkawi, Malaysia.

No upgrade for us on our return journey (sad times) however we still manged to get some sleep and arrived back into Heathrow on Saturday morning bright and early.

Another amazing Star Clipper experience, I feel so very lucky to have been able to enjoy another week onboard such a wonderful ship - thank you Star Clippers.

 

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