Remote Thailand

When it rains what better than an umbrella
even on a motorbike

When friends invited us to join them at a boatyard in Thailand for Christmas and New Year we hadn’t realised quite how far off the tourist track they were. The region of Satun is just a few hours sail from the island of Langkawi and a few hundred kilometres due north of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Our first instinct was to drive up but partly because we’d not get there until Boxing Day and partly because there appeared to be no convenient roads or land border according to our basic road atlas of Malaya we settled on a Tiger Air flight to Hat Yai a couple of hours further north east. In fact there is a road crossing high in the mountains so it would be possible to drive from Singapore but it is a long, long way north!

Satun is locked between a steep mountain range and the coast in the bottom southwest corner of Thailand. It is a rural mostly flat area with one major eponymous town. Our early evening drive north from Hat Yai airport to reach the only road through the mountain range was pleasant, the roads mostly well made and the scenery amazing as the mountains rise almost vertically like huge cliffs from the low lying plain, in fact once much of this area was under the sea. It had been raining across the whole peninsula for weeks and we knew from the news reports and from the scene below us as we flew north across Malaysia from Singapore that most of the area was covered in flood water but we encountered no problems.

Satun’s main crop is latex from the rubber tree

The main road to Satun is a dual carriageway built up along most of its length by wooden houses, shops, cafes and the occasional modern office block or car showroom. It passes through several villages mostly at crossroads with traffic lights and bone breaking humps to slow the speeding traffic. Once in Satun we had to rely on the map from the boatyard website to find our way 12k northwest to the river. It was only later the relevance of the clearly marked hardware store in town was realised – it is owned by the same family!

Pat and Tony had rented a small apartment from the boatyard whilst work is being carried out on Full Flight as living with the galley in pieces and most of the rest of the interior upside down whilst one heads (bathroom) is remodelled into storage and the other refaced in melamine sheet was not possible. The “hovel” is one of several a single bedroom spaces created out of a row of workshops owned by the boatyard and rented out either to their workers or to yachties with boats in the yard. At the back the kitchen consists of a tiled concrete worksurface with a sink and a fridge is provided, everything else including a cooking ring the yachties provide themselves. Next door to the kitchen is a bathroom, twice the size of the kitchen space with a toilet, a sink and along one wall, an electric shower; no tray or curtain though so when showering everything had to be draped on the loo or sink to remain dry! The centrally located double bedroom has AC and a window opening into the “lounge” for air and light. The front door opens on to a bit of concrete and sand that floods when it rains but is a nice sun trap where the various local stray dogs like to doze during the day. Not exactly luxurious but it had everything needed plus plenty of space to pile up all the stuff removed from the boat for safe keeping whilst the work was ongoing. We were comfy enough – Pat and Tony graciously gave up the bedroom and slept on their boat mattress on the floor of the lounge. Having sailed together for many years on each other’s boats the four of us are used to rubbing along together in confined spaces.

The “hovel”


Tony sharing photos with the little girls from the boatyard


Almost everyone has a songbird in a cage
One of the many waterfalls in the area


Pat and Kevin


Tony venturing as far up as he could get


Spot the toad

So what of our stay? We explored the area by car, it being the rainy season the kayaking cave trip place was closed, though it looked like it might have been closed for quite a lot longer than that. We found several pleasant fish restaurants for lunch and our hosts introduced us to some of the yachtie haunts in town for suppers and beers. Christmas day was spent mostly eating in the boatyard with the other yachties and some of the staff and their children. It was lovely to catch up with Liz and Jamie of SY Esper who I had originally met in Oman at the start of the Indian Ocean leg of the Vasco de Gama Rally back in 2010; since then I’d followed their blog and facebook posts as they travelled India and the Far East. Esper too is having some major fettling done and their time in the yard is rapidly drawing to a close after many many months hard work.

Lunch at the beach


No kayaking for us


Large moth


The fella’ was snoozing on a gate just by Pat’s shoulder –
don’t know who was more surprised!
The yard manager’s birthday is Christmas Day!


Mulling over rebuilding a rudder


Our gorgeous room at The Gleam

Between Christmas and New Year we all enjoyed a few days of luxury at the wonderful Gleam Resort in central Satun; not that you’d have known it was the centre of town, this was a quiet oasis filled with birdsong. Then it was back to work for the Pat and Tony supervising the yard staff as they continued the refit. Kevin & I headed off in the car for day trips elsewhere in the region including a very wet drive to Songhla during which we scarcely left the car and saw very little of this historic city due to the extremely heavy rains all day.

The dragon fountain, Songhla –
the only point the rain eased off all day!


Family vehicle


Lunch outside Hat Yai
The Thai’ calendar starts from some 243 years
before the Gregorian one


Love these Thai gnomes


The celebrations were all too much for some

We saw the New Year “in” outside the “hovel” having spent the earlier part of the evening exploring the market in Satun town and taking in the lights and noisy celebrations. For Kevin and I it was all a bit muted as news had reached us of the sudden death of Erica, my son Will’s long time partner and daughter Maddy’s best friend from college. To say she will leave a gap in all our lives is to understate what a bubbly, lovely person Erica was – her enthusiasm for life was infectious and the memories we have are of fun and laughter.

The seasonal demand for airline seats meant we could not alter our existing travel plans despite desperately wanting to be in London with Will. Eventually Singapore Airlines found me a seat on January 6 and I headed for Tooting. London was cold and dismal and our sombre mood not much better. 2014 was a year of many upheavals and one that I think both Kevin and I are heartily glad to see the back of despite the wonderful months in the Caribbean.

The river at Thung Wa, N Satun


Roundabout in Trang
– the main town in the next region north


Beach facilities – the east coast is mostly muddy river estuaries,
not inviting for swimming


Longtails waiting to go fishing


Camping cabin in the National Park, Satun


Bird hide or verandah, National Park, Satun


PSS Boatyard, Satun