This blog is all about boats. From huge cruise liners to small canoes, It’s all here. If you are afraid of flying and sea travel is your thing then read on. Very often we hear that the journey is more important than the destination, and if you are one of those that believes in this, then taking a cruise to your holiday destination can be more enjoyable than being stuck on a pressurized metal tube up in the air for hours. And you also get to sleep on a proper bed instead of being cramped onto a small economy class seat, especially on long haul flights.

Just last March, we decided to go on a short cruise from Singapore to Phuket on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. This is also one of the largest cruise liners to make an inaugural port of call to Singapore. The cruise to Phuket lasts for 5 days. Leaving Singapore in the evening, we spent 2 nights at sea before reaching Phuket on the third day just before dawn. The port call at Phuket is for the whole day before leaving in the evening again to go back to Singapore. It’s another 2 nights at sea before reaching Singapore in the morning.

Boarding at Marina Bay Cruise Center. This is the new cruise terminal that is out in the middle of nowhere. The old cruise terminal at Harbourfront probably isn’t big enough to accommodate the new super huge cruise liners.
Gone are the days when cruise cabins were small and utilitarian. This is like a hotel room with all the bells and whistles.
Granted that we paid more for the balcony rooms but it beats the inside rooms which have no windows and feels really claustrophobic to me.
As the cruise gets underway, the activities start. One of the main attractions on the Ovation of the Seas is the North Star viewing platform where you are lifted 300 ft above for a panoramic view. Unfortunately, this broke down on the first evening and never got fixed thereafter. So we didn’t get a chance to ride it.
A couple of extreme sports activities you can try are the Florider where you wakeboard stationary on a surf simulator. The other activity is the iFly which is a simulated free fall.
Passing through the Southern islands. You can see how busy the sea lanes are with the ships sailing so close pass each other.

Going below decks, there are the usual shops and restaurants for passengers, and entertainment outlets for all ages.

The future of bartenders? Order your drinks through an iPad and the robots will mix it for you. Tom Cruise in the film Cocktail will never be the same again.
An alcoholic’s dream come through.
Watching the Sun set while lounging on the top deck.
Sunsets at sea are always mesmerizing.

Personally, I find that spending too long a time on the ship does get on my nerves. There is only so much you can see and experience in a day before getting bored. Anyway, that is me. For others, the slow pace of waiting for the next port of call can be a blessing in our super fast paced world where everything is in a rush. It harkens to the days before planes were invented and sailing ships were the only means of transport to faraway countries. Sea voyages took months compared to the mere days it takes now.

Time does pass quickly if you try out some of the activities onboard. Although with the huge number of passengers (4,000 plus on our cruise), it meant that long queues for popular activities and restaurants during meal times was a frustrating experience. Thankfully, rides like the North Star, Florider and iFly require advanced reservations, so you don’t have to queue for a couple of hours just to ride them.

Spending 2 nights at sea is somewhat manageable and on the third day we found ourselves anchored off Phuket’s Patong Beach.

It’s dawn and we have just anchored off Phuket. The ships crew were already busy preparing to disembark passengers off the ship.

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and also probably the first to be commercialized for tourism. As such, most of the island is well developed with a full range of hotels, shopping malls and luxury apartments being constructed, even now. Looking around, you won’t see any traces of the tsunami that hit the island in 2004. If you want to get away from the crowds, you would have to leave Phuket for the other islands around it.

For most tourists, getting away means taking a boat to Phang Nga Bay or Phi Phi Islands which are close by to Phuket.

As Phuket does not have a port that is large enough or deep enough to accommodate such a huge ship, we had to ‘tender’ to shore. It basically means that the lifeboats were used to transport passengers to shore. I actually got to see the lifeboats being deployed.
On our way to Patong Beach. Each lifeboat can ferry around 250 passengers, are motorized, filled with all kinds of life saving equipment, onboard GPS navigation, proper seats and even a PA system. Lifeboats have certainly come a long ways since the days of the Titanic.
It’s only a 10 minutes boat ride to Phuket before we transferred onto the jetty and walked up to the beach. As cruise visitors, we don’t carry our passports as they are kept onboard. Instead we had to use our cruise pass which also acts as our travel credentials during our time on Phuket.
Colourful boats line the shallows off Patong Beach.

For each port of call, several types of shore excursions are offered and depending on your interest, you can choose which ones you like. Otherwise, it’s also perfectly ok to go onshore without joining any organized tours. You just have to be mindful of the timing to return to the ship otherwise it will sail without you.

For myself, I chose to go with the sea caves canoeing tour. I’ve been to Phuket decades ago and much has changed, but this time I decided to try something a little more adventurous instead of the usual sight-seeing. There are other tours that will bring you to see cultural stuff like temples and shopping trips.

For joining a particular shore excursion, each passenger was given a number and we were to look for our guide who was holding a sign with our number on it after we landed on the jetty. Well, I was in group Number 1 and I had to find someone holding a sign with the Number 1 on it. After finding my guide, we waited for the whole group to assemble before walking to the bus which will bring us to another jetty from which we will depart for the sea caves.

Along the way, I’m reminded of the 2004 tsunami which killed thousands of people in Phuket. Signs reinforce the safety measures that have been introduced since that disaster. Although it’s already been more than 10 years and I guess complacency has set in.
After about an hour of bus ride, we arrived at Laem Sai Jetty which is on the north side of Phuket. From here we would take our boat which will bring us to Phang Nga Bay.
Sea Caves 1
After another hour or more of cruising we arrived at Phang Nga Bay which lies off the Andaman Sea.

Phang Nga Bay is a shallow bay consisting of 42 islands. The islands are mainly limestone and over the years, erosion has formed a system of caves in some of these islands. One of the more famous islands in Phang Nga Bay is James Bond Island as it is usually called. This is a limestone stack that sticks out of the sea and was featured in the old James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.

Today we were going to canoe through some of these caves. How exciting!

Sea Caves 2
The first cave that we were going to canoe through. The boat’s captain gave a short safety briefing before we started. Each person was also given a waterproof bag to put our cameras and phones.
Sea Caves 3
Each canoe takes up to 2 passengers and a crew member who does the canoeing. We didn’t need to do anything except gawk, take photos, and try not to fall into the sea. How nice!
Sea Caves 4
Seated on my canoe, it was time to move to the cave. The canoes are made of thick inflatable rubber over a steel frame, so they are actually quite sturdy.
Sea Caves 5
As we enter deeper into the cave, it becomes pitch black and the only lights were from the crews’ headlamps and torches. We could see the myriad formations of stalagmites and stalactites formed over millennia.
Sea Caves 6
As we travel to the end of the cave, I could see a glimmer of daylight coming from under the rocks. It was high tide when we entered the cave. During low tide it would have been possible to pass through this area.
Sea Caves 7
And of course any cave needs to have bats living in them.
Sea Caves 8
After spending about 15 minutes rowing through the cave, it was time to go back to our boat. For those who are claustrophobic this is one activity I won’t recommend. In some places, where the cave’s ceiling was low, we had to lie flat on the canoe while the crew navigated through.
Sea Caves 9
One of the 42 islands in Phang Nga Bay. It just reminds me of Skull Island in the new King Kong movie.
Sea Caves 10
The second stop of the day was another cave, but this one was different. It’s a short cave that passes through into a small hidden lagoon. How cool is that?
Sea Caves 11
As we enter the hidden lagoon, we can see the limestone formations which have formed into characteristic animal shapes, and the crew members were quick to point them out.
Sea Caves 12
From the hidden lagoon, we passed through another small opening and into this lovely sheltered bay. This limestone stack has the nickname James Bond II since it looks kind of similar to the original James Bond Island.
Sea Caves 13
We paddled around the bay admiring the limestone formations.
Sea Caves 14
Just another day sitting in the water and checking my messages.
Sea Caves 15
After going round the bay, it was time to return to our boat. It’s a rather large boat which can carry up to 50 people.
Sea Caves 16
We had lunch onboard. And throughout the whole boat ride, I could smell them cooking the food from the kitchen below decks.

After the lunch onboard the boat, we came to our last stop of the day which was to swim at a beach on one of the larger islands.

Sea Caves 17
The beach at Kho Lawa Yai. This island is one of the nearest to Phuket.
Sea Caves 18
The boat’s captain said we could jump from the boat and swim to shore if we wanted, so that’s what I did. It’s like something that you see done only in the movies.
Sea Caves 20
An angry crab that got dug out of the sand.
Sea Caves 19
Some tourist left her scarf to dry on the tree and I had to take this rather cliché shot.

After the beach swim we headed back to Phuket, and the bus brought us back to Patong Beach. The shore excursions are well organized and will bring you back to the cruise on time. We got back to Patong Beach by 3pm and even had some time for a 2 hours Thai massage since the last timing to board the ship was 7pm. Getting back on the ship is simple; just go to the jetty and show your cruise pass to be let onboard any of the waiting tender boats.

One thing to note is that fresh fruits and meats are not allowed to be brought back onto the ship. So forget about bringing onboard that Thai mango glutinous rice dessert, or Thai coconut that you wanted to eat in your cabin. Re-entering the ship is like going through immigration and customs at the airport with X-ray scanners and metal detectors. So any contraband items will be confiscated.

7 thoughts on “On a Slow Boat

  1. Interesting to hear that these kinds of cruises are offered from Singapore! I personally hate cruise ships but can bear them for the 2 hours it takes to get to Tallinn. I like the activities you had in Phuket though 🙂

    1. Yes, they are getting popular over the years. Such that Singapore now has 2 cruise terminals. I guess people with families like them since parents can just dump their kids onto the activities without worrying that they get lost. Perosnally I’m not a fan of cruises, but maybe when I’m older and sitting in a wheelchair…

  2. Lovely, specially because Ei am from West Bengal, Indian state that is entwined with rivers and I am so very familiar with boats of different size and capabilities. Lovely.

    Do check out my blog on boat cruise to phang nga bay. Cheers 🙂

  3. This cruise looks like a moving resort… I am amazed by the picture of the cabin… will definitely try sometime… Phang na Bay is simply amazing l loved the canoeing experience there…

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