A Heaven Taste Raid
To sail from islands to islands, to live of toasted fish and exotic fruits, to sleep on paradise beaches, to share the excitement of sailing..... Yes it is still possible nowadays, to become a Robinson Crusoe at the heart of an untouched archipelago.
Text and pictures by Jean-François Vibert
A whale on the starboard side, a whale on the starboard side ! On catamarans, people are excited, but they still cannot see anything... It will soon break surface, our guide Marco is shouting ! When the dark shape appears on the horizon, an exclamation comes out of the sails. The cetacean blows, rolls on the side and makes a sign with its flipper before disappearing My first whale,., a deeply moved young woman sighs !

The Heart of the Samui Archipelago. We are cruising in the China Sea, off the Thai shores. In the morning, we got on board of five bi-places catamarans for a six-days raid between the Koh Pha-Ngan island and the Marine-National-Park archipelago. Having remained untouched, this bunch of islands is a true earth heaven...
Waters are peaceful there and the pleasure of sailing is only equated by the amazement of our senses. Towards the south, we cross many islets covered with tropical jungle and hundreds of small fish are jumping before the stem to escape from an invisible predator. Soon, a dolphin comes to play so close to the sails that we are nearly able to touch it !

The Swallows, Nests Island. When arriving at the heart of the park, the scene becomes all the more extraordinary : turquoise lagoons, luxurious vegetation, bunches of corral on the surface.... And even some rare geological element such as this 20m-high rock with its obelisk shape, floating like if in mediation above the water. Now we are sailing at the foot of the huge cliffs of the Forbidden Island,. Our catamarans appear tiny under these impressive chalky walls.
On the top, the jungle runs over the edge just like if it was willing to colonise space after having conquered the ground and the islands. We cannot land on this island, Marco explains, because on these cliffs, people collect the swallows, nests, which are a very appreciated meal all over Asia. Some years ago, a heavily armed commando tried to steal the collect, but the coast-guards intervened and there were several dead.,... No regrets as Marco promised us a bivouac for tonight, on a great island.
A Transparent 28° Water. In this region of the Siam Gulf, the weather is good from November to April. The regular breeze because of the monsoon slowly pushes us and makes the average temperature of 30° bearable. Only one necessity for all of us, inexperienced sailors : to prevent being sunburnt, especially on the first days.
Fortunately, the sail in the deep see only lasts for a few hours and soon, we can land on the shadows of palm-trees, on an idyllic beach. In the air, one can feel a kind of spice smell, the sand is white, the water perfectly transparent and at 28°... it is now time for great swimming with masks in order to be able to admire corals, angel fishes, skates and other tropical curiosities.

Landing in the Garden of Eden. By the end of the afternoon, the support small boat brings us the bivouac. The landing of the equipment thanks to pirogues is somewhat acrobatic for who is not used to it. Fortunately, in case of an accident, clothes, medicines, cameras and others are well-packed inside water-proof cases. It would have been a great laugh under the mocking eye of the Thai fisherman, who had never seen so awkward sailors ! Then a strange pirate-like pirogue comes closer... Just the coast-guards, protecting the environment against poachers ! because here, fishing is forbidden. Being as astonished as we are, the rangers welcome us with their guns.

Young Robinson. Being not only an experienced sailor, our guide Marco is also a very good cooker. For diner, Toasted barracuda with citronella rice and tasty exotic fruits with unpronounceable names... once satisfied, the young adventurers gather around the sea map put on the sand for a course. When the sun comes down, Marco explains the itinerary of the next days : the Koh Sam-Sao island, the cape Koh Taip-Phao, the climbing of Koh Wua-Talab...
After several glasses of a curious local drink, and rocked by sea stories, we all dream of being Robinsons ! nevertheless, we have to sleep and therefore take place in our sleeping bags on the trampolines of the boats. Under the celestial arch, each of us already dreams of the following sailing, surrounded by the smells of the jungle and rocked by the calls of the Birds of Paradise...

Now It,s Your Go !
Nowadays, to live such an adventure is at everybody,s hand. Guided by a specialist who perfectly knows the region, and assisted by a support boat, you are able to appreciate the raid in safety.

Travel :
After 11 hours flight, a short stop in Bangkok, a flight to Koh Samui, two hours of speed-boat and a night on the Koh Pha-Ngan island, you get on board for the adventure ! Ten days including the travel out of which, you will have six days of sailing.

First day : departure in Koh Pha Ngan. After several hours sailing and a pause to swim, landing on Koh Sam Sao for a wild bivouac. The support boat brings the water.

Second day : sailing and walk on Koh Wat Koh island in order to discover a charming inside lake. Bivouac on Koh Wua-Talab in the same conditions as the night before. The support boat brings everything you may need.

Third day : Climbing of the Koh Wua-Talab. From the top, you can admire magnificent landscapes, you have a sight on the whole archipelago. In the afternoon, sailing towards the southern islands and a new wild bivouac.

Fourth day : Crossing in the deep sea and discovery of the northern shores of Koh Pha Ngan. Bivouac on the Koh Mah beach, where you will find showers and bungalows.

Fifth day : sailing towards Koh Tao, the snorkelling and diving paradise. Visit of the island and comfortable bivouac with showers.

Sixth day : back to Koh Pha Ngan, with swimming stops and if the wind allows it , one more tour of the island. A night at the UCPA centre.

Level : To be able to sail on a catamaran or a small boat with an average wind is required, except if you are coming with an experienced sailor.
Inscriptions : De février à mars, à partir de 1890 Euros, transport compris. Infos : 0825.820.830 et
Séjour à Koh Pha Ngan : Suivant les options, comptez de 330 à 560 euros la semaine supplémentaire au centre UCPA : - Siripun Bungalow Thongsala - Koh Pha Ngan 84280 - Suratthani Thailande.

A Stay at Koh Pha-Ngan
The Koh Pha-Ngan island is an ideal starting point to leave for the discovery of the rest of the Samui archipelago.

Local life : the population lives mainly from fishing and the collect of coconuts. Tourism still being a marginal part of the local economy, everywhere, you will be welcomed with smiles, and even in Thongsala, the small village where tourists usually land. One can find here, films for cameras, a pharmacy and recently, three shops offering an access to the internet. Visiting the island is interesting : being of a modest size it is crossed by a sole tarred road but numerous paths will bring you to its secrets.

Around the island : rent a moped or a car and leave for the discovery of desert beaches in the north of the island, such as Had Lad, Koh Ma and Aow Hat Yao.Do not miss the beautiful Bottle beach, only reachable by sea - you will find pirogues to bring you there on the beach of the Chalok Lum village.

Fishing : watch the fishermen arrive in Chalok Lum ; the calmars are cut by women and dried on fences. It happens that they cut up barracudas, tunas, sharks and even swordfishes directly on the beach. You will be able to appreciate them in the small booths of Chalok Lum or Koh Ma.

In the island : the island is covered with coconut trees and coconuts are hand-crafted by women in glades. To ask if you can drink the coconut milk would be a good pretext to start a talk. You also could make some walks in the magnificent forest which covers the tops of the island and try to discover the beautiful falls which are hidden there. The maximal altitude is of 627 metres.

Too fun ! : In the south-east of the island, a neo-techno-hippie community is settled which organises on each full moon, the famous Full-Moon-Party, on the Had Rin beach. The techno music and the ambiance are really great but beware the few drug dealers there.

The UCPA centre : they propose you some diving, sailing on catamarans, wind-surfing, VTT riding or a full-resting stay... it costs from 2150F to 3630F by week in full board. For those who like walking, there also exist a seven days trekking trip : between December and March, from 7900 to 8250F. Also : diving courses : from 7300 to 8930F.

Nearby Islands :
It would be a shame not to visit the rest of the archipelago, and all the more as speed-boats and ferries daily bring people on most of the islands.

Koh Samui :
Being invaded by tourists, these big island is rich in curiosities even if it has lost part of its wild character. In fact, since recently flights directly link it to Bangkok, which enables the travellers to undertake a long journey by train. You will visit some nice beaches, temples and will visit the coconut trees forest at the heart of the island and will be able to admire two great cascades.

Koh Tao : this small island, surrounded by rocky coasts is a paradise for divers ; one can stay there in small bamboo bungalows which overhang the sea. Go and have a pick-nick on the three islets of Koh Nang Yuan, linked to each other by a sand strip.

The Marine National Park : Some one day raids are made by speed-boats, but it is hard to remain there as the place is protected. The catamaran raid is therefore the best way to explore this heavenly archipelago composed of some thirty islands. May this jewels remain untouched and avoid falling into the same destiny as Phuket.

Travelling Guide
Only the Lonely Planet guide will be useful as far as Koh Pha Ngan and the Samui archipelago is concerned.

In fact, the other guides are still desperately lacking information on the region. The Gallimard guide for instance, only leaves 15 lines to Koh Pha Ngan instead of ten pages in the Lonely Planet, full of necessary information about the place. You will also find there, details about how to go from islands to islands as well as numerous indications on the bamboo bungalows built along the beaches.

Huge rock and a catamaran - Incredible giant geological formations. Being a characteristic of the China Sea, these chalky rocky peaks are everlastingly beaten by the sea and only measure a few meters at their foot. Obviously recalling the mythical Columns of Hercules, they give to our sailing a taste of antique epic.

The Marine National Park - This bunch of islands are explored during a whole part of the raid. The climbing of the highest of them is the occasion to walk at the heart of the primary forest. Everywhere, you will find hospitable beaches to host the bivouac.

The Hobi Cat 16, an ideal discovery means - Thanks to its large trampoline, the catamaran is particularly comfortable for the crossings between the islands. Its speed also enables you to escape from the petole,, meaning the lack of wind.

The settling of the camp - Everyday we settle our bivouac on a beach. The trampoline of the catamarans is used as a camp bed and the fishes are roasted on a fire. A minimum of luggage is recommended : a small pharmacy, some tee-shirts, a bathing cloth... no more than 15kgs per each.

Meeting Thai fishermen - Like all people from sea-sides, Thai people welcome travellers with enthusiasm, and never hesitate to offer the product of their fishing. Barracudas, swordfishes, rays, sharks but also rock lobsters ! What a delice every nights ...

Lamp fishers - In the deep sea, one can meet calmar fishers. When the sun goes down, they settle their webs thanks to powerful lamps which light attracts animals. Early in the morning, the webs are collected and landed on the beach ; the fishes are dried on fences.

Misters Marco and Sonno - Like all experienced sailors, our guide Marco has been confronted to curious stories and even some wrecks ; his stories move us every night at the bivouac. But he soon reassures us : no danger with our expedition ! All the precautions have been taken and in case of a big problem with the equipment, the small fishing boat which accompanies us is equipped with a radio... and a good engine ! With gestures, the old pilot of the support boat explains that his boat is a real rocket. Even if he does not speak a word of English, he is called Mister Sonno as he is still the Captain. Still with gestures, he tells us he is able to dismantle and to reassemble again his engine in the deep sea. Reassuring ! from the outside, the small trawler looks like an old skiff and it has the prints of numerous nights spend in the deep blue ! Some years ago, Mister Sonno was fishing calmars with a lamp like everybody here. And one day, a white man arrives, bald and a little crazy with five curious boats. It was mister Marco, who was looking for a very fast boat... and who engaged Mister Sonno !

Découvrir également la parution de ce reportage dans FHM (juin 2000)

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© Jean François VIBERT - Journalist and photographer - Paris -
Specialised in travels, extrems sports, leisure activities, adventure trips, outdoor sports, deserts and mountains... Trekking, ski, snowboard, mountain, bike, sailing, scuba diving, hiking, in line skating... Texts and pictures for the press and the web, illustration, digital photography, reportages...
Journaliste photographe - Spécialiste des voyages, des sports de glisse, des loisirs, de l'aventure, de l'outdoor, des déserts, des montagnes. VTT, trekking, ski, snowboard, parapente, voile, plongée sous marine, randonnées, roller in line... Textes et photos pour la presse et internet, illustrations, photographie numérique, reportages...