A voyage aboard any of the Star Clipper vessels would be a unique way to experience your destination of choice. I was lucky to sail aboard Star Clipper through the Andaman sea in Thailand and experience the nautical heritage of a traditional sail laden ship as well as the sophistication and relaxation of a modern private yacht.
The northern route consisted of sailing from Phuket visiting the islands of KO Surin, Similan, Ko Rok Nok, Langkawi, Malaysia, KO Kradan, Phang Nga, KO Hong back to Phuket.
Life on board was very laid back and relaxed with swimwear or sports wear for daytime and a change of clothes for dinner in the evening (no formal attire needed, smart casual was fine (open neck shirt, smart jeans etc).
We arrived a day before sailing and had a night in the 5 star Sala Phuket hotel, on a quiet beach, with spacious bungalows with private pool and outside bathrooms and a super beach front restaurant perfect to have a sundowner drink before dinner. We stayed a night after the cruise in the wonderful Anantara Mai Khao villas, located about an hour from Phuket port in a tranquil area with individual pool villas, all private settings in jungle style grounds and with an incredible seafood restaurant. I would definitely recommend a pre and / or post cruise night or two to help get over the journey and adjust to the time difference, or to simply extend your wonderful holiday.
Check in and embarkation took pace from the Seaview Hotel Patong where the large foyer was set up with refreshments and toilet facilities to receive both the disembarking guests and those who were about to embark mid-afternoon. Once on board in our lower deck cabins, there was a daily newspaper delivered which listed timings of activities, docking and excursions plus inspiring quotes, stories and toasts. Cruise director Peter Kissner was a wonderful source of information on not just the area we were visiting but local maritime history as well as background on the sailors, fishermen and local tribes and he was an accomplished speaker (both English and German).
The ship’s guests were a mix of British, German, Swiss and Americans who in the most part had made this particular cruise part of a South-East Asian itinerary with some guests going on to experience the eastern and Oriental Express luxury train.
Entertainment was low key, with local Thai dancers and musicians on some nights - but most entertaining and amusing was the amateur talent night which ranged from the captain (Sergei Turnikov) playing guitar and singing Russian love songs to crew members performing their native dance routines both modern and traditional , to passengers singing opera. Everyone agreed it was one of the cruise highlights as it was so relaxed and informal and fun, a refreshing change from the “Westend cabaret " featured on much larger cruise ships.
Most of the cruise was travelled "under sail" as there was plenty of wind meaning the ship did not always need to start the engines to motor to the next island. Our sail away sunsets around 6pm were memorable, not only for the stunning sunsets and the rousing Vangelis music playing but the fact that guests were actively encouraged to assist with raising the sails and felt part of the ship’s family. Some of our group members even climbed the rigging to the first crow’s nest.
Cabins on the lower deck were adequately sized and immaculately kept with cabin stewards on call at all times and super little touches like a complimentary large bottle of water, fruit and cookies and of course the obligatory towel animal & pillow chocolate. All guests received a free hardback copy of the story of Star Clippers written by Michael Kraft, the owner and creator of the product. Brits were happy to find a 24 hour free tea and coffee station available in the piano bar too!
The itinerary sailed within the limestone sea stacks and tiny islands and excursions were almost exclusively beach and water sports orientated. Snorkelling and diving, kayaking and body boarding in safe shallow waters, with beach BBQ were the order of the day. Tenders were necessary to leave the ship everywhere (except Phuket).
My absolute highlight had to be the chance to be on a zodiac speed boat whizzing between the sea stacks , catching glimpses of the ship between the rocks and even playing "chase" with the Star Clipper, ending up in front of her while the crew walked out onto the beam to wave at us.
Langkawi was another highlight and it was easy to disembark the ship and hire a local taxi to take us to the famous cable car, where we enjoyed the panoramic views, gliding over rainforest and waterfalls to the peak of Gungung Machinchang.
I had hoped to go on an elephant camp excursion at Khao Lak from Similan island stop but numbers were insufficient as they needed a minimum of 20. The excursion cost was 138 euros and would have been around 7 hours. Trekking in the jungle was another option here and cost around 66 euros.
Ao Phang Nga stop allowed guests to go see James Bond Island where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. Koh Panyi village is also visited on this excursion so guests can experience a settlement completely built on stilts over the shallow waters of the bay - costing 115 euros.
In conclusion, this type of "cruise" is not for everyone. There are no lifts aboard, lots of stairs and although the ship is stabilised, there is a certain amount of rocking and swaying on the teak decks. A certain level of physical fitness is required for activities including descending the stepped gangway to board the tender or zodiac rib boats, it requires a good level of balance and mobility as there was a lot of movement.
Food and service are both outstanding on board with a varied menu, themed buffets, afternoon snacks and midnight buffets available. I was very impressed with the high stands of hygiene and health and safety too. Most importantly, the atmosphere was always friendly, the "small" ship mentality meant you were not just a cabin number but a welcome guest and part of the ships family for your cruise duration - and personally I can't wait to do another Star Clipper cruise!