Many crew think of an entirely different kind of wildlife when they hit the Andaman Sea coast, especially in Phuket. But away from the thumping nightclubs and steamy bars, there are some beautiful natural delights that should not be missed.
From the border with Burma to the north, running more than 600 nautical miles down towards Singapore, the Andaman Sea coast of Thailand and Malaysia is becoming more and more popular with superyachts. Out of the reach of mass tourism, many of the islands and beaches are unspoiled, making them a haven for wildlife.
A yacht is a great vehicle for viewing wildlife, of course, but if you have a weekend’s leave to explore ashore, there are also some excellent land-based destinations where you can tap into your inner eco-explorer.
In and around Phuket, Thailand:
If you have some time to get off the boat, The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project has a reserve in the island's northeast sector, close to the Bang Pae waterfall and provides a chance to see these fabulous apes in their natural environment.
The Khao Sok National Park is just a couple of hours’ drive north of Phuket – lush rainforests cover dramatic hills and lakes teem with fish. Elephant treks are a must when visiting this park.
While cruising Phang Nga Bay, you’ll be able to see the dramatic limestone stacks. Look out for noisy flocks of rare hornbills, giant fruit bats, otters and dolphins. And if the rumors are true, there may even be some crocodiles.
Inside the caves and roofless hongs, check out the mudskipper fish hopping around like missing links.
Head north to the Surin and Similan Islands to find clear water and great diving and snorkeling with turtles and colorful corals.
In and around Langkawi, Malaysia:
When cruising, keep your eyes peeled for birds of prey all around the archipelago. The larger black-and-white, white-bellied sea-eagles often chase the Long tom fish that are scared up by boats and appear to "run" across the surface on their tails. Look out for the eagles swooping down and hear their mad laughing calls at dawn and dusk as the pairs reinforce their bonds.
The smaller black, white and chestnut brown Brahminy Kites will feed from the back of boats – they’ve been tamed from years of local tourist trips.
Pulau-Payar (a half-day trip to the south) has excellent diving and snorkeling. The sharks here are extremely friendly as they are often fed – be warned!
On land, climb up to the Seven Wells waterfalls above Telaga Marina. Experience the rainforest and cool off in the series of natural plunge pools and slides. But watch out for the macaques, as these cheeky monkeys have been fed by taxi drivers and will mug you if you’re carrying food or interesting looking bags.
Between Phuket and Langkawi lie a mass of islands to explore as you cruise the Andaman coast. Wildlife here is abundant. Large populations of fruit bats can be found in Ko Kudu in Phang Nga Bay, and Ko Dam just south of Krabi in Thailand. At dusk they leave the trees and stream off in clouds of thousands towards the orchards of the mainland and larger islands.
The noisy black-and-white hornbills are rare but can be seen (and heard cackling) on the limestone stacks of Phang Nga Bay and the less spoiled coastal forests of Langkawi.
Generally, the farther south you go, and the farther offshore, the clearer the sea and the better the coral reefs. Close to Phuket the best coral is found around Ko Racha. Halfway down to Langkawi, Ko Rok has some lovely reefs.
Mangrove forests are great for monkeys, birds, mudskippers, fiddler crabs and monitor lizards. On Ko Tarutao extensive mangrove forests lead you to some vast cave complexes.
To learn more about Phuket's rainforest, go to www.khaosok.com. If you wish to find out more about the work being done to protect Thailand's rare gibbon, check out www.gibbonproject.org.