Let me preface this review to say, I don’t write reviews. And I hardly read them. But when I saw that the trip I just finished – an Adventure Cruise around Thailand and Malaysia – had no reviews at all, I felt compelled to try to explain the experience of this trip so that others may have a similarly incredible holiday.
This is my fourth Intrepid adventure. My first was in 2010 when I travelled throughout Northern India and Nepal. An amazing experience and one that definitely had an impact, as I’ve been living in India for the past six years. I probably would have never accepted the job offer had I not had such a great introduction to India and its culture.
Every year I take a vacation to celebrate my birthday. When I discovered the Thailand islands, I fell in love. They are the perfect destination for a guy that loves the beach and the water, but grew up in a climate where my birthday fell in the dead of winter.
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Two years ago, I booked the seven-day Phuket to Phuket sailing trip and it was one of the top vacations I’ve had in my life. A great group of people ranging from mid-20s to mid-60s. Aussies, Americans, Brits, two Eastern European women on a girls getaway, honeymooners, a South African helicopter pilot, and a cute Greek middle-aged couple who were very much in love and enjoying a romantic couple of days on a catamaran in the Andaman Sea.
Our days were filled with swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle boarding, at one beautiful location after another. I didn’t want it to end.
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Last year, I decided on the nine-day Myanmar sailing adventure. Myanmar was a totally different experience but just as amazing. If you’re looking for a complete digital detox, that’s what you get. There are very few people around, and the only lights come from the brightly colored bulbs of the local squid boats.
This was a much smaller group – me, a just-turned 46-year-old, single, gay American, living and working in India. A German engineer in his mid-50s taking a week to decompress on a sail boat in the clear waters of Myanmar while making his way through Southeast Asia on his annual two month holiday. And one of the most interesting women I’ve ever met – an Australian who has lived all over the world, working on humanitarian projects and helping to make this crazy place called Earth a more liveable and loveable world.
This year, I decided to up the ante and book an Intrepid Adventure Cruise; nine days sailing from Phuket to Penang on a big, beautiful sailboat. The Panorama II is gorgeous; having a proper cabin and bathroom was definitely an upgrade, and the multiple decks made it seem extremely spacious.
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The second day of the cruise (which happened to be my birthday), was one of those days that will stay with me forever. While I was traveling with a date, I got up early to watch the sunrise. I was alone on the deck (although I knew the captain was safely at the helm, and I could hear the rustlings of the hotel staff getting our breakfast ready). The waves slapped lightly against the boat as the colors slowly began to show themselves across the sky, and by 7am the sun was awake. The anchor came up and we sailed to Ao Nang in the Krabi district.
We ended up at an outdoor basket weaving hut. Several Thai women and men were gathered around, slicing leaves into thin green strands that they taught us how to weave into patterns. We were led by a master, a 78-year-old woman who spoke no English but showed us exactly how to weave a rectangle mat to perfection. At the end I felt like I had spent the day with my grandma.
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Then we played forest warriors by shooting seed bombs with sling shots, in an effort to regenerate the surrounding forest. What a blast! We took a tour of a nearby rubber plantation, where we saw rubber ooze from the grooves in the tree’s bark. And afterwards, we enjoyed an authentic Thai meal, cooked in the home of a local family. We sat on the floor and laughed as a baby boy was held and kissed, and I had my first ever mango sticky rice watermelon birthday cake.
When we arrived back to the boat at around 10pm, the staff of the Panorama II had hung lights and set up the back deck for the ultimate evening, aboard a yacht, in the Thailand islands, after an amazing (and full) day, with a group of 17 people (guests and crew members) I had met less than 36 hours ago. And it was perfect. What a great way for everyone to break the ice and get to know each other. Not everyone stayed late (and maybe some stayed too late), but it seems that everyone had a great day.
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Things didn’t change much after that, just one beautiful location after another. I’ll spare you any more excruciating details but each day held a new set of adventures – even if the adventure was laying on a beautiful beach with a book, or lounging on the sun deck with a cocktail, or visiting a waterfall, or enjoying a traditional Thai massage, or attempting hand stands on a paddle board, or playing in the water, or taking in the street art of an old colonial city, or sitting in a reggae bar, or kicking back at a beach barbecue. You’ve got all that to look forward to on a trip like this.
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I can’t say enough about the staff and crew – they were incredible. Our two tour leaders were helpful and contagiously upbeat. The “hotel” staff were the first people to greet you in the morning, with warm smiles and hot coffee. They cleaned our rooms, turned down our beds at night, served delicious meals and poured great drinks. At times, they hung out with the guests, which was a real treat for everyone, especially our last night on board, where we sang karaoke and enjoyed a little display of traditional Greek dancing by the captain on the boat’s back deck.
And, of course, what made it so great were the people. A Kiwi couple taking breaks from retirement and teaching. Two Australians on holiday from their small business making soft home fabrics. An American couple finishing up a six month travel hiatus about to start a new life in Southern California. A father and son from North Carolina that live 20 minutes away, by boat, from my parents (what a small world). A young gay couple (young as in new) on a romantic birthday celebration and much needed break from the daily grind. And a group of seven Australian and Kiwi mates (male and female) that are completely indescribable.
What makes these kinds of trips great are the people you meet. If you’re open-minded, young in spirit, love an adventure, know how to get along in a group, but need space to have ample private time, then I would highly recommend this trip.
I could go on. Honestly, if you made it this far through this, you’re probably the type of person that would really enjoy yourself: you’ve demonstrated the number one value needed for a a small group tour, trapped on a boat with strangers, all wanting a vacation of a lifetime – PATIENCE!
P.S. I don’t work for Intrepid, I just really enjoyed the trip!
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All images C/O Greg Reisher.