I had been a bit worried about making the journey down to Cape Panwa as the weather has been so terrible over the past few days. But I was very pleased to see the sun for the first time since Monday or Tuesday. A good day for ship-spotting.
Phuket is the next-to-last post-off-call on the Sun Princess’s current 26-day “Treasures of Asia Grand Adventure” cruise. It began on 20 August from the port of Singapore and has since visited Ho Chi Minh City, Sihanoukville in Cambodia, Laem Chabang (the port for Bangkok), Ko Samui, Lombok in Indonesia, Fremantle, Bali, Klang (the port for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, George Town on Penang Island, and Langkawi Island before arriving at Ao Makham around 0800 this morning. She will depart at 18:00 this evening, bound for Singapore and the conclusion of the voyage.
Sun Princess is actually the lead ship of Princess Cruises‘ Sun class of cruise liners and was constructed at Fincantieri – Europe’s largest shipbuilders – in Italy. She began her maiden voyage on 2 December 1995. Weighing in at 77,499 gross tons, she’s 261.31 meters (857.3 feet) in length, or just twenty-five feet shorter than the Titanic was. Diesel-electric engines running at 28,000 kilowatts drive twin propellers giving her a top speed of 22.40 knots (41.48 km/h or 25.78 mph). Sun Princess has 14 decks (ten of which are for passenger use) and her crew of 900 looks after a maximum of 1,900 passengers.
The ship boasts three restaurants, ten cafes and bars, three pools, five jacuzzis, a gym and a spa, a theatre, casino, lounge, nightclub, library, an art gallery, and the usual array of shops, laundromat, medical center, etc. Although registered in The Bahamas (a “flag of convenience“, done mainly for tax purposes), Sun Princess operated out of Sydney, Australia, for a number of years. When she entered that harbor for the first time in October 2007 she became the largest ship to ever cross beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge and had a vertical clearance of only 2.5 meters (8 feet, 2 inches). This past summer she began sailing round-trip cruises from Tokyo, becoming the first Princess Cruises ship deployed from Japan.
I spend an enjoyable hour or so wandering around the quay taking photos of Sun Princess. The market was in full-swing along the length of the ship and a number of passengers seemed to be doing their shopping there rather than taking the over-priced minivans and tuk-tuk’s to “civilization.” Of course, the vendors were all charging Patong-level prices! And I had to laugh at some of the fares I heard quoted by the drivers – 800 baht for a 30-minute tour, a thousand for the west-coast beaches. It did seem that many of the passengers had been tipped-off of what the “normal” prices should be and not many were partaking.
I did have to run the taxi “gauntlet” several times during my visit but most of the drivers seemed good-natured. I spoke to them in Thai and they were amused by this and the fact that I live in Phuket Town. And they didn’t really seem to be hassling the passengers, either. A far cry from the mafia-style scare tactics they were using at the port just a couple of years ago, blockading cruise ships and U.S. Navy vessels alike when their “services” were bypassed.
I really wanted to take a few bow’s-on photos of the Sun Princess from a distance (it was difficult to get the entire length of the ship into pictures from the quay – too long and too many buildings in the way). I spotted a pier some distance to the south and thought that would be a suitable locale. However, it turned out to be blocked by the guard at the Thaisarco tin–smelting plant and absolutely refused me entry despite a number of Thai teenagers walking past carrying fishing poles! I thought that another small lane through the trees might lead to the coast and I followed that. I then walked along the beach around a headland but just had another view of the Thaisarco pier, now to the north of me and no sight of the cruise ship. Oh, well.
Several other ships were also visible offshore but were too far away to take decent photos of (at least with my limited photographic abilities and crappy point-and-shoot camera). That’s too bad because I spotted the Phocea which was the world’s largest sailing yacht upon her construction in 1976 and until that designation was taken when the Athena was built in 2004. Currently registered in the landlocked nation of Luxembourg (another “flag of convenience”) this 246-foot four-master is a site to behold.
Luckily, the Friday the thirteenth “curse” didn’t occur other than the non-arrival of a songtaew to cart me back up to Phuket Town, despite waiting almost two hours along the side of the road. But no matter, one of the men worshipping at one of the numerous mosques in the area asked if I needed a ride and I accepted. Kindness once again in rural Thailand!
I plan to try and visit Ao Makham whenever there is a cruise ship in port – at least those that I haven’t yet photographed. Next up is a “local”, the SuperStar Libra on one of her three-night Penang-Phuket-Krabi-Penang cruises. She’ll arrive around 11:00 on Tuesday the 24th of September and depart around midnight that night. I wanted to take one of these cruises myself until I found out that the least-expensive tariff on SuperStar Libra comes to almost 19,000 Thai baht! I think I’ll stick to buses and trains for my personal long-distance transport needs…