No. This isn’t a photo-essay about the infamous lady-boys (AKA, katoeys) who inhabit this western Phuket version of “Sin City.” It is a rare occasion indeed when I will venture to the hedonistic tour mecca that is Patong, but the largest of the famed Cunard Line’s ocean liners making a rare port-of-call at my island home was reason enough this week.
In fact, my nearly life-long obsession with passenger liners began some 43 years ago while on a family visit aboard an older Cunarder, this particular ship’s own namesake – the RMS Queen Mary. That fascination led to extensive studies into the Titanic long before Robert Ballard found her in the depths of the Atlantic and continued with my first visit to England during which I took a train from London to Southampton just to take a boat around the docked Queen Elizabeth 2.
From time to time, I’ve gone out to the Port of Phuket in Ao Makham to check out cruise ship arrivals and had this week’s visit marked on my calendar for nearly two years. The Queen Mary 2 paid a return visit on Tuesday and I made a special bus trip just to see her for the second time since my arrival in Thailand.
Personally, I feel that the QE2 is a much more attractive ship with a sleek profile akin to a dolphin while the QM2 often reminds me of a top-heavy whale. She looks much better when views broadside rather than at an angle.
Originally, I’d planned to arrive in time to see her steam into the bay but then I hesitated while waiting to board a local bus. During her previous visit, the Queen Mary 2 had moored in Patong Bay and her tenders brought passengers to a temporary floating pier in the southern portion of the bay. But the one “vessel tracking” site I was able to access with my phone’s very slow wireless signal showed the ship to be heading to the southeastern portion of the island. Was she to moor at Ao Makham instead? I hoped this would be the case as it would mean I could get very up-close and personal with my camera. I waited as I wanted to check the ship’s webcam for a definitive answer as to her whereabouts.
In the end, I decided I would board the bus headed to Patong (although the liner appeared to be moored offshore to Koh Siray for a lengthy amount of time). My reasoning was that if the QM2 wasn’t there it would be a fairly quick matter to board another bus returning to Phuket Town and then take the songteaw (local pickup with benches installed) for the ride to Ao Makham. The songteaw from there back into town are far less frequent.
As the Patong-bound bus started up, I checked the “vessel tracker” again and was rewarded with a satellite image of the pier at Ao Makham with a red dot next to it marked “RMS Queen Mary 2” but with the caveat “Scheduled Location” as opposed to “Actual Location.” However, as we crested “Suicide Hill” overlooking Patong I could see the Cunard liner anchored in the northern portion of the bay. Gambled with a roll of the dice and came up a winner!
Another oddity was that the pier in the southern part of Patong was devoid of activity – no tenders, no crowd of tuk-tuk’s and mini-vans waiting to whisk passengers away on overpriced tours of the island. I walked northwards along the beach and eventually noticed another temporary pier past the rocky outcroppings of Kalim Beach. As I got closer, I began to notice the big white Cunard charter buses and the tenders shuttling back and forth between ship and shore.
While I did take a number of photos of the QM2 out in the bay, it was just too far away for many of the shots to be very clear. I did watch the 130-passenger tenders for a while on the pier; security was virtually non-existent and in hindsight I wondered if I could have boarded one of the boats and made it all the way to the liner. I also enjoyed running the gauntlet of local taxi mafia trying to peddle their services. They were genuinely shocked when I answered them in Thai.
After a couple of hours of walking along the beach trying to frame this ship between trees and other local objects, I was ready to head back to Phuket Town. I made a quick detour to Jungceylon – the big shopping mall – in search of something to eat but nothing appealed to me so I hopped on a bus and returned home.
It was a nice way to spend a few hours but I would much rather see ships dockside in Ao Makham on the other side of the island rather than offshore in Patong. I’m not certain what the next large passenger ship to visit Phuket will be, but it will be quite some time before I have another day off in order to go and see it.