When I was considering joining my friends for the Yacht Week Thailand back in the Spring, I did loads of research on the event first. I devoured everything on TYW’s official website and read several posts from other bloggers. All that I found were people proclaiming TYW was the best time ever and thousands of photos that would make even the most skeptical of you green with envy.
So I signed up, spent months and months in excited anticipation, and then the week came. And yes, it was absolutely amazing and unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. But as you know (if you’ve read part two) there were some bad things that all the people and blog posts I’d consulted neglected to mention. Those bad things could have easily been overlooked when overshadowed by the incredible fun of the Yacht Week.
The things on this list, however, can’t be overlooked. This is the stuff that, at times, threatened to ruin the entire thing for our crew, and me especially. Some are TYW’s fault, some were environmental and some were entirely my own personal issues, but it’s all worth knowing if you’re considering doing TYW Thailand for the first time.
Yacht Week Communications & Disorganization
This was annoying at first and just downright inexcusable by week’s end. The Yacht Week’s organizers did a really poor job of communicating with the crews and skippers about transportation, official events, and the schedule for the week.
Before you leave for your week in paradise, TYW will tell you to download their official app to stay updated on all events for the week. It has an itinerary for each day and lists the times for all the parties. Cool right?
The problem is, the app never worked to being with – the daily summaries and list of party times were off by a day from the beginning. Then, a few days into our week the official route changed completely. Because of New Year’s Eve, we would be anchoring in Koh Phi Phi for an extra night. This wouldn’t have bothered us much, except that they neglected to tell a lot of the skippers until a couple days before that they’d turned the itinerary upside down.
So obviously, there was a lot of confusion about when the official parties were and where.The app didn’t update itself unless you deleted it and re-downloaded it, which was a bit difficult when you’re at sea and wifi-less! Matko was constantly having to ask other skippers and TYW staff for answers for us, many times with conflicting answers. We felt bad for Matko, who was trying to do his job but the organizers were making it so much harder than it needed to be.
Then there was another hilarious thing that happened. On third night, I’d read in my app that there was a Glow Party. I told my crew and they glowed up (that was one of the nights I stayed in) and they arrived…..to find that it wasn’t the glow party. The app I had was out-dated, even though I’d downloaded it less than a week before. (My crew gave me plenty of shit for this, but I did laugh when I found out the next morning.)
Why does this matter? For one thing, we paid a lot of money to take part in TYW (see below) and we expected a bit more for what we paid. We are a group of Type-A TV people and business managers and we wanted to show TYW people how to produce an event effectively – or “produce the fuck out it” the way my friend Kate put it. The lack of communication was beyond frustrating, but we could have laughed it off if it wasn’t for the transportation nightmare that followed.
Only the first and last night in Phuket were spent docked in a marina – every other night we anchored off of the islands and needed another form of transportation to get to shore.
Enter: the dingiest dingy of all time. Our yacht, like all the others, had a dingy for going ashore. The first day when we reached Koh Hong, half the group used it to travel into the lagoon for the raft party. On the way back, we all piled in to head back to the yacht, but the dingy would only move at a snails pace. As waves hit us, it began to fill with water and the engine sputtered. We looked at each other nervously. Matko struggled with the motor for a bit, and then he told half of us to bail out of the dingy. We tried to swim back to the boat, but we were pretty drunk and it was much further than it looked, so we went to the nearest yacht and caught a ride back with another skipper.
A week of dingy frustrations followed. We kept having guys show up to “fix it.” It would work for a bit and then break again, sometimes leaving one or all of us stranded either on shore or at sea, needed to be rescued by another dingy or a friendly local on a long-tail boat. Thus, we were unable to go to shore easily when we wanted to. We’d have to ask a neighboring skipper to take us, or flag down a water taxi, which would sometimes take an hour.
In Koh Phi Phi, where we docked very far from shore and not able to use the dingy, we had to rely on long-tail water taxis. It was easy to organize one on the beach, but signaling a taxi from where we were anchored was hard, and almost impossible at night. If I were TYW organizers, I would have positioned someone on the beach at all times to communicate with boats and send out water taxis when needed.
On top of this, transportation to the parties was equally annoying. In Phuket, the party on the last night was 45 minutes away from the marina. Several taxi vans were stationed to pick people up and take them to the party when it started, but once those were gone (if you wanted to show up a bit late) you were SOL. The marina isn’t near anything or within even walking distance to a main road, so you were stuck trying to organize transportation on your own for you and your crew of 10 people, with no TYW people in sight to help.
All of these issues were small individually but added up to a huge headache for our crew. My friend Josh assured me that the Croatia route (which he did in 2014) wasn’t anything like this one – they docked nearly every night in a marina and the parties weren’t ever far away, and it was therefore easy to go back and forth between the yacht, land, and the parties. I’m hoping the issues in Thailand are just related to it being a newer route, but they need to work out the kinks soon, because these issues can suck the fun out of it for everyone.
Where Does The Money Go?
I paid about $1300 for my portion of the yacht rental and skipper fee before I got to Thailand. On top of that, for boat fuel, port fees, transportation, tips, food and drinks for the week, I probably spent another $800-$900. Altogether, that is almost as much as I aim to spend in an entire month of backpacking. It’s not a cheap affair, but it is a lot less than you’ll pay to live the billionaire yacht lifestyle for a week…….right?
Let’s talk about that for a second. In total, we paid 10,000 euros to rent the yacht with the skipper to sail it. After talking to one of the skippers, we found out we could have rented the same yacht on our own for a week for less than a quarter of what we paid. Some quick internet research backs up this claim. We’d have to find a licensed skipper, but apparently it isn’t hard to do. Several websites help people crew up for sailing trips all over the world.
Of course, that means we’d miss out on the official parties and meeting other cool people from around the world, and that is definitely worth something. But at the parties, you still pay for your own drinks and many of them are at locations that were also open to the public too. We had to pay for the transportation to and from parties ourselves, and all the other boating fees like fuel, water, port fees, etc.
So where is all that money going? It isn’t to the skippers – they all confirmed they get paid very little and instead rely heavily on the tips from the crew at the end of the week. It isn’t going to the official photographers or DJs – we spoke to them and most told us they do their thing in exchange for a free week at sea, and not much else. Is it going to the organizers? Yacht Week corporate? Or is it poured into glamorous advertising? That seems the most likely, given the gorgeous trailers they produced that sell it so freaking well.
I don’t know the answer, but it seems like they could do a better job of putting more money into making the experience as hassle-free as possible for both their skippers and the crews who pay a lot of money to do it.
Heavy Swells & Seasickness
Let me clarify something first: I’ve been on many boats – dive boats, fishing boats, speed boats, small and large boat cruises and even other yachts. I’ve never been seasick before.
And I wasn’t seasick on The Yacht Week…..until about day four, when we anchored in Koh Phi Phi. High winds and heavy swells were causing the boat to rock violently as we tried to get ready for New Years Eve. Exhaustion and sickness had already started to take hold of me from several days of heavy partying, and I was feeling like a shell of my former self. I spent the entire water taxi ride to shore fighting back the urge to puke.
Since the boat was anchored off Koh Phi Phi for two nights, some of my crew decided to get hotel rooms to save us the annoying process of getting to/from the yacht and to sleep in a steady bed. The idea of spending two nights rocking back and forth in the bay convinced me to join them.
Despite feeling generally shitty the entire time I was there, it did help a little to sleep in real bed, but as soon as we got back on the boat, the seasickness hit harder. By the time we got back to Phuket, I felt pretty miserable and had no desire to go to the last party. I skipped it and tried to sleep, but I couldn’t close my eyes without feeling like everything was spinning out of control around me. It was the weirdest I’ve ever felt – like I couldn’t settle my body or mind and I never would be able to again.
A Destroyed Body
After disembarking the next day, the feeling didn’t go away. In fact, being back on land made it worse. I spent the entire night violently ill, curling up in a ball in my Phuket hotel room and cursing every boat in existence. Some friends suggested I had Disembarkment Syndrome, but I figured it was just a combination of lack of sleep, a hangover, too much Thai Red Bull (that stuff messes me up), seasickness, and probably a cold with a hint of food poisoning.
Thankfully, no one else I was traveling with felt as bad. I was so annoyed that being on the boat had affected me this badly – I’m a hearty traveler who backpacks for months on end without getting sick and I’ve stayed in much grimier places than a yacht for week! Why was I so badly affected? I felt really embarrassed (and still do writing about it). All I can do is chalk it up to some irresponsible partying early on and the fact I’d never been on a sailboat for that long and falsely assumed I didn’t get seasick.
I felt slightly better the next day, but it took me a solid five days to feel somewhat normal again. The room still spins first thing in the morning and if I close my eyes while I’m standing up. I knew a week of partying on a boat would probably take it out of me, but I never imagined that I’d finish The Yacht Week feeling this sick and defeated.
Would I ever do The Yacht Week again?
The truthful answer is……I don’t know. The way I felt after I got off the boat is enough to scare away even the most confident of sailors. I also think it’s worth looking into other options for a group adventure that are less party-based and more adrenaline-filled – I’ve got my eye on the Rickshaw Run at the moment, for example. And as a budget traveler, I know an equally amazing time could be had for half the price with the same people, with less hangovers.
On the other hand, I did have an unforgettable week with some fantastic friends, so it’s hard to say for sure. We truly did see a side of Thailand most people don’t, and the sense of adventure and camaraderie that sailing gives you is hard to beat. Since I’m prone to forget the bad things and only remember the good stuff, give me a year and then when someone offers up Yacht Week Croatia, I’ll probably be all in. Who knows.
As for now, I’m avoiding boats and giving up alcohol for the rest of January. It’s gonna take some time to feel 100% normal again! After all, Yacht Week really is nothing like the real world, and falling back into my regular life won’t be easy.
But I also wouldn’t want anyone to read this and think I’m not grateful or it wasn’t an extraordinary adventure. It was! Despite the bad and ugly sides of Yacht Week, I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.
Just looking at this snapshot again from the final sail, I can still say it was 100% worth it!