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Originally posted on January 18, 2007 at 18:41

he newspaper had reported that the Third Naval Area Command of the Royal Thai Navy would be hosting an open house on H.T.M.S. Phuket (FAC-333) as well as demonstrations of their helicopter sea rescue unit and weapons displays. We assumed that these Children's Day activities would be held at the naval base at the tip of Laem Panwa but we eventually stumbled across the fleet at Ao Makham's Port of Phuket farther north along the cape (I'd spotted a large cruise ship moored to the quay which turned out to be the MS Costa Marina).

Security getting into the port was extremely tight, partly as a reaction to the New Year's Eve bombings and partly because of the September coup. There were a number of armed sailors and soldiers heavily scrutinizing each vehicle passing through the main gate. Tim — as she usually does — tried to drive past the line of cars and motorbikes waiting; this time, the guards yelled at us to stop and they checked the underside of the sidecar and inside our plastic bin (which serves as a "trunk") for explosives or contraband. I tried to take a snapshop of the soldier with the mirror-stick checking our bike but I was waved off.

The quay was graced by several ships. The aforementioned 25,000-ton Costa Marina was moored the farthest south and it wss unclear whether or not the public was allowed to tour her. Two Royal Thai Navy patrol boats — the Phuket (FAC-333) and Khamronsin (FAC-531) — lay to the north as did the port's large ocean-going tugboat. Crowds swarmed all over the pier and the two naval vessels, snapping up souvenirs such as various caps and brass sextants while enjoying free icecream and listening to the Royal Thai Naval Band. I've collected naval ship ballcaps ever since I was an NJROTC cadet back at Shawnee Mission Northwest and I'd been seeking out Thai caps since arriving last year. So, I was very happy they were selling these for just 150 baht each; I purchased one for the Phuket while Alexander chose one for H.T.M.S. Chakri Naruebet (CVH-911) — Thailand's only aircraft carrier which, sadly, wasn't present on this day.

We decided to board the Phuket as it's the namesake of our home province. According to a list of Royal Thai Navy vessels, she's a Chonburi-class large patrol boat that displaces 450 tons fully loaded. The craft is 198 feet long with a beam of 29 feet and a draft of only six feet. Her twin-screw 12,500bhp diesel engines produce a top speed of 30 knots and she carries a crew of 42. Built in Italy in 1982, Phuket entered the Thai Navy in 1984. During our visit, Alexander was allowed to use the weapons viewfinder on the bridge and I enjoyed exploring belowdecks.

We didn't board the H.T.M.S. Khamronsin (FFA-531) — a 475-ton, 203.5-foot by 27-foot anti-submarine warfare patrol boat but we did partake of the free icecream offered by her crew under a quayside tent.

The Royal Thai Army also had a small presence at the Port with several large gun batteries that they allowed the kids to turn and raise.  I think Alexander enjoyed this part most of all, although I still hope he'll end up in the Navy rather than the Army...