BootsnAll Travel Network

A Vacation from our Vacation

Phuket Island is sort of the Cancun of Thailand. The main beach area is called Patong and that is where the hoards of package tourists head to, with huge stretches of beach, seemingly endless streets full of bars and restaurants, all lined with market stalls selling everything from jewelry to fake Gucci bags to Thai silk suits. Chris and I were staying in a smaller beach area called Kamala Beach, in an apartment of a friend of his. When we arrived early in the morning from our separate flights, we checked in at reception, where our bags were promptly whisked away by a porter. I don’t think they get too many guests staying at the Kamala Beach Estate who arrived with backpacks, and even though it was low season and the place was practically empty, we were conspicuously out of place. We were shown the apartment we would be staying at for the following two weeks, and started laughing at the insanity of it all. One thing was for certain; we knew it would be impossible to leave this place, but that time would come eventually. We had to make the most of it.

On our first day at our complex, after browsing around the apartment and settling in a bit, we headed down to the restaurant attached to the estate called Rockfish. After reading a bit about the restaurant in a flier, we learned was rated one of the top restaurants in all of Thailand, and decided to treat ourselves to a drink out by the water. The restaurant and bar overlooked Kamala beach, which, while beautiful, was still recovering from the 2004 Tsunami. The bay was in direct line with the tidal wave, as was the entire western coast of Phuket, and the evidence left behind by the tsunami was obvious, even though the clean-up effort was going very well. We settled in for cocktails in the bar, and were expecting extortinate prices, but were pleased to see that this restaurant, though expensive by Thai standards, was more than reasonable for the setting and location. We caught up for a few hours of the past few weeks of traveling, and then made our way to downtown Kamala to browse around. The low season was in full swing, and we were two of only a handful of Westerners in the entire town. One thing that makes tourist areas in Thailand different from similar areas in places like Mexico, is that the locals still live in the town, near their businesses and workplaces, and it was refreshing to see the interaction of tourists and locals on a regular basis. Our main goal was to find a place to watch the World Cup games, because even though we had satellite TV in our room, it wasn’t showing the Enlish commentary of the games, only the local Thai, so we needed a home base for the games, and quickly found the Aussie bar, a small bar with just a few tables and stools. They had relatively cheap beers, 50 baht (about US$1.25) and friendly but not over-the-top friendly bar staff. As it turns out, this would become our home away from home in the next two weeks.

Chris was expecting his good friend Ben and Ben’s sister Sam to arrive in two days for their holiday, and we spent the next two days researching places to take them, asking at the front desk for recommendations and gathering fliers and pamphlets. Phuket Island is attached to the mainland of Thailand by a bridge, which links it to a large national park on the mainland. It is also very close to other popular places like Phi Phi Island (pronounced pee-pee) and the town of Krabi, famous for rock climbing. There are also loads of things to do in the Patong area as well, like Thai Boxing and the main town of Phuket is also worth a visit. We would have tons to do with them, and so we spent the next day just lounging at the pool, watching TV and eating, then headed back to our little Aussie bar to watch some more soccer. We were quickly settling in to the resort-apartment lifestyle, ordering room service and coming back to our room after a day at the pool with our beds freshly made and new clean towels waiting for us. This took no time at all to get used to.

Ben and Sam arrived the next day around noon, after an exhausting trip from London through a change in Abu Dhabi and Bangkok. I came back from a trip to the internet cafe, discovering I had missed their arrival, but pleased to see beers in their hands already. Though talkative and lively, their long journey quickly took a toll on them, and they headed to their room for a nap before the England game that night. While the atmostphere would have been much more exciting in Patong, as there were more tourists there and most of them British, we headed to our Aussie Bar to watch the game. We were quickly becoming regulars, and talked with some of the other customers and the bar staff throughout the night. Still recovering from their travels, we headed back early and got some rest after the game. Since it was the low season, ie the rainy season, Chris and I were worried about the weather for Ben and Sam. We didn’t really care about rain, but since it was just a short holiday for them, we knew they wanted some sun time. Luckily, the following day was sunny and bright, and we spent the majority of the day at the pool, trying to prevent Ben from getting sunburned. We headed into Patong that evening for dinner and more World Cup games and more booze. One thing that comes as a shock in Thailand, but especially in places like Patong with tons of tourists, is the amount of Thai prostitutes, escorts and lady-boys that you see everywhere. Some tourists head to Thailand specifically for the sex industry, and it took some time to get used to seeing what was basically big, fat, old, white men with little tiny beautiful Thai women, hand in hand, eating dinner, and dancing. I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually get used to it, and though it is a necessity of life and income here to the Thai women, it still makes me very uncomfortable and kind of squicked out.

After spending a late night out in Patong, we slept in late the following day, which was easy to do with the torrential downpours outside and raging headaches inside. My stomach area was also feeling a little dodgy, and we discovered that I really not supposed to be brushing my teeth with the tap water, as I did in Malaysia, so I tried to recover from that as well. We continued to take advantage of ordering cheap room service and our satellite TV, and eventually made our way into Kamala for dinner and the World Cup. The next day, we decided to venture out further afield, and headed into Phuket town, the sort of capital of Phuket Island. Just a few kilometers, but culturally miles away from Patong, Phuket town was almost all local Thai people, with just a few Westerns, mainly backpackers as it was cheaper than Patong, strolling around the streets. Not having a map or a clue what there was to do in Phuket, Chris and I quickly got us lost as we easily do, and wandered around forever looking for a market, that was in the process of shutting down as we arrived. After an uneventful few hours in Phuket, we decided to take the local bus back to Kamala instead of a taxi. The local bus was basically a large pickup truck with a roof overhead, and wooden slats for benches. It was crammed with school kids getting a ride home and other locals getting on and off at seemingly unidentifiable bus stops. What should have been an hour journey turned into two, as the rain started pouring down, the traffic slowed, and then eventually halted altogether as we were forced to pull over to let a dignitary procession pass us. We finally arrived at home, tired and soaking wet, but still willing to put up a fight, got ready and headed into Patong again that night.

Ben and Sam wanted to do some shopping, so we strolled up and down the many streets, bargaining away with the loads of vendors. Exhausted from our retail therapy, we sank into some bar stools for a few beers, and a round of our new favorite game which Ben had purchases. We have no name for this, we just call it the dice game. A wooden box with the numbers 1 through 9 on little slats, you roll two dice and flip up the numbers that you roll, either with one die or the combination of the two. The goal is to flip up all the numbers, and while there is a little strategy involved, it is a game based mainly on luck of the dice. It’s also sort of addicting, because it is fairly mindless and we passed around the game with a few beers at a bar along the water. As with every day, our time flew by, and it was suddenly dinnertime. We found a quiet restaurant in an alleyway off the main strip and after considering what to order for drinks, we decided it would be a really good idea to buy a bottle of Thai Whiskey and some Cokes. Sam wasn’t feeling well, so Chris, Ben and I shared this bottle over dinner. Our waitress commented that we were drinking fairly slowly, and looking at the time we needed to head out to watch another World Cup match, so we decided to turn our favorite dice game into a drinking game to finish the bottle. After spending about an hour drinking a third of this bottle, we polished off the rest in about 10 minutes, as our dice game rules were basically anytime you roll anything, you drink.That put us in a bit of a spin, and off we went to find another bar and the World Cup. We headed to an Australian bar, as Oz was playing that night, and had a few rounds of beers to help cheer on the Soccerroos. These beers, along with a third a bottle of Thai whiskey each, were making us feel quite good, so to speak. So we headed off to the main strip in search of some more action. Wanting to give Ben and Sam the full “Thai” experience, we decided to head into a ping-pong show for a few laughs. *Warning=Sexual Content* A ping-pong show is basically a sex show, where women perform various acts with their you-know-what’s, and much of this involves ping-pong balls flying like projectiles across the room, and other interesting and fairly hilarious talents. I’ve been told some are better than others in terms of originality and stuff, and I think ours was fairly benign from what I’ve heard. But it was still an experience, one that definately has to be underaken while intoxicated, preferably on Thai Whiskey.

As you can well imagine, the following day we did absolutely nothing. The weather was still rainy and crappy, so it was easy to sit in the apartment and not feel very guilty about doing nothing. We spent a quiet night in Kamala watching soccer and having a few easy beers in our favorite bar. We had reserved a car for that day, but ended up not even using it because none of us felt like driving around. So the next day we had the car again, and set off for what would be our earliest morning to see some of the island on our own. Armed with about 4 maps and hand-written instructions from the hotel manager, we headed south, stopped along the way in small towns for scenic photographs of beaches and the southern tip of the island called Phromthep Cape. We stopped for breakfast at a lovely beach, and then continued on driving, only to spot a nice beach off in the distance. Since we actually had some sunny weather, we headed towards the direction of that beach, and spent the next two hours driving around, trying to get to that beach. We never made it. The roads weren’t marked with street names, and our various maps offered different routes, some appeared like main roads but others showed then to be small alleyways. Chris and I were hopelessly lost again, and eventually we abandoned the beach idea altogether and headed north through the interior of the island. We arrived at the Khao Phra Thaew Royal Wildlife and Forest reserve, and payed our entry fee to see the Bang Pae Waterfall and visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center. For those of you who don’t know, Gibbons are a very cute monkey covered in fairly long hair, and are endangered in the world. The gibbons were kept in cages, but we were able to see a few up close, and they were really playful and seemingly curious about us as well. After reading the tons of information about the gibbons and their rehab center, we headed for a short walk through the jungle to visit the waterfall. Due to heavy and constant rains, the falls were full and roaring, and local boys were jumping off rocks into the swirling mass of water below. Had we been more prepared, there were plenty of walking trails along in this forest reserve, but we headed back for our car to see more of the island. We headed north, and then veered to the west coast again, to visit a large beach our hotel managed recommended to us. We actually found the beach, and it was a strange sights. Miles of beach and coastline, uninterrupted and without any development along it’s path. The tsunami had obviously caused some erosion and damage to the trees along the beach, but since there were no hotels or homes, there was no property damage to speak of. Realizing the day was getting late, again, we headed home and stopped for a late lunch along the way.

We reached home and showered and got ready to go out in Patong again that night. Chris and I had been wanting to go dancing for a while, so taking the recommendation of our waitress from Thai Whiskey night, we headed to a place called the Banana disco. For 200 Baht, we gained entry and two drinks, and though it was fairly deserted to start with, the place quickly filled up with people. Initially it was really just loads of Thai women, and we stood there with our drinks and tried to figure out which ones were hookers and which weren’t. It was impossible to tell, and we gave up as the music got better and the place filled with more people, tourists and Thais alike. After a while on the dance floor, we were surprised to be approaced by our waitress, who actually recognized us and wanted to come say hello. Though the Banana closed early, around 1:30am, it was still a fun night out, and found a tuk-tuk to take us back to Kamala. After a night of dancing, we didn’t do anything the next day, and this would become our theme for the whole time we were in Phuket; one day would be chock full of activities and drinking and nights out, and the next day we would spend recuperating.

The next day we actually had a tour booked to see the Phang-Nga National Park. We prayed for good weather, and somehow we were granted cloudy but rainless skies for our boat trip out to the marine park. Our shuttle bus picked us up about noon, and after about an hours drive we were taken to a place called the Monkey Cave, where there were various holy sites and statues, along with loads of monkeys. Unfortunately, our guide was more of a driver, and didn’t offer us much in the way of explanation about the cave and it’s contents. There was a large golden reclining Buddha, along with a few other photo opps and then we were off again for the next part of our tour to the islands. The main highlight of the Phang-Nga National Park is a small piece of limestone jutting out of the water next to a larger island named James Bond Island, for it’s role in the movie The Man with the Golden Gun. We boarded a long boat with about 40 other people, and the powerful engine roared to life and we cruised through the mangrove trees and past many island outcrops, each prettier than the next. The loud engine made the trip not as relaxing as it could have been, but it was still a beautiful trip out to the island. Once we reached our destination, we were again left to our own devices and wandered around the island taking photographs and such. It would have been nice to get some information about the islands, but no such luck. So we took our obligatory photographs, and secretly wished we had signed up for the kayaking trip, which would have provided a more relaxing and close-up views of the rock formations. Following the island, we were brought to a small fishing village which was high on stilts in the water. Finally realizing we needed to ask some questions, we determined about 2000 people lived in this small Muslim village, which was complete with a mosque, school and large restaurant for all the camera-toting tourists to quench their thirst. We wandered around the footpaths, but it started to make me fairly uncomfortable, as I realized we were walking almost through the people’s homes. They had also set up stands to sell touristy items like shell jewelry and postcards, and it kind of made me a bit sad to look at the anxious faces who were clearly waiting for the next boat to arrive, where they hoped to make a sale. While it was interesting to see the village, I was glad when it was time to leave. We headed back home after that, and after watching the USA/Ghana game, I headed home from our Aussie bar, where the nice bartender gave me a ride back on her moped. The other three stayed behind, apparently for quite a while, as Chris continued to badger the other bartender while trying to learn some Thai.

It was nearing the end for Ben and Sam, and after a relaxed morning, we set off for Patong one last time so they could do some last minute shopping and our last night out on the town.After some shopping and wandering, we had some dinner and then headed to another dance club called the Tiger Discoteque. This place was much larger than Banana and completely full of people, and we spent hours dancing away and drinking, and chatting to people we met that night.It was a nice ending to Ben and Sam’s stay, and the next day, as was becoming our habit, we lounged around until it was time for their flight home. Feeling a little bit rough from the previous night out, they were not much looking forward to what would amount to about 24 hours of travel to get back home to the UK. Chris and I saw them off, and we headed into Kamala for dinner and yes, some more World Cup games. The language barrier finally reared its’ head, as we had dinner in a new place, and tried to communicate to the woman running the small restaurant. The place was full of locals watching a Thai movie on a large screen, and after frustrating hand gestures and giggles, we managed to order some food; soup for me, and Pad Thai for Chris, with a fried egg. In the end, we got two orders of Pad Thai, no soup and no egg, but that was fine as I wasn’t feeling all that great anyway.

The next day, our second to last in Phuket, we got on the internet for some much needed emailing, and Chris and was surprised to get an email from his friend Paul, who he had traveled with for weeks before, saying he was in Phuket. THough Paul had said he might be coming to stay, we hadn’t heard from him after that, so we assumed he wasn’t coming. Luckily we checked email that day, and Chris established a time and place for us to meet him in Patong that night. We set out for dinner in Patong and found Paul, which was a happy reunion for those two, and we found a quiet go-go bar to have a few beers and catch up. I had met Paul in Kuala Lumpur when I hung out with Chris’s tour group, and the three of us got along easily. He joined us the next day in Kamala, and we spent our last day lounging, ordering room service, taking last minute pictures of the surrounding area and town, and saying our goodbyes to Natasha and Ben, the two bartenders at our Aussie Bar. Paul and I made tentative plans to travel together after Chris left for his next Intrepid tour, and sadly, the next morning we spent frantically trying to pack and clean the apartment before leaving for the airport. We both had flights booked to Bangkok, and we said goodbye to Paul as he headed for the east coast islands for a few days.

After an uneventful 1 1/2 hour flight to Bangkok, we spent the next hour trying to locate the Qantas office in the Bangkok airport so Chris could sort out his flight home. It is quite amazing and sort of funny how easily Chris and I get lost together, in the most random places. We finally found the office, and he was able to change his flight home for a later date. We, well Chris with his pretty good Thai, bargained for a taxi and we set off for the backpacker haven called Khao San Road. Chris had already been to Bangkok on his previous tour, so he knew where to go, and we found a nice room in a really nice guesthouse, trying to ease us back into backpacking mode. Our luxury vacation had come to an end, and we were suddenly thrown into traveling again, lugging our backpacks around and navigating the streets of a new place. Bangkok is the first stop for many backpackers, especially traveling through Asia, and it is a bustling, vibrant and frenetic city, a big change from the quiet, relaxed Kamala Beach where I’ve spent the past two weeks. After a much needed rest and recharging, I’m ready for Bangkok, and the rest of Asia. I can’t wait to see what Bangkok has to offer, and as the gateway to Asia, to see where the next road takes me.

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