|Feb 27, 2006 - Phuket Thailand - From Rags to Riches|
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|On Patong Beach in Phuket|| ||Signs not seen just over a year ago|| ||Amanpuri beach|| |
|Phuket - From Rags to Riches|
The flight from Bangkok to Phuket was quick but not too easy for Mr Fear of Flying, aka Eric. We flew with the Asian discount carrier Orient Thai for only $50CAD per person for the 90 minute flight and Eric was somewhat freaked out about their older MD80 planes they were using. I admit, it was a slightly older plane, but I didn't share in his feelings that is was an ancient, dilapidated dinosaur that could hardly get off the ground and surely wouldn't get us into Phuket safely. For me, it actually brought back memories of home and my monthly trips to Winnipeg for work when I frequently flew Jetsgo on their old MD80s.
No surprise to me and much to the relief of Eric, we arrived in Phuket safe and sound and booked ourselves on a shared shuttle bus to Patong Beach where we had reserved a room at a guesthouse for the equivalent of $30CAD per night. Patong Beach is the busiest tourist destination on Phuket, and the second most popular destination in Thailand after Pattay just south of Bangkok. However, what is most popular for the masses certainly did not mean favourite for us. Patong was a chaotic, verging on seedy, low-end packaged tour mecca. Bars, restaurants, massage parlours, street vendors, clubs and shops lined every street, soi (a small side street in Thailand) and alley with music blasting and locals calling to you as you walk past, "Heeellloo Mister - Happy hour, come for a drink." Or "Hi" in a long drawn out Thai accent, "massage for you today?" And so on. The town unfortunately has a growing sex tourism industry as droves of farang (foreigners to Thais) flock to Patong for a wild week of debauchery.
Patong beach is a beautiful sand stretch gracefully curving 6km long in a bay of greenish coloured waters. However, with the droves of tourists, the beach was lined with chairs and umbrellas to rent, placed side by side, three deep, running for the full six-kilometre stretch. Quite overdeveloped for my liking as I grow more finicky about my beach and holiday destinations but sure in the height of my university spring break years this would have been THE SPOT to visit and still is with the younger party crowd.
Although not our favourite, it was nevertheless and interesting and active place to stay and relatively close to Eric's cousin and his partner that were staying about 20 minutes away at the incredible Amanpuri Resort - one of, if not the highest end resorts in Thailand. Jules and Matt live in LA and when Jules travels he likes to do it in style. He invited us up to the Amanpuri for the day where once again our schizophrenic year long journey jumped from extreme low budget staying in a dingy room with a 1970's style green couch to a day at the resort that frequently caters to the likes of Bill Gates, Matt Damon and all the who's who of Hollywood and the CEO corporate executives driving our world's economy. I can only imagine what the resort staff thought as we pulled up in our bright yellow, open air Tuk Tuk with its engine blaring like a fleet of lawnmower.
Nevertheless, with the utmost of distinguished service a visitor of an Amanpuri's guest was warmly welcomed and we were treated by staff like we too were paying the minimum $750 US per night room rate - a far cry from the $30 guest house we were actually staying at! The Amanpuri truly offered service like I have never experienced elsewhere - distinguished and refined but not stuffy or snobbish. The staff were warm, friendly and polite in typical Thai fashion as they came by our beach lounges to add a few more ice cubes to our water that was gradually warming in the heat of the sun or wet a path in the sun baked sand from the ocean to our lounge chairs and the beach side restaurant so the hot sand wouldn't burn our toes. Is this truly have the 'other half' live?!? It was like a dream.
After an incredibly relaxing day at the beach, nice lunch and a tour of Jule's private villa - a complete other story to describe the size and luxury of it - we returned to our reality of the crass and brash Patong Beach and our gaudy turquoise walls and 1970's couch. To be able to travel for a year it is well worth 'slumming' it and staying in cheap budget accommodations, but to one day be able to afford to occasionally stay at resorts like the Amanpuri is a dream!
While we had soaked in the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea with Jules and Matt we had discussed our plans to take a boat tour to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand to explore the caves, beaches and incredible limestone formations of the islands. After some discussions, Jules and Matt generously offered to pay a large portion of the charge so we could take one of the Amanpuri's yachts to do the same tour. Although it was blowing our budget to pay our share, they had been so incredibly generous and it was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities we could not turn down. The following morning, we once again blasted into the serenity of the Amanpuri in our bright yellow Tuk Tuk and its blaring engine to be shuttled off for another day of luxury, pampering and beautiful Thailand scenery.
Our day consisted of soaking in the sun on the bow of the yacht as the fresh sea breeze tempered the tropical heat. We explored unique limestone islands, caves and grottos as well as visiting the famous James Bond Island where "The Man With a Golden Gun" was filmed. We ventured around some of the islands in the yacht's dingy and to a deserted beach for a swim in the warm waters. All the while being completely pampered by four crew serving the four of us - unbelievable! "Can I get you something to drink - wine, beer, water?" "Here are some cashews for you to snack on. Lunch will be served after a swim at the beach." And the lunch was incredible as we enjoyed yet another day of living in a fantasy world. Who would have thought the tourists on the boat we were originally going to book on, would be taking pictures of us and our yacht probably wondering "Is that someone famous on there?" But no - it was just Carl and Eric - Living a Dream!
Ten Travel Tips for Phuket
1. Beware of shared taxis from the airport to the various destinations around Phuket. Many will stop at an agency to try to book your accommodations for you or convince you to change hotels. If you are prepared for the wait and inconvenience it can still be a cheap way to get to your destination however probably not the cheapest option for finding accommodations.
2. Tuk Tuks are readily available to take you around. Make sure you negotiate a fair price before you get in and start your journey.
3. Phuket is Thailand's largest island so choose where you would like to stay carefully as it can take quite a while and be costly to get around the island. Different sections of the island can offer a very different feel and type of vacation.
4. A day trip out to the islands in the Gulf of Thailand - Hong Island, James Bond Island etc. is highly recommended for the stunning scenery and limestone formations.
5. If you are not travelling further south to Ko Phi Phi or Krabi, then you should also do a second day trip to these southern islands, which are even more scenic with their crystal clear green waters.
6. If your idea of vacation does not include being packed on a beach with thousands of other vacationers then you are best to avoid Patong Beach and select a quiet resort on one of the other beaches such as Karon Beach, Big Kata Bay or Little Kata Bay.
7. Phuket was one of the islands hit heavily from the tsunami, however it has largely recovered. There is still some construction and rebuilding taking place but tourism is back in full swing.
8. Divers and snorkellers will love Phuket that has Thailand's largest concentrations of Dive Centres.
9. If you choose to rent a motorcycle or vehicle to tour the island, drive carefully. Hundreds of people are killed each year in road accidents on Phuket. Also make sure the motorcycle you rent is in good condition and the brakes appear to be working well.
10. May to October is the windy and rainy season in Phuket and is best avoided during these months. The best time to visit is November to February but is also the busiest.