Phuket, a large island in the Indian Ocean, is 867 kms. from Bangkok. It is the only island having provincial status, and was a regional headquarters as well, with a rich and colorful history.
Known as the Pearl of the Andaman, it derived much of its former glory and its enormous wealth from tin production, which in Phuket dates back over 500 year. Today, Phuket is the major tourist attraction of Thailand.
The surrounding waters contain much varied marine life, and the town is notable for its Sino-Portuguese architecture. It is a very attractive island for sightseeing, with lovely seashores and forested hillsides.
About 70 percent of Phuket is mountainous; a western range runs from north to south from which smaller branches derive. The highest peak is Mai Tha Sip Song, or Twelve Canes, at 529 meters, which lies within the boundaries of Tambon Patong, Kathu District. The remaining 30 percent of the island, mainly in the center and south, is formed by low plains. Streams include the Khlong Bang Yai, Tha Jin, Khlong Tha Rua, and Khlong Bang Rong, none of which is large.
I flew to Phuket from London via Bangkok. The flight took 12 hours from London to Bangkok and then I had a couple hours before my flight to Phuket (1 hour). The flight cost me about £350 (return) with Thai Airlines.
As far as flights go, it is one of the least comfortable trips I've been on in ages. The seating was cramp. None of the 'luxury' of having those little screens on the back of the seat infront of you. You had to try to watch a few large ones. There's a big gulf between trans-atlantic carriers and the rest. The food wasn't good either. It was a long 12 hours!
I didn't plan any activities for the first day cause I was expecting to be a little jet-lagged. But I didn't have any problems, I adapted to the time zone change easily. So on my first day, I rented a vehicle and wondered out to the largest Buddhist temple on the Island, Wat Chalong.
Wat Chalong was a temple complex with some very ornate buildings and a whole lot of gold-plated statues etc. You took your shoes off before going into any of the buildings. Actually, Buddhist custom (and Thailand is 95% buddhist) dictates that you remove your outdoor shoes before entering any 'building' that contains a buddha image. So that accounts for nearly all houses and even a few open structures. It's not really enforced in very public places like shops etc. though.
This tour consisted of an elepant trek and a snake show. The elephant trek part was quite interesting . . . being way atop an elephants back. The downhill bits seemed a bit awkward for the elephant but he managed it quite well. For me the main attraction was riding the elephant. The trek route had some nice views along the route as well.
The snake show was interesting. When we arrived they were in the process of feeding the python. It opened it's mouth to consume a whole chicken. And just before the show, a freshly caught king cobra was delivered and we watched while the guys gave it a 'trial'. It was amazing to see the guys manipulating the snakes . . . especially the cobras. Guess the trick is to keep your eyes on them . . . a bit hard to do when there are 3 snakes . . .
I ventured away from Phuket and spent 2 days in a small village near Surat Thani. A bit off the beaten path and where tourists don't usually venture. I was a bit of a novelty when I arrived in the village. I was told that no black persons have every visited the village before and that many of the villagers had never seen a black person apart from on tv. Hence, lots of people (especially children) were at my hosts' house when I arrived.
I was there visiting the family of a thai friend. She wanted me to see the real Thailand. People in these villages live in quite simply - poor by western standards. But they are very hospitable. The women spent many hours cooking and preparing a feast for us (making sure that I had special dishes with less spice) . . . especially since it was my birthday the next day.
While the women were cooking, I visited a nearby (relatively) park called Ratchaprapha. It is the site of a dam and hydroelectrical power station. The surroundings were beautiful with great views over the lake and the dam.
Phang Nga Bay
This was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip. Talk about spectacular and amazing! My photos do not begin to do justice to the place, especially since it was slightly overcast on the day I went.
I did this tour with a company called Panwa Canoe. They picked us up from our accommodation around 8am and drove us to the pier where we took the boat out to Phang Nga Bay (This is one of the busiest activities but 'cause my trip was not in peak tourist season it was not busy at all). On the boat they served us a breakfast/snack consisting of selection of tropical fruit (rambutan, mangosteen etc.). Later they provided a full buffet lunch and an afternoon snack. In between this, we saw the best of Phang Nga Bay by canoe.
We visted 4 islands - Koh Hong , Khao Ping Gan (James Bond Island), Bat Cave Island and Koh Panak. Most of the islands are uninhabited. Many of them have spectacular caves (hongs in Thai) which you can only reach by an inflatable kayak. James Bond Island was very commercialised with lots of souvenir sellers and an icecream shop. But the other islands were beautiful and peaceful. Especially in the 'hongs'. A must-do activity if you are ever in Phuket!
One of the other typically thai things that I did was to go to a Muay Thai fight night. In fact, I went to 2! The bouts normally start of with the kiddies (as young as 8 years old) and the fighters get bigger and older as the evening proceeds until you get to the 'pros'. So you'll see about 10 fights on any given night. Very good to watch . . . even better if you like a flutter.
I also did some scuba diving! But ofcourse! What's the point of going to Phuket and not diving?! I did a two-tank dive to Koh Racha Yai. Very nice. I saw a little spotted ray and loads of sea cucumbers. I also had a trip to the Similan Islands booked but it got cancelled because of foul weather (poo!)
I also drove around to the north of the island and along the west coast (where most of the hotels and beaches are) and around the south coast. It took nearly a whole day with stops along the way and I took quite a few photos.
Patong Beach is where most of the tourist traps are. Soi Bangla is the heart and soul of Patong Beach. Here is where you will find as much nightlife as you can handle. There are plenty of watering holes to keep you occupied and refreshed. There are also many Thai ladies (and lady-boys) working in the bars and on the streets, for entertainment purposes.
I did venture down to Soi Bangla one night after a Muay Thai (kickboxing) bout. No trip to Phuket is complete without at least taking a stroll down Soi Bangla.
What is it like? If you are Barbadian (or have ever been there), think St. Lawrence Gap on a larger scale and without inhibition. Not really my scene, but I went into a bar with Kung and Melon (2 friends) and had a few drinks whilst watching some live musical performance on stage.
Phuket Town, on the other side of the island, is where most of the locals tend to hangout at night. I went to a couple bars/clubs there - namely Timber Hut and Jammin'. There was a 3rd place but I can't remember the name of it.
From my experiences of both clubs (and the one in Patong), it seems that live bands are quite the norm. And most of them sing a mix of Thai and western songs. I was quite impressed with some of the thai pop/rock songs. I especially liked the songs by a band called Silly Fools. I also heard a few older American/European classics that you don't hear much anymore. I especially liked the live band at Jammin' . . . pity I don't know the name of it.
Ofcourse I've got to mention food! The food in Thailand was good. Thai food is very spicy - be warned! But they'll tone it down for tourists. My first meal (prepared by Kung, especially for me) I couldn't eat it. It was just too damn hot! But subsequent meals were good cause they held off on the chillies for my sake!
Eating out in Thailand was quite cheap. Two of my favourite restaurants were Thammachaat (The Natural Restaurant) and Laem Hin.
Thammachaat is situated in Phuket Town but could well be in the middle of the jungle somewhere. The building has no walls, lots of plants and vines and is decorated with old bicycles, old sewing machines tables converted into dining tables and old tv's converted into aquaria - a real jungle feeling. The food is good and cheap though. And they have nice fruity refreshing drinks.
Laem Hin, the other notable restaurant, is actually a floating fish farm. You have to get there by longtail boat. The restaurant consists of tables interspersed between fishing tanks. To get to the tables you have to use the gangways (see the photos). But atleast you know you're getting fresh seafood. They catch it right before your eyes! The food was good. We had a whole sea bass along with an assortment of seafood dishes and special fried rice. Very good fare. And being in the middle of a bay added to the atmosphere. And after the meal we watched the sunset behind Coconut Island. . . how beautiful!
These are by no means the only restaurants I ate at. There was the one that we went to at 2am after a night at Timber Hut (I don't know the name. All I can say is that we went over a couple bridges to get there) . . . and the random food-stalls and way-side restaurants. I can say that I was never disappointed and the food was great . . . if not a little spicy.
I also enjoyed the fruit in Thailand. So many tropical fruit. Guavas as big as my fist, sweet tamarinds, look yee (velvet tamarinds, in english), rambutan (ngaw in thai, can't forget these), mangosteen. I ventured into the market in Phuket one day and saw loads of fruit laid out . . . durian, jackfruit, mangoes . . . you name it they had it there! I love fruit and the ones in Thailand made me feel at home cause they were quite similar to what we get in the Caribbean.