The island paradise
25.06.2007 - 29.06.2007
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Phuket was never exactly in my travel plans, at least for this round of holiday. A spontaneous question posted to a work colleague, Boon on whether he has any immediate or future breakaway plans in mind has landed me in this island-part of the Land o Smiles. Not that I dislike beach vacation but rather some reservations on the horror aftermath of tsunami that affected Phuket which had indeed kept this paradise island away from my plan. When the suggestion was raised by Boon, I thought, "Well, since I need a vacation and am looking for travel partner, this idea is somewhat okay". So that was it. We were off here in Phuket.
Travelling low season (its wet season in June) nevertheless has its advantage. Everything is cheap in particular the accomodations which went as low as 50% lower in rates compared to during the high season. If you think that the wet season will ever deprive you of a great beach/island retreat....think again. It wasn't that bad actually, to the extent that you wouldn't be able to bask into the sun and beach for a reasonable level of fun and relaxation. There was sunny days coupled with torrential rains. But on most days during our stay, we had a fair share of good weather. We had our fun, no doubt on that.
It pays to avoid engaging the services of tour agents at the stretch along the way from the airport to your next destination in Phuket. Most of the minivan operators work closely with such agents in return for commissions. Accomodations and tours would be much less expensive if they are being booked at the places you chose to put up at, say Patong. Due to the fact that may have more options to choose from, this affords you to make wise decision in terms of financial savings. Some agents will likely mis-sell the accomodation package in order to get higher commissions.The best and easiet way to get out from this is to mentioned that you've arranged all the necessary details, ie accomodation and the tours. I must admit though that not all agents tend to be dishonest and want to rip you off your finances. Some really offer affordable and fair rates. We booked our accomodation with one of such agents (through the work of minivan driver that we engaged to take us to Patong from the airport). Upon our investigation at the end of our stay, the rates were much higher by over 40% if we booked direct with the hotel itself. So, there are some pro and cons here and there.
There are many island tours available for travellers to choose from. You're apparently spoilt with choices. The most popular one would be Ko Phi Phi where many agents offer daily as well as overnight trip to this beautiful masterpiece. Ko Phi Phi is divided into 2 parts, Ko Phi Phi Don (the larger island) and Ko Phi Phi Leh (the smaller island). We booked our Ko Phi Phi tour for THB1,700, which we found out later that it was slightly costlier. In Patong, the tour agents quoted THB1,500 for the day trip after some negotiations. Anyway, the difference of THB200 was rather acceptable, but a word of caution: Avoid booking any trips from tour operators outside from where you decided to stay particularly where the agents are being arranged by minivan services. Most if not all will tend to sell you packages which costs higher. However, should you feel comfortable doing so, do initiate on negotiations to the price level which you think is reasonable. So, some homework done at home is advantageous so that you can gauge on the prices of any tours available. The day trip to Ko Phi Phi include swimming, snorkeling and lunch which lasted approximately 7 hours. There are several options for you to choose, depending on the size of travellers and speedboats. If you want to have travel with lesser people on board, then the price is higher. Nevertheless, the operators may promise you that the boats will cater for only 22 people but end up with over 40 people. Another scam is that beware of the gimmick prior to your departure point at the pier. They will charge you THB100 to hire a pair of flips for use during the snorkeling. This is somehow ridiculous as this people will not inform you during the booking. However, the other snorkeling gear such as mask is given free. Other trips include to Phang Nga, Krabi, Coral Island (Ko Hae), Ko Mai Thon, Ko Raya, Ko Similan and many more. Check out at the available operators.
Patong is the major entertainment playground for everyone, both the holidaymakers as well as the locals. Bangla Road has the most entertainment joints for your to enjoy good number of beers and as many as you an afford. Beer bars, a go go bars, pubs and discos are all here fro you to choose. Beers go as cheap as THB50 a bottle. For the guys, be prepared to be approached by the bar girls where they'll ask for you to buy them drinks, otherwise known as the ladydrinks. It costs anything between THB120 to THB150. The extra charges work as tips for these girls. (normal price for drinks cost between THB60 to THB80). If you want to avoid those unwanted attentions, ask for some games available over the counter. You can play for as long as you wanted to fill up the rest of the night. Games available include bingo, blocks, dice as well as hammering nails on a large piece of wood. Check this out at the Soi Sea Dragon. Along the main Bangla Road, there are many "freelancers" including the ladyboys looking for potential business deals. Loud musics can be heard from every nooks and corners of these entertainment outlets along Bangla Road. Seafood are aplenty here. Many restaurants, serving fantastic seafood as well as decent, authentic Thai food are located along Thaweewong Road, fronting the Patong beach area, also known as Patong Beach Road. We had a try at the Royal Palm Resortel at Thaweewong Road. A sizeable portion of hot and spicy tuna and tom yum koong together with steam rice fit in just well into our hunger and crave for authentic Thai food. The tuna was marvelous with extensive spiciness while the tom yum taste equally great with a well blend combination of sweet, sour and spice that comes along with reasonable amount of fresh prawns.
Street food are also worth trying. Along the Rat-Uthit 200 Pee Road near 7-Eleven, there are several stalls selling mixed pork porridge, chicken rice and hot noodles. At nearby Sainamyem Road, there is a budget restaurant operating round the clock specialised in chicken and pork soup/dry noodle and chicken rice too. The noodle dish comes with apart from the noodle, dried shrimp, fried wanton, bean sprout, fried beancurd and meatballs. Try mix with the red chilli pepper. The level of spiciness is just so great, which made it more exciting to eat. Pushcarts selling varieties of pancake flavours including that of banana and honey, peanut butter and banana, nutella paste with banana and many more are available to vet your appetite. You can find this along the Patong Beach Road. If you crave for some local tropical food, try the "rambutan", a tiny hairy red oval shape fruit that is sweet and juicy. We came across a 4 wheel drive with loads of such fruits at its rear long compartment that goes around doing its usual daily night business particularly late nights to early mornings.
Motorbike rental costs as little as THB200 per day without mileage limitations. Fuel of THB100 lasted us for a round trip from Patong, Karon, Kata, Nai Harn, Rawai, Chalong, Phuket town and back to Patong. Apart from Patong beach, we had swimming at Kata beach, which also attracts a fair number of beach goers whom stay around Kata. Big waves are common at the stretch of beach facing the Andaman Sea and at times do pose threat to swimmers who are careless. This is especially so in Patong beach. Be cautious not to swim too far off into the sea as the currents risk pull one away and that will follow by difficulty to swim back to the beach. We had a close call but quick action from the beachguards saved us. Several swimmers were also caught off guard and had to be assisted by the beach boys to pull them to safety with the jetski. The red pole is always there to be safety yardstick.
The beach benches are available for rent at THB100 the whole day. This affords you relaxation, sunbathing, and to enjoy your food and drinks in between your swims.
Other attraction which should not be missed is Wat Chalong. It would be easily be voted as the best attraction in Phuket with its unique and beautiful wat structures. Comprising of several number of wats located within its compound, many tourists flocked to Wat Chalong to offer prayers and to ask for good fortunes. There are 2 other wats in the central part of the island. the Wat Phra Nang Sang and Wat Phra Tong. Inside the Wat Chalong, there are some makeshift stalls where souveniers are on sale as well as the very tasty green coconut to quench your thirst for THB20. The Promthep Cape, situated between Nai Harn and Rawai is worth a visit. This cape is situated on the edge of the south of the island which affords visitors the view of the beautiful sunset from the top of the hill.
After all, this round of backpacking trip to Phuket was well above my expectations. It was indeed a very interesting, relaxing and wonderful holiday for Boon and me. The island lives up to the tagline "The Land of Smiles" for you see many happy faces around. Great beaches, marvelous food, cheap beers, pretty and friendly girls everywhere. Wouldn't this be paradise, dream holiday?