Friday, November 20, 2009

The Southern Tourism Capital of Phuket

Nov. 11-16th, by Jason

Well it was finally time to leave the relaxing atmosphere and good friends of Ko Lanta and head on to somewhere new, and Phuket was the new destination. After having spent almost 3 weeks on various islands we realized we needed to get heading north or we’d never make it through Thailand before Swiss’s brother arrived in Laos! Our departure options were 8am or 1pm for the 3.5 hour ferry ride to Phuket (with a 10 minute transfer on Ko Phi Phi) so we opted for the later option, which also happened to be the same ferry that Gary, Lily and Linh were taking over to Ko Phi Phi. We got a few tips on Bangkok from them on the ride over then hopped over on our 2nd ferry to Phuket. Now we should’ve realized that Phuket was different from the rest of southern Thailand when we get on the ferry and it was at least 3 levels with free water and biscuit service, announcements in Thai, English, Japanese and I believe French…but we’d learn more about Phuket as we went. We finally arrived to the pier in Phuket around 4.30pm and grabbed a shuttle into Phuket town for 50 THB each. We’d heard that Phuket was a bit of a tourist trap, that the beaches could be pricey (on the west coast of the island) and that Phuket town itself had some actual charm, so we decided to start out there (on the east coast) before hitting up the beaches in a few days. Of course when we were asked where we wanted to go in Phuket town and we told them we were looking for an inexpensive guest house, everyone had a recommendation for us at the pier and amazingly they all recommended the same place. We immediately were not really interested in that place once we kept getting the same name from multiple sources, along with the fact that the price changed from person to person and it was a little more than we wanted to pay. Of course our shuttle dropped us off there anyway and after verifying the price we decided to walk around to see what was out there. We checked out a few other places (all of increasing price) then stumbled upon the Rome Place hotel. For 450 THB/night we got a fan room with two double beds, hot water shower, satellite TV in room and a refrigerator, quite a deal and an upgrade after Phi Phi and Lanta.


We then set out on a hunt for dinner and found a food market about 5 minutes from our place and had dinner (pad thai and some rice) for just over $1/person, an amazing deal after the islands. We stopped by the supermarket next door to get some cool beverages to store in our in room refrigerator, enjoyed the free wifi in our lobby for a little while then headed to bed after a day of travel.

Walking and A/C…a little like Malaysia all over again!

Thursday morning we slept in and then headed over towards the “local bus” station and found a great little cafe for a Thai breakfast (chicken with chilis and basil leaves for Swiss, some noodles and pork for myself) and real iced coffee (yes, a proper espresso machine!)


We wandered around that area for a while, through “Old Town Phuket,” taking in the Thai/Chinese/Portuguese architecture throughout that part of town. After a bit of heat, though, it was time to head towards the mall (yes, reminds me of Melaka and Penang!!) to get some A/C comfort. We grabbed some cold drinks and snacks and headed back to the room for some TV (time to catch up on the world with BBC World News and Fox News Channel, haha!) and eventually a nap. Around 5pm the girls had arrived from Ko Lanta…Caroline set on doing some wandering around the markets and Sally joining us for some dinner back at the night market. The night before I really eyed some fried chicken they had there, so we headed back for dinner.


Since the girls got an A/C room we headed back to the hotel with a few beverages with the intentions of playing some cards in their cool room, but we found “Baby Mamma” on TV and ended up watching the movie instead!

The End of the World as we know it…via Hollywood Special Effects

The day before while at the mall I had noticed that “2012” was playing there in English and since I really enjoy the A/C, we decided to catch a noon movie to escape the midday heat! (And at 90 THB or just under USD 3 for a ticket, who could argue with that?!) Let’s just say it was an entertaining, mindless Hollywood special effects display, but as I said, also very entertaining. That evening we all met up and went to a local restaurant (meaning close to our hotel and no westerners!) for dinner, where we feasted on a spicy stir fried pork with garlic and chilis, a seafood noodle salad, garlic squid and stir fried vegetables (Caroline’s vegetarian dish that had chicken in it, what!?!?) The food was all very good and it was a nice while. We headed back to the hotel to play a few hands of cards but called it an early night.

The journey to the beach

Saturday we were ready to head out to the beach area of Phuket and had settled on Kata Beach. Phuket’s main beach areas are: Patong, Karon and Kata and we’ve heard can be ranked in that order of decreasing rowdiness. We trekked over to the local bus station to catch a ride out to Kata, and at only 30 THB/person a steal compared to a taxi. On the bus ride over we met a nice (although talkative) Swedish guy with tons of stories to tell. We’ll meet him again later. We arrived on Kata and finally found our way to Kata on Sea, a nice group of bungalows up a 100m steep driveway where we’d booked a room. For 1,200 THB/night we got an A/C room with 2 large beds (for 4 people), a refrigerator, satellite TV and a hot water shower…our own little paradise. We settled in and headed out to explore a little, walked up and down the beach area, around town to get our bearings and see what’s available around us and ended up running into our Swedish friend from the bus along with his brother and another friend of theirs. We stopped to grab a quick drink with them, they informed us where they’d be hanging out that night and we promptly decided that we’d not be frequenting that bar later! :) It was pretty hot out and our place had a really nice pool too, so we headed back to do a little swimming before dinner. Caroline skipped the pool to run a few errands and came back after having met Brendan, an Irish bloke also staying at our place…amazing how the Irish can just find each other :) We all got together around 8pm and headed down about 20 minutes walk to the main area of Kata for dinner. It was on these night time walks to and from our hotel that we caught our first glimpse of the other side of Phuket, the sex industry that is so prevalent here. Having passed many a bar with many Thai women all hollering for our business we passed them all and headed to our bar from earlier in the day (a nice family run joint) and then back to the room. Brendan, Swiss, Caroline and Sally hung out on the balcony for a few more hours talking but I was exhausted (must’ve been the swimming! :) and was off to bed.



Sunday’s adventure in Patong

Sunday morning was a late start for most of our room and most of us (Swiss excluded) made it down for a late breakfast. The girls went off shopping while we were perfectly content to enjoy the air conditioning and catch up on world news (this time we had BBC World News, Fox News Channel and CNN Headline News…man that Nancy Grace is still crazy!) We finally got assembled in the late afternoon and decided to catch a tuk tuk up to Patong Beach to see what everyone was talking about (it’s known as the party capital of Phuket, specifically Bangla Rd) We wandered around a bit, saw all the sights up and down that road and found a little happy hour bar for a drink (and ended up ordering a quesadilla as an appetizer as our London friends we’re entirely familiar with this popular Mexican treat!) Patong itself is quite different from Kata with western fast food restaurants everywhere (3 McDonald’s on 1 road!?!) and the seedy side of Thailand, the sex tourism industry, everywhere in your face. It was a very odd experience, one I wasn’t comfortable with, but one that everyone seems very open about there. We found a little place for dinner then headed to the “Australia Bar” to catch the Ireland/Australia rugby match. [Ah, the joy of european sports, where a 90 minute match only takes a little over an hour and a half!]




By about midnight we’d had about enough and grabbed a tuk tuk back to Kata after one last stroll through the mayhem of Bangla Rd in Patong Beach area.

The long journey to Bangkok

Monday morning we’d had about enough of islands and beaches and were ready to move on, so the plan was to catch an overnight bus that evening to Bangkok. Caroline and I had put in some laundry the morning before and needed to grab it before we left the area. Caroline was up early, as usual, and volunteered to pick up our stuff. Unfortunately it was a pretty rainy morning and she unfortunately had to trudge back through the rain with our washing (I slept in, oops) but luckily it was wrapped and sealed in a nice plastic bag! :) haha We grabbed a late breakfast then headed to the corner to wait for the local bus. Twenty minutes later we were on board and headed back to Phuket town [although it was an almost HOUR ride as he drove slowly the entire way in order to get more riders and increase his fare intake before completing the journey] where we made it across town to the other bus station. We found an overnight 1st class bus ticket for 626 THB (not VIP bus, but still A/C and the lowest price we could find) In preparation for the 12 hour bus journey I got some rice, Swiss also got some rice and we all got snacks at the 7/11 expecting to have that to fill in the needs along the way. Well we boarded the bus and just after getting underway were almost immediately given a bottle of water, bag of prawn coated peanuts, chicken buns and a fruit/veggie juice box. Needless to say we were not expecting it and overloaded with food. On top of that the bus randomly stopped at 9.30pm (about 4 hours into our journey) at a random bathroom/cafeteria/convenience store in the middle of nowhere. There we were fed a free dinner family style at tables with rice and various dishes. A nice surprise, delicious and the price was right (although certainly also included in our ticket price) but again a food overload. The rest of the trip was uneventful, although not super restful, and we arrived in Bangkok around 5.30am. More about our adventures in Bangkok on our next post though.


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