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Ah vacation! August and September were hectic with the chaos of negotiating a move to a new apartment. The good news is we no longer overlook a shopping center or endless construction including the building of a new hotel across the street. Any view we had when we moved in would be totally gone except for prying on what the hotel occupants are up to when they think no one is looking. Now that we're on the ground floor, our view is of the tropical greenery right outside every window. But we have to remember that if we can see out, others can easily see in, including the grounds keepers who sit outside our windows while tending to the gardens. We’ll try to remember to dress and act respectable at all times. But that’s a story for another time. This story is about our trip to Thailand.
Relaxation sounded like a good idea so we checked in at the Marriott Phuket Beach Resort in Phuket, Thailand. Instead of our usual trip filled with packed itineraries and lugging bags from place to place we went to Phuket with absolutely no plan of what to do when we got there and with the intention of staying planted at one resort for a whole week. It was a good plan. The Marriott resort is on Mai Khao Beach which is in the far north of Phuket and rather remote if you want the activities available in Patong or Phuket Town. But the Marriott is a beautiful resort with everything we needed available and very comfy accommodations. Even though it was supposed to be a week of inactivity, our first stop after a buffet breakfast on day one was the tours desk. We narrowed down the choices which ranged from the completely touristy, for the masses type of stuff to intense adventure. We went middle of the road and decided on a boat and canoe tour of Phang Nga Bay, a Thai cooking class, and an elephant trek. We tossed aside diving for another time since we were far from the dive sites, its rainy season, and we already have excellent diving in the Philippines. It can wait for another
time. We also tossed aside Fantasea, a circus and entertainment extravaganza with a buffet that feeds 4,000 hungry tourists every night. An easy no.
Our boat tour to Phang Nga Bay was with a company called ALP and was a bit more tourist oriented than we normally like but still good. Our first stop was the marina where it was obvious from the size of the yachts, that there are people with serious money in Phuket. We boarded a less decadent speed boat that took us up north to the Phang Nga Bay where the limestone
karsts jut out of the water similar to those we’ve seen in Vietnam and Palau. Waiting for us on arrival at Panak Island were a number of inflated canoes and guides to paddle them. We assumed we would be doing the paddling and burning off some of the calories from last night’s dinner. Too bad. But after navigating Diamond Cave, it started to
be obvious that it was better to have a guide. The cave was
narrow with a low ceiling and people were trying to get out while we were trying to get in. At the other end of the cave there was another opening into a "hong" which is a hidden cove only accessible when the tide is low enough to allow you to pass through the cave. At high tide the cave is completely submerged. Stay in the hong too long and you won’t be able to get out until the tide changes again. Our second stop was Mangrove Cave named for the twisted mangrove in the hong. Getting into this one we had to get out of the canoes halfway because the water was shallow and our fat butts kept scraping the bottom.
After the caves we got out of the canoes and back into the speed boat to continue to James
Bond Island which is famous for the boat chase in the movie “Man With the Golden Gun”. According to our very young guide, it is an old movie from way back in 1974. Unfortunately, we’re old too so we remember it. On the island we climbed the stairs to a view point and beach area for photo taking and souvenir buying. Pretty scenery but a popular tourist spot. Luckily we were here during low season so the number of people everywhere we went was a lot less than it would have been. We can’t imagine what high season must be like. Back in the boat and on to the Sea Gypsy village for lunch. All you really see of this big floating village are the huge restaurants on pilings that run across the front edge and cater to boat loads of hungry tourists. We had a nice buffet lunch of various Thai foods before moving on to reconnect with our canoe guides to access another cave at Hong Island. This one was so low we had to lay down in the canoes to clear the ceiling. And the opening to the hong was so tight some of the guides had to let air out of their canoes to squeeze through. We made it back out without popping our canoe or banging our heads and moved along to our
last stop at the beach for some swimming and relaxing. At the beach we got off the boat to the sound of reggae music and tiki huts manned by Thai rasta wannabes making fruity rum drinks. Where are we again? Looking across the
water to Phang Nga Bay we remembered we were in Thailand as we sipped our pina coladas to the sound of Bob Marley.
Our next activity was the Thai cooking class given by a chef at the Marriott. The class started
with an early morning ride to the local markets where we learned about Thai vegetables, herbs, curries and other ingredients. Some of it was familiar and available in the Philippines maybe under another name. Some things like tiny eggplants the size of marbles and fresh peppercorns may not be so easy to find. But according to the chef that’s not a problem with Thai cuisine. Just substitute something similar and adapt to your own tastes. It seems that Thai recipes are more of a guideline that can be altered in whatever way you see fit. That’s good news since we tend to do that anyway whether on purpose or not.
After the market we reconvened at the resort to actually cook the menu for the class – Tom Ka Gai (chicken coconut milk soup), Nhue Pad Prik Thai On
(stir-fried beef with young peppercorns, and Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad). For each dish the chef walked us through how she prepares the ingredients and organizes them. Some ingredients like lemon grass and ginger were cut into different sizes depending on whether you are going to eat them or just include them for overall flavor. After the chef finished the preparation she put it all together while we watched and learned. We got to eat the dishes she cooked before trying to cook it for ourselves. That meant we basically ate a meal while cooking the meal we were later going to eat. Should have skipped breakfast. We had a few oops moments while we were cutting, organizing or cooking our food but like the chef told us, Thai food is adaptable. It was still really good in the end and it was spicy. Thai food really makes your mouth sing. Lots of flavors and spice. It could be our new favorite cuisine. Once our dishes were cooked we sat down to eat lunch. There was so much food we packed it up and took it back to our condo and it was still a great lunch two days later. At the end of our class we received a recipe book, and apron, some assorted herbs and spices, and a certificate that says we know what we’re doing. We’ll try it on our and see.
Activity three was elephant trekking with Siam Safari. Siam Safari is run by the Thai
government as a conservation/tourism organization. The elephants are treated well and handled by Karen Mahouts, an ethnic people whose culture has involved elephant handling for hundreds of years. We got to meet the baby elephants and hand-fed them fruits. Then the trek. We stepped off a platform onto a chair on top of an adult elephant while our guide nestled himself just behind its head. Off we went very – very – very
slowly. I guess when elephants aren’t stampeding they walk rather slowly, a thud and a jerk with every slow step. I’m glad we didn’t decide on the all
day version of this. The trail took us along the top of the mountain where we could overlook the town and beach below and see Phi Phi Island off the coast. We also passed a spot where we could see the Big Buddha on the top of the next
mountain. At the end we thanked our elephant by giving him treats of watermelon, pineapple and bananas. He sucked them down like a giant vacuum cleaner. Elephants are a big attraction in Thailand. A couple of days later we were relaxing at the resort’s pool when we noticed a baby elephant and 2 handlers walking down the beach. They must have been on their way to some event or activity because the elephant was dressed up with a fancy red and gold blanket on its back. Even though he was as tall as we were he was still cute. Later when we were getting a massage at the pavilion on the beach Jane heard voices and looked up to see the same elephant taking another walk. A relaxing massage with an elephant for entertainment. You don’t get that every where.
Even though it was rainy season, we were lucky that there was no bad weather that actually interfered with our plans during this trip. There was only one rainy day and that was when we took our cooking class. So along with the
days of activity we found time to hang out at the pool where they brought us complementary fruit, plenty of ice water and cool wash clothes scented with
lemongrass water. And we also had time to eat lots of good, spicy Thai food. Thai may be light and healthy but it still resulted in some extra vacation pounds - or maybe it was the giant bagels and pastries - or the happy hour drinks and snacks. And the
birthday cake the Marriott staff left for Jane sure didn’t help. Hmmm. Maybe we should have had more activity and less food consumption. A thought for
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