The Worst & Best of Thailand

Trip Start Jul 12, 2009
Trip End Nov 04, 2009

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Flag of Thailand  , Phuket,
Sunday, September 27, 2009

We arrived in Phuket late on Wednesday night, our flight delayed over two hours. We arrived at the hotel that our friend Joe had told us he was staying at (Joe from the Gili Islands) past 11 p.m. (our flight was supposed to get in at 8:30 p.m.) and got a room within a five minute walk to Kata Beach. Phuket is comprised of a variety of different areas, each with its own personality and attractions. Kata Beach is more relaxed and laid back, with a plethora of near-empty bars and restaurants lining the streets (it is low season on the Western side of Thailand right now).

Thursday morning Whitney and I woke up early and went for a run on the beach. It felt absolutely fantastic to run again - it had been over three months since I had done so. Afterward, we showered and jumped on a shuttle to Phuket Town, another area that the guidebooks described as being "underrated" and as a "stylish city of Sino-Portugese architecture and culinary diversity." We arrived in Phuket Town and were thoroughly disenchanted. The streets were dirty, half the stores were closed, and there was definitely no "style" to be found. We sought food almost immediately and ended up at a cheap local eatery that was pretty good. I had a papaya salad, which is made of shredded green papaya, green beans, chili peppers, cherry tomatoes, small dried shrimp and coated in fish sauce (which is not a fishy tasting as it sounds) and dusted with crushed peanuts. It was actually very delicious. After lunch, we wandered around and ended up at a little shopping mall which was basically a large department store on the bottom and several kiosks on top which sold jewelery, make-up, small electronics and clothes. Here we witnessed our first "lady boy," who was a hair stylist. Lady boys are very common in Thailand and are essentially just as their name indicates - boys who dress as ladies. The lady boys we spotted were hair stylists and quite easy to pick out; however, there is a significant number of lady boys in Thailand that are mistaken for actual women by tourists and in some cases, men who have hit the bottle too hard have been known to make-out with one unknowingly. After our lackluster exploration of Phuket Town we took a tuk-tuk to the nearby "Big Buddha" which was extremely anticlimactic. It was just a gold Buddha sitting on a hill. On the way home, we discovered that we took the public bus (basically a truck with three benches in the bed and covered by a low roof) back to Kata Beach at the wrong time. When we left Phuket Town, the "bus" was half full, but twenty minutes later there were literally thirty five people aboard - including five school children hanging off the back. We were crammed inside like sardines, battling the heat and trying not to sweat on our neighbor. It was insane!

After showering and relaxing in our room, we headed down the street to a bar on the corner that Joe had spent the two nights before use imbibing alcohol with the locals. All bars in our area were fairly empty with the exception of the bartender and several Thai women, most of which are prostitutes. Prostitution is ubiquitous in Phuket, even in the laid-back area of Kata Beach. The bartender at this establishment was a corpulent Thai man with a penchant for dancing to American music. Every time a good song would come on, he'd push back from his post at the bar and shake it! We conversed for a while and I grew even more fond of him when he guessed my age - 18 (he was 44 and looked 30 so I paid him a compliment as well with my guess)! The bars in Phuket are infamous for games; they are stocked with cards, Connect Four, and other board games. Joe challeneged on of the female staff to a game while Whitney and I chatted with an Australian guy named Matt that had joined us (Joe met him his first night in Phuket and had told him to meet us at the bar). Soon we followed our hunger to a nearby restaurant, where we had an amazing Thai dinner, drunken noodles with chicken for me and pad thai with shrimp for Whitney. During dinner we met a forty year old American man that had visited Thailand the previous year and immediately went home, sold all of his possessions and moved to Phuket. He seemed genuinely elated to be living there.

After dinner we took a taxi to Patong Beach which is home to the main tourist drag of Phuket. As Phuket is the sex capital of Thailand, the drag is a buzzing, sexually charged romper room lined with bars with Thai women dancing on the bar and on poles in attempt to lure well-paying customers. We found a seat at a bar that advertised two for one drinks and observed the mayhem. Apparently a US Navy ship had docked in Phuket that day and every person who found out that we were from America assumed that we were in the Navy. After I told one guy that no, I was not in the Navy but yes, I was from San Diego, he slurred, "Wait, you live in San Diego and you're not in the Navy?! Why not!?!?"

We slept in very late the next day and laid in bed watching television and reading for most of the day, as it was pouring rain. We ventured out at around 5 p.m., seeking food and a tourist agent. Whitney and I booked a one night trip to Koh Phi Phi, leaving the next morning. We were very eager to leave Phuket behind.

Saturday morning we were caravaned to the local dock where we boarded a boat for Koh Phi Phi. Koh Phi Phi is the icon beach of Thailand and for good reason (also the location of the movie "The Beach" with Leonardo DiCaprio). The water is turquoise and the island is surrounded by massive limestone cliffs, covered in verdant vines and plants. I had thought that the Gili Islands were the closest thing to paradise but I was wrong - Koh Phi Phi is a sight to be seen. The best part was the weather - sunny with just a few white wisps of clouds in the sky. After our arrival and check in at our hotel, we sought out the beach, lying on the white sand and staring with bewilderment at the sight before us. Soon our hunger got the best of us and we had lunch at a restaurant on the beach. Next, we found a tourist agency and booked a sunset tour for that evening, starting at 2:30 p.m.

On the way to the dock we met a group of Canadian girls that would be joining us on the tour. They were exchanged students studying in Singapore and were on holiday in Thailand for a week. We ended up hanging out with them for the duration of the tour. The tour began by docking near monkey beach and we were instructed that we should swim to shore (a small boat was provided for non-swimmers). The swim was actually quite far - at least two or three hundred yards (don't quote me on that - I'm terrible at estimating distance). Despite spending the majority of my high school afternoons in a swimming pool, I had never swam in the ocean before. It was a welcome challenge to make it to shore. Once there, we watched as the guides fed a few monkeys bananas (been there, done that) and then we jumped back in the water and swam back to the boat, fighting the current this time. Next, we stopped the boat at a cove made from the limestone rock and were provided with snorkeling gear and a half hour to explore the water. As soon as we jumped in, the guides threw bits of pineapple in the water, attracting hundreds of small yellow fish. It was exhilarating to feel them brushing past us and to dip our heads under and watch them surround us in the water. As soon as I ventured a bit farther from the boat and tucked my head under the water, I was presented with an amazing underwater world filled with rainbow colored fish, sea urchins, colorful coral and sea anemones, among others. Several times I held my breath and dove down to get a better look, fascinated by everything in sight. The experience made me even more excited to get dive certified so that I can actually breathe underwater!

After a half hour of snorkeling, Whitney and I  headed back to the boat and boarded a two person kayak. We used the kayak to explore the cove, swiftly paddling for quite some time before taking a break in the middle of the cove, lying back in the kayak, Whitney's head resting on the rear and my head resting on her legs. It was incredible to be surrounded by such pristine and untouched beauty. We kayaked for a while longer, making it all the way inside the inlet and then heading back to the boat, our arms exhausted from paddling. Next, the boat dropped us off about one hundred yards from a cave created by the massive limestone cliff. We swam to the cave and made our way through it, ending up in a beautiful clearing. We made our way through the clearing and down a small path which led to an amazing white sand beach. We spent the next hour taking pictures on the beach and swimming in the warm water. After this last segment of our trip, we headed back to the boat where we were served a delicious green chicken curry and vegetable dinner, with pineapple for dessert. We sat on the deck in a semi-circle with the Canadians, chatting while we dined. The water was quite choppy throughout the day, causing quite a bit of entertainment for everyone as people attempted to walk across the deck without taking a tumble. The worst of it was on the way back to the dock - the boat was lurching dramatically, launching our cups,  backpacks and water bottles across the deck and flinging sea water onto our backs. It was actually really fun!

We were absolutely exhausted after our adventure, and headed back to our hotel room to read and watch t.v. before bed. The next morning, we woke up and had breakfast at the same restaurant on the beach that we had dined at the previous day, enjoying yogurt with granola and fruit. Afterward, we headed to the internet cafe and then the beach and finally lunch before boarding the 3:30 boat to Krabi.
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