Thailand - Phuket

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Beautiful Sands Resort

Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The flights from Penang, via KL, to Phuket weren't much fun for Andrew as he was rapidly developing a hefty fever and chest infection (PIC). In fact, the flights weren't much fun for Verdi either, due to Andrews continual moaning and groaning (being a man his illness was far worse than anything Verdi was ever likely to experience!).
Our time in Phuket got off to an even worse start, as the car we had arranged to pick us up from the airport was nowhere to be seen. After a 25-minute wait and a phone call to the hotel manager (who was actually in Chiang Mai at the other end of Thailand) we finally got our car. The hotel was only 2 minutes drive from the airport!
The hotel was ironically called Beautiful Sands Resort. Ironic because there was no sand around the hotel and it was so small (10 rooms) that it can't really be classed as a resort. Nevertheless it was newly built (in 2005), clean and had free wireless Internet and a decent breakfast. (PICS)
As soon as we checked in we went to bed for a few hours and spent the rest of the day around the small hotel, looking through local information and trying to figure out what to do whilst in Phuket. The hotel staff were lovely but completely unhelpful as they spoke very little English. The owner of the hotel, an Englishman called Simon, was, as explained earlier, away in Chiang Mai with his sick wife. He had apologised for not being available and hoped to be back within a few days. This unfortunately left us with a group of hotel staff who, try as they might, couldn't manage much more than a smile and a shrug - we would have to get by on gestures and pointing at things!
We ordered dinner at the small hotel restaurant. The food was great - that was one thing the staff could do very well. We then went back to bed as Andrews fever hit maximum effect.
We spent the next 4 days going between the bed, the hotel restaurant and occasionally venturing as far as the 7/11 down the street to stock up on water and snacks. Not only did Andrews fever and chest infection continue to develop but Verdi also came down with a bad cold - what good luck we have!
A few days into our stay, with still no sign of Simon the manager we had to try to book a few things without his assistance. Thailand is notorious for not having many English-speaking locals, even in the tourist industry, so we were preparing to have a hard time. We managed to book our flight onto Bangkok and booked a hire car for three days with Budget Rent-a-car, both of which were fairly straightforward. We also got a free ride down to the nearby Nai Yang Beach for a quick look (PIC) - we didn't stay long as it was quite scruffy and had few facilities.
Our hire car was delivered and despite the two of us still feeling pretty awful we had to make use of the rental while we were paying for it. We decided to ease ourselves in by driving into the centre of Phuket town. The roads are much quieter and orderly than in many other Southeast Asians cities, hence our decision to risk a few days in our own motor.
Phuket town was busy, cluttered and dusty (PIC). The midday heat meant that as soon as we were out of the air-conditioned car we felt even sicker and just wanted to get back to bed. We found a few tour operators and discussed prices for the few activities we wanted to do in the Phuket area, namely Simon Cabaret, FantaSea, James Bond Island and Phi Phi Island. We eventually found one who could book three of these activities at a very good price and paid there and then. A quick visit to the nearest pharmacy and we were back on the road - feeling to ill too be out in the stifling, hot city air.
Not wanting to admit defeat too soon we drove around the south of the island to Patong. The main tourist area of Phuket is akin to Ibiza or Majorca and is equally as packed with drunken holidaymakers, Brits in their England shirts and sandals, and hoards of Germans!?! Every street, especially the main drag along the beachfront, is crammed with bars and restaurants selling western food. These are intermingled with tacky souvenir shops and dodgy money exchanges. Needless to say we drove straight on through the centre of Patong and continued through the windy mountainous roads back to the north of Phuket and the comfort of our hotel.
Verdis cold began to worsen as we stayed in our room that night, watching DVDs and moaning to the folks in order to get some sympathy.
The next day we opted to take a little drive and hopefully find some home comforts in the shape of a Tesco's Supermarket. We had noticed that the bottled water in our room was produced by Tesco's and asked Simon where the nearest one was. It was about a half hour drive from our hotel but we thought it was worth the journey for the potential of buying a few UK favourites.
As we had suspected, most of the products were very much Thai oriented but we still stocked up on essentials such as bottled water, lemon iced tea and cakes! Luckily the prices were also Thai oriented so we spent very little in the process. Surprisingly only fruit was expensive, with a couple of plums and an apple costing almost as much as the rest of our shopping!
Back at our hotel we took a drive down to the nearby beach and booked the remaining tour that we wanted to do before spending a few more hours in recovery mode.
We had booked a ticket to see Simon Cabaret in Patong so dragged ourselves out of our sickbeds and drove the hours journey to the hectic resort town on the west of the island. The place was just as busy at night as it had been in the day and the roads were manic. We almost ran over a foot-long thin green snake as it zipped across the road in between the traffic (very bizarre) and eventually made it to the Cabaret building.
Simon Cabaret is a very particular, and some might say peculiar, type of show. Every performer in the show is a transsexual, or ladyboy as they prefer to call them in Thailand. We arrived at the cabaret and found that they had no record of our booking. We were told to wait as they attempted to contact the people we booked it through but to no avail! Eventually, after several painful discussions, they relented and let us into the show, leaving us wondering if we would get the same problem with the other two activities we had booked with that tour operator.
The Simon Cabaret show was really enjoyable. It was all spectacularly choreographed and had the most incredible costumes. The scariest bit (especially for Andrew) was that most of the "women" looked remarkably real - in every sense of the word! (PICS) Some parts of the show were very funny, with some of the performers coming into the audience and 'flirting' with the men in the crowd. A Tina Turner look-alike and a singer with a huge Afro were decidedly more butch than the others but they were all very entertaining.
After the show the performers all lined up outside to pose for pictures with the audience. Andrew decided to keep a bit of distance and took pictures from afar (PIC)
The following day we lounged around the hotel until it was time to drive back towards Patong to see the FantaSea show. The show is part of a huge theme park complex, most of which is made up of shops and stalls selling various souvenirs. A small fairground area features many small skill-based stalls in the vein of coconut shies and basketball hoops. We wandered around the site and found the main atrium of the place, full of massive structures and imposing architecture (PICS). Elephants were a big feature of the décor, from the large stone elephants flanking the entranceway and the fountains around the lakes (PICS) to the real ones giving rides in the courtyard.
We had paid slightly more for our tickets in order to get a buffet dinner before the main show. The dinner was an impressive spread of local dishes, seafood and many other international treats. Unfortunately the drinks cost extra so we eked out one each throughout the course of the meal.
It was then time for the main event - the FantaSea show. We were ushered through security and had our cameras and phones taken off us before heading into a holding area with baby elephants and tigers waiting to be snapped with unsuspecting tourists who were willing to pay the exorbitant fee to get a picture printed.
The show was spectacular, a mixture of Cirque du Soleil, traditional song and dance, and a regular circus show. There was a huge cast of performers and almost as many animals. Our only slight reservation was the 'tricks' that the elephants were made to do - not natural!
Outside the show we picked up our cameras (thankfully they hadn't been shipped off to a nearby market stall and sold to other tourists!) before being nabbed for a quick photo with a baby elephant (PIC) and then heading back to our car.
After spending so much time ill in bed we had to cram both day trips into two days. First up was the James Bond Adventure which, after a long drive, saw us whisked around various bays in a Long Tail boat, taking in the iconic, and massively overcrowded, James Bond Island off the coast of Phang Nga.  Not particularly James Bond-esque but we were then paddled around some caves in a sea canoe by another friendly local that seemed convinced that serenading us in his own inimitable way (read out of tune, high pitched caterwauling) would ensure him a hefty tip!?
We managed to fit in lunch at a floating fishing village before heading to the Elephant Sanctuary where we were quickly ushered around; a demonstration of rubber tapping, a quick elephant show (yet again elephants doing handstands - not right!), a small circuit on an ox cart and then the piece-de-resistance - the ten minute elephant trek.....sounds exactly like all the 'adventures' we've seen James Bond encounters over the years.
The following day, not entirely raring to go, we managed to drag our butts out of bed in time for the 6:50am pick-up for the Phi Phi Island trip.  The first shock of the day came when we were 'picked-up' not by the taxi or mini-us as we had expected but by the tour operators friend - doing the morning family run of dropping the kids off at school and the wife at work...we thought we might be forced to plonk in the back of the truck in the open air (like most overcrowded pick-up trucks loaded down with workers in Thailand) but the Thai's being the 'resourceful' people that they are managed to squeeze their family of four and us two generous sized westerners in the little cabin!?!
Having survived the cramped journey down to our drop off point we were informed that we were to sit there and wait for an we got up so early for..?!?!?  Eventually the lady we booked the tour with showed her face and marched us over to the real departure point for the day trip.  She handed over our booking forms and promptly legged it, conveniently just in time to avoid being there when we were told we needed to pay another 400THB for National Park fees - first we had heard about it.  Needless to say we were not impressed and got the tour operator straight on the phone to explain herself...which shock horror she couldn't do.  When all else failed she resorted to lying and saying that she had told us.  At one point she even tried to say that we could go on the trip but would have to stay on the boat while everyone else got off at Maya Beach on Phi Phi Lay (THE beach from the film The Beach).....don't think so.
Without going into all the details, we went on the trip, we went to Maya beach and we DIDN'T pay any extra.
Yet again the trip was a whirlwind of; 60% cramped travel time, 20% site-seeing at overcrowded sites and 20% selling opportunities for Thai's...the compromise you have to make when you try to rush these things.  We did get to snorkel for twenty minutes near Maya beach and then relax in the water for ten minutes after lunch (PIC) but the shrill screams of one of the young girls on our trip was enough of a warning for us, she had been stung by a scorpion fish and her finger / hand continued to blacken and swell for the rest of the day as she writhed about in agony.
We managed to whiz past one of the pretty lagoons we were scheduled to stop in as apparently the 'tide too low' and crawled past the Viking Cave (PIC) with just enough time to snap a couple of fuzzy pictures before heading to the self explanatory 'Monkey beach'.  Again the beach was crammed with other western tourists to the point where we thought the Thais had a real sense of humour and the real 'monkeys' were us?!  Alas, we did see about a dozen monkeys scurrying around the rocks and on the sand, snatching bananas from tourists outstretched hands and a couple getting an obviously much needed 'hit' of Coke (PIC).
Thankfully we were given some time to relax on Khai Nok beach at the end of the day which was pleasantly and surprisingly quiet; with clear views down the beach and out over the azure waters...much more like it! (PIC)
Cynicism aside, the surprisingly poignant parts of the day were seeing the markers in the sand at Maya beach (PIC) denoting where the water levels rose to from the fateful Tsunami and then passing by Phi Phi Don (PIC) where two tidal waves met (over the thin peninsular) sweeping hundreds of people to their deaths.  The one saving grace of the overcrowded tourist sites is that it means the locals are reaping enough money to try and rebuild some remnants of their lives.

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