Travelogue SEA 7: Phuket

28-31 December 2011

After about an hour in a minivan transferring from the airport (north Phuket) to Patong Beach (south west Phuket), we finally arrived at our hotel – a bright yellow building called Moonlight House. Hearts sank (and octaves rose) when the reception told us that they hadn’t received our online booking. Fortunately we have copies of all booking confirmations with us so we could easily prove that we’d booked and paid. The clerk obliged with a complicated plan of rooms we’d have to swap to day by day. We weren’t having any of that after all our (unnecessarily stressful airline experience and the general stressfulness of all the necessary) planestrainsandautomobiling! Fearing the crazy eyes, the clerk quickly made a plan and we were ushered to Room 304. For 3 glorious nights in a row.

The room was lovely – clean and bright and modern, with instantly effective air con, TV with lots of English channels and a shower that had good pressure AND made hot water (a rare combo in our experience). Nirvana.

By this point it was around 8pm so we went straight out again to explore and forage.

Leaving the hotel, we (on the advice of the concierge) took a left and did a complicated circuit of main roads and alleyways to find our way to the main stretch of Patong Beach. The hotel hadn’t seemed so far from the beach on the maps on the online booking site 🙁

Nonetheless, we delighted in the busy neon bustle of infamous Bang La Road and the festival of stalls along the beachfront selling (mostly) foods of all descriptions. Perfect instant gratification for our restlessness post Day of Great Migration! We picked up some (awesome) pork ribs and tempura prawns with sweet chilli sauce – ready to eat so we could just pick, pay and eat straight away at one of the many sidewalk table areas. With only bottled water to drink. It had been *that* kind of day.

We quickly whipped around the beach area, surrounding roads and the markets nestled in between – getting a lay of the land and a feel for the local options – and soon admitted defeat from a tiring day and the very humid coastal heat. It was bliss to get back to our hotel, get showered and clean and have a lie down staring at the telly!

We had returned to our hotel via the same route we’d taken down to the beach, again disappointed by the winding route and unanticipated distance from the action (worsened enormously by every tourist city map only displaying a selection of roads and only labelling a limited portion of those depicted). So, the next day we decided to rent a scooter to do the trek to the beachfront for brunch and then perhaps do some exploring on the island.

Luckily there was a place across the road from Moonlight House offering scooters for 200 baht a day (50 baht cheaper than the beachfront rentals), so we got a nifty red and black number (concluding the deal in the office which had an adjoining bedroom where the manager appears to share his bed with an inflatable Spider-Man!) and headed seaward. Heading right this time, we found that if we followed the road straightstraightstraight it was less than 2km to the beach. An easy walk – and so much easier and quicker than the route from the night before on foot!

We got to the beachfront, parked the scooter and started trawling the food stalls for something that appealed for (late) brunch. We ended up sharing a very excellent chicken and egg Pad Thai with roast pork with sweet chilli sauce on the side. Discussing options over our meal, we both agreed that it would be good to just sit and chill all day instead of zooting around in the baking sun seeing samey-samey beaches and markets. Easily done, we secured loungers and umbrellas and set up camp.

It’s not easy being South African on a beach holiday. We had left most of our valuables in the hotel, locked in the suitcase, and made sure to only take one of everything (wallet, credit card etc) with us should ‘the inevitable’ happen and our stuff get stolen. Great debate about whether or not to take the camera as we’d want pics of the day, but was it worth risking losing the pics of the rest of the holiday? We decided to take it (and I resolved that on return home I will put a note into the case with an ‘if found, please return for reward’ message).

When we swam, we packed everything into the bag, carefully tucking it between the 2 loungers so as to hamper any potential hit and run thief sweeps and eyed our neighbours suspiciously to assess the risk they might hold. None at all from the ones on my side – a Dutch couple that seemed determined not to touch the sand, with Her putting all her efforts into smoking up a Peter Stuyvesant ad sequined-dress-on-a-yacht lifestyle and Him buying stuff from every passing peddler and constantly clicking fingers for delivery of a seemingly endless stream of drinks and snacks. Christian’s neighbours were a Russian couple with Him fiddling and faffing (digging in his bag, adjusting the umbrella, shifting the lounger into the sun, shifting his lounger out of the sun, looking for his cigarettes, looking for his wallet etc etc etc) in an shimmery silver Speedo that was constantly bobbing in Christian’s peripheral vision and adding a queasy side-story around the edges of the book he was reading. Russian Her was oblivious to her husbands fidgeting as she was tanning her leather while happily chatting away to more (of the many) Russians on the other side of her.

It was a great day. Very relaxing. In and out of the water, not even attempting the sun, opting rather to nap and read under the trees and umbrellas (which the lounger owners did a great job of constantly turning and shifting so that we had uninterrupted shade – much to the chagrin of Silver Speedo Ivan Guy).

We managed to get hold of Clive and Vanessa who we knew were also holidaying in Patong and made arrangements to meet them for dinner. They’d already been in Patong a few weeks so were experienced in the ‘where to and not to’ and we had an excellent dinner at a local side street restaurant, (Chris and I) sharing wok fried beef with garlic and black pepper, and calamari in oyster sauce, with a side of broccoli with oyster sauce for the table. Amazing for under 600 baht (ZAR 150), including drinks. Then we hit Pit Stop on Bang La Road, which Clive and Vanessa had made their local thanks to 50 baht Chang beers (another happy hour all night wonder).

The vantage point was superlative for people watching (and spotting our NZ friends who’d just arrived after their foray with transport of all types! … That we would have had to do if Nok Air hadn’t caught the wake-up that they did!) and there’s quite a societal cross-section making their way up and down the road all night. Not so unexpected to see ladies (and lady boys) of the night, ping pong show pushers, and bingefuls of lager louts, but weird to see so many families with babies and small children are in such a smutty environment so late at night. Each unto their own I suppose (re all of the above!)

Clive’s an epic hawker shopper and by now had a bag of bits and pieces he’d bought along our trawl, including a Singha beer cooler for Christian, so it was hardly surprising that we all ended up with green and yellow ‘WWED’ (What Would Eric Do) wristbands made-to-order in minutes by a passing sales person to remind us of the reason we had all ended up in Patong – Eric, who has been singing the praises for years of his awesome annual family vacations in Patong, with details on the where and whats of his jaunts and adventures and who had booked months ago for his family to come this December starting the impetus with the 4 of us, only to cancel at the last minute, leaving us obliged to retrace the footsteps and keep the holiday cheer alive!

The night went on longer than it should have bearing in mind our early morning start for the island tour, but a good time was had by all and after all we had been sleeping all day…

The island hopping tour was really good value, taking us to 3 islands off the coastline on the Eastern side of the island (closer to Phuket Town), providing all transfers, speed boat travel, snorkel gear, drinks and buffet lunch for ZAR500 for both of us. We first visited Monkey Island with a beautiful white sand and azure ocean beach where we could laze and paddle and ease into the day. Then we cruised around over lunch and docked in Maya Bay (where The Beach was filmed) where we snorkelled and frolicked – and the Aussie yoots got fined for jumping off the top deck… So they did it again in rebellion.

Last stop was Phi Phi Don where we docked and were given time to explore the town and its beaches. It wasn’t what we expected. It’s a motorless town, with no cars or scooters (which is a blessing) but the cyclists and their confounded bells are just as bad. Possibly even worse since the pathways through the town are so narrow. It’s searingly hot and humid on the island and it teems with sweaty people and travellers that have gotten stuck. Am very glad to have been there and seen it, but pleased that we didn’t overnight there as we’d originally considered doing.

Another dinner and drinks out with Clive and Vanessa, Rob and Aaron, meeting at Bang La Road, dabbling with an Irish pub and settling rather at the sidewalk stalls for dinner (ribs, prawns, baked potato and chicken pad thai) and moving back to the Old Faithful, Pit Stop, for drinks.

We’d had fun in Patong, but it’s not for the faint-hearted with the hot hot heat and hectic humidity, the wall-to-wall people and the nightlife and seediness that comes along with it.

Grateful for a sleep-in, we had an easy transfer to the airport, plenty of time for a leisurely brunch (Burger King Chicken Club with bacon, BBQ sauce and mayo – 5 out of 5, but pricey at ZAR75 for the meal) and a plane that was… On Time!

Another day, another island and so we arrived at Koh Samui for our New Year’s Eve celebrations. But that’s another story for another time.

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