Tuesday Sep 29

JamesBondexcursion25 The large island of Phuket lies south of the mainland and is only seven degrees north of the equator. It very much feels like a jungle: hot, humid and green. Every inch of the hilly island is covered in mangroves, coconuts, orchids and palm trees interspersed with small crowded towns all competing for tourist dollars. Surrounding the island are some of the world's most beautiful beaches with powder white sand and warm turquoise water. And off the coast of the beaches lie hundreds of fantastical islands in bizarre shapes, many of them taller FreedomBeach13 than they are wide. We stayed in Phuket's main town called Patong.

Patong is a crazy-busy beach town with innumerable restaurants, bars, suit makers and massage parlors. The Thais are not known for their original ideas, and they have no concept of intellectual property. They tend to see all things as a business; to be copied and made cheap. A Thai businessman will look at a street with 35 suit makers and think "Hmmmm, I should open a suit shop!" Patongchaos2 The constant assault from these street hawkers have led to the number one selling T-Shirt to state, "No, I don't want a fucking suit, massage or tuk tuk!" Still, a huge white sandy beach stretches out in front of Patong where you can spend a lazy day under an umbrella, being constantly supplied with piña coladas, and taking a dip in the warm blue sea. It's a pretty fabulous place to be.

Also, Patong is where you can hire a long tailed boat for the day to take you to the surrounding beaches, which are nothing short of stunning. A day trip to one of these beaches will cost you about $30 and your skipper will patiently wait in the lagoon all day until you are ready to go back. One of these beaches was called Freedom Beach. A cheesy name for the most tranquil and picturesque place I have ever been. We spent the day snorkeling over the reefs and feeding potato chips to the fish in the 90 degree water, eating crab curry in the one little beach restaurant and chatting with the hundred or so Swede's that had discovered this little piece of Paradise. The Swedish are everywhere in Phuket this time of year. I'm sure there must be a sign over Sweden saying, CLOSED FOR THE WINTER: FOR EMERGENCIES PLEASE CALL THAILAND.

PhiPhiisland25 Our hotel was a delightful escape from the madness of Patong and the heat of the day. Each suite at The Burasari has an outdoor room with a daybed surrounded by Plumeria blooms and overlooking the winding pools and FreedomBeach14 fountains; an excellent deal at $140 per night including breakfast. The staff is sweet as can be, all bows and smiles, but their English is limited and their accents are strong. English is the second language of Thailand (being the business and tourist language) but it is difficult to find anyone who speaks it well. They get by with a few words like: "Handsome Man!" "You Look Inside!" "I Make Good Deal For You!" The businesses all have hilarious Engrish names like: 'Friend Bar', 'Good Place Market' and my favorite 'Happy Vacationing Travel'.

We had several day trips from our strategically located accommodation. The first was a boat trip to the Phangnga Bay made famous by the 007 film The Man with the Golden Gun. I full-filled a childhood dream by exploring the island where the evil Mr. Scaramanga built his hidden solar energy complex. 'The James Bond Island' as it's called is part of a chain of islands off the north east side of Phuket. Our boat made several stops to explore the more interesting ones. JamesBondexcursion50 We jumped on canoes and paddled through caves into hidden lagoons with shear 200 foot rock walls with sea eagles flying overhead. Other islands provided us with perfect swimming conditions in idyllic natural surroundings. A day I will never forget.

Another day trip found us on a speed boat to the islands of Ko Phi Phi about an hour ride south east of Phuket. The first stop was Maya Bay where the Leonardo Di Caprio film The Beach was shot. It is certainly as magnificent as it looks in the movie, but there was some 35 other speed boats in the bay that day, each with about 20 passengers. Still, we enjoyed the stunning natural beauty with 700 or so other revelers. Further stops included some amazing snorkeling and an excellent lunch on a quiet stretch of long sandy beach.

PhiPhiisland11 Back on the main island, it is hard not to get sucked into what is heralded as "Thailand's Best Tourist Attraction". Everywhere you walk on the island, someone is trying to sell you tickets to FantaSEA...a Thai themed dinner show, "that cannot be missed!" We thought, what the hell, and forked out the $50 each to see what it was all about. A bus picked us up at the hotel and dropped us at the gates of what looked like a small over-the-top Asian version of Disneyland, complete with arcade games, jewelry shops, labyrinths, jugglers, balloons and God knows what else. We paid a little extra for an elephant ride and tipped a guy to take pictures of us doing so. Dinner was a grand Vegas style buffet with what must have been 3000 other diners, and then it was on to the 'Palace of the Elephants' where we struggled through two hours of Cirque Du Soleil-like pageantry featuring silk clad elephants sitting up and kneeling down like trained dogs. Apart from the beautiful Thai costumes, the show has nothing original to present and is better left to the thousands of Asian tourists who seemed to love every minute of it.

LianaNickandFreddieinKatabeach An old family friend of mine Liana from San Francisco has lived in Phuket for 10 years now, and we had a great day with her exploring the roads less traveled and a couple of fabulous dinners. For sea food lovers, Phuket is heaven on Earth. The fish, crab, lobsters, and huge tiger prawns are caught fresh every day and on your plate that evening. One night we went to a gorgeous open air restaurant in Patong called Grill Grill where I ate a lobster the size of a small Thai boy. Restaurants are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. The said lobster was about $35 but you could not get better anywhere in the world. The other culinary standout is fruit. The most mouthwatering array of pineapples, mangoes, green papayas, tiny bananas and my favorite: yellow Thai mangoes. The Thai diet is just that: fish and fruit. Needless to say there is no such thing as a fat Thai. 

With our British Pounds buying 66 Bhat each, we were Livin' Large, but the beauty of a holiday in Thailand is that it can be as cheap or as extravagant as you want it. Everyone is welcome. "Sawatdee Ka!"





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