As Songkran 2018 approaches, it seems an appropriate time to unleash my somewhat unexpected Phuket and Songkran posts. This is a throwback couple of posts as my first (and hopefully not my last) Songkran experience occurred on Phuket before I began this blog, and before I got into photography. So please forgive me if the photos aren’t up to my usual standard, but hopefully I’ll make up for that with my amazingly
awesome tacky beach shirt.
Despite the fact that this was a pre-blog trip I decided to write about it anyway, as it’s one of my favourite travel memories. This is a long trip report, so I’ve broken it into two parts. Please feel free to settle in and enjoy – cheers!
April 2005 – Four months after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami:
My Silkair flight arrived on time, and I was more than ready for a break after an unexpectedly stressful week of work in Singapore. Walking through Phuket International Airport, I could tell I was in clean, orderly Singapore no longer.
Taxi drivers, touts, and tuk tuk drivers tried to get my attention by yelling, jamming signs in front of me, and generally getting in my face. I’ve since been back to Asia seven times and have gotten used to this kind of thing, but this was my first time so I found it a bit of an assault on the senses.
I chose the first taxi in the line outside the airport and slid into the back seat. In Singapore, the taxis had been spotless – you could eat off the floors. I wouldn’t, but I’m just saying you could. This cab, on the other hand, was anything but clean, and I definitely wouldn’t advise eating off these floors. Ripped seats, incense burning, Buddhist statues on the dash, and fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror all told me that I was in for a different kind of taxi-going experience.
The driver jumped in to the front seat after sorting out my luggage. I took in his ripped jeans, orange hair, and knock off Diesel t-shirt.
“Where you go?” he asked in broken English.
“Dusit Laguna Phuket, on Bang Tao beach,” I replied.
“Ok, we stop for gas first.”
He pulled out of the airport lot and into the first gas station, a few hundred metres away. I’d never been in a cab that had to stop for gas, but it was obviously a time for many firsts.
After filling up, he got back in and flashed me a toothy grin.
“What you name?” he asked.
“Nut,” he replied, which I thought sounded about right.
Introductions made, he turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. He tried again – nothing. So Nut jumped out of the cab and ran over to four guys standing outside the station. I have no idea who they were or why they were standing there, but soon Nut was back in the cab, popping the car into neutral while these four random dudes started pushing the car. Once we got rolling Nut tried to turn the car over and miraculously it kicked into gear. He gave a small wave out the window and then jumped into traffic, cutting off a family of four sharing a small motorbike. They wore no helmets, with the mom on the back holding her baby with one arm and a bag of groceries in the other; the balancing act was worthy of Cirque du Soleil.
Nut broke every traffic law in existence (are there any in Thailand?) and got me there in 22 minutes, which, according to Nut, was a new record. As we pulled in to the hotel’s lot two guards with mirrors checked the bottom of the cab for explosives. It was a sensitive time in southern Thailand (as it often is), and I was informed that this was normal. Through the course of my time on the island this kind of check would happen a number of times.
Deemed explosive-free, Nut pulled up to the resort. Getting out, he tossed my bags to the doormen, bid me well, and tore out of the lot.
Walking into the Dusit Laguna Phuket after being in Nut’s cab was like walking into Shangri-La. It’s a beautiful resort, and the staff greeted me like a warm friend. I looked around and found it empty.
“Are there many guests here?” I asked as I registered with the front desk staff.
“No,” she said. “Tsunami keep people away.”
During my entire time on the island I found people to be extremely grateful that I would visit so soon after the event that destroyed countless buildings, businesses, and lives.
I wandered around the grounds of the Dusit Thani and was immediately awed by the pool area, the Andaman Sea, and the swaying palm trees.
This will do just fine, I remember thinking at the time.
I got acclimatized and decided to head out and explore after dropping my bags in my room. I love walking around new places when I arrive, and this was no different. As it was mid-April the heat was brutal, about 38 degrees C (100 F), which was great as I needed to lose a few pounds after chowing down on a week’s worth of delicious Singaporean food and drink. An hour in this heat and I thought I might sweat out between 7-19 pounds.
After setting out and trudging along in the heat for a while, I came across a Buddhist temple in a little village called Cherngtalay. There were a bunch of kids dressed in saffron robes, kicking around a soccer ball. The temple was gorgeous.I loved some of the finer details, the colours jumping off the walls. I would visit a few more times over the next week – I just thought the place was fascinating.
After wandering I decided to head back to the resort where I had a beer on the beach, kicked back in the pool, and enjoyed the evening. The resort wasn’t fully operational as they had lost a building to the tsunami, but the staff were amazing and everyone I met went above and beyond to make me feel welcome. I hit bed pretty early as I was pretty exhausted, and I had big plans for the next few days.
Morning came at the regular time, so I woke up (as I usually do). It was early, so I went for a run on the beach, which was deserted; I would learn that the resort really doesn’t “wake up” until after ten or so. With my jaunt I was feeling like the early bird getting the worm. Having the beach to myself was great until a roaming soi / beach dog (wild local dogs that just kind of wander around) squared up to me and bared his teeth. I didn’t like his attitude, so I slowly backed away and headed back to the hotel.
After breakfast I took a tuk tuk to famous Patong Beach, which is a pretty long ride via tuk tuk, but I liked the wind in my hair and it really gave me a sense of the place. During the journey I was wide-eyed as I took in the devastation; buildings were flattened and debris was everywhere. Things were obviously much improved from the day of the tsunami, but the impact would obviously be felt on this island for a long time to come. In addition to the machinery used to move materials, they were also using working elephants to lift trees and other debris; witnessing this was incredible. I definitely felt like I was a million miles from home.
At Patong I got a $10 massage on the beach and loved every minute of it, listening to the waves roll in while a talented Thai woman worked my tight muscles. Weeks of travel will do that to you. At one point she actually walked on my back, which was a new experience for me. I didn’t find it particularly helpful, but it was a new experience and I’m always game for new experiences. It also answers the question as to whether I would like someone to walk on my back, and the answer is – once the novelty wears off – not that much. Better than walking on my head, I guess.
I explored Patong a bit, ate, and headed back to the Dusit Thani. At the desk I booked a tour to Phang Nga province and James Bond Island for the next day.
The “next day” turned out to be perfect. I was picked up first thing in the morning and brought to a central hub where I boarded a bus, which took us north, over the Sarasin Bridge, and off the island to Phang Nga. I don’t remember how long the ride was, but I am thinking it was about an hour and a half. We were then herded off the bus and onto long tail boats, which would be our conveyance through Phang Nga Bay and onwards to James Bond Island.
Limestone cliffs jutting out of the green sea, this place was absolutely spectacular; I would have been happy to just ride through this bay all day long.
We made it to James Bond Island around noon, and the heat was just a shade above deadly. I’m surprised I still have much of a face these days, because I was sure half of it melted off that day. The island, made famous by the Bond film “Man With the Golden Gun” is well worth a visit, but it definitely has a bit of a tourist trap feel. There are plenty of touts and little shops selling the requisite silk and knick knacks. Still, it’s an iconic spot and you get to take the photo that everyone came for:
After exploring the island for a bit everyone was beyond hungry – and thirsty; face-melting heat will do that to you.
We boarded the boat and headed off in search of refreshment. We would find it, at the home of the sea gypsies.
Pick up the rest of this trip report in Phuket: Part 2 – Sharks, Sea Gypsies and Songkran!
Have you been to Phuket? What were your impressions? Leave comments below – thanks!