First day in Thailand - Hello Phuket
Jan 26, 2017
|Not great weather at a sea day so the day spent primarily inside which actually works out well. We have our meeting for back to back cruisers and then a wine tasting. Old world vs new world. Here we have an hour long tasting of 12 wines for comparison. There are a few we enjoy, others not so much. The additional hour and half time change is taking its toll so we are not late tonight.
Our morning is somewhat at leisure as we are not scheduled to arrive in Phuket till 11 am. So breakfast is in the main dining room. It’s the only way you have any hope of a hot eggs and toast. The buffet is too disorganized for that.
If you want poached or benedict you suffer through the painful process of the slowest server in the world. He has 50 English muffin toasted and getting cold while he moves at a snail’s pace to scoop out your egg and put it and the sauce on the plate. If you want fried they have one guy for 2,000 people and beside him one gal on toast. One can be hot but not both. Oh wait no she is flirting with her colleague and your toast is done but she is not there. Argh!
The ship arrives half an hour early and the tendering process begins. As we have booked a private tour for 9 we head to the theatre to await our turn. Today they are using very large tenders so the process is fast and we are off in time to meet our noon tour.
Our guide today is Rainy and she is lovely with a great sense of humour. I arrange with her what we would like to see and do … no shopping centres or cashew factories just the sites and a nice lunch. Now that we have confirmed what is doable in 5 hours we are off. The day is a bit overcast and therefore in the heat a bit humid as well. Dark clouds threaten and we will feel their wrath later in the day.
We start from the jetty at Patong Beach, the most famous on Phuket Island. We are on Thaweewong or Beach Road.The beach is already busy as are the many bars and restaurants. As the minivan makes its way through the streets you can tell that at night this part of Phuket is party central.
Phuket is both the town and the island. About 400,000 people live here but more importantly they get over 8 million tourists annually. The island is 49 km long and 22 km wide with more than 1,000 hotels and resorts. It is joined to the mainland by bridge. Patong beach and all the way up that coast were wiped out by the tsunami so what we see today is less than 10 years old.
Our guide shares her own tsunami story. She had picked up a tour of 8 and was up the island from Patong when it hit at 10 am. She was warned and the van with her guests headed inland to the river. Where they turned in was hit about 10:15 and the wave came in over 2 km but by this time they were 3 km in and safe. With no power, cell service and therefore no means of contacting anyone they were forced to stay put overnight. The locals, using primitive means, provided food and shelter until they were able to head back to what was left of town and make contact.
We are now heading along the coast passed the many beaches filled with sunbathers, Karon , Kata Ya (big) and Kata Noi (little). Winding up a narrow curved and steep road we arrive at the Karon viewpoint from which we can see all the beaches expect Patong and up above us the Big Buddha, which isour next stop. Even with the menacing skies it is a beautiful sight.
The Big Buddha is up even higher through jungle roads which hold the various trees that make up their livelihood and everyday life. Rubber, or as Rainy calls them ‘condom’ trees, cashew, palm which makes much of their oil and coconut.
Finally the Big Buddha but it is somewhat shrouded in fog. One minute you get a great shot the next it disappears. The Buddha is only 15 years old built to commemorate the birthday of their beloved King. The king ruled from the time he was 19 till last fall when he passed at the age of 89. He was apparently a man of the people, spending time amongst them throughout his rule, enjoying their simple pleasures.
The Buddha is 45 m height and 25 m wide made entirely out of white jade from Myanmar. The exception being the eyes which are huge black sapphires. Respect is key such that you should ensure photos are tasteful and that you are below the Buddha. Proper clothing is required for women covering your knees, shoulders and your ‘papayas’. Sharon is the only one who needs to wrap her scarf carefully.
Unfortunately, they are doing restoration work inside but as you wander around the massive structure there are many other Buddha. A lot of photo ops for Sharon and Gail. Who, as usual, lag behind the rest of us getting the last perfect picture.
By now it is 2 pm and we are all a bit peckish. Rainy takes us to a lovely spot right on Chalong Bay. We enjoy an assortment of Thai dishes, like Pad Thai with prawns for Gail and seafood. Some of us order grilled tiger prawns which are massive, more like the size of a lobster. Minimum order is 2 and it is more than I can eat especially after the spring roll appetizer. A cold beer to wash it down along with the lovely sea breezes and view makes for a fantastic lunch.
We enjoy it so much that we linger too long and cut into our tour time. So we make the executive decision to drop the temple …it’s not like we haven’t seen plenty already. That way we have time for a short walk in Old Phuket.
Old Phuket dates back about 100 years to when Phuket was a hub for tin mining. Not having enough workers the wealthy tin merchants brought workers from China. Combined with the influence of the Portuguese and Dutch merchants and you have an interesting mix of architecture.
On most corners you find the big colonial mansions of the merchants. Down the streets the ‘shop’ houses. On the bottom the single windows from the Chinese influence which made up the shops. On top, the 3 windows from the European influence making up the home. Many are colourfully painted making for a fun atmosphere.
Unfortunately just as we step out for our first pictures the skies open up. Fortunately it is a warm rain but still it makes it difficult for photo taking. So back in the bus, around the corner and up to another street just as it let’s up. So let’s try this again. Half way down the block … dumps on us again. That’s enough, it is 4:30 and we are half an hour away from the jetty and our ship tenders.
On the way back Rainy tries to teach us some Thai. There are 44 letters in the alphabet and 5 tones. So the same word pronounced with a different tone has a totally different meaning. Flat, up,down , quick high up and up and down. Yikes. The only word we all seem to remember is stupid pronounced sort of like knee cow.
We thank Rainy for a wonderful day and head back along the beach for a cold drink and a bathroom. We stop at the Dolphin Beach Bar which has the pub fun atmosphere we were looking for with clear toilets and pharmacy across the street. Seems like some are in need of more throat lozenges and Imodium.. oh dear!
By the time we finished, head back and tender out it is almost 7 pm. Time to shower off the stickiness of the day and enjoy a glass of wine before a late dinner. We enjoy a little of the trio after dinner before retiring. Once again the clocks go forward another hour. This is getting tiring … morning will come too soon. Fortunately it is a sea day tomorrow where half our gang will be packing for departure in Singapore on Thursday.
We begin the sea day after our breakfast and so-so trivia morning in the Café. I do the blog over cappuccino and Gail tinkers with her pictures over tea. As the day is nicer I leave Gail to her pictures and head poolside for the afternoon finding Steve and Sharon in our usual spot. There is some cloud cover and thank goodness as it is plenty warm. You need to stand by the railing for some cooler breeze.
As we sail toward Singapore we transit trough a narrow channel between Indonesia and Malaysia. You can see land in the distance and certainly the captain needs to pay close attention as there is a lot of traffic. Mainly cargo ships but every once and awhile a small fishing boat.
Tonight being the last night we have made reservations for 3 tables together, at least we hope so, for our final dinner. Tomorrow will be an early day as we have to be off by 9 if we want to go ashore to Singapore. Our plan for the short day is the Hop On Hop Off … and of course a requisite Singapore Sling at Raffles where it was invented.