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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Phuket in a "Coco-nut-shell"

Flying is more than transport to a destination, its preparation for an adventure! Thailand must be one of the most affordable and adventurous outdoor countries in the world. There are enough activities to keep you busy every day, for months! Thailand was hit by a very destructive tsunami on 26 December 2004, which was the worst natural disaster to ever strike Thailand . The tsunami claimed many lives and caused major damage to the environment and property. The consequences of the tsunami on the Thai economy and environment influenced their fishing and tourism industries severely. The thousands of displaced people and loss of livelihoods reduced the quality of life for everyone in this paradise. The day of 26  December 2004 for these countries around the Indian Ocean was like 11 September 2001 in the USA. We went to Phuket, the largest island of Thailand, at the end of 2010 and was surprised to see that there was no signs of the tsunami after six years, except for warning signs. The restored buildings and the ever friendly people made it hard to imagine the chaos and emotional times that had come over these poor people a few years ago.
Tsunami warnings in Thailand and on its islands

Thailand is also known for its long beaches with crystal clear blue and turquoise water and green protruding rock islands. Other things that come to mind are elephants, massages, dark tanned people and water that is like your bath, after adjusting the temperature with little warm, little cold, and then you get it the right comfortable temperature, perfect! When I started planning the trip, I only did a little research on where to stay and what not to miss, but nothing could have prepared me for the pleasant surprise. Mmm.. Pleasant surprise. You don't hear that so often these days as marketing have developed to a level where they can even make your backyard look ridiculously fantastic! Face it, the best you can get is only if it's as good as the brochure portrayed it to be. And on the other hand, people are comfortable going to same place every year where they know what the trip will cost, where they have a camp spot that is "theirs", know where the best shop is and they meet all their other comfortable friends there.. every year.. We were like that for a couple of years in Groot Brak in the Western Cape.

The last time my parents left for another continent was 37 years ago on their honeymoon. My mom's dream was to go to an island, so when I saw pictures of Phuket, it was a sell. We bought a package for R8000 per person, which included flights, hotel, buffet breakfast and transport between hotel and airport. We started saving and after a few months of boring everyone with our story of going to Phuket, my parents, my bother, Karla and me were on our way to Thailand for 10 days. We stayed at a hotel called West Inn in Karon beach. Nice and quiet, but close to all the action. On arrival a tour guide comes and informs you of all the activities and you can book them there and then as well.  My brother and me were determined to get my dad to do everything with us, and him being paraplegic made it so much more a family effort. We booked our activities so we have an activity full day followed by a rest day, where we traveled locally and spent time relaxing on the beach. Our first day we went on one of the most memorable rides of our lives.. Elephants in the jungle!

Our family
Jungle Tracking

Standing Elephant!!

Getting my dad on/off the elephant with a podium

There are many unique activities, and you'll know when you find them! Some times someone just says something and when you get the feeling to ask them: "You do what?!", you need to make a booking. Our next big trip was to visit islands, caves and volcanoes on inflatable kayaks! The kayaks are loaded on a big double-story boat and then taken to these unique picturesque spots that make tourists realise that no matter how long you are going to be here on holiday - its going to be too short!

Getting my dad on the kayak
Kayaking at James Bond Island
Kayaking among Limestone Cliffs
Asia has a delicacy that has been part of the Chinese culture for more than 1500 years. It is mostly harvested in Thailand and it is exactly what the name states: "Bird-nest-soup". Its also known as the "Caviar of the East". The hand-sized nests, built within 35 days, are harvested three times a year after the swallows are typically given time to breed and raise their young in the nest. The treacherous process of carefully climbing to collect these nests adds to the end-price which varies between $25 and $10 000 a nest, depending on the nest's colour. These bird nests are applauded for its medicinal uses, but its over romanticized by traditional and cultural beliefs.  
Kayaking past Protected cave with swallow nests

We then kayaked into a tunnel in the side of a volcano, almost like going through the side of a large doughnut. Some places were tight enough to make claustrophobic people close their eyes. In less than 10 minutes you are on the inside of the volcano, filled with water and trees.  
Inside the tunnels through volcano wall
Tunnels in volcano wall
Approaching inside of volcano
"Victorious- We made it!"
After the volcano we loaded all the kayaks back onto the big boat and we were off to see some caves. These limestone caves displayed spectacular color and stalactites. It feels like the most realistic dream you have ever woken up in.
Colourful caves
The difference between an adventure and a holiday is that you come back rested from a holiday, but fuller and richer from an adventure! There are endless activities for the day you just want to spend at the beach, from para-sailing, jet skis, massages, swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling to eating ice creams! The prices for activities vary, but are much cheaper than South Africa.

Para-sailing at Karon beach
View from Para-sailing

Jet-ski after falling off
Jet-ski fun
 We did not have one day we could not go swim or find an interesting activity to make our day memorable. Even sitting on the beach was filled with action and some times discomfort! I realised how reserved we were brought up when some walk around top-less, comfortable with very little!

Our next excursion was out on a speedboat! The triple engined machine took us flying over the waves to the best snorkeling spots and the islands you only see on television! We visited various islands, even the one where the movie "The Beach", was filmed.
Speedboat to islands
Inside the luxury speedboat
"The Beach"
Island fun!
Swimming among the lime stone islands
Taking my dad snorkeling was the first for our family. Getting him off the boat and to the snorkeling spots was quite an island effort, as everyone was amazed to see a disabled person so keen on trying everything.Snorkeling is colourful! You attract the fish with a piece of banana and they'll take it out of your hand! There are many different species of fish and the reefs are very shallow.
First we choose our anchoring spot
Secondly overland to our snorkeling spot
Thirdly, carry my dad into the water
And finally pull my dad deep enough so he can swim

Colourful fish when snorkeling
Fish attracted with bananas
Phi-Phi island was another island with lushes green and turquoise blue. We stopped at Phi-Phi island for lunch, but got more than a full stomach. If you find those places that make time stand still and you find yourself walking in a dream, its a moment no money can buy. We sat on these pillows after lunch, overlooking the long wooden boats on the calm sea. Its these moments that you share with the ones closest to you that's memories last's a lifetime.
Phi-Phi Island
Comfortable pillows on the beach
Boats at Phi-Phi islands
The sunset cruise is something not to be missed. The moment comes alive in the most relaxed atmosphere as the ship sails into the sunset, in between green limestone cliffs and with music from Sarah Brithman playing softly in the background, while the ship breaks through the waves. It was perfect. There are large cushions to sit comfortably on, while you are being served by the friendly crew.  We were fortunate to be sharing the ship with a nice couple from Australia.

Boarding our "Sunset cruise"

"Sunset Cruizer"
Atmosphere is about being with the Right People in a place of appreciation
Coffee and snacks served on board the sunset cruise

The nightlife is a story on its own. The streets become vibrant and cramped when it gets dark! Everyone is outside and the markets and shops are busy. There are many restaurants where you can enjoy local and international dishes. Local food is always cheaper than Western franchise restaurants.
Restaurants with live entertainment
Local food: pineapple, chicken and cashew nuts
Small street restaurant

Fires outside restaurant creates welcoming feeling
Phuket's currency is Baht and is about four Baht for every Rand. Clothes are very cheap and if you bargain for a couple of items, you get even better prices!

The zoo is also a fun off-day trip. You get to interact with the animals and there is a wide variety of animals to see here. We got to see different animal shows and even made the Orangutang part of ours! As Karla and me held the cuddling animal, someone screamed "Daddy, mommy, baby"!!

Hug an orangutang
"Our family"
"Daddy, mommy, baby"
Even on the cloudy days it was warm and pleasant. Some times we would go walking in the soft rain, which did not bother anyone, as things just kept going on as normal. After the zoo there was time to go take a swim.
Going swimming
Mom loves waves

Every morning you are greeted by the friendliest staff with words that sound as if they make all the sounds through their nose and mouth, saying: "Sawa-di-kaaap". I believe you should at least try local foods and traditions and trying to greet them in their language and eating their food made our trip even more fun and friendlier. Everyone loves it when a foreigner tries to say something in their language and sounds absolutely hysterical! When I visit foreign countries, I make time to visit villages where you can experience the traditional way they lived and and everyday life. One of our off days we went to visit such a town, where you can see their houses, taste their foods and see how everyone made a living before industrialization. One of the the most important travels we all have to go on is to meet others half-way. This will create value and appreciation in a friendship.

Tuk-Tuk to traditional village
Traditional Thai houses
Latex flows from rubber tree into cup and is big part of Thai exports
Drinking Coconuts
Traditional condensed milk coffee
Water-buffalo ploughing the fields
Finding transport in Phuket is as easy as walking in front of a car! There are many taxis and Tuk-Tuks, readily available. And if you want some real action, you can hire a scooter for R50 a day! Many locals use this transport, some times overloading one scooter with five people! We saw a family of five on one scooter, mom and dad on seat, one kid hanging on to mom at the back, one at dad's feet and a baby in a bucket hanging from the scooter's handle!

Scooter parking at shops
Sight seeing the island
Cheapest traveling in Phuket
The scooters was also ideal for doing local sightseeing when my parents wanted to take a rest. The designs and feel of Phuket architecture is a merge of Chinese, English, Portuguese, India, Holland and Malayu arts and beliefs. "Shino-Portuguese" is the mix of Eastern and Western building styles. Chinese architecture is the is the most common.  The Western architecture started to influence Phuket in the colonialism era and there are many buildings with Western building style, but combined with Chinese symbols and patterns like on top of poles and above windows. There are many colourful Buddhist temples that are a big attraction for tourists.

Entrance to temple
Buddhist Temple
There is a huge 45 meter high Buddha sitting on Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata. The Buddha was built on the best viewpoint of Phuket, where it gives you a 360-degree view of the island. Its a very quiet place, where you only hear small bells on the trees, yellow Buddhist flags flapping in the breeze from the sea and in some places some dharma music and monks singing in those deep sounds they make through their nose and mouths. I wanted a picture with one of the orange robed monks. Afterwards Karla and my mom decided they wanted a picture with the man too! What they did not realize is that women are not allowed to touch the monks! And the more the poor man tried to warn them by saying in his broken English accent "Yew kan. ttouch me bojie". The more it sounded like you CAN touch my body! It was hilarious! Here we had a very peaceful man getting very energetic, running away, and two women with outreached hands like they are haunting ghosts from a movie, running after him!! Only after he pulled his face and gave a shrieking sound did they realize that this man does not want to be touched!
Me, Monk, my dad and Big Buddha

Mom, Karla and nervous monk

The night sky in Thailand has another light which does not come from the moon or stars. These are known as sky lanterns, sky candles or fire balloons. Sky lanterns were the first hot air balloons. Although these lanterns were used strategically during ancient Chinese wars, they are now a symbol of happiness. The airborne paper lanterns are traditionally found in Asian country's skies. They are made from rice paper, a thin wire frame and small flammable substance to heat the air, sending it into the night sky. Unfortunately there is a negative side to these beautiful flickering in the sky, as they cause environmental damage and can cause destructive fires.
Sky lanterns lit on beach
Sky lantern in Phuket sky

The hart of any relationship is memories. By creating memories, doing the things that make your heart go big inside, and sharing it with the ones you love, you have many reminders of the good times every time you see them. Traveling Thailand had something in common with all my previous trips: Ive seen, heard and tasted more than what I can remember, Ive seen places and experienced a different culture, some things that not even the best camera in the world can capture; and I found little pieces of myself that I did not know existed.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. We don't receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us" Marcel Proust

1 comment:

  1. Thanks guys,

    I am going to show this to my (thai) wife.
    You are really enjoying Thailand, I wish everyone has an attitude like you.
    Please come back soon.

    Leo (retired in Thailand)