Arriving into Patong Beach, Phuket in the early afternoon, we checked into our hotel Amici Miei (meaning ‘My Friends’ in Italian), dumped our bags and went for a walk towards the beach and main town area. A popular honeymoon destination, we’d read that Phuket is one of the most touristy places in Thailand and that was confirmed as we wandered into the large air-conditioned Jungceylon shopping centre in the middle of Patong Beach; white people everywhere! Walking past McDonalds, Espirit, Adidas and Hugo Boss, we felt somewhat out of place (and the prices were more than Europe!) so we quickly left and headed to the beach area for some dinner.
Strolling along Patong beachfront with the sun setting would have been a beautiful scene if it wasn’t for a familiar sound – “taxi taxi”. The incessant tuk-tuk drivers asking if you want a ride as though they’re trying to sell you a pair of sunglasses – if I wanted to go somewhere then I’d ask! We’d taken a tuk-tuk on a couple of occasions in Bangkok and they have similar vehicles in Phuket although these are even more jazzy (as my brother would say)! Mostly converted Daihatsu vans, they feature the same plush leather seats, neon lights and massive loud exhausts as the Bangkok versions but are enclosed (like a normal, safe mode of transport!) and most also have impressive sound systems which the drivers aren’t afraid to turn up. Four gigantic subs under each seat create quite a noise!
Deciding we needed to make up for the cancelled Full Moon Party last week, we said that we’d spend the evening having some drinks on the famous Bangla Road which, many blogs say, makes Bangkok’s Khao San Road look tame! We took a reconnaissance walk along the street on our way back from dinner near the beach and it certainly looked like it had potential to, as we say in England, ‘get messy’. The entire street is lined with big open bars, many showing the previous evening’s football and all with signs for drinks promotions. Even though it was only 17:30, we were already being offered ping-pong shows and cheap drinks.
After sprucing up at the hotel, we headed back out to Bangla Road at about 21:00 to experience the bright lights with a few alcoholic bevoirs. We certainly weren’t prepared for the barrage of noise we were to walk into.
Literally every five metres, we had a flyer or plastic sign shoved in our face offering “ping-pong ping-pong”, “cheap drink my friend”, “two beer 100 baht” or other similar offers. The fact that the person had just watched us shake our heads and say no to the ‘salesman’ standing two metres in front of them wouldn’t stop them trying to sell us their own ping-pong show. Slightly overwhelmed, we actually no-thank-you’d our way to the very end of Bangla Road before deciding we needed a strategy if we were going to tackle the gauntlet again!
If you hesitate for a moment outside any establishment, you have three people trying to drag you inside as each bar has a number of people outside trying to get the punters in. We ended up being coaxed by a very tall and broad ladyboy into Honky Tonk Bar where we got four cocktails (anything from the menu) and four shots for the very reasonable price of 500 baht (12.5€, £11). Sitting outside the front of the bar, we supped our drinks people-watching the assorted crowds that filtered past our position. More than a few parents with kids of only 6 or 7 walked past, and not all of them were just coming to see what the fuss was about – they were on a night out which was rather disconcerting. Just a few metres up from our position, five men formed a wall across the street in front of one bar making it rather difficult for people to walk through. The whole place had a very seedy and exploitative feel to it. After each finishing our two cocktails and two shots, we decided we weren’t feeling the best (which I’m sure had absolutely nothing to do with the previous days walk in Khao Sok!) and had had enough of the ‘salesmanship’ so decided to call it a night and head home in anticipation of getting up reasonably early to explore the island.
At breakfast the next morning, we asked the lovely helpful lady on reception if we could hire a moped and have directions to the immigration office. Our 30-day tourist visas were due to expire in a couple of days so we needed to extend them (a fairly simple 10 minute process that I’d done in Krabi on my previous visit to Thailand). She gladly helped us out and we set off on our way, arriving at the immigration centre (via the rather confusing one-way system in Patong Beach) ten minutes later to find that it was closed for ‘public holiday’. Absolutely every other shop, restaurant and bar was open so we were rather confused as to which public holiday this might be and the lady on reception clearly wasn’t aware of it either! Seeing as we were planning to do a full day tour the next day, we’d have to come on the morning of our departure to Phi Phi. Considering the office has opening for the very limited hours of 10am to 3pm and shuts down completely between midday and 1pm for lunch, we hoped there wouldn’t be any problems (or queues). More on this in a later post!
Hopping back on the bike, we intended to head south down the coast to Kata Beach and Karon Beach before circling back up to Wat Chalong temple and the Big Buddha statue on the east of Phuket. I say ‘intended’ because, partly thanks to the one-way system and partly because I didn’t read the map properly, we ended up heading slightly south and then further west on a small spur which juts out of Phuket on the coast just below Patong Beach to a few secluded resorts. 45 minutes later, having tried to find a shortcut out of the spur to connect back up with the main road south, we admitted defeat (Tessa: “I said to just go back from the start!”) and headed all the way back in to Patong Beach, ALL the way back around the one-way system again and, FINALLY, we were headed to Kata and Karon.
After having a brief ride through the small towns (which seem quite similar but smaller to Patong), we stopped for a cold drink at the pretty Phromthep Cape on the southern tip of Phuket. Carrying on the circuitous (umständlich) road along the coast, we eventually headed north to the temple of Wat Chalong. Dedicated to two monks who led a rebellion against Chinese invaders in the late 19th century, Wat Chalong is an impressive collection of temples with the centrepiece being a three-storey pagoda that features dozens of medium-sized Buddha statues. Outside, an elderly Thai man was selling firecrackers which he then set light to inside a large red pot which was making quite a racket but was certainly keeping the local kids amused.
As we walked back to the bike, we spotted our next destination in the distance; the imposing Phuket Big Buddda of Phuket. Sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills and 45 metres tall, the Phuket Big Buddha can be viewed from miles around and, once you reach the end of the very long and steep road to the top, offers fantastic views across the eastern bays of Phuket and out to sea. Unfortunately, the complex is a bit of a building site as they are building a large walkway all around the statue (I think it was previously just a grassy hill) which takes a little of the charm away but it is a very impressive statue nonetheless.
That night, needing a good sleep as we were going on a boat trip at 7:15am, we got the worst night’s sleep of our trip so far. Firstly, a huge storm erupted as we were dropping off to sleep which kept us awake a while. Next, a generator on the floor above kicked in, presumably as there had been a power cut. Then, at about 4am, a couple in the room opposite were moving their bags and talking very loudly out in the corridor outside our room next to the lift for what seemed like a half hour. So our alarm goes off at 6:15am and we are both absolutely shattered for the days trip to the world famous James Bond Island. This was made all the better by the fact the minibus picked us up an hour and a half late for our transfer to the pier meaning we didn’t have to get up at stupid o’clock anyway! (We do moan about sleep a lot on this blog, don’t we!)
After transferring to the pier, checking in and boarding the boat (34 people), we set off towards the first of our four destinations that day – Panak Island – where we would be chauffeur-canoed through a bat cave and lagoon. Our main guide for the day was a man called Oussa who, much like Mr Om from our previous tour of Ang Thong National Park, had what my primary school teachers used to call ‘verbal diahorrea’ (verbaler Durchfall)! Cracking the same jokes all day long (“today we come from many countries but we all one big family. We swim together, we canoe together, we eat together…maybe we don’t go toilet together” or “ladies first, ladyboys second”), he gave us far too much ‘safety information’ about how we shouldn’t throw our belongings overboard or try and jump out of the canoe as we were rowing along. All essential stuff.
At our first stop, we hopped into our canoe with our chauffeur Johnny who proceeded to row us towards the bat cave which, as you’d expect, smelt terribly of piss. However, seeing scores of bats suspended on the cave roof was quite cool and, once we were through to the other side, the lagoons area was beautiful. High cliffs covered in trees either side, the lagoon was peacefully quiet and, almost as soon as we exited the cave, Johnny pointed out a family of small monkeys lounging on some rocks. Canoeing right past the wild monkeys was a great experience but the next thing we saw was memorable for an altogether different reason.
Walking fish. In the shallowest water at the edge of the lagoon; fish with small legs lived in the mud. We’d never seen creatures like them but there were dozens of them scuttling and jumping about. Quite bizarre.
Returning to the boat, we headed to our second stop; Hong Island, where we were once again chauffeured by Johnny among large cliffs although, being low tide, the views were slightly underwhelming as a sandbar had emerged in the middle of the lagoon.
Canoeing across to nearby Lana Island, we were allowed some free time to chill on the beach or have a swim in the sea before returning to the boat for lunch where we set sail for our final stop of the day; the world famous James Bond Island.
The world famous James Bond Island is famous for being in the James Bond film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ (Der Mann mit dem goldenen Colt. The island is one of Scaramanga’s hideouts). Being a James Bond fan, I have to say ’The Man with the Golden Gun’ is not one of my particular favourites (that would be ‘A View to a Kill’. I know, I know) but I think it’s fair to say that half of the hundreds of tourists taking their selfies with the world famous James Bond island as a backdrop probably don’t even know who James Bond is let alone the film itself. It all made for a slightly bizarre scene.
After that we headed home and Oussa provided possibly the most memorable moment of the trip where he said he’d ‘call down’ the eagles from an island we were passing. He told us a tale of how he’d been building his relationship with the eagles for the 25 years he’s been working on the Phang-Nga Bay islands and that they now know that it’s his boat and they come down to say hello. True as this may be, I think the whistling sound he was making and the lumps of fish he was chucking off the back of the boat probably had something to do with it as well. Either way, we were treated to a spectacular sight as a dozen or more large eagles swooped down over the boat and followed us for several minutes before ascending to the thermals and gliding back to their island home.
Lounging on the deck of the boat in the evening sun, we chilled out for the hour journey back to Phuket before being transported back to our hotel. Tomorrow, we’d head to the Phi Phi Islands but not before we attempted to get our visas extended once more!