So with Mike on his way back to The UK we headed to Phuket in Thailand. So, why Phuket? Well we did ask ourselves the same question. The island has developed a reputation over the last few years of becoming very Westernised and over commercialised, and this is very much the case in large sections. It is unrecognisable from the island Steve first visited almost 30 years ago. There are, however, still parts of the island which have either resisted the change or been protected from it. You just have to go a little out of your way to find them.
To be honest, if we had wanted quiet beaches and a few beach side restaurants serving basic menus we wouldn’t have gone to Phuket. There are still other places in Thailand that better offer that experience. The big deciding factor was the cycling! We are going to be in New Zealand while a big Ironman Triathlon is taking place. It’s one of the last couple of major races that Steve has not done. So the opportunity to compete was never likely to be passed. Phuket is starting to become a training destination for some top class athletes after a World class sports complex was built in the centre of the island (obviously we weren’t staying there!). With the combination of hills, smooth roads, and of course hot weather, it made for a good choice.
Having some previous knowledge of the layout of the island, we decided to base ourselves in an apartment at the North end of BangTao beach. We had stayed here before about 15 years ago and for us it is in a great location. Any further South and you start to get swallowed by the vast tourism machine that has been created. I’m sure one day it will consume the whole of the island but for now parts do survive. Also, the last time we stayed here Sarah accidentally left 72 Singapore dollars in a bed side cabinet and Steve was hoping it might still be there!
Our apartment was beautiful and really brought home how, compared to many parts of The World and with a little searching around, you can still get great value for money in South East Asia. We won’t say how much it was but it was cheaper than a 2km taxi ride in Oslo!
We were perched on the edge of a golf course, five minutes walk from a glorious golden sandy beach, and a small town nearby offered everything we needed. It was perfect. We even watched a group of workers cutting back the palm trees right in front of our balcony. They would skillfully climb up the tree trunk and hang on with their knees as they cut down the leaves and coconuts. Sarah being Sarah managed to go down and talk to them and get a coconut. Steve being Steve managed to get one of them to throw a coconut to him on the balcony!
We spent a couple of days settling in. A few hours on the balcony, off to the beach, a walk into town for coffee and provisions and finishing off with a swim in the lovely pool. We started to remember why we had made quite a few trips to South East Asia in the past.
Steve did a few miles out on his bike to find the best routes and then Sarah rented a moped so she could come along. We had a brilliant time exploring the entire Island. We even made an early start one morning and rode the 20 miles or so down the West Coast to see the non stop bars, massage parlours, clubs, Burger Kings, KFC’s etc, etc, before it all woke up and sprang into life.
We made a trip off the Island and across the bridge onto the mainland and up to Phang Nga Bay. This place is visually spectacular with dozens of small, tree covered hilly islands, scattered across the vast blue bay. It was made famous as one of the locations for the filming of the James Bond film, ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’.
We toured the Northern interior of Phuket which is so different from the tourist strip that most people see. With lots of small villages on quiet roads through wooded areas which provided much needed shade.
We also made the trip to the Big Buddah, a 20 year project which is almost at its completion. Constructed of blocks of white marble from Myanmar, the Buddah stands 45 metres tall at the summit of a steep mountain.
Our trip there wasn’t entirely successful. It was a cloudy day when we set off and even more humid than normal. We had been riding the bike and moped for three hours before reaching the bottom of the Big Buddah road. Steve wasn’t expecting the steepness of the climb which, in several places, was over a 20% gradient. He struggled to the top, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. Then the clouds burst and it started to rain. Boy did it rain. Sarah braved a few photos before we crept back down the steep road, very slowly, as it turned into a stream. We hit the main highway and decided to follow it home as it was the quickest way back. The rain hammered down, the traffic didn’t slow down, and we sped along with the rest of the mayhem. Sarah was getting cold, being drenched and just sitting on the moped. Steve was getting hot as he peddled furiously to keep up.
Eventually we got back to the apartment and dried off. “It’s all experiences”, said Steve. “You will not forget your day out to The Big Buddah in a hurry”.
The next day the sun was out again and we both had a day out together on the moped. Obviously Sarah was driving as we still have the scars from the last time Steve was driving and Sarah was on the back. But that’s another story and a painful one!
We made our way up to Nai Thon beach. This is one of our favourite beaches on the island. Set between two steep headlands, it is a wide, golden beach backed by tall trees and a small strip of shops, bars and accommodations.
We have never seen it crowded and it’s a great place to watch the World go by and do some people watching.
The final place of note that we visited in Phuket was Surinat National Park. This is pretty close to the airport, which might put some people off going, but there is much much less noise from the occasional plane than from the bars, clubs and everything else down in Patong.
The beach here is amazing and it is what Phuket used to be like. It is around 2km long and when we were there we saw less than 30 people. There are three or bars at one end serving food and amazing smoothies. It’s definitely the place to come to escape for a day or even a week.
So the time had come to leave or comfortable apartment and move on. Phuket had been super easy and we were almost regretting that we had made plans to head North. With the exception of Big Buddah in the rain everything had been perfect. We were even able to laugh about that now.
But we packed up, made our way to the airport and jumped on a plane to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. “I’m a bit disappointed the Singapore dollars weren’t still there” said Steve as the plane left the runway and a new adventure beckoned.
“Hey Sarah. I’m thinking of changing my hair style. What do think?”