We landed at Phuket International Airport around 5:00 PM local time. The flight was without incident and smooth. One thing I realized, the Thai people whether they speak in their mother tongue or English, it sounds same to us!!
As we were coming out of the airport, we noticed kiosks selling tour packages. Deepika & Sangeeta approached one such kiosk and after 15-20 minutes of animated discussions came to us to announce that Phi Phi Island along with 2 more has been finalized. What clinched the deal for the kiosk owner is his offer of free drop to the hotel from the airport (costing approx 1000-1200 Thai Baht).
The cab was one of the models of Toyota vans like HiAce, quite spacious and comfortable. The road from the airport to the hotel – Novotel Kamala Beach reminded us of Goa but much cleaner sidewalks. We were feeling thirsty but had resisted buying water from the airport counter for 100 Thai Baht per bottle, so requested the driver to stop by any of the roadside kiosk selling tender coconut. Actually, it was Ayush who could explain it to him otherwise our words were Greek to him and vice-versa. He stopped at one such shop and I must say I have never had such fantastic tender coconut ever in my life. It was not only sweet but the content of each of them was over a litre and the best part was it being chilled to perfection.
We reached Novotel Kamala Beach Resort around 6:00PM and was immediately attended to by the ever smiling staff of the hotel. I must compliment Sangeeta for choosing this property over dozen others in Phuket. It’s not big but well organized with two restaurants, swimming pool, spa and gym. Also it has a private beach. Since, ours was triple occupancy with extra-bed, we had opted for ocean view rooms which is supposed to be larger as per their website. Initially we were allotted room on the first floor but later moved to the fourth floor which had a clear unencumbered view of the Andaman Seas. Basu’s were in a different wing and requested for transfer to ours which took a day to come through.
We decided to take it easy for the evening and walked down to the beach for a stroll after unpacking and freshening up (read changing into beach gear). Later around 8:00 PM we congregated at Basu’s room for the Glenmorangie and soft drinks that we carried from Bangkok.
We went to Kamala Beach market to find a restaurant for dinner. It was past past 9:45 PM and most shops had downed their shutter on a rain soaked evening. The only ones open were the food joints and some selling beach wear and other tidbits. I needed to buy a boxer short as I had forgotten to take mine from home. Deepika & I decided to look for one in the beach wear stores while Basu’s and Ayush went searching for an appropriate eating joint. After much searching, (most were selling shorts that were synthetic material and I wanted a soft cotton one), and haggling I liked one fake UNDER ARMOUR shorts and bought it along with a fake US Polo T-Shirt. Meanwhile, Basu’s had found the place for dinner – Ma Ma Aew Restaurant & Bar and had already ordered their food and beer. We joined them and ordered our food with a chilled Shingha bear for me and a hot veggie soup for Deepika. I & Sangeeta stayed with shrimp not venturing to beef or pork which seemed to have caught the fancy of Santanu & Ayush!! The food was decent not extra-ordinary and we were so hungry that we devoured it double quick time.
After dinner, we wanted to walk back but it started to drizzle, so we persuaded a cabby to drop us at the hotel, about 4 km away for 200 Thai Baht!!
Although, the sound of the sea at night and intermittently lighted beach of Novotel was quite inviting, we had no strength to venture, so called it a day and retired for a well deserved sleep.
It was Sunday, so as usual we took it easy and had a leisurely sumptuous breakfast at the hotel. The array of platters was amazing and spoilt you for choice. I started with fruits followed by cold cuts n cheese moving on to fried eggs with toast and orange juice, finished with a cup of refreshing coffee.
Later, after freshening up, we took the hotel drop facility and went to Patong. The cab dropped us at the Jungceylon Mall and would pick us up from the same spot at 9 PM. We wanted to take tour of the interesting places of Phuket and looked for a cab. As usual, Sangeeta & Deepika were at the forefront to negotiate with the cab driver and managed a price which neither of the males in the group could have achieved.
Our first stop was at Kata Beach and the Phuket view point. If you love the sea all beaches are beautiful. Whenever I see the waves hitting the shore and going back only to come again, I have this strong urge to let myself float with the wave and eventually reach the high seas!! The Phuket view point is at an altitude from where you can see the Kata beach below and the views are indeed outstanding. Thereafter we did beach hopping of Paradise beach, Karon beach before heading for Big Buddha. It was a long winding road that take you to the top of a hillock where rests the biggest Buddha idol, I have ever seen.
The Big Buddha is one of the most important and revered landmarks of Phuket. The huge statue sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and rises 45 meters which can be seen from as far away as Phuket Town and Karon Beach. The lofty terrace offers a 360 degree view of the island right from Phuket Town to Kata, Karon, Chalong Bay and beyond. It is easily reachable from the Phuket Town through the 6 km long winding road and a must visit site while you are in Phuket. The atmosphere atop is very peaceful with only sounds of tinkling bells, fluttering flags and soft Dharma music that floats in the air. The local people call it Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha, the main idol was built in 2004 and the whole body is constructed with reinforced concrete and layered with beautiful Burmese white jade marble that shines in the Sun making it a glorious sight.
By the time we came back to Patong via the Old Phuket Town, the Sun was setting on the horizon. We stopped at the Patong Beach which reminded us of Goa’s Baga beach with water scooters, parasailing and water-ski besides the street food stalls. The cab dropped us back at the Jungceylon Mall, we ventured on the streets to check the night bazaar just across the road on a open space. The stalls were getting ready for the long evening. However, the prices of everything was double of what you can get at a normal regular shop, a 330 ml beer can of Shingha was selling at 100 Baht whereas you can get inside the mall for just 34 Baht. Though, the fried prawns and fish were looking tempting we resisted looking at the general hygiene or lack of it at most of the stalls. Deepika & Sangeeta went looking for tidbits for gifting purposes while Santanu, Ayush and I sauntered back to the mall to pick up some beer and croissant which devoured merrily sitting on the road before catching up with Deepika and Sangeeta for a quick dinner.
The following day was to start early as we were going for island hopping. The pick-up vehicle was scheduled to come around 8 AM. So we called it a day and decided to meet at the breakfast sharp at 7 AM as soon as the service starts.
After a light breakfast (didn’t want to throw up while at the sea), we were ready for the cab to pick us up from the hotel entrance. It was quite a distance to the boat pier from our hotel (Novotel Kamala Beach) and took little over an hour to reach. The captain of the boat gave us his usual talk on the safety precaution and what to expect through the ride including the itinerary.
Our first stop was at Khai Nai Island, a small piece of land in the middle of nowhere. Most of the land was occupied by food kiosks selling primarily Thai street food. The boat, Sea Angel #208 and many such boats had their own tables spread on the beach from where they supplied the life jackets and snorkeling gear to the ones interested as also fruits (pineapple and watermelon) and soft beverages. Santanu, Sangeeta and Ayush went for the snorkeling while Deepika and I explored the mini island enjoying the cacophony of different languages. There were few Indians besides us but majority of the crowd were Chinese.
Koh Khai Nai is a small island, enhancing its asset by the clear sandy beach along the northern and western sides of the island. The clear water is convenient for swimming. The coral line surrounding the island and colorful fish keep those skin divers floating on the water surface. The east side of the island also presents masterpieces created by the wind as stones are carved into an elephant head and 3 tortoises.
Around noon, the captain announced we should get into the speed boat for onward journey to Phi Phi Island. He said the Coral point has been closed to the tourist by the Thai govt to save guard from destruction but promised to take us as close as permitted. To reach Phi Phi, the boat has to get on to high seas but because it was middle of the day, the sea was quite calm and we enjoyed the hour long journey. I was sitting at the rear of the boat and initially got little scared with minor bumps but it was fun and once in a life time experience.
Once we disembarked at the island, we were taken straight to the food hall (capacity to sit 350+ at one go) for lunch. The food was simple Thai cuisine, fried rice, noodles (more like spaghetti) and two kinds of chicken curry. There was a separate counter for vegetarians. And of course fruits (watermelon), tea and coffee. While I was taking some fruits, the captain came to me and started talking to me. He asked me where from we have come and was totally aback when I said India. He was quite adamant that we cannot be from India as he had very different experience with Indians in previous occasion. I cannot blame him for his adverse perceptions as I have seen my countrymen (and women) behave quite rowdily in places where they should actually be setting example of our beautiful country.
The Phi Phi Islands are an island group in Thailand, between the large island of Phuket and the west Strait of Malacca coast of the mainland. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province. Ko Phi Phi Don is the largest island of the group, and is the most populated island of the group, although the beaches of the second largest island, Ko Phi Phi Lee (or “Ko Phi Phi Leh”), are visited by many people as well. The rest of the islands in the group, including Bida Nok, Bida Nai, and Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai), are not much more than large limestone rocks jutting out of the sea. The Islands are reachable by speedboats or Long-tail boats most often from Krabi Town or from various piers in Phuket Province.
Phi Phi Don was initially populated by Muslim fishermen during the late-1940s, and later became a coconut plantation. The Thai population of Phi Phi Don remains more than 80% Muslim. The actual population however, if counting laborers, especially from the north-east, is much more Buddhist these days. The population is between 2,000 and 3,000 people (2013).
The islands came to worldwide prominence when Ko Phi Phi Leh was used as a location for the 2000 British-American film The Beach. This attracted criticism, with claims that the film company had damaged the island’s environment, since the producers bulldozed beach areas and planted palm trees to make it resemble description in the book. An increase in tourism was attributed to the film’s release, which resulted in increases in waste on the Islands, and more developments in and around the Phi Phi Don Village. Phi Phi Lee also houses the “Viking Cave”, where there is a thriving industry harvesting edible bird’s nest. Ko Phi Phi was devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, when nearly the island’s entire infrastructure was destroyed. As of 2010 most, but not all, of this has been restored.
The return journey to Phuket started around 4 PM with captain announcing “Now, please enjoy the Rock-n-Roll”. Frankly, I thought some music is going to be played!!
The boat took us close to the Monkey Island but no one was interested to disembark so we continued towards Phuket and then we understood the hidden meaning of Rock-n-Roll. The sea which was calm while coming has suddenly woken up and the waves started playing with our speed boat. Thinking about it, I am at loss for words to express the experience. We would be on top of the wave at one time only to crash down the next moment. It was the experience and expertness of the pilot that could guide the speed boat to the safely. Normally, Deepika is quite adventurous but the turbulence made her go pale. I too was nervous but realized that if the boat capsizes, all the passengers will be in the same boat i.e. at the mercy of the high seas whether one can swim or not. The dance of the raging waves continued till we neared the shore of Phuket. There was this Middle Eastern macho guy who had gone to sit on the deck as we started and one of the initial waves simply threw him on the floor making him go absolutely bonkers; he crawled inside the cabin and even then refused to get up from the floor. And then there was this Indian lady who kept puking in the bag and I remembered seeing her at the food hall gorging on the food!! I looked at the other co-passengers; one lady was continuously praying to God and eventually fell asleep. Anyway, all nightmares come to an end and this too ended with the boat docking at the pier. The cab was waiting outside to take us back to the hotel.
In the evening, we met at the Basu’s room (#129) to finish off the Glenmorangie and then go for our Anniversary Dinner at the rooftop restaurant of the hotel. We ordered the dish of the day – Seafood platter (for 2) for Santanu, Sangeeta, Ayush and me while Deepika ordered for soup and veggie fried rice. If I could find a black spot in the services of Novotel Kamala Beach, this was it. The portion of Seafood platter was not sufficient for 2 people, the food for Deepika came after 2 rounds of query with the hostess and that too after we had finished our food slowly, chewing every bit of it. Overall it took more than an hour for the Veggie fried rice to come. I gave an earful to the Chef (Manager) of the restaurant and he profusely apologized and even offered to make the dinner complimentary from the hotel which I refused. At the end, he presented the invoice for the Seafood Platters only.
The following day was earmarked for shopping and we took the hotel complimentary cab to Patong. Ayush wanted buy a jacket and a flip-flop of a particular brand (SuperDry) while Sangeeta wanted to pick up some Tees for the children back home, so we split up at the mall. Ayush liked a jacket at the Under Armour store but as luck would have it, the size fitting him was not available. Next, we went to Robinsons where Deepika picked up some stuff moving on to the Super Dry store where Ayush was happy to get his desired flip flop sandal. We picked up some giftable items from the outdoor kiosks within the mall as well. It was close to 2 PM and we were to connect with the pick-up cab at 4 PM sharp for return to the hotel. We decided to have burger from McD which serves authentic Cheese Burgers unlike what is available at Indian outlets. However, there were no vegetarian options for Deepika so she went to another food outlet to pick up veggie sandwich. Before that Ayush and I had gone to the A1 hypermarket in search of beer but was rudely shocked to know that as per Thai Govt rule, no alcohol is sold during the period 2 PM to 5:30 PM in that particular shop. However, later we picked up beer from a 24×7 shop just across the road with much ease.
We saw Basu’s coming with handful of bags in different shape and sizes and realized we haven’t done any shopping at all!! They also informed that they had a Thai Massage at one of the parlor as well and feeling rejuvenated.
We reached the hotel around 5 PM and Deepika immediately fixed up Spa time for herself as well as mine. I have strong aversion to body massage and opted for a foot massage only. Must say it was simply good as my tired legs suddenly became all fresh ready to dance!! The evening was made even more beautiful by Novotel Kamala Beach when they offered us complimentary drinks that too unlimited!!
I had bought a small bottle of Black Label whiskey for the evening as the last drop of Glenmorangie was consumed yesterday but Santanu said he already had too much beer in the afternoon and was not feeling up to it. Ayush also was not in the mood for whiskey so we settled for the beer before going out to Kamala Beach Market for dinner. We had our dinner at Number One Seafood Restaurant (yes, that’s the name of the restaurant and there was another called Number Two as well). The restaurant was more like an upscale Dhaba run by a family whose ancestors had migrated to Thailand (Phuket) a century ago from India. The lady serving us could speak broken Hindi but understood well. The food was average but fresh and we enjoyed every bit of the roasted lobster and crab curry.
Our flight to Bangkok was around 4 PM while Basu’s had booked theirs later in the evening. The morning was spent having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel followed by spending time at the beach for the last time till we come again. Santanu managed to pull me inside the swimming pool although neither could swim but the water was at right temperature and it felt good.
Basu’s came to our room around 10:30 AM to bid goodbye as they had planned to go to Patong once again for another massage and generally spend the last few hours on Phuket soil enjoying. We decided to take the cab around 1 PM for the airport and stopping at Laguna Market for lunch.
Laguna Market resembled any European suburban market with paved walkways and ample parking bays. We roamed the entire market and picked up chocolates and other tidbits and then went to a café for lunch. I have forgotten the name but it had a 5-Star rating from TripAdvisor. The food was excellent living up to its reputation and was not very expensive. While eating, we realized we are the only Indians in the whole place, all other customers were either European (could recognize German dialect) or Americans.
Ayush was getting edgy since morning fearing he might miss his connecting flight to Bengaluru if the Phuket-Bangkok flight gets delayed as there was exactly 2 hours gap in-between. We rushed to the airport without further delay and reached around 3:15 PM.
The Vietjet flight was on time and we flew out around 5:25 PM and reached Bangkok little before 7 PM. The departure was thankfully from the same terminal but from a different floor and after collecting our luggage we rushed to check-in. Albeit the security check was stringent (had to remove shoes, belts, watch in addition to mobile phone and wallet) but it was smooth and professional.
After the security check, Ayush became relaxed and we window shopped the duty free stores, since the prices were not much different from the Indian airport, we decided to pick-up our stuff at the respective Indian airports on arrival and save us the extra load, instead we sat down at a pub to have a sandwich and beer.
Ayush went off as his flight was announced and we roamed the airport a bit more before catching our flight to Hyderabad. On landing in RGI, Hyderabad, we realized a new system wherein the incoming passengers had to put their hand baggage through an x-ray machine after the immigration process and one can see the contrast of efficiency between these guys and their counterpart at Bangkok!! It took us more than 45 minutes to go through the process and thereafter another half hour at the duty free to pick up my scotch and single malt. We reached home well past 2 AM but after having a really good and well deserved vacation.
Some of my observation about Thailand are given below and are absolutely my own take, because both culturally and economically it is closer to India.
- Thai people are generally happy people; always have a smile on their face.
- Thai people are eager to help you out if you are in distress.
- Bangkok is a busy city with almost similar traffic demography as most Indian cities but I have not seen a single Traffic Violation by any of them.
- The TUKTUK of Bangkok is a customized version of Indian autos with similar maneuverability but they seldom cut across the traffic lanes.
- Similarly, the two-wheeler population is disciplined too and maintains lane driving (a far cry in Hyderabad).
- In Phuket too, with much less traffic volume, it moves in lane and doesn’t have the tendency to grab the open vacant space on the other side of the road. The traffic would stay put in their lane waiting it clear up.
- In the shops, the store assistant will try to understand your language even though it may sound complete Greek to her/him and assist you in her/his best abilities.
- I saw ATM Machines in Bangkok in the open attached on the walls of building or just outside the stores without any kind of shelter or guard, something unthinkable in India.
- The street food hawkers carry a waste basket with their trolley to collect the waste. Did not see any littering around any of them.
- The young Thai women generally wear (in Indian perspective) skimpy attire but they roam free and without fear as nobody ogles at them or pass lewd remark.