Wednesday, 20 December 2017

PHUKET AND BEACHES

5th - 13th Dec 2017

Kata Beach. Phuket
So, to Phuket off the south-west corner of Thailand. It is a large island, about 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, with a road bridge to the mainland to the north. The airport is at the north-west end, the main town, Phuket, is on the east side and the west coast is lined by sandy, and attractive, beaches. Other islands, such as the well know Phi-Phi island, surround it.

I arrived having not done much 'homework' and, not really knowing the lay-out, and was due to go off to the 'peaceful and pleasant' bungalow recommended to me. Unfortunately I hadn't realised it was so far away; about 30 miles north by the town of Kokkloy. There is no bus service going north from the airport and I gathered that there is a bit of a taxi 'mafia' which makes a good living because of this! I was initially quoted a price of £45 for a taxi reduced, after haggling, to around to £25.
It took 40 minutes to get there and, after much searching around with the aid of telephone calls to the lady owner, we found it.


The lady owner, Jai, was indeed absolutely charming. She showed me to a rather basic but perfectly habitable 'bungalow' with kitchen facilities, set amongst three others. It appeared that I was the only guest on site at the time.
It had a small swimming pool and I would be given breakfast in the morning.

Left: By the swimming pool with my 'bungalow' behind. I am very proud of my white legs and the hat and shorts bought at Chatuchak market.

Now, when I was told this place was 'quiet and peaceful' I hadn't realised just quite how quiet and peaceful it would be. It really is in the middle of nowhere. The only shops are 10 miles away in Kokkloy. There was a 15 minute walk down a road to the beach; a perfectly pleasant unspoilt beach of golden sand and sea, but bugger all else! The road had a few stalls and rustic 'caf├ęs' set alongside it, so I thought I might be able to sit at one of these with a book and a refreshing beer. No such luck; this is a Muslim area (as some of the south west of Thailand is) therefore no alcohol on sale. Ah! Big Problem!! Or at least it is for someone who enjoys vast quantities of the stuff and doesn't drink Coca-Cola, fruit juice, or even water unless desperate (or diluted by whisky).

Right: The beach. I suppose I could have played at being Robinson Crusoe. The only footprints were mine. Not even a Man Friday.











The only oasis within striking distance was a very smart hotel complex, Coco Beach, 30 minutes walk on down the road, again in the middle of nowhere, but I did notice 'developments' were in progress in the area. This boasts a beautiful stretch of beach, a stunning 'infinity' swimming pool, upmarket bars and a good restaurant (left). Unfortunately it has prices to match.

Jai kindly drove me to Kokkloy the next morning and I stocked up on some emergency beer supplies. Interestingly, shops (or supermarkets in towns anyway) in Thailand are not allowed to sell alcohol until 11.00am so we had to wait around. I thought it was only UK on Sundays (and possibly North America) that imposed this pointless prohibition. 
Anyway, I felt that more than a couple of days here would be time somewhat wasted. I'm not quite that 'monastic'. So I made a tactical, and hopefully tactful, withdrawal back to the island. There is, fortunately, a cheap bus service from a stop on the main road (driven there by the kind Jai again) which, for £2, takes you on the hour long journey to Phuket Town.

Nothing booked or planned I walked to the first vaguely respectable accommodation I saw. It was the curiously named 'Feelgood@Journeys Hostel' (right). It was excellent, with a very modern, clean and comfortable single room available, charming staff plus a small help-yourself breakfast. It is close to the town centre and great value at £15 per night, cash.
Talking of 'good value', I was interested to discover that if you booked this place on the internet via Booking.com or similar they were advertising 'Great Cut Price Value and a % reduction etc.' for a single room at £29 pn! These booking agencies must be making a fortune out of their 'best price guaranteed' deals. What nonsense! The best price is when you walk in off the street and pay cash. Even if this place had been fully booked there are, as I discovered, more guest-houses/hostels and hotels in the town than you can shake a stick at. There would have been no problem in finding accommodation at a decent price. OK, I am travelling alone so easy for me. I expect if you are travelling as a family booking in advance is preferable, but don't let them fool you; you are paying a premium for the convenience. I remember finding a smart hotel in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka, in 2011. It had lovely chalets on the beach. There were hardly any customers visible; Trincomalee had not yet by then recovered its tourist trade. They told me it was $I50 per night; way over my budget. On walking out they called me back and asked how much was I prepared to pay! To cut a long haggling story with much wobbling of heads short, I got a chalet for $40, cash. Better that for them than nothing.
Continuing the subject, when at home I get bombarded by expensive glossy brochures advertising 'unique' luxury cruises (I must be of that age now) all offering 'specially reduced' prices and %s off. Reduced from what? A figure they pick out of the air, or sea, no doubt. The price is the price; it's what you have to pay, it's not reduced from anything! The same applies to wines in the supermarket. Bottles 'reduced' from £10 to £6.99p, 'save 30%' or whatever. If I put a bottle of wine on a shelf and advertised it as "Great Savings! Reduced from £50 to £2.50' would people be naive enough to believe it? Perhaps some would. These ridiculous cut price and best value 'deals' are nothing but bullshit, but I suppose they must pull in the punters.

I discovered that staying in Phuket town was a good option. Firstly, it is a pleasant and relatively quiet place with some decent restaurants, bars and shops. Secondly, it is the hub for local bus ( they are mostly open-sided camions actually), routes to the outlying beaches. There is no bus service down the coast between the various beaches and using taxis would be, due to the taxi mafia, extortionately expensive if travelling alone. I suppose if you are a beach fanatic it might be preferable to stay at a particular beach, but I wanted to compare a few. They are all rather similar but with varying degrees and types of entertainment. I visited Kata, Karon and the infamous Patong beaches. Para-sailing (above), banana boats, snorkelling, jet-skiing and kite-surfing provide the common forms of nautical entertainment. Hundreds of tour offices compete to offer other amusement such as scuba diving, trips to outlying islands, sea canoeing, zip wires and even bungee jumping (done that in NZ so no need to again!). It is a very tourist orientated island.

The predominant tourist at these beaches seemed to be Russian. The languages displayed were in Thai, English and Russian. I don't really know any Russians but they somehow give the impression of being rather a grumpy and demanding lot who don't often use the words 'please' and 'thank-you'. They may have many admirable qualities (ie lots of money) but good manners is not high on the list. They even lack the charm of the typical sunburnt drunken British tourist. Right: A Bathing Belle on Kata beach.

Behind the beaches are lines of food stalls, and most serve good Thai food too. Behind that there are numerous bars, restaurants and tour offices. The quantity and quality varying on the location.

Patong Beach is noted for its nightlife. The town is probably one of the most tacky and debauched looking places I have had the privilege to visit. There are line upon line of bars, all very similar and advertising 'Happy Hours' between 9.00am and 8.00pm. After that I don't suppose anyone cares. I didn't stay for the nightime activities but could imagine it. Ghastly I expect!










Raunchy nightclubs and bars were everywhere. They really did look much the same but with different names such as 'Cowboy', 'Glitz', 'Sizzlers', 'Tiger' or 'Rocks Off' and similar. The town has made sleeze an art form. I believe the Russians like this sort of stuff. 








Left: A typical Patong bar, before it gets busy. They all had these little bar stools which were wobbly and I suppose designed to dump those who had overindulged on the deck.











Kata and Karon were more subdued.

It was on Kata beach that I decided to join the Hoi Polloi and do a bit of sunbathing, and even go for a swim. I duly removed my jacket, tie, shirt, long trousers etc. and thereby clad only in shorts (those bought at Chatuchak market) ventured forth. The problem, if you are alone, is where to leave your clothes, kit and valuables securely when going for a swim. I had a towel with me plus money, specs, watch, credit card etc. I decided to wrap all my stuff up tightly in my trusty plastic bag, dig a hole and bury it, cover with sand and lay my towel on top, and carefully note the position of all this, marked with a rock. It all went fine. I had my swim and returned to my towel. I then lay around for a bit in the sun. It was only that evening when the sunburn hit me. I was in serious agony for a day or two. OK, I've been in hot climates often enough to know better. I've binned the shorts and cancelled any future sunbathing plans; a grossly over-rated pastime in my opinion. I'm staying properly dressed from now on.

The Muslim ladies had the right idea. They sensibly cover themselves up, even in the water. Wearing a burka or similar when swimming and sunbathing would seem very sensible. I must look into it.











Talking of dress, there are many Indian tailors at these beach resorts offering to build you a suit in 10 minutes or so. I noticed this rather dapper looking pin-striped ensemble on display somewhere in Karon I think.



On closer inspection it was not quite as it had first appeared. How would this go down in the City?


















.........and of course there were the traditional Thai Irish Bars.













It was boiling hot down here. So leaving you, temporarily, on this note.






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