I would be being dishonest if I said that I had not had concerns about spending a week in Phuket. I had it in my mind that it was like Ibiza or Waikiki – and I have seen Waikiki and couldn’t think of anything worse. But that’s where my cheap flight landed and why not have a few days there?
So – being my normal crowd avoiding, penny pinching, anti social self – what did I do?
A lot of walking as per usual, in quite intensive heat. An early jaunt up to Rang Hill would be a little bit of an anticlimax, I guess, if you were after a serious hike, but it seems I went just at the right time, because it suddenly became flooded with groups and families just as I was leaving. It was a steepish climb for about 40 mins, I found myself on the back road thanks to google maps and it was my first introduction to packs of wild dogs.
The packs of dogs are inbred, e.g. there’s a brown pack and a black, shaggy pack etc. As an added bonus, I became giddy as a child with the abundance of tropical butterflies – large, bright and impossible to capture in photos. And it will more than make up for the deflation you might feel from the view at the top which is a bit ‘so, so’. Even more of these butterflies are to be found going up Monkey Hill, a steeper but same-ish kind of climb to see – yes, monkeys. If, like me, you haven’t seen wild monkeys, it’s interesting and new…and a bit scary. They are somewhat aggressive.
A trip to the municipal park ( I think it’s called Swan Luang) was a lot more rewarding for me even though it was kind of a weird long walk out of town. It was good couple of hours to investigate it and probably half of that was taking photos of the beautiful, old, arched bridge that is there. No idea if it’s got a name, but in the green, almost stagnant water, it seemed strangely land locked and neglected. I can see that Thai people share this Asian lack of self consciousness about exercise and activity in public that gave me that emotional moment in Guangzhou People’s Park that day. Whether it’s dancing, cycling, bouncing on your toes or using the outdoor gym equipment – it’s so free to do so. This is a serene place for locals and a veritable green armchair for me, like mood enhancing spectacles.
With the absence of Uber Moto, which was so amazing and transformational in Vietnam, I was determined not to spend money as usual. Finding the buses was an adventure – because actually they don’t register as buses. They are blue – or pink and you kind of hang about the market area waiting for one thats going roughly in the direction you want. So to get a beach day it costs 40B plus coffee money (which like Vietnam is more costly than your dinner).
I got the bus to Chalon Bay – well it’s a harbour with boats and all the things I like, and the bus driver only charged me 25 Baht. I sat at the pier – it’s quite picturesque and exceptionally blue – a bit Agean. After walking a couple of miles along the main road out of town, I found the ‘not’ imaginary Gluten Free Bakery and indulged in a berry muffin. Revitalised, and very grateful to the girl from the bakery who gave me a lift to Friendship Beach on the back of her moped, I found myself on a beach front wondering if I was on private property .
Friendship Beach was quite populated by kite surfers, essentially innocuous and out at sea, leaving the beach delightfully empty. I walked then all the way up to Rawai Beach ( about 8 miles) along the edge of the water with only the odd local family engaging in a life that I can’t imagine. This part of the coast, with its strange estuarine, lunar boulder field, and armies of tiny ‘borg’ crabs that disappear as soon as you try to approach them, made for an entirely solitary and delicious afternoon. And then I got to Rawai – and thought ‘what a shame.’
Always wanting to avoid the crowds, I decided to try to get to Bang Pae waterfall, instead of the more advertised Ton Sai and Kathu waterfalls. After negotiating a strange deal with a random taxi driver at the bus ‘area’, I found myself being escorted around a very exclusive jewellery outlet. Apparently her gets a ‘stamp’ for bringing people there, and I got taken to Bang Pae for 100B. The fact that I was clearly a scruffy backpacker did not seem to deter a polished and very demure sales lady from showing me diamonds and things wouldn’t be seen dead in. It was a surreal experience, as I bypassed coach loads of Chinese tourists to the exit. True to his word, the taxi driver was awaiting and dropped me at the falls. Quite out of the way toward the centre of the islands, there was only a handful of western tourists, and for the first time I got to swim under a waterfall as if in a shampoo advert (only for old people). It’s beautiful, secluded and was well worth the diamond outlet detour. I had to hitch a lift back – but fortuitously, ti involved another lady on a motor bike who dropped me at a bus stop where I waited for about 50 mins – but fine.
And what of the old town? What of Phuket’s markets and old buildings and urban stuff? Quaint enough, and surprisingly uncrowded. Colourful colonial style buildings, cloisters, predictable tourist shops and a Holly’s Coffee ( always a welcome sign). Not the cleanest, or richest or coolest of places, but I did not see any of the Phuket that I had feared. I did not see drunks, partying, sunburnt beer-bellies or over indulgence of any kind. The hostel was comfortable, spacious and friendly. They bought me sticky rice in the morning because I couldn’t eat the breakfast. It was my first experience of Thailand. I took what I could from Phuket and could not at that time imagine how captivated and totally at home I would come to feel in this country.