Phuket for Lunar Explorers

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?

eJcEbKtETZ2KgJtE6h+Nhg_thumb_3259A 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. lfpeyzfzqusosos8ghwmuq_thumb_3219.jpg
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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_310bA 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.fullsizeoutput_e23

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).

EkmXxGL9QOqvT9vrgp7xCA_thumb_30dcI 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 .
fullsizeoutput_e1dFriendship 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.’

fullsizeoutput_e97Always 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.


Bowen’s Primordial Paradise

fullsizeoutput_277The wildfire smoke has been problematic over the last few days – eaking eastwards with the stagnant weather. It has cast a moody and somewhat grainy aspect to the landscape both urban and rural, with islands, high-rises and mountains alternately looming and disappearing into the haze. Bowen Island has not escaped and the bus ride to Horseshoe Bay got steadily more grey. I guess it might look somewhat tropical under a clear blue fullsizeoutput_274summer sky, but as it was today it could be something out of Lost. A grey blue triplet of peaks encompassing the harbour. After waiting for 50 minutes for the 257 Express, and having to stand all the way, the ferry over was a breath of fresh air – but not literally because there are an inordinate amount of particulates in it at the moment. But it was lovely to be sea-borne – there’s nothing like it.

fullsizeoutput_27cSnug Cove, the harbour area,  despite having a slight connotations of a Pirate theme park to it, was very welcoming and I had to try hard to resist all the little sea-side bistros and cafes (but not the market stall with the gluten free muffin, though) and to push on into the island depths. I had a late start so knew I wouldn’t be able to it all, but a coffee was a good start. I headed out to or should I say up – this is very hilly place and I was glad of it – to Artisan Square, a chocolate box cluster of art outlets and a restaurant. But it took 4 minutes to look round and 30 mins to consume a coffee under a shady tree and study a map.

I decided that the Killarney lake expedition would be the most doable with a return ferry in mind and it being a Sunday. I began walking up the Main Road ( think Wrong Turn or Insomnia) which has no traffic. Ironically Bowen Island has signposted legal ‘Lift” stops where you can hitch a lift. I wouldn’t hold your breath though – not on a Sunday anyhow. Quite suddenly as you round a bend after a couple of km, you meet the picnic area of the lake. Its breathtaking – and there begins the prehistoric adventure. The trail hugs the lake at first with pretty little accessible beaches and an abundance of different dragonflies. Trying to snap dragonflies is always a trial but I could not get over the exquisite beauty of these eight spotted skimmers and was disappointed I could not get one under the macro. They were too damn quick. The trail then becomes a little more rooty and natural fullsizeoutput_275until you reach the boardwalk which takes you right out into the swamp. You are transported into ta strange carboniferous desolation and primordial luxuriance if I can hyperbolise. It is just silent and beautiful. The trail then rises well up above the lake and becomes quite technical until you drop down again to meet the Killarney Creek main path that heads back to the harbour. There were not many people on this trail unlike Ladybower back home. Everything was older, bigger and more natural.


I took a detour to Angel Falls which was more like Angel Fails unfortunately as it was dry as a bone, but the trip down past the lagoon and Deep Bay was worth another leg.  I had walked about 8 miles in all and was glad to get back to Snug Cove and it’s quaintness. This island has a population of just about 3000 and it seems like it might be a perfect place to live, picturesque, clean, unspoilt –  if you like that Stepford kind of vibe. I may go back to see more – it’s lovely.