WHEN IN PHUKET…

Gugu / 13 Jun, 2018

[CLICK HERE FOR THE SCENE SETTER REGARDING HOW IT IS THAT I CAME TO TRAVEL TO PHUKET]

I arrived in Phuket on a Saturday evening and as I exited the airport terminal to meet my transport provider who was to take me to my accommodation, was greeted by the thickest most smothering blanket of humidity I have ever breathed! I mean, if it were possible to drown in the atmosphere, this is certainly what almost happened here. And of course, you read about the humidity of Thailand, but NOTHING can ever quite prepare you for it! IT. IS. HUMID! And so, you are only too glad to be in a building (all of which are so crisply air-conditioned) or the interior of a moving vehicle.

I have always associated the phenomenon of humidity with sunshine, but in Phuket, I learned that it didn’t need to be a bright sunshiny day in order for the air to be thick with moisture. The humidity is quite able to be persist even in the absence of this. And also, it doesn’t need to be a clear skies kind of day for the sun’s heat rays to be ferocious and intense. This is quite possible even on the most overcast of days! And so it was this kind of weather that defined my four short days in Phuket! Eventually one learns to function in spite of the heat, but I was rather bummed out at the lack of sunshine. The sun truly has a unique and special way of brightening up days and vistas and landscapes such that their imprint on your memory is one that never fails to conjure up warm fuzzy feelings long after you’ve left those places. Inversely, when I think of places I have visited (e.g. London and NYC) where it was wet, overcast and cold, I have a rather sombre and melancholic emotional response, one that does not say to me, “Let’s return there soon!” like when I think of my sunnier escapades! To be fair, I have been to London in summer and LOVED IT!!! So, I know the difference to perception and overall experience that weather can make.

It was also because of the weather that I found myself having to switch up my schedule. And usually, this would have been an inconvenience for me, but I just felt so strongly the hand of God with me at every instance. Every change was matter of fact and effortless. For instance, I had intended to spend my first full day there (a Sunday) on the beach, but looking at the overcast skies, I quite simply nixed this and decided instead to do Big Buddha, which I’d planned to do on the Monday. It also helped that the majority of my activities were not pre-booked/pre-paid and so there was a measure of flexibility in terms of when I got the things on my itinerary done. I would literally wake up circa 10/11am and begin my days!!! This in itself was a measure of the extent to which I was truly at rest and this was truly a vacation! Attesting to the Thai’s assiduousness with regards tourism, there were tuk tuks and Prados (aircon, people) in a designated parking area just 100m from my apartment, ran by independent drivers who’ve pulled their collective muscle together to form a micro enterprise, and where all you would do is walk up, state your destination, negotiate a price and then choose which vehicle you preferred and voila, you were off to your destination. In fact, my location being a street with a concentration of apartments, resorts and hotels, there were numerous tuk tuks and for hire self-drive motorcycles lined all the way down the street. What’s BEST is that the drivers wait for you while you do your thing (For instance, I must have taken at least an hour and a half viewing the Big Buddha site) and then ferry you back to your residence or any other preferred drop-off location. I loved that.

And so after my Big Buddha excursion, I chose to be dropped off at least a kilometre from my apartment and in this way I explored nearby Kata Beach and its open air street market. I bought some wares and also made a meal out of it, tucking into some yummy deep fried seafood while taking in the sea view from the promenade. The walk back to my apartment was perhaps the most discovery-filled. Numerous Thai eateries, clothing stores, and smaller independently owned shops, from one of which I was able to get myself a proper dope ass Under Armour back pack for 1/2 the price it’d have cost me back home! What I appreciated is that the area (Kata-Katanoi Beaches stretch) I was based in wasn’t too touristy and done up like pictures I’d seen of nearby Patong Beach – think ‘all of the lights’ at night and generally a constellation of modern buildings and hundreds of small businesses all jammed into a 5 square km area! The Katanoi-Karon Beaches stretch caters to the tourist clientele but it hasn’t lost its essence, isn’t overly developed, kitsch or as crowded as Patong Beach. Also, what’s great about Phuket in general is that bureau de change stalls are a dime a dozen! I mean, on the night I arrived, I was able to change money at 8pm and the stalls in the area remained open until about 11pm. I hear that in Thailand in general, you can never be stuck in terms of accessing local currency! There are also numerous 7/11s (I do mean numerous), I guess because many people do stay for extended periods and begin to need daily essentials and especially if they’re apartment living like I was. So of course on the way back, I stocked up on some goodies (more like ready to eat/quick fix meals) and some actual goodies, like some yummy Australian white wine l don’t think would have cost me what it did there, at home. I must say I LOVE the variety of Thai snacks. I mean?! All sorts of quirky little eats! Snacks on snacks on snacks AND the packets aren’t half empty like the mess we get at home. The whole packet is as full of contents as its size suggests it should be!

And yes of course, massage parlours also abound! And yes, you can get a massage up to as late as 10 or 11 pm! On my 1km stroll back to my apartment, I must have passed by at least 20 variations of a beauty parlour! And the Thai seem to be a very appearance conscious people. I saw lots of pharmacies selling skin whitening products, even at the airport duty free!

Needless to say, by the time I made it to the apartment, I was DONE FOR. I mean, the specific area is hilly terrain (at least 500m of the walk back is a proper uphill climb) and to have decided to walk in typical Thai heat conditions even though it was an overcast day, was just signing one’s death warrant. And now, I was also carrying my Under Armour bag (which conveniently became my carry all bag-the wine, my street market wares, dinner and my snacks)! But honestly, I’d have had it no other way as this gave me an opportunity to be immersed into this locale and experience it as authentically as possible.

And so in Phuket, I was gently coaxed into learning and accepting what is and the art of going with the flow! On my second day, I reluctantly accepted that there may not be any bright sunshiny days while I was there. And so it was that when a brief period of sunshine broke through on Monday mid-morning, I decided to dress up and hit the beach because it was literally now or maybe never given my outstanding itinerary and the very small number of days I was there for. And what would you know? Twenty minutes into my beach jaunt and the sun (but not the heat or humidity) had all but disappeared behind grey skies again. But it was nothing a sunbed and good book couldn’t fix. And so even though I may not have been able to capture Instagram worthy snaps, I realised that what mattered is that I was THERE and enjoying one of Phuket’s prime beaches, even without the sun! The water was still beautiful both to behold and enter into. That part hadn’t changed. Furthermore, it was still a welcome reprieve from the intense heat and humidity and so was still able to serve the purpose of cooling one down. This experience got me thinking: paralleling it with how we navigate certain seasons or situations in life, it’s correct to say that we often don’t see or have an appreciation of what it is that we have because we’re so fixated on one (usually not so material) aspect of our circumstances. We become so fixated on it that we are blind to how blessed we are, relatively speaking, and we miss our joy. And so this experience impressed all the more on me, the NEED to look at and examine my life microscopically and to tease out the places where joy can be mined and to actively work on creating joy in those places rather than being miserable about what isn’t. Because once you begin to actively pursue and cultivate joy, its force multiplier effect (I LOVE that term, kikiki) is such that, even if found in just one place, suddenly ALL of your life, all aspects of it, takes on a more colourful and enhanced quality. Suddenly, every little thing has appreciable meaning and every moment enough in itself and with the potential to bear small but gratifying capsules of joy.

And so it was the the highlight of my Phuket trip wasn’t in fact the beach (Given how much I love the beach, this would ordinarily have been a travesty, but in the light of my new found “wisdom”, this was taken as lesson in rolling with the punches and making the best of whatever hand one is dealt with), but rather a very small excursion to Karon Viewpoint, which I hadn’t quite expected to be anything extraordinary. But it was. Everything about the day was quite simply beautiful. I hired a tuk tuk to take me up the hill, and thankfully, when we arrived, the (quite small) point was not overwhelmed by other visitors. The view of the 3 beaches is breathtaking in a quiet and understated way. Also, it was a BRIGHT SUNNY DAY (go figure!) and there is really something quite special about tropical locales when the sun is out in its glorious splendour. I would go so far as to say that this is a Phuket highlight, a must-see. The day’s beauty and sweetness was accentuated by the lunch I had at Baan Chom View Restaurant. Having (of course-the fastidiousness is THAT hectic) done my research pre-trip, regarding surrounding restaurants in the area, I was still undecided (there are at least 3 “good” restaurants on the road up to the Viewpoint) as to where I’d have lunch that afternooon, but really, it just came down to outside appearance! Of the three, Baan Chom View had looked more appealing as we had passed it on the way up to the Viewpoint. And so, I asked the tuk tuk driver to drop me off there on the way down and crossed fingers that it wouldn’t disappoint. Well…it DIDN’T! It was near empty, spacious and with ample seating on the edge of the balcony looking out towards the sea. The service was the absolute BEST (attentive, proactive and yet unintrusive) and the food was TO DIE FOR! I ordered 3 different main (all Thai) dishes (Don’t judge me. I was there for over 3 hours) and each one did not disappoint. They allowed me to sit there and read my book all day, while refilling my white wine and ice at just the right intervals (It’s Phuket remember. The afternoon heat is bound to be something else, and well, true to form, it was.) without making me feel that I had to purchase anything beyond what I was comfortable purchasing. And as a parting shot, one of the wait staff generously offered to take pictures of me with the sunset behind because he noticed I was a solo traveller. Altogether, I am glad I chose this spot even if online reviews of it had been average. And if you’re reading this and find yourself looking for a great dining spot along the road up to the Viewpoint, then I would recommend and suggest you give Baan Chom View a try.

Then there are some excursions that flat out disappoint. Case in point, Coral Island (or Ko He). I booked the full day boat trip over to the island from Phuket online back home because while planning the itinerary, I couldn’t find anything else affordable and interesting (to me) to do on my last day in Phuket and so I figured beach, island, up my alley, and therefore worth a try. The part of the island on which the half and full day excursions boats anchor and operate, lacks character precisely because it is being operated as a mass tourism venture. Numerous boat operators bring their clients there for shallow snorkelling and swimming but the beach itself isn’t wide and spacious enough to accommodate all the numbers. And because of the high volumes of numbers, the coral reef is pretty much dead although you do still see plenty of exotic fish. I have heard that on the other side of the main shorefront of Ko He, is Banana Beach, which is less frequented, still in pristine condition and a better spot for snorkelling. One would hope that the tourism authorities are able to place restrictions on tour operator activity for the sake of conserving precious natural finite resources. For instance, I recently read that Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh will be closed from June – September this year, for these very reasons. But also, that spot is another case of “overrated much?’; but more on that later.

So that is, in a nutshell, Phuket! Writing this, I am going through some of the notes I made on my phone while over there (I always make notes when I have moments of very lucid and/or rapid streams of “realisations”) and this some of the wisdom I extracted out of the overcast weather/beach day situation, and I think these insights are an apt way to conclude:…I took this to mean that sometimes, you MUST go with the flow because despite your desires for how things must go, it is common sense and the best thing to do. Because if you do, you will THEN see that you’re not alone and that God is with you. A leap of faith with common backing it isn’t really so hard to take. I have also learned that even our best plans MUST be flexible and open to the possibility of change because we do not control many of the external factors that impact on our daily living and we do not know nearly as much as we need to or think we do to justify 100% confidence in our own plans.

So stay flexi and with an open heart and mind! You never know what’s just around the corner for you because you kept at it and did best – even if that best doesn’t feel/seem/look like best at the time.

You can check out my Phuket epilogue. Small, arbitrary observations that stood out for me about it.

You can also find me at twitter.com/honeybmissg.

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