Tuesday, October 20, 2009


(picture: low tide on kata beach in phuket)

After spending a few nights on the Phi Phi Islands we returned to the island of Phuket. The island itself of course is much larger than ko Phi phi but all the beaches sprawl along the coast from north to south and it's pretty easy to get around just by walking. We were actually00 going to rent a motorbike to explore on our last day here because they have them all over for about 2oo baht for the day but it ended up raining so we didn't. I would never recommend renting a car or bike in bangkok but Phuket is much smaller so it's easier to get around and there's less traffic. There are two main places to stay there, either in Patong or near the Kata and Karon beaches and we chose to stay on Kata beach because even though it's more developed than some of the other beaches on the coast it isn't as developed in Patong. We stayed at the sugar palm resort which was across the street from the beach so it was a little less expensive, but judging by what I saw there aren't too many resorts actually on the beach anyway. There are beach chairs all along that you can rent for about 100 baht a day as well as surf boards and boogie boards and there are of course food stands and massage tents on the beach so once you are out there you have all you need. Since we went during the rainy season it did rain quite a bit on and off so we were always prepared with our umbrellas. The tide was always rough too and everyday they had a red flag out but we are both strong swimmers so undertoe and riptides don't affect us too much. The one bad thing about Phuket on the beach is that there are a lot of people constantly walking by trying to sell you sarongs, bull horns, purses, belts, pretty much any little knick knack you can think of. I did end up buying a sarong because I wanted one but I learned pretty quickly if you aren't in the water you better be asleep or have your nose buried in a book or these sellers will bother you constantly.
(picture: with a 2 year old elephant we got to play with on our Siam Safari adventure)
One of the things I really wanted to do when I went to Thailand was to see and ride the elephants. Elephants were once used (and still are in some parts) to haul lumber around. They are very smart and easily trained and there are plenty of them in the jungles out there so they were used a lot as working animals. Whenever an elephant is born in captivity they are assigned a manhout who is responsible for the elephant and takes care of them and trains them and lives with the elephant for their whole life (or whoever goes first I suppose). Apparently Chiang Mai is the best place to see elephants as they have a lot of training camps where you can learn to do what the manhouts do and how to ride the elephants yourself. Chian Mai however, is north of bangkok and we simply didn't have the time to go there. So I did some research and found the Siam Safari group (siamsafari.com) and decided to book their elephant jungle trek. You have to be careful in phuket because there are a lot of tourist agencies down there that have really hokey elephant tours which are not only expensive but the elephr ants aren't well cared for. In fact I saw some where you don't even really spend much time with the elephants but do other ridiculous things like watch monkey shows and ride in an ox pulled cart. It was really important to us the elephants were well respected and taken care of and not just some circus act so that's why I chose Siam.
The jungle trek, while the most expensive activity we did in Thailand (about $50 a person) was also the most memorable. We were picked up at our hotel then taken to the camp where we were split into groups based on what we had booked (we chose the cheaper 45 minute elephant trek). Then we all piled into these rustic jeeps that had bench seats in the back and no back door and were taken up into the jungle where the elephants were. For the first 15 minutes we were treated to an elephant show by three baby elephants and their manhouts. They obviously aren't big enough to ride yet so they show us the tricks they have learned like blowing into harmonicas and painting and kicking soccer balls and even dancing. Then you had the option to buy fruit and feed it to them which the absolutely loved. Afterwards they brought around the larger elephants which were guided by their manhouts and we learned about them and how they were taken care of, what they ate, etc. These are asian elephants so they are a lot smaller than african elephants and the older they get the more pink their skin turns. We sat on these baskets strapped to their backs and the manhout sat on the head of the elephant and guided it through the jungle. It was really peaceful and we got to see a great lookout point during our trek. The elephant ride was surprisingly smooth (much more so than horesback riding) so it was definitely something I could have done for more than just 45 minutes.
(picture: us on our elephant trek)
While Phuket may not be as laid back or as small as Ko Phi Phi, we certainly enjoyed our time on the island. There are an abundance of restaurants to dine at, a lot on the beach, and it's the best place to go for shopping if you want rip off designer labels. We learned quickly once again the more you buy the better deal you get so we stocked up on shirts. Phuket is also a much better deal as far as massages are concerned (about 200baht each) and we treated ourselves to foot and back massages. You will find massage places are every other store front so you can be picky when choosing the cheapest one because they all offer the same thing and you won't find much variation in technique either. This is the one thing I miss most about thailand is how cheap the massages and facials are (well and the food as well but really where else can you get a massage under $20?) and how great the service is. One trick I learned is that it's best to go to a massage shop or restaurant by your hotel because once you've been in once the people won't bother you again every time you walk by. Really all the restaurants and stores were struggling for business down there so they would do anything to get us in, even lower drink prices or give you some other special deal.
Phuket also has these meat carts that come out at night which are really inexpensive and they cook whatever kabob you want right there for you for about $2 a piece.
This is what we ate a few nights for dinner and offers an even cheaper option for food which is great when you are staying for 2 weeks and want to conserve your money! There was also this guy with a banana pancake cart (what we call crepes in the US) who made the most delicious fresh banana and chocolate crepe I have ever had. I was only sorry he didn't come out during the day!
Although we didn't explore as much as we could have in Phuket I feel we saw enough for me to want to visit a different island the next time around. Unfortunately you can't get to Ko Phi Phi from Koi Samui and I definitely want to visit there again so that may weigh on my decision as of where to go next time. It's such a short flight from bangkok that it really makes it worth it to get out of the city and head down there.

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