Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thailand Part I: Phuket

You know good times are ahead when the first glimpse of your destination looks like this:
PHUKET THAILAND
Just for reference, the map below shows where Phuket is related to Bangkok.  It is a large island on the west coast of Thailand, just a 90 minute flight from Bangkok.  We flew Air Asia, and it was inexpensive and efficient. 
We were using our American Express points and we had 3 Starwood hotels to choose from on the island.  I am confident that I picked the most beautiful.  The Westin Siray Bay Resort is on the southeast coast and has only been open since December 2010.  As you can imagine, everything is brand new, and when I say the hotel was luxurious.......I mean luxuuurious!
{the view from our balcony}
Perfect as it was, we did have a couple complaints about the location.  #1 the beach was private and very small and #2 the resort was very secluded from "Thai life".  We could have been in the Caribbean.   The prices of the hotel food made me really feel like I was in the Caribbean too...$30 for the breakfast buffet?  Uh...no thanks!  Hello?  We are in Thailand!!  When we wanted to leave the hotel, the taxi drivers would charge and exorbitant amount just because they knew they could.  That was very irritating to me.  I just don't like being ripped off.  We did enjoy one [spicy as hell green curry] lunch at the hotel, during which I checked out our options in Phuket Town (3 miles away) for alternate eating options.
The next day we ventured into [Phuket] town for some thai priced food!  We had read about a place called Natural.  This open aired restaurant was 4 levels built into the trees and so freakin' cool! The walls were lush green plants and covered with rustic artifacts.
{Natura
The food was beautiful too!  Served up like a gourmet restaurant but at $2-$3 a plate!  We went a bit overboard because there were so many things we wanted to try on the menu: minced duck with crispy basil, spicy papaya pork salad,  lime-lemongrass blue crab legs, and garlic shrimp.  All of these dishes were ordered "thai hot" ...and boy were they!  Delish!
Other than the food, there was not much to see in Phuket Town.  We covered it in a couple hours.  Like most of Thailand, it was crowded with scooters and motos.
There is a deep Chinese heritage in Phuket (and all of Thailand) and according to a Chinese legend, Phuket is a golden sea dragon emerging from the Indian Ocean. 
Tradition holds that this dragon, Hai Leng Ong, is duty-bound to protect Phuket and its visitors, sustaining life and prosperity in business.  Here Ernesto walks down [the historic street] Th Thalang which shows typical architecture of some residential properties.
 I liked this one a lot!  A pink house!
We decided that we would stay at the Westin for a couple nights and then move to the northwest side of the island, just so we could see a different area [and not be so secluded]. But first, there were a couple things that we wanted to do on the south side.  Near the laid back surfing town Hat Kata is Kok Chang Safari.  Lonely Planet recommended them as "best elephant trekking in Phuket" saying that the elephants are very well taken care of, and this is what we found to be the case when we arrived.
Our guide lead us up through lush foliage until we had a view of the Andaman Sea, and boy was it beautiful! We paid 800 bahts, about $25.
Some stretches of the trail were steep with large rocks and this graceful animal barely bounced us at all.  Her name was Champu.  She is almost 40 years old, not even half of her life expectancy.
Since Phuket is such a large island, we wanted to check out a smaller island...something a bit more intimate.  A 90 minute ferry ride from the Phuket Town dock will get you to Ko Phi Phi island. 

We bought a one day package at the Phuket dock for $25 each. (there are many companies to choose from)  This included the ferry both ways, buffet lunch, and snorkeling.  Quite a deal, right?
In the past, whenever I thought of traveling to Thailand, I imagined those beautiful beach pictures with the huge limestone rocks and cliffs shooting out of the crystal blue water.  Well, guess what?  It is really like that!
Before the ferry reached the dock at Phi Phi, a few of us transferred to this small 'longtail' boat which delivered us to paradise..... Hat Yo (Long Beach)
We did a bit of snorkeling ...

...and a lot of relaxing on the beach.
Our trip was over around 5p.  We then moved to another Starwood hotel on the west coast of the island. The Sheraton Grande Laguna on Bang Tao Beach.  Although the Westin was much much nicer than the Sheraton, I am glad we switched.  The white sand beach of Bang Tao was gorgeous....and 8K long.  Also, we were able to take the free hotel shuttle and walk to some local restaurants.  I just couldn't be trapped in a [all-inclusive type] resort while in Thailand.  That being said, the resort was gorgeous!  I read that their pool is the biggest in Asia!
Another cool thing about the resort was that every morning, two, four month old elephants came to visit with the hotel guests.  They were so cute and soooooo smart.  They could wave, bow, kiss and they will take your tip and put it in the trainers pocket for you!
They upgraded us to a suite on the beach and we had our own balcony.
And since we moved to the west coast of the island, we caught beautiful sunsets! With a view like this, how could we complain?
Next stop....Bangkok, oriental city!!!

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