Phuket: "Phang Nga Bay"
FORGET PHUKET...WELL, NOT YET….
June 7, 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
I am standing on the upper deck of the 27 meter motor craft “Kong Tong” – Golden Mountain – as the young deck hands weigh anchor from the bottom of Phang Nga Bay.
Standing in the bright sun I am drying off after my “Asian Style” shower – a deck hand liberally pours buckets of warm water over my salty scalp and browning skin.
On board with me for this one-day “4 in 1 Cruise/Canoe Tour” are a Bangladeshi couple enjoying a week away from home (although the young lady confided in me that she missed her four year old daughter – she showed me a photo of a sweet girl); a couple from Canberra, ACT, who never met a platter of fries they didn’t like; and a “Thai couple” – a young white guy and his Thai girlfriend.
The only other passenger is Pan, a bright 26 year old Thai girl on her day off from the Ban Thai Hotel. Naturally, we hooked up for the day.
The brochure says the tour includes:
- Land Transfer – Hotel-Pier-Hotel
- Life Jacket
- Canoe Equipment with well-trained canoe paddlers
- Seasonal fruits, soft drink, coffee and tea
- Very attention guide (sic)
- Buffet Lunch on board
- Life Insurance
Fortunately, TYB, I didn’t use that last bit.
The tour was fun.
We departed a very reasonable 15 minutes late and set a course across the bay.
Again, the brochure:
“The sea mountains of Phang Nga are so dramatic that they strike awe into all who venture here. If you are really nature lover and concentrate to environment. It is completely appreciated. We aim to get you close to nature.”
Our first stop is Panak Island. We climb over the stern into canoes – two passengers per, plus paddler. We head towards and then into a long, black, eerie, semi-submerged bat cave. Yes, nature lovers, the sleeping bats cover the ceiling of the cave.
Panak Island, as well as our next stop Hong Island, is really a group of tall, slim, mostly vertical limestone cliffs – mountains thrust up from the sea bed. They are covered with trees and shrubs but there are several sheer faces of colorful rock – red and black vertical stripes and totally white cliffs.
At Naka Island the Bangladeshi couple and Pan and I had a swim off the beach. The guy tried to teach his reluctant wife how to swim. He surrendered after too many splashes and giggles and shrieks.
And for all you movie buffs, all you connoisseurs of cinema, the big event, the red carpet, flash bulb popping moment was our landing at “James Bond Island.”
Yes you 007 fans, yes! Google over to "James Bond Island" and "The Man with the Golden Gun"...1974!!!
Cruising the bay is quite beautiful and inspiring and relaxing – a perfect respite from the scene at Patong Beach.
“Patong is the most popular destination on Phuket – a seething concentration of souvenir shops, sleazy girlie bars, pricey seafood restaurants, dive shops, travel agencies, hotels and guesthouses and everything in between that makes for the perfect tourist trap.”
“It isn’t necessarily unpleasant, however, as there is a decent beach here, good trinket shopping and plenty of bare skin to go along with the exciting day and nightlife that this town holds in spades. The sort of people drawn to this teeming, neon-lit atmosphere will adore Patong, while the more peace-loving souls might want to stay far, far away. You might want to think twice about bringing your young kids into this town.”
So, why am I here?
First I admit that I didn’t read the Phuket entry in my guidebook. I anticipated a restful week in a more sophisticated, up-scale atmosphere. There are many “international” hotels but they sit among the “seething” masses.
Narinthip, my long-time competent Travel Agent booked me into the Patong Bay Shore Hotel with a 22 meter long swimming pool surrounded by tropical gardens and palm trees. I mostly avoided the “seething” scene by staying close to home, swimming laps, lounging and reading and eating at little outdoor restaurants nearby; Internet across the street.
Just down the street is a clothing market. Narissa, a cheerful nineteen year old Nepalese girl outfitted me with a perfectly becoming pair of blue shorts and a white cotton shirt. I bargained hard with her, and ended up paying about double the reasonable price at a non-tourist trap market elsewhere. Mai pen rai.
Nim is the other reason for my trip to Phuket. I met Nim at Ko Chang last year. She was working at an ice cream shop. Coconut is my favorite flavor. I went every day for a week.
Yes, sports fans, Nim and I are just friends and we maintained that friendship on the Internet.
Nim reminds me of my friend Sabina who I met in Cluj-Napoca, Romania a few years ago. Sabina is now married and lives in California. Sabina and Nim suffer from the same syndrome. I once asked Sabina “Why do you only like young men?” She responded instantly, “Jan, why do you only like young women?”
Nim met me at the hotel with her latest young Scandinavian boyfriend in tow. She also brought along Tik, a little older than Nim and more flexible in her tastes. I also met Nim’s friend Tee and her friend Lekky. Tee works in a real estate brokerage office and made her first sale this week. She promised to take us all to dinner when she receives her commission payment. In the meantime, “Host Jan” had lots of laughs at lunches and dinners and after, with my new set of friends.
And just a couple of days before leaving Phuket, I met Mio at the Internet cafe. Mio, a clothing designer, a forty year old beauty with two young children is estranged from her Norwegian husband.
Mio invited me to her home – a huge apartment on the top of a steep hill overlooking shimmering Patong Bay. I high-fived her young son and enjoyed the view.
As night fell and I walked back down the hill, I heard the muezzins calling out to the local Muslim population. These chants are, well, enchanting and transporting.
Despite the touristy atmosphere, I love the colorful sights, unique sounds and exotic smells of my adopted “neighborhood.” I am aware that I am back in Asia. I am among new friends. I love the “music.”
PS...Monday evening...12 June...I left my apartment and was looking for a bite to eat. I wandered past the Grace Hotel and the Zenith Hotel. They are in an area that is popular with tourists from the Middle East.
On the street are men in mostly modern sports clothes. Several men wear long white caftans and head scarves or large white skull caps. Most of the women are covered in black from head to toe. Some wear scarves with only eye slits.
I stroll past the Abyssinya Restaurant, the Egyptian Restaurant, the Shater Restaurant serving Persian food, the Shahrazad, the Petra, and the Meh Maah and Akbar specializing in Indian, Pakistan, Arabic and Malaysian items, the Nefertiti where men are smoking hookahs. I opt for the Al-Hussain and order chicken in a rich spicy broth with onions and cloves, fried onion patties, saffron rice with garlic and raisins and finish with a warm milky Indian tea.
During the meal the muezzin calls out for evening prayer in this Muslim neighborhood. Where AM I anyway?
I wander over to a bar and watch as energetic and then hapless Japan is overrun by Australia. I didn't stay up for USA vs. Czech Republic. Good thing, too.