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Published: December 9th 2009
There is a well organized taxi mafia in Phuket. Let us explain:
Getting from the Phuket airport to the beaches is easy. You can either ride in a group minivan for about $6 per person or grab a taxi for about $15. However, when you try and return to the airport, you find that you are at the mercy of the mafia (seriously! - there was even an article in Bangkok's daily newspaper today). Our hotel is in on it. The unhelpful people at the "transportation desk" refused to book us a regular taxi but offered up their own driver for $45 (in a Toyota Corolla, if you want a Camry, add another $5 and keep on adding more all the way up to $100 for a limo). Yeah Right!
So our next option was to go out to the beach road to talk to the friendly (or so we thought) taxi drivers who lounge around under palm trees either swinging in hammocks or playing cards. We wondered why they never seemed to do any work and now we know. They stick together and won't take an airport fare for under 900 Baht ($27). It's a good life. Make one, maybe two trips a day and make as much money as you would if you were charging normal rates. Alas, our only other option was to haul our bags out the main gate of the resort (not close) and down to the busy main road and hope to find one of the metered taxis which may or may not be part of the taxi mafia. We ended up paying the 900 Baht and fortunately our taxi driver was friendly.
Good flight to Bangkok but it seems we have not shaken the Vietnam curse - no bank in the uber-modern Bangkok Airport will change Vietnamese Dong. The money changers accept currencies from 25 countries including Switzerland, South Africa, and many countries in the Middle East, but not Vietnamese Dong. Drat!
A minor setback, the rest of our day was very nice. Rather than staying in downtown Bangkok for the night, we decided to stay at the Best Western hotel near the airport. The Best Western opened recently, receives good reviews on TripAdvisor, and rooms start at $50 on agoda.com. If you're planning any travel to Bangkok soon, the Best Western is definitely a place to consider.
For a Best Western the hotel is amazing! The hotel is comparable to most boutique hotels in San Francisco and possibly even New York. It's far better than the Bangkok Airport Novotel (it's competitor) and is less than half the cost (for now at least). The hotel is uber modern and beautifully trendy, from the lobby to the bar to the rooms and pool. The gym has the nicest equipment that we've seen so far. The hotel staff are extremely friendly and helpful. The hotel even has a free shuttle to/from the airport (a representative from the Best Western was waiting for us outside baggage claim when we arrived) and free internet access - we're in the stratosphere!
We spent the evening relaxing, repacking and reading about Burma. Burma is a country we know very little about - the wildcard of our trip. What will it be like to travel there? Will it be grim and depressing (e.g., constant monitoring by government agents, locals who are too terrified to talk to us for fear of punishment by the generals, frequent power outages, dilapidated hotels, etc.) or will we be happily surprised? We have no idea what to expect and can't wait for our adventure to begin.
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