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Published: February 4th 2020
Saturday 1st February 2020
We left home at 8 a.m. to be chauffeured to Alicante train station by our son Nick. The fast train to Barcelona departed on time at 9.25 and just four-and-a-half hours later, having stopped just three times on the way, at Valencia, Castellon and Tarragona, we alighted at Barcelona Sants station in brilliant sunshine. We have excellent trains in Spain, fast, smooth, quiet (on modern track) comfortable and excellent value; we paid twenty-four euros each, in First class. Very civilised!
By 3 p.m. we were at Barcelona International Airport, so had a long wait until our 9.35 p.m. departure. Fortunately, we were able to check in the rucksacks straight away at the Qatar Airways bag drop, then had a leisurely lunch of barbecued ribs and browsed the smart shops. Barcelona is a beautiful airport, having two large outdoor patio areas with bars and tapas bars and sun umbrellas! Quite unique we believe. The time actually passed quite quickly and by 8.30 boarding started.
Travel tip: one can haggle the price at official airport exchange counters! We had no idea that this was possible. At “Global Exchange”, which is a world-wide organisation, the exchange rate
quoted would only get us just under 13,000 Thai Bhat for 500 euros. We bought 15,000 Baht for 500 euros just two weeks ago at the bank and knew that the rate should be even better now (sadly for Thailand, their currency has been affected poorly by the Coronavirus outbreak). We thought that the quoted displayed rate was “It”, no negotiation possible. However, our expressions of shock and horror and exclamations of “How much! Oh No, No, No, forget it!” inspired the desk clerk to ask us how much we expected to get! Amazed at being asked such a question, I quickly said, 17,000 Baht (knowing that this was an impossible amount because that was from the best bank exchange rate seen online on my phone at that moment and of course they have to make a profit, or at least charge some commission). So, the clerk said “I will make a phone call!” We walked away with 17,000 Baht, a profit of 4,000 on the stated rate. AMAZING! 4,000 Baht is enough to get more than a whole week’s worth of accommodation with air-con and en-suite bathroom in Thailand. HAPPY DAYS!
Our flight departed on time and six
We choose all the fine dining spots!
Sitting on the pavement, Krabi Road, Phuket
hours later we landed at Doha International Airport in Qatar. It was a good flight, no silly little mini bottles of booze as one often gets. All drinks poured generously from full-size bottles, even in Economy Class. So, my pre-dinner Gin and Tonic was most generously delivered, followed by red wine with the meal and a large Baileys on ice with the coffee afterwards. Often on long-hall economy flights one has to trudge to the kitchen to ask for hydration. On Qatar the cabin crew come around very frequently with drinks, so we got plenty of juice and water to stop dehydration.
Unfortunately, neither of us can sleep on flights, we no longer bother trying to do so, so watched films for six hours and landed on Sunday morning at 5.30 a.m. in Doha (3.30 a.m. CET and 2.30 a.m. GMT). We were a bit tired! Sunday 2nd February 2020
We left Doha at 8 a.m. local time and six hours later landed at Phuket International at 6 p.m. local time (which was 2 p.m. in Doha, 12 noon in Spain and 11 a.m. in the UK). Thirty hours door-to-door and no sleep. We were now very
tired. Fortunately, we passed through Immigration fairly swiftly, got our 30-Day visas, and after an hour’s journey from the airport we arrived at our little guesthouse in the centre of Phuket old town at 9 p.m. By now we had been up for 34 hours and planned to just crash out…. but…. we were hungry, thirsty and it was the last evening of Chinese New Year celebrations in Phuket. Moreover, on Sundays the famous Phuket Night Food Market was down our street! So, with our adrenaline levels peaked again by this temptation, we dumped the rucksacks and headed out to sample the amazing Thai street food and enjoy the vibe.
We have struck gold with our accommodation. The guesthouse is in a renovated old Chinese “Shop House”. We have a large bedroom, air-con, large spotlessly clean bathroom, breakfast and all-day tea and coffee included for just 18 euros a night. We are in the very heart of Phuket old town (you can keep your “could-be-anywhere” beach resorts with “international” cuisine). Great location! Great authentic Thai food!
Phuket now has nineteen confirmed cases of Coronavirus in isolation in hospital, ten more suspected and sadly, the first human-to-human death (a
Thai taxi driver). Most Chinese tourists have now gone home and the tourist trade is getting hit very hard with cancellations (international flight arrivals down 33 percent down last month compared to January 2019). Most of the people of Phuket are descended from Chinese immigrants and so the sadness is not just for loss of trade but also for the plight of the Chinese people. A sign everywhere here, printed firstly in Chinese, then Thai and thirdly English reads as follows… “The Thai people pray for China and hope that China will recover soon. Be strong China, Be strong Wuhan, China and Thailand are Family”
We are loving it here but are being prudent, wearing face masks in crowded places and on public transport, using hand steriliser frequently and baby wet wipes on surfaces. On our first flight there were many Chinese on their way home, flying from Spain to Doha to connect with flights to China. They all wore masks, were meticulous at hand washing in the bathrooms and were using sterilisers frequently. On our second flight, Thai nationals, Brits, including ourselves and some other Europeans were doing the same. The largest contingent of
tourists on this flight, however, consisted of large groups of Scandinavians, mostly Swedish, with several kids in tow, who were oblivious to it all. Apart from exposing young children and babies to contamination, they also departed the airport, after sunset, in the dark, wearing shorts and flip-flops with kid’s white legs exposed to hungry mosquitoes! Although low risk of Malaria, Dengue fever is a problem in this region. Unbelievable! I caught one old Swedish hippy woman pointing me out to her husband (me with my mask on outside our hotel) and sniggering. I wonder if in her ignorance she believes that only Asians can get Coronavirus and blond pale-skinned Swedes are immune! Actually, she doesn’t look half as cool as me, because for young Thais, wearing masks is now quite a fashion statement. Ha! ha!
On Sunday night we slept like logs! Monday 3rd February 2020
We enjoyed a chilled day today. We ate a late leisurely breakfast, then visited the Thaihua Museum next-door-but- one to our hotel. This museum chronicles and celebrates the Chinese settlement of Phuket from the fifteenth Century onwards and the influence of Portugal and Great Britain to the island’s development. From Phuket
in the North, to Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and then Singapore in the South, these five strategic ports provided the wealth for European Far East traders, mostly Dutch, Portuguese and British. They also made Chinese settlers wealthy. Having been fortunate to have visited all five, we know that the similarities are fascinating, especially in the architecture. There are Chinese “shop-houses” in Chinatown in Singapore, in Jonkers Street in Malacca, in Petterling Street in Kuala Lumpur and in Georgetown in Penang. These here in Phuket are in better condition than those others, however, having been restored to boost tourism. They are magnificent!
After the museum, we strolled around the old town, admiring the Portuguese and British Colonial Architecture and also went to the Mongkolnimit Wat (Buddhist temple and shrine). We ate wonderful food, including Pad Thai with crab at lunchtime and really good Chicken curries in the evening.
We got back to our hotel fairly early because we are heading off tomorrow morning at 7.45 a.m. to catch the 8.30 a.m. ferry across Phuket Bay, to Ao Nang. We have loved our little stay in Phuket, but heading off now for some beach chill (hopefully without wearing the sterile
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