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Published: November 16th 2015
We'd only made plans for the first weeks of our travels before we left home but we knew that our travels through Laos could be arduous so we'd decided to treat ourselves to a bit of R & R in Phuket. This was one of those places we knew we weren't sure how to pronounce so I was pleased to do some research before we got there and find out that, after pronouncing it Fookay for many years, the proper way to say it was Fookette. Good, we won't be showing ourselves up there, then. Or so we thought. Wrong ..... Apparently, the locals have the same problems with the 'f' sound as the Lao people, and they call it Pookette. You can't win, it seems!
We arrived at the Pacific Club Hotel too late (10.30 pm) to consider doing anything other than marvel at the size of the storage facilities (our room literally had a walk-in wardrobe) and fall into bed. The next morning we were able to appreciate the hotel properly. It had all the amenities of a modern, 21st century hotel, in a wonderful setting on a hill, which afforded sweeping views down to the beach. Our
room had a huge private balcony where I spent many an hour first thing in the mornings, drinking coffee and watching the dawn break whilst listening to the birds twitter. There were lots of 'swillows' (those birds that fly too high at home to tell if they are swifts or swallows) and I liked to think they had come there to escape our European winter, just like us.
When we chose to stay in Phuket I envisioned a place of quiet gentility, somewhat upmarket and rather refined. We had chosen to stay in the resort of Karon, which was reported to be a quieter area, a favourite for couples without children (though the word 'older' was never mentioned I'm sure it was implied!). Should suit us fine, I remember thinking. We took a walk down into Karon itself and let me tell you, refined it is not. It's a bit like Scarborough, on steroids! While there were no Kiss Me Quick hats on show, there were plenty of I Love Phuket tee shirts worn by young and old alike and the Russians clearly love it because the place was full of them, many of them from the Novosibirsk area,
where I gather it can get pretty damn cold at times, so I can see why. The shops were literally of the bucket and spade variety at one extreme or feet cleaning fish in tanks at the other. Eeeeeuuw! On the plus side, there were many wonderful sea food restaurants, some of them with live fish/crabs/lobsters to make your choice from. I couldn't do it, but they were fresh.
While some parts of Phuket took a significant hit from the 2004 tsunami, Karon wasn't too badly affected so I was surprised at the state of the roads and pavements where there were any. Being naturally clumsy, I had to watch where I was putting my feet at all times in case a piece of paving was missing and I might plunge into the sewers below or the dirty puddle at the road junction to our hotel which was home to the BIGGEST bullfrog - I never saw him but he scared me every time we passed with a warning croak and he sounded HUGE. In amongst the fresh sea breeze there was the occasional delightful whiff of drain and/or sewage. Super. This might make me sound a terrible snob.
I'm so not, really. I've seen and experienced much, much worse. It just wasn't what I was expecting in Phuket! Just goes to show that travel really does broaden your horizons and gets rid of any misconceptions you might have.
Anyway, the hotel was an independently owned operation and more than met our expectations. It had a rooftop pool with waterfall and, while I didn't use the pool (I can't swim!) it was a lovely place to go for a paddle when it was just too hot (well into the nineties, on occasion) and we spent a lot of time up there. Surprisingly, not too many other hotel guests went there, so it was a peaceful place to read and doze and just relax. The hotel had lots of little nooks and crannies, little quiet places, a lovely garden where you could eat your meals or have a drink and a waterfall jacuzzi and sauna. It also had a gym but let's face it, we were never going to use that. We gradually developed a daily routine whereby I would get up early and drink copious amounts of coffee on the balcony watching the birds and butterflies until Steve
got up and we would sit and chat and drink more coffee until about lunchtime. Afternoons were generally spent by the pool and in the evenings we strolled into town for a meal, either at one of the wonderful fish restaurants or at an authentic Thai eatery. Perfect. Nights were spent on our balcony with a beer. One night we saw dozens of low flying aircraft in the sky, looking like a mini invasion force. It turned out they were those lanterns that you can light and let go and this is a regular occurrence in Phuket. Yup, that's how thrilling it was. Oh, and then there was the night we were terrorised by a huge flying thing and we, two grown adults, screamed and hid like five year olds then spent a good 20 minutes wafting at it with a towel before finally cornering it and covering it with the hotel's finest bathroom accessories for the night. We hoped it would have escaped by the morning but, no, it was still there ready to wage its war of terror once again. We ran away and left it for the chambermaid to deal with. Exciting stuff, huh?
we weren't experiencing a great deal of the island from our blissful isolation so we had the bright idea of hiring a scooter and exploring further afield. For the huge sum of £5 per day, with no check on driving licence (or even the ability to drive) we became mobile. It is the law in Thailand that all cyclists must wear a crash helmet so of course no-one does. As it happened, they didn't have a helmet to fit Steve so it was a moot point. I had the choice of a plain black helmet or a multicoloured one which was disappointing as I'd set my heart on a rather fetching pink version I had seen.
Now, I haven't been on the back of a scooter for about 20 years or so but seem to recall that I quite enjoyed it. Steve hadn't driven (do you drive scooters?!) a scooter since the same length of time ago so he had a little practice without me on the back then off we went. Did I mention the roads weren't good in Phuket? Hitting the first speed bump at a great rate of knots saw me almost catapulted into the stratosphere
to join the lanterns. Twenty years ago I would have got the giggles; this time round it's a good job Steve had the wind blowing in his ears and couldn't hear the expletives coming from behind him.
We had decided to go and visit the Big Buddha. You can see him on top of his mountain from miles around so how hard could it be to find him? We did take a map but it wasn't very detailed and, anyway, you can't read a map with your eyes shut. Which mine were. After my near take-off I decided it was best not to look for any upcoming hazards and just to cling on to Steve like a limpet with my eyes closed. This meant greatly improved marital harmony but kind of missed the point of a sight-seeing jaunt. Big Buddha was behind us one minute, in front of us the next and out of sight completely round the next bend. When I realised we were on a dual carriageway, being overtaken by huge lorries and buses, and that we were just a tad vulnerable on our little phut-phut, I decided to call time, for me anyway. My thigh muscles
were screaming in protest at the vice-like grip they were hanging on to Steve with and my nerves were jangling. So, we turned around, stopped for a pizza in a lovely cliff top eaterie, and Steve delivered me back to the hotel. He went for a ride by himself on the bike and, of course, managed to find the Big Buddha straight away and got up to respectable speeds on the scooter without my dead weight on the back. He had a great time and I was pleased for him, regardless of the fact that I envisioned him in the ditch/off the edge of the cliff/bleeding at the side of the road and all with no crash helmet! I was relieved to hear him roar into the hotel car park, as I nonchalantly pretended I just happened to be passing and wasn't really worried at all!
On our final day in Phuket it rained - a real stair-rods downpour - which was kind of fitting on our last day. We packed as much as we could and arranged transport to collect us for the airport at 6.00 am. Terrified we might sleep in we booked an early morning call with reception and set the alarm on the phone, which was just as well because reception forgot to ring until 5.00 am. At about 5.15 there was a power cut. Terrific. You try packing, dressing and putting on a bit of mascara by torchlight! But, we managed even though I had panda eyes and was wearing my tee shirt back to front. Our driver delivered us to the airport in good time and we were moving on again.
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