We've arrived in Phuket!

Published on 28 July 2023 at 01:46

The first stage of our career break starts in the province of Phuket, a tourist hotspot located in the south of Thailand.  It's actually a large island, connected to the mainland via a causeway bridge.

We touched down in sunny Phuket on the morning of Friday the 15th of July.  The last leg of our journey from New Zealand required a short flight from Singapore across mainland Malaysia, which from my window seat seemed to be made up of endless green spaces that were only broken up by brown, winding rivers, before we reached the coast of the sparkling blue Andaman Sea where we had a literal “bird’s eye view” of some of Thailand’s famous islands during our decent into Phuket airport.

After clearing customs and hooking into the matrix with local sim cards (999 Baht/$50NZD for unlimited 5G for 30 days), we made our way out into the sunshine and were welcomed by a wall of humidity and a throng of humanity offering to help us to find transport to wherever we were going.  We did a price comparison across the many vendors as well as a check via the local Grab app (for taxi quotes) and they all came in the same.  This was a pleasant first lesson in how Thailand may be different to other countries we have travelled because the airport transport operators were all legitimately trying to help, not scam. 

Sandra booked a day room at a resort that was a 10-minute ride away from the airport so that we could freshen up, relax, and swim in a pool for a few hours before heading back to the airport to meet up with Sandra’s sister, Linda, who was flying in from South Africa to spend the next 10 days with us.  Sitting in the pool comparing the three different local beers was a great way to slip straight into holiday mode, before reuniting sisters for the first time in nearly four years!

Travel Tip: We’ve used day rooms a few times over the years to break up long flights, and they are totally worth the little extra investment in getting your holiday started on a good note. So much better than spending hours in an airport MacDonalds trying not to fall asleep by resting your head on your sausage McMuffin. (Our day room cost was NZD $55 including the transfer back to the airport).

Our home for the next week is a private villa in Rawai, a beach town at the southern end of Phuket Island that is more frequented by ex-pats than backpackers.  The house has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a well-appointed full kitchen, a mezzanine floor with pool table, and our two non-negotiable items for everywhere we are staying on this trip – air conditioning and a swimming pool. The villa was also a short walk away from busy Soi Saiyuan (Saiyuan Road) which is almost exclusively made up of places to eat, get massaged, get stoned, and rent a moped.  Try all four in a responsible order.  No footpaths though, so we had to keep our wits about us as we strolled along the soi looking for a nice spot for our first local dinner, which consisted of Papaya Salad (which after three attempts I have renamed “Fire in your Face” salad) a duck curry and a chicken Penang curry.  All very delicious!

The weather gods smiled on us the next day, so we took full advantage and headed down to Rawai Beach to barter for a longtail boat to take us to one of the nearby islands – Coral Island.  It was a special day, so Sandra has written a separate blog on it.

Phuket is a much bigger island than many realise and, whilst there are a good range of local taxi, Tuk Tuk, and bus options available, if you plan to get around to see a bit of everything these small, regular taxi fares will add up quickly for three adults. We opted to rent a car and were pleasantly surprised when our Toyota Yaris was upgraded to a new MG sedan ($50NZD per day including insurance).  Zoom, zoom!

I have watched our taxi drivers with interest from the passenger seat over the first few days and was feeling confident that the road rules are much the same in NZ with a few small but important exceptions.  Firstly, the speed limit signs are merely a suggestion, with most cabbies doubling the recommended limit.  Secondly, scooters/mopeds outnumber cars by 1000 to 1 in Phuket, can come at you from either side, and love to sneak up on you at intersections so always check all three mirrors before changing lanes to avoid wiping out a family of five upon the same bike on their way to the temple. 

With "Em-Gee" as our trusty steed, over the next few days we visited the various beaches around the southwest coast of the island.  The southern tip of Phuket is Promthep Cape, with amazing views to the southern islands.  Travelling anti-clockwise we then visited Nai Han with hot sand and rolling surf, Kata beach, and then Karon – which was my favourite as it’s long and wide with golden sand and has various resorts and shops nearby. This is also where we had the best meal of our first week – lunch at Mama Jin’s.  Check out Sandra’s blog on this amazing spot as part of "Eating our way around Thailand - Part One".

On Sunday we did some more sightseeing in the morning, then headed home to spend the heat of the day in the pool before venturing out to the famous Sunday Night Walking Market in Phuket Old Town.  This was a great idea, and it turns out that we had it at the exact same time as half of the population of Phuket who all decided to meet us there.  But seriously, this is all part of the fun and with street food, I’d rather be the tenth in line at a busy stall rather than being someone’s “sale of the day”. The smart move for savvy travellers (see: Sandra) was to take a Bolt taxi via the app, as I think you’d find a real-life unicorn before you found a carpark nearby on a Sunday night. 

They close off several main roads in the centre of town for this event and allow hundreds of locals to have stalls to sell their wares.  Half of the streets are dedicated to endless varieties of food being grilled, fried, and simmered – and the aroma is simply amazing.  When you find something that you'd like to try, you gently elbow your way through the crowd to the "chef", place your order, hand over a few coins, and then put your elbows up again as bumper bars to protect your purchase as you make your way to a nearby shop door or alleyway.  These are the only relatively people-free spots to eat.  We used a “divide and conquer” strategy, where we each headed to a different stall then re-grouped at a pre-determined spot to share the spoils and try little bits of everything.  Like I said, savvy travellers!  We made it down one side of the road before we were all satisfactorily stuffed, to find that this is only the start of the next section which is vendors selling everything else that is not food related like hats/bags etc- so we have a reason to head back to other markets again sometime in the future. 

The following day we headed in the opposite direction to visit Cape Panwa.  We stumbled across the local aquarium so decided to have a looksie.  It was small but had many varieties of fish that I’d never seen before including this handsome chap – the Alligator Gar.  Either another of nature’s marvels of evolution, or a one-night stand that boggles the mind. 

Positive highlights were the sea turtle hatchery and rehabilitation centre, and sitting through a 10-minute animated movie narrated by an animatronic mermaid that educates children and adults alike on how plastics are destroying our oceans and need to be minimised or mankind will suffer dire consequences. 

Negative highlight was heading out of the movie into the café for a snack served on plastic plates with plastic cutlery and a cool drink with a plastic straw that looked just like the one that killed the turtle in the film.  Perhaps it’s a test to see whether little Timmy (Tim Mee?) was paying attention, or if he has a memory like the colorful goldfish doing laps of the tank nearby. Just say no to plastic, kids.

After a very enjoyable first week, we had our first Traveller-beware experience, so I'll share it here to help someone else avoid this happening in the future...

Coming from New Zealand I can be too relaxed and carefree when abroad, whereas Sandra’s African upbringing can make her overly paranoid – so between us we strike the right balance of “safety conscious tourists having relaxed fun”.  We padlock our bags when we stroll around markets and have empty pockets on busy trains, we use the in-room safe, and we lock our doors and windows even when staying on the third floor.  So when we arrived at our villa, we did a safety check and found the safe was pre-locked (and no key could be located) and all the doors and windows were left unlocked.  We had disturbed the cleaning crew when we first checked in to the property, so they quickly finished up and must have forgotten to lock up as we were already there. Before bed that first night, I went around and locked everything once more and checked it twice, and we stashed valuables in out-of-sight spots throughout the rest of the week as the safe was unavailable. 

At the end of our stay, we had our very own pool party at home, finished off the last of our duty free, and went to bed a little tipsy for the first time (this week).  I was a slow starter the next morning, and Sandra joked that I must have been more drunk than tipsy as, in addition to dropping my new cologne on the bathroom tiles and having to clean up the broken glass (guilty), I had left my wallet on the floor in the kitchen and misplaced Sandra’s new UE Boom Bluetooth speaker somewhere between the pool and the bedroom (not guilty).

As it happens a side door to the kitchen was mysteriously unlocked, and someone had scaled the fence at this exact spot under the cover of darkness and come inside whilst we slept blissfully unaware nearby.  Luckily for us they had only come as far as the kitchen table where they took my wallet and the speaker.  Double-lucky was they took the small amount of cash from my wallet and dropped it on their way out the door meaning they missed out on taking my ATM card and they left the car keys.  Triple lucky was that we had not tucked our laptop away on that one night, and it was sitting a few metres away from the scene of the crime. 

Coincidentally this all happened the day after our mid-week clean.  Maybe one of the cleaners accidentally knocked the lock to this one door and maybe the burglar just happened to pick the right spot to jump the fence to find the only unlocked door at the property.  There was a security camera right above this spot, but we found we would have to spend 1-2 days waiting at the police station to get access to the footage but were checking out to head off on the next leg of our journey.  Maybe those involved knew that too. 

Instead of fretting, we will take the lesson and count our blessings that things were not as bad as they could have been.  Karma is a fundamental concept of Buddhism, so in this part of the world I’d imagine it will deal out a hefty punishment to the offenders on our behalf. 

Okay, everyone back in the pool!

All in all, we loved this first week.  After dropping MG back, and re-packing our backpacks, we waved goodbye to Phuket (for now) and headed off to the local pier and our next adventure – Linda’s Birthday on the iconic Koh Phi Phi Island!!

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10 months ago

Was an Amazing unforgetable trip with Sandra and Tony very well documented. Thanks Guys.

Kate Spurling
10 months ago

Sounds like a wonderful first week minus the theft! Sorry you guys encountered that, here’s hoping for an uneventful next few months! Great writings Tony, look forward to the next update xx

Doreen Jones
10 months ago

Oh wow, sleeping with one eye open has a new meaning. Still sounds great. Enjoy

Gina Gerrard
10 months ago

Wow fabulous start to an amazing adventure still unfolding. I'm sure loads of precious jewels are yet to be uncovered and memories yet made. Happy holidays xx

Elizabeth Jones
10 months ago

Onwards and upwards - new places to go to and time to explore. Glad you didn't let your encounter dampen your spirits.

Great writing keep at it guys xx

9 months ago

Shiiiiiiit, sorry to hear you had a bit of 'wandering' belongings. But happy to read everything is as amazing as I hoped it'd be. Happy journeys! Xxx