Thursday, 22 Jan 2009
We’ve never been to Phuket in all our years of travels, and the elevation of the island to #12 in the New York Times “44 Places to Go in 2009” prompted us to make the trip from our base in Krabi. So today we finally touched Phuket for the first time, after hearing so much about it.
Leaving Aonang, we pass through a concentration of Muslim villages, where decently-sized mosques are very much ubiquitous.
At a breakfast stall, we are bemused to find the fare similar to the ones we find in our home state of Kelantan.
A major junction, we duly take left.
And bump into a convoy of lorries carrying precious gypsum from Nakhon Si Thammarat on the way to Krabi for shipment by sea.
Soon after we are pleasantly surprised by the quality of the road, toll-free of course!
At a place where we see a huge elephant, there’s a major junction: left to Phuket, right to Phang Nga and all the way north to Rayong, at the Myanmar border.
Then more splendid highway, all free-of-charge!
Almost 2 hours after leaving Aonang, we cross the bridge linking mainland Asia to the island of Phuket.
All land traffic must pass through a checkpoint at the end of the bridge, where some useful tips are dispensed.
There’s a sizeable Muslim population in Phuket, and mosques are common.
An hour later we are at Patong, an icon of Phuket, where the street signs show minimal Thai scripts, …
… but yes, we are indeed in Phuket now.
At Patong, the access roads to the beach suddenly become ‘drive on the right-side of the road’, so the many Europeans here will definitely feel at home.
This is the famous Patong Beach of Phuket, all 3km of the sandy cove, where colourful chairs and umbrellas crowd the beach.
On 26 Dec 2004, on a similar day as today’s, Patong Beach bore the brunt of the Tsunami, killing many people lazing on the beach. Imagine a wall of water appearing over the horizon, and being squeezed by the cove and the shallow water, it reached the height of coconut trees before smashing the land.
But now it’s back to the good old times.
The usual water activities are in full swing.
Many Europeans flock here to escape the bitter winter back in their homelands. A Swedish couple says back home near the Arctic Circle, it’s -22C!
Everybody seems to be enjoying themselves.
The main road fronting Patong Beach, which was decimated by Tsunami 2004, is always a hive of activities, …
… where fancy bikes are displayed among the plain rental ones.
In the streets, probably 3/4 of the people wandering around are Caucasians.
Daytime and the streets look sterile and sane.
I’m sure come nightfall these spots would transmogrify into a totally new world, in keeping with Patong being the party-capital of Phuket.
Leaving Patong and I realise how cosmopolitan the place really is.
Heading south along the west coast of Phuket island, we pass beautiful Karon Beach, but it is at Kata Beach that we find some real tranquility.
Neat long rows of the ubiquitous beach chairs facing the Andaman.
The equally-ubiquitous farangs are, as always, packed inside the local minibus.
The road passing Kata Beach reminds me of southern California …
… but of course, minus the sacred offerings outside a newly-opened joint.
A few kilometers further south, up a hill overlooking the sea, we find lunch at a Bob Marley temple.
Patrons can either sit at normal tables or on a long bench facing the Andaman.
If you are feeling adventurous, have your meals or drinks on a platform high above the ground.
The restaurant has an airy, carefree ambience.
To the strain of ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, we rip into our seafood grill in no time. This ain’t no self-defence, man!
Before leaving Bob and his Wailers, I’m tempted to try this thing out, but thought the better of it. Could be painful.
Reggae lunch done, we head east towards Phuket City on the east coast, and wa-hey, we find the latest hip spot in the whole island – a spanking new shopping complex, some parts still under construction.
The first time ever I see a double-parking etiquette …
… and a ‘Hello Kitty’ number plate. I wouldn’t be caught dead with this thing on my car!
There’s a serious number of Muslims in Phuket, as the case is with Krabi Province.
The new roads in Phuket cut through rubber plantations, found aplenty here.
And yes, another Tsunami 2004 pilgrimage for me.
A memorial is constructed along the main highway out of Phuket, at the northern tip of the island, between the airport and the only bridge connecting it to the mainland.
Flags of the victims’ countries flutter in the late afternoon breeze.
The German altar …
… and here, a British father’s memory of his two dead sons.
One last look at ‘Mai Khao Wall of Remembrance’. This spot was actually the site where all tsunami dead were brought for identification (5,400 died, from 46 countries), some kept for a long time in refrigerated units and being buried here if unclaimed.
A short while later we cross the bridge linking Phuket to mainland Thailand.
A narrow waterway separates the island, a popular spot for anglers.
Again, back on excellent roads all the way to Krabi.
At a rest area, I spot a minibus which looks terribly overloaded. Is a whole village moving or what?
After our coffee, we catch up with the same minibus, 30min later on a minor road to Krabi. I’m told these are Myanmar nationals who have just arrived in Thailand, probably being taken to work in oil palm or rubber estates around Krabi.
In any case I prefer an overloaded two-wheeler anytime.
After a whole day on the road clocking some 400km, we are back at our Aonang Beach for another glorious sunset. And Phuket is just 50km away, as the crow flies, somewhere under the setting sun.
My verdict on Phuket
Worthy of at least one visit by any traveller, to witness how the Thais have managed to cleverly turn a typical tropical island into a world-beating tourism product.
> THE END
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