Phuket, Pt. II

Day two, Saturday, is the entire reason that I had to break this blog post up into different parts. It’s quite the story. Here we go!

After another happy helping of roti and eggs, we trekked to the pier to hop on a ferry over to Koh Yao Noi, one of the lesser populated islands surrounding Phuket. After sitting down on the back of the boat, a man turned around to say, “I hear North American accents.” He introduced himself as Dan, an American. Funnily enough, he is from the same suburban Chicago area that I am (Glen Ellyn)! Small world. He and his wife, Nook (who was with him) had been living in Las Vegas for the past couple of years with their children. They also have a house on Koh Yao Noi, and was their first trip back to in some time. I have to say that he did fit the “Western man in Thailand” trope, in that he was socially clumsy and had an air of entitlement about him (“check it out, I’m married to a pretty Thai woman”). Despite this, he was conversational and kind, so there was really no harm there.

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30 minutes of slightly awkward small talk later (of which Andre bore the brunt, bless him), we stepped off onto the barren island pier without much of a plan, to be honest. That’s when Dan and Nook invited us to their home on the coast, where they had two kayaks that they would lend us. Of course, we jumped at the offer and hopped in a taxi (a.k.a the back of a truck). Can’t deny that good ol’ Midwestern hospitality, even in Thailand!

Unrelated insertion: I use parenthetical statements too often, I KNOW, I’m working on it. Okay, back to the story.

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Dan and Nook’s home is nestled in greenery, a small bungalow-like property complete with three dogs that greeted us with gusto. We chatted with the couple for a little bit before borrowing their two single-person kayaks to go around the island. Dan let us know which direction to go in for the best views, and apparently warned Andre saying that we should come back sooner rather than later because of low tide. He didn’t think that’d be a problem, as we needed to return before too long anyway in order to catch the last ferry off of the island at 4:30 p.m. Off we went!

Alas, I did not bring my phone or camera with me, so I don’t have any photos. Words will have to do. To my left, there were the foggy grey shadows of islands in the distance, at varying heights. They seemed clustered, though I’m sure that was an optical illusion in some sense. To my right, massive faces of rock towered over. Eons of erosion created half-caves where the water met the land, perfect for gliding through on a kayak. When you got close enough to the rock you could let yourself float through this pseudo canal, gently leaning back and forth to avoid being brushed in the face by hanging vines. It was eerily quiet, save the sound of the waves and wildlife chanting in the distance. A few wild beaches dotted the coast, a mix of rocky and smooth. Eventually we wanted to settle on one of the beaches to relax and swim for a bit.

We attempted to go for the most prolific-looking wild beach, but of course a speedboat containing a very touristy couple pulled up to said beach just as we were arriving. It must be a place where a local will bring you for peace & quiet, if you pay the right amount. So we turned around and chose another, slightly more rocky beach. I was actually quite pleased with the choice anyhow. There was a good deal of shade thanks to a giant rock, a welcome respite for my sun-singed thighs and shoulders. I didn’t even need a towel, I just laid on the sand and rested. It was lovely.

On the other side of this beach boulder was a much sunnier chunk of beach, with a very welcoming shoreline. A downside of wild beaches? The sea bottom is a textural nightmare. I kept tripping over rocks and dead coral, followed by stepping into what felt like sand diarrhea. Luckily the scenery and the warm water made up for it.

45 minutes later we decided it was probably wise to head back and give ourselves some time to get to the pier for the last boat. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed these strange formations of tiny balls of sand on the beach behind the rock. I crouched down to investigate and discovered dozens of small, sand-colored crabs. They would scurry about on the beach, paddling their claws back and forth to form these balls, leave them there and then move onto the next. Together they formed a constellation. It was weirdly beautiful, like I was witnessing an episode of Planet Earth.

Andre and I kayaked back and began to approach what we *thought* was the area where we needed to turn and go into shore to find the house. As we started to go in, it became curiously more and more difficult to paddle. The water was only a few inches deep. That’s when we discovered that low tide had already set in – one kilometer out from the shore. We could no longer kayak; we would have to drag both of them out to shore. Cue the overly dramatic orchestra music.

Let me say that I had brought nothing with me except a bottle of water and my swimsuit, which I was wearing. Imagine looking at an expanse of mud, sand, dead coral, and rock – the same stuff you just cut your feet on swimming casually – with no shoes on. I’m trying to stay calm and optimistic.

Luckily, Nook had been watching for us from a distance and began walking out in our direction when she saw the realization sink in. She brought me flip flops, the absolute angel. At first, we  analyzed the situation. Realistically there was no way we were going to make this last ferry.  We only had half an hour until the boat left. According to Nook, we could either A. Pay for a private boat to take us back to Phuket for the hefty cost of 7,000 Baht (almost equivalent to my monthly rent), or we can find a place to stay on the island for the night and forego our original hotel. The money simply wasn’t there for a private boat, so it was decided for us: we’d have to stay on the island. But that was a situation to deal with later – for now, we needed to get these kayaks out of here.

We tried tying the kayaks together so we could bring them out simultaneously, but that wasn’t working. We were only going to be able to get them in one at a time, so all three of us picked one up and started for the shore. We kept having to stop because, well, it’s tiring work carrying a kayak across a sticky, rocky mess! My flip flops kept getting stuck in the mud and coming off. I’m actually lucky I didn’t fall. How unusual for me.

After about the third time we had to stop and take a break, Nook seemed fed up with the situation. I felt about 1 centimeter tall at this point for putting her through this. She told us to stay put while she goes to ask two men on the beach if they’d be willing to help. Feeling terrible, Andre and I try to tackle at least the one kayak we’ve got and keep moving without Nook. The two men seemed to have agreed to the deal and have started walking out towards us. When they reach us, they say, “Don’t worry. Leave it there. Go to the beach.” At first it seemed like they were trying to be polite, and we said that it was no problem for us to help. But they were insistent on us dropping the kayak and walking out. So we did, reluctantly.

A tiny Nook is in the distance on her motorbike, which is on the road just behind the beach. The closer we get to the shore, the better we can see her. She’s waving her hands and saying something. Eventually we can make it out: “Hurry! Run!!”

“Get on,” she said once we reached the bike. “I called a taxi. We will meet them at the house. They will drive you to the pier. They called the pier and asked the last ferry to wait for you. I don’t know how long they will wait, but you can try.” A mixture of adrenaline, guilt, and appreciation soars through me as we pile on to the back of her motorbike before ripping down the road.

Eventually we meet a taxi (again, a truck) and quickly dismount. Nook had all of my things in her front basket. I returned her hopelessly dirty flip flops to her. Before getting on the taxi, I begged her to let us pay her for the trouble. She wouldn’t have it and wished us luck. Every moral fiber of my being is resisting the end of this story but we had no time to waste. The boat was waiting for us. We thanked her profusely for everything and were on our way. The pier was not nearly as far from Dan and Nook’s house as we thought, and we actually arrived 3 minutes early, thanks in part to the taxi driver’s speed.

Sitting on that boat on our way back to Phuket, splattered with sand and mud, salty hair, makeup running, I felt jaded. What just happened? This picturesque afternoon exploring some of Thailand’s best natural beauty was all of a sudden turned into an intense, intrepid quest against time. I wish we would have at least gotten Dan and Nook’s surnames so we could connect with them on social media, to thank them properly. I’m compelled to go back to the island to find them. Maybe one day.

At this point in the story it is only about 5:00 p.m., but I think a 1719-word story is quite enough for one post. More in the next one!

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Phuket, Pt. I

I just spent 3.5 days in Phuket over a long weekend (that I accidentally made one day longer after misinterpreting the national holiday calendar). I’m happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by what it had to offer – not that I expected it to be a shit show of any kind. I had been made to believe that Phuket was a cornucopia of beach bars and resorts, a place for Westerners to check “island adventure” off their list. Alas, there is more to it! Fancy that.

My friend Andre started talking to me about his plans for Phuket a few weeks ago. I’d been telling him that I’m having a great time in Thailand thus far, but have been finding that there aren’t many people who have the same travel personality as I do. Turns out that Andre and I are actually quite aligned in that respect and he kindly invited me to tag along.

The idea that hooked me in the first place was to avoid Patong and instead make home base in Phuket Town. It’s known for being a quieter, colonial town that’s more centrally located. This sounded like heaven to me. I’m quickly tiring of the drinking & partying scene here in Thailand and wanted something different (but not something too “plain bagel”, either). It truly lived up to the reputation.

We stayed at The Rommanee Boutique Hotel right in the middle of town, which proved to be both an excellent choice in stay and in location. The vibe on all of Rommanee (street) reminded me of the outdoor patio at The Court of Two Sisters in New Orleans, with the pastel lilac vines and twinkly lights hanging from above. Very quaint, almost suspiciously cute – but I chose not to question it. The first day was spent exploring and walking around Phuket Town. Just down the street was this tiny restaurant that specialized in Roti. After a series of misunderstandings in our order (common!), we ended up with three different types of Roti – fried egg, banana, and egg & banana together. Along with some fresh coffee, it was absolutely delicious and quite cheap. It ended up being breakfast for three of the four mornings.

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Wandering ensued afterwards, and I mean that in the true sense of the word. There wasn’t a whole lot of planning involved. We’d see a interesting mural over there, and then get a glimpse of a building that was featured in Lonely Planet, then stop to admire the unusual quietness of the markets. It’s like the traveler’s version of “follow your nose”.

After a brief respite, we switched to hiking mode and decided to trek up Rang Hill to a lookout point with an apparently spectacular view. I use the term “trek” lightly. It was quite leisurely, actually. It was a mostly cloudy day and everything’s a little easier without the sun beating down on you. The lookout did have a expansive view that I think was particularly captivating at the time we were there, dusk. I’m biased, though, as I’m a sucker for the sun on the horizon. Plus, there were these trees with roots and branches in tangled knots, begging to be climbed. We allowed ourselves a few minutes of slightly juvenile Tarzan time (and a couple of unwanted encounters with cicada exoskeletons) before walking back down to town.

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It was Asahna Puja Day (July 8th) and so we made a point to stop by a local temple to watch the proceedings. Many people circled the temple, holding slim burning candles and lotus flowers. Lots of bats whipped around as well, which gave it a slightly eerie vibe. Ever loyal to Lonely Planet, we headed to dinner at a LP-recommended Italian-Thai fusion restaurant called The Cook. It was such an odd pairing of cuisines that I felt the need to go to what seemed to be the heaviest extreme – Tom Yum Goong pizza. You know what? It was delicious! In a rare circumstance I did not eat the whole thing, and unfortunately half of the pizza will live the rest of its life sitting in the hotel fridge. 😦

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RIP.

The following day was quite the adventure on Ko Yao Noi. In short, beware of the low tide. More to come on Day Two, Day Three, and Day Four later!