Many moons ago now, my camera-toting hubby and I took an amazing journey to the Land of Smiles with some of our good friends. This post is, like our New Zealand post was, loonng overdue. But we really loved this trip—the food, the local culture, the heat, the food, the animals, the scenery… did we mention the food? We think our photography has improved quite a lot since 2010 (you’ll have to let us know if you agree!) but this trip was so memorable it deserves a thorough write-up, and today finally is the day!
We flew into Phuket with one of our mates, Matt, just days before the Songkran festival, which celebrates the Thai new year each April. The rest of the world celebrates New Year’s Day, but that’s not nearly enough celebration for the Thais. Each Songkran lasts for a full THREE days, and involves the throwing of water. Yes, the throwing of water. We’ll get to that in Part 2. Of course, it makes total sense why they have this tradition each April, and I’ll explain why…
Our plane landed sometime after 9:00pm in Phuket. Freshly spray-tanned for the first time (OK, not Jeff) and eager to get our hands on some authentic Thai food, we chatted excitedly in the comfortable cool of the airport terminal. We grabbed our luggage, and as we emerged from the throngs of taxi and minivan drivers at the airport exit we were blasted by a wall of humidity. This was humidity like I’ve never before experienced—thick, pea-soup humidity. I had experienced humidity before elsewhere, and I’m certainly used to heat having grown up as a “desert rat” in California’s Coachella Valley where it wasn’t uncommon for summer temperatures to reach 50°C. But Thailand in April is a different beast. Be wary of those Phuket resorts claiming a “free sauna” as it could very well be a convenient loophole in advertising.
A very friendly cab driver dropped us off at our accommodation in Surin Beach at nearly 11:00pm and the cream-of-potato-soup humidity had not lifted in the slightest. In fact, to me it felt even hotter. I could not wait to order some authentic Thai food, and luckily we found a local establishment still willing to cook up some grub for us. I was amazed that our stroll down the street resulted in the same quantity of sweat as my normal hour-long Taekwondo class. In an effort to let my body cool down I tried not to move, but it wasn’t helping much as I soaked into the seat cushion, wondering why the restaurant had not chosen metal chairs. I began to feel my newly airbrushed glow slowly melting off of me like a paprika-and-butter glaze oozing off of a thanksgiving turkey.
Now, if you know Jeff and me, you know we love our chili peppers. But on this particular night, my excited declaration of “I’m going to order some Larb!” caused Jeff and Matt to shoot me a “you’re crazy” look as they sipped their cold beers. For those who haven’t tried the delicious dish that is Larb, it consists of ground meat (usually chicken or pork), fresh mint, coriander, red onion, citrus juices, and LOTS of fresh chili. It is acidic and HOT. I dove into the dish, which was indeed extremely spicy and piping hot. Mid-way through the dish I began to feel a bit dizzy as my internal temperature rose with each bite. I once again proclaimed my love for Thai food as the beads of sweat emerged from my hairline, rolled down my forehead and dribbled off my chin.
That night I thanked the heavens (or, our friend Wilson) for booking a hotel with air conditioning. Oh, the luxury of not sleeping in a puddle of your own sweat! Here’s where we stayed. We spent a fair amount of time in that nice pool!
The next day felt a bit more tolerable for this desert rat as it was more chili-pepper hot and less potato-soup humid. We were reunited with our old pals Chris and Wilson and hit the blazing sands of the local beach.
And when I say blazing, I mean that quite literally. Running across the beach required one to wet the soles of one’s feet first, like preparing for a walk across hot coals. We lounged for as long as we could in the shade of a forest of cotton beach umbrellas, and snacked on some more insanely spicy, fresh and delicious papaya salad from a street stall.
Here’s some evidence of the heat in the form of Wilson’s sweat-mustache. Haha!
Then we plunged into the bathtub that was the Indian Ocean. Now, for those who know how big of a wimp I am with the cold, you’ll be familiar with my easy 8-step ocean-entrance procedure:
Step 1: Slowly approach ocean. Dip toe.
Step 2: Retreat
Step 3: Dip same toe, pause
Step 4: Dip whole foot
Step 5: Retreat and wince
Step 6: Dip ankles
Step 7: Remove one foot, wince
Step 8: Repeat and continue until submerged
My usual (and painful) slow slip into the ocean was replaced, for the first time ever, by a glorious full-body flop into the water. Ahhh, Thailand, I think I love you.
We also had to go check out the nearby town of Patong, a touristy mess of wires and neon lights, and plaster, paper mâché and paint-laden establishments that lended a disneyland-like feel. Though the aesthetics left something to be desired, it was still a fun sight to see!
The next day we ventured out on a day trip to the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, where the popular Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach was filmed. Somehow I had not seen the movie until just a few weeks before our trip. It was actually pretty amazing to see how different the island and beach looked in real life.
We also got up close and personal with some cute monkeys, a spot on the tour advertised as a highlight. There were many of them on the tiny beach, although we were dismayed to see how much the tourists and tour guides fed them. These monkeys were drinking cans of coke and many were visibly sick. Please everyone, no matter where you travel, please don’t ever feed the wildlife!
On our final day in Phuket, it was time for some obligatory scooter riding. We buzzed around the island in our swimmers, delighting in the breeze when the bikes were moving. Petrol stations were a new experience!
We shook hands (and had a neck hug) with an adorable baby elephant that we happened to come across on the side of the road:
We had another insanely hot and delicious mid-day lunch by the roadside:
Saw some beautiful views:
And had a watergun fight with a couple of kids! (And with ourselves).
Oh, and some more papaya salad for good measure.
After our delightful few days in Phuket, it was time to head to Bangkok. Our last day in Phuket also marked the start of Songkran, which was quite an experience! Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear all about it and see what else we got up to, including one of the biggest highlights of the trip: PLAYING WITH BABY TIGERS! Yep, you heard that right. Baby tigers. Coming soon. :)