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Phuket Proves to be a Pleasant Surprise

Last week Rotterdam called at Phuket, Thailand, and this post got lost in cyberspace on the way to the Holland America Blog. Better late than never!

In international travel circles, Phuket would seem to have a pretty good name for itself. As we’ve been traveling through Asia we’ve found each destination to be strikingly different. Singapore was not at all like Malaysia thought the two are separated by a very small waterway. Vietnam and China, as different as night and day. And Hong Kong – well it was totally on it’s own. Nothing else compared. But that’s the great thing about a trip like this — every day that we land, we go down the gangway and a new culture, a new society a new set of experiences await us.

Well, Thailand lived up to the expectation that’s now built up that this would be different too. Guide books warned us of aggressive and argumentative cabbies. Traffic was expected to be of L.A. proportions and as a well-known and frequented beach getaway destination for Westerners — notably the Australians, New Zealanders and Europeans, pretty pricy. Happily, none of the preconceptions panned out. The guide books need updating.

We walked off of the ship, started into a pier market set up expressly for our arrival and found a very non-threatening, non-aggressive young man named Bao (pronounced like the front of the ship). He offered his services and his van for the day. He asked for $60 US, we offered $40 and we had a driver-guide for the day. He took us to Phuket town where we saw the local sights: many temples and shops. We had a delicious lunch of shell fish in various local methods of preparation — including a zingy green curry. Cold drinks, very pleasant service, clean and open surroundings — all for under $5.00 U.S. per person.

The big adventure of the day was elephant trekking. Bao took us to a park where we met up with elephant and guide. We were treated to a 30 minute adventure through open field, river bottom and a rubber tree plantation. We saw the white rubber sap running from the tree. When we got close enough to touch it, we pulled what felt like a rubber band off the tree. We saw geckos along the way and rocked and tumbled our way across the Thai countryside.

The last stop of the day was Latoka Beach. On the opposite side of the island from Phuket town, this was a large half-moon crested beach that’s about as developed as it could get. Here we have Waikiki, Jones and Bondi beaches all crowed into one. There were plenty of high rise hotels, there were restaurants and discos, and 7-11’s were everywhere on this island. Fast food joints were all over, as were massage services. There were multiple opportunities for parasailing as well as beach services of lounge chairs and umbrellas everywhere. It was crowded, it was a bit funky but it provided a place to take a nice dip in the ocean, refresh, relax and return to the pier for the inevitable … shopping.

Bargains at the pier were quite excellent. Great shirts, skirts for the ladies, pocketbooks were all at about the lowest prices seen so far. We thought that Vietnam would be hard to beat — but overall the consensus was though not by much, Thailand was the bargain capital of Asia.

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