Tag Archives: Phuket

Goodbye Thailand

11 May

After 3 months, we have to say goodbye to Thailand. We had an amazing trip to Southeast Asia. We decided it appropriate to open the bottle of Champagne we brought with us from San Diego to toast our last sunset on Kamala beach.

And after dinner on the beach, we lit a paper lantern and watched it disappear into the night sky.

Until next time…

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A Newbie’s Guide to Phuket: If I knew then what I know now…

4 May
Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Ron and I have one more week left of our 3 month trip to Thailand before we head to Spain.  We are grateful of the opportunity we had to “live” with the locals in this beautiful country.

What brought us to Thailand, of all places?  Well, we first wanted warm weather.  And nice beaches.  Oh, and a good place to live on a budget.  We did a lot of research before we left California about Thailand and where we thought we would live.  We now realize there were some things we didn’t know before we left and wish we did.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

This blog is for people considering going to Thailand, specifically Phuket and may have some helpful information for you based solely on our views and opinions.  Here is a list of things we really love about Phuket:

  • New friends we made

    New friends we made

    Thai people- they are some of  the most warm, welcoming people you will ever meet.  They really go out of their way to help you, even if they can’t personally.  They will find someone who can.

  • Weather – we visited from February – May, during “high” season and only saw rain once from Feb – Mar.  The days are warm and sunny, the nights comfortable.

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    Enjoying good, cheap street food.

  • Beaches – There are so many to choose from!  We loved walking Kamala (where we lived) beach at dusk when it’s not too hot.
  • Massages- You can have a wonderful 1 hr massage for $10US everywhere you go.
  • Thai Food – How about ordering 1 Chicken with mixed vegetables, 1 Fried Rice w/Chicken and a bottle of water for $4.80US?  Not too bad.
  • It was inevitable

    Songkran Festival

    Songkran Festival- April is the Thai new year and it’s celebrated by splashing people with water to wish them luck for the upcoming year.  Get your water pistols out and join the fun!

  • Jungcelyon Mall – There is a modern movie theatre on the 3rd floor that shows first rate movies in English.  On Wednesday, the price is $3.40pp.  Before every movie,  a tribute to the King will be played and it’s mandatory to stand during it.
  • Bartering- Thai people are very proud and there is a scientific way to negotiate prices with them.  They will give you a price first (shown to you on a calculator) and you should barter with them to pay 1/2 the original quoted price by going back and forth.  If they are stuck on a higher price, then just walk away.  That will restart the bargaining again.  They enjoy this and will act put out by “allowing” your lowered price, but once they agree, everyone is all smiles.

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    Prices and chair choices for movie theatre

  • Meeting people from all parts of the world – We have met people on tours and restaurants from Finland to Australia, South Africa to Bali.
  • English- Is spoken widely in Phuket.  We rarely had difficulty in conversing with people and if we did, I took out my iPhone and used Google Translate.
  • Medical Care- Since Thailand is a medial vacation destination, prices for services at Bangkok Phuket Hospital were a 1/3 of what you pay in the US.  We had a dentist cleaning for $30US and a partial physical with bloodwork for $34US.  The hospital is every bit as modern if not more than those in the US.
  • Shopping – Thailand is not the third world country you may of thought it was.  In the bigger cities like Patong, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you will see American fast food places like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Starbucks and Haagen Dazs ice cream.  In Bangkok you will find ultra modern malls with stores like Chanel, H&M, Coach, etc.  I managed to find a Krispy Kreme in the Paragon Mall in Bangkok, which was next to the Aunt Annie’s Pretzels.
  • Internet (a favorite topic of mine) – I purchased a local Happy sim card for $5 and added a 1G of 3G for 1 month for $13.75.  If you use more than 1G, you’ll receive a text allowing you to purchase a “booster” of another 1G for $5!  You can add money from any of the gazillion 7-11s in Thailand.  I was even able to make my iPhone a wifi “hotspot”.
  • Our current mode of transportation.

    Our current mode of transportation.

    We loved not having a car and driving our scooter everywhere.  You don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your helmut.  Just leave it on your scooter with no worries. And make sure you don’t fill up at places that sell “bottles” of gas.  They are a rip-off.  Look for regular gas stations and single gas pumps on the side of the road.

So you see, there are plenty of things to like about Phuket.  Next, I’ll discuss some of the “less desirable” things we noticed about living here.

Our kitchen

Our kitchen

  • Lodging- For what we wanted, we found it to be expensive.  You can live very cheaply in Phuket if you want to stay in a hostel or rent a room that doesn’t have a kitchen.  Prices go down even further after May.  We like to cook and found it very difficult before we arrived to find lodging and decided to just look once we got here.  We hired a driver and drove around the west side of the island and settled on Kamala.  It’s a lot quieter than Patong, but close enough for shopping and our weekly movies.  We rented a one bedroom condo with a kitchen (no oven as they are rare to find here) 5 minutes to the beach and it cost $400US a month more than we budgeted.   Next time we think we’d prefer the more livelier Kata/Karon area.
  • Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Restaurants- For a short visit, there would be no issues.  But for a longer stay, you might want a change from Thai food and the choices are schnitzel, spaghetti bolognese, pizza and fried chicken.  We could not find a Mexican or American restaurant near us.  If you want a really nice meal, you can find them, but you will pay close to US prices.  We enjoyed Mom’s Tri Kitchen in Kata, where it seemed they had more variety of restaurants.

  • Big C grocery store in Patong

    Big C grocery store in Patong

    Grocery prices- We shopped at the Big C in Patong, and once every 10 days rented a car and drove to Phuket Town to visit the big Tesco-Lotus and my personal favorite,  Tops Central Market because it has more of American branded products and a gourmet bakery.  If you cook in and want things like cheeses, crackers, olive oil, you will pay double what you paid in the US.  There is at least a double if not more tax on imports here.  Locally grown lettuce will be very cheap, but a box of Chips Ahoy will set you back. For the same reason, wine, champagne and liquor will not be cheap.  Local beers in a bar are inexpensive at $2US.

  • Car Rentals- Most Thais can’t afford a car and use scooters.  It’s expensive to rent a car.  We pay between $30-40 a day to rent a car when we need to.  A scooter costs us $85 a month.
  • Construction- Phuket is booming right now and there is construction going on everywhere building new hotels and condos.  There is still only 1 main road in most areas and the traffic is getting worse.  We are afraid that overbuilding has already begun and is changing the landscape daily.
  • Phang Nha Bay

    Phang Nha Bay

    Foreigners – As we said, we met a lot of different people but what we didn’t know was that the top 3 visitors to Phuket are: 1.  Chinese  2.  Russians  3.  Australians.

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Living in the US does not afford us the opportunity to run into Russian tourists too often.  Phuket, however, has a strong influx of Russian tourists. In our experience, we found them to be very unfriendly, rude and down right arrogant.  Too many times to count, we were cut in front of, reached over, or not acknowledged by them.  I continually read in the local newspaper of problems the Thais had with the Russians.  When we talked to Thai people,  they all stated a similiar dislike for them. They told us how the Russians refuse to speak English to them.  They think the Thai’s should speak Russian.  Our tour guide in Bangkok told us that Phuket has a serious problem with the Russian mob influence and the local Thai’s put up with them because they are afraid of losing their business so they tolerate their bad behavior.

  • Beaches- If you are coming to Phuket to see pristine beaches from
    Rows of chairs at Patong Beach

    Rows of chairs at Kamala Beach

    magazines,  you might be disappointed.   Due to the increase in tourists and boat traffic, the beaches on the west coast during high season are overcrowded with rows of beach chairs and umbrellas and littered.  Sometimes you may not be able to see your feet while in the water.  We found Patong beach to be the worst offender.  During one walk on the beach, we collected 3 bags of trash left by visitors.  We didn’t visit the Phi Phi islands as we were told how crowded they are and wanted to avoid that.

  • Patong – Very crowded, often times omitting a sewer smell and difficult to walk around due to lack of sidewalks on some streets.
  • Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Golf- Very expensive to play in Phuket at $150pp a round and up.

  • Beauty Salon Prices- For women who are looking for a quality manicure & pedicure, maybe a haircut and color, you will probably not save a whole bunch from what it costs in the US.  An OPI gel polish in Patong costs $34US.

Here are some observations we feel are important to know:

  • Shoes- The majority of Thais are Buddhists and believe the feet are the most dirty part of a body.  It is their custom to remove your shoes before entering a temple, a person’s home and some businesses.
    No shoes allowed inside

    Shoes outside a business

     

  • The King- Is loved by everyone in Thailand.  In fact, you should NEVER say anything negative about him.  We accidently dropped a coin with the King’s pictures on it and Ron stepped on the coin to prevent it from rolling away.  Our guide warned us to never use your feet on anything related to the king as that would be very disrespectful and could cause one to be arrested.
  • Eating Out- We found it cheaper to eat out than buy groceries and cook in.  Steak is very expensive in Thailand as it’s imported from Australia and New Zealand.  Remember, anything imported will be expensive.  When we did try and order steak a couple of times, we were very disappointed.
  • Eating Out Part II-  What ever you order will come out of the kitchen one at a time.  You will not be served the appitizer first as in the US.  As they make the dishes, is how it comes out of the kitchen.
  • Watering station vs. armed pickup

    Watering station vs. armed pickup

    If you can be in Thailand during their New Years celebration Songkran, we highly recommend it.  Join the locals in wishing everyone luck in the upcoming year by pouring water on them. But if you don’t want to get wet, definitely stay inside!!

  • Prices come down on lodging after May, however, the moonsoon season starts. The humidity and overcast skies begin mid-April and start in full force in May.   We found out it started a little early this year and if your only means of transportation is a scooter, you will either get very wet to go out to eat or you need a kitchen to prepare meals in the event it rains.
  • We decided to see other parts of Thailand and traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok.  Although we are beach lovers, we decided Chiang Mai had a better mix of people, culture and restaurants for us.  We also took a weeks vacation to Vietnam and loved it there.  You can read about that in our other blogs.

As our observations are purely personal, we hope this helps you if you are deciding to visit Phuket.  We are so grateful we were able to live in this beautiful country briefly and would love to return some day for it’s beauty and simply way of life.

Kamala beach sunset

Kamala beach sunset

Gallery

Interesting Signs We’ve Seen

19 Apr

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Happy New Year (Songkran Festival)

13 Apr

April 13th begins Thailand’s New Year celebration called Songkran.  It involves the throwing of water on passersby to wish them good luck for the coming year.

The majority of Thais are Buddhists.  According to Wikipedia, “the throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand (temperatures can rise to over 100°F or 40°C on some days). This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles”.

So, Ron and I needed to take the scooter to the big food store about 15 minutes away.  On our way, we passed “watering stations” of people with barrels of water, bazooka water guns and buckets splashing people passing by.  We were lucky on our way to the food store in that we barely got wet.  The ride home was a different story…

We were approaching a huge watering station and Ron tried to speed up a little to soften the inevitable blow but these are seasoned Songkran participants who managed to throw an entire bucket of water up in the air just as we were approaching and we drove right into it.  As I was sitting on the back of the scooter, Ron took the brunt of that hit.

Our next obstacle was to get past the traffic signal that was coming up.  This other group had set up a watering station just before the light so if the light was red, you were a sitting duck.  We planned our attack:  we would slow the scooter to wait till the light turned green, then gun it!  Well, it didn’t work out that way.  Locals with pickup trucks were driving around town carrying 5-10 people in the truck bed armed with water guns.  The truck ahead of us slowed down to combat the watering station group and then the light turned red.  Okay, no problem, while those two are battling on our left, we snuck past on the right and waited for the light to change hoping to be ignored.  Just when we thought we were safe, the car on our right rolled down their window and shot their water gun at us!  Needless to say, we were pretty wet by the time we reached our condo.

Ron and I decided to unpack the food and head back out with just my camera so I could take pictures of the festivities.  We drove to the big intersection where there was a lot of action and I stood out of firing distance and took some video and pictures.  It seemed like everyone was having so much fun that we decided to join in.  We were already wet anyway.

Our favorite local Thai restaurant called Popeye’s was just across the street.  We saw them all out dancing in the street and pouring water on people and scooters as they passed by.  We parked our scooter a little further away and slowly walked toward them.  One man saw us coming and decided to come greet us.  He managed to pour the first of many bowls of water over Ron’s head and that’s how our fun began.

They had a 55 gal bucket of water, a DJ playing American music, and free food.  After I put my camera away in the scooter, I was greeted the same way as Ron with bowls of water over my head.  The stores next to us had their own party going and one across the street so between all the groups dousing each other, we also tried to get anyone who dared to pass through.

One of the ladies came over to us and showed us the table that was set up with different Buddhas.  She showed us how to take some of the water in the gold bowl with the gold cup and pour some over each Buddha so that we might also have good luck in the coming year.  Then another lady came over with the traditional talc powder and put a streak on our faces to wish us health and luck.

We enjoyed watching everyone having a good time but Ron got restless.  He didn’t have a gun, so I told him to take the scooter down the street to the supermarket and buy one.  He came back with a big bazooka water gun and a huge grin on his face.  He said when we walked into the store dripping wet, all the cashiers were laughing at him.

There was a 8-year-old boy who didn’t speak english in our group.  When we were “attacked” by a group of boys from around the corner, Ron helped his little friend by attacking them back for the rest of the afternoon.

My favorite moment was when the local fire department came by with the fire truck to refill everyone’s garbage cans of water!  The tradition says that the more wet you get, the more luck you will have in the coming year.  If it holds true, Ron and I should have A LOT of luck coming our way 🙂

A Day at the Beach in Phuket, Thailand

9 Mar
Kamala Beach

Kamala Beach

Phuket is a very large island, about the size of Singapore.  It’s situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. It’s about 31 miles long and 12 miles wide.The primary income is derived from tourism.  And there is a good reason for that: it’s beaches!  There are a lot of beautiful beaches scattered around. We have only made it to a few of them so far. This is a view of Kamala Beach from the water on a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and some scattered clouds to give you a nice break. Many of the beaches have vendors walking by selling all kinds of food and other items. They are not ‘in your face’ like some places and usually just walk on by unless you make eye contact. They love to negotiate, so don’t accept the first price! As an example, Dee wanted a Sarong. The lady offered it for 600 baht and we paid 180 baht, still maybe too much. lol

Cool Beach Bar

Cool Beach Bar

Kamala Beach, just north of Patong,  is a long beach which is great for walking. And, if you happen to get thirsty along the way,  there are lots of bars and restaurants all along the way. We stopped at this one and had a great conversation with two guys (here on business hmmm) from Slovania. We also met a guy that rents Hobie Cats, so we will be doing that in the very near future. Cheers!

Dee enjoying a cold Heiniken

Dee enjoying a cold Heineken

Here is Dee enjoying an ice cold beer and we noticed all bars here serve water and beer in a coozie…a nice touch!

Phuket is mostly mountainous, so there are always great vantage points along the road…Here is a view of Kamala Beach from high up on the mountain.

A hidden beach just down from Kamala

Laem Singh Beach

Here is another ‘hidden’ beach just up the road.    Its called   Laem Singh beach and you have to park your scooter on the road and climb down a lot of stairs to get to this beach.  They have beach chairs, umbrellas and of course massages on the beach to make your climb worthwhile!

You can see from the pictures how clear the waters are in Phuket.  Kamala beach is a good swimming beach.  The sand is soft and the sea floor has no rocks or pebbles to walk on.  You can actually walk out pretty far before the water gets deep.

Ron Cooling off

Ron Cooling off

Dee Cooling off

Dee Cooling off

Here is Ron and Dee cooling off in the Andaman Sea.  And not only are the beach chairs and umbrella prices reasonable ($7.00 US for 2 chairs and an umbrella), the person who sold them to you will come around and sweep the sand off the bottom of your chairs and readjust your umbrella so that you stay in the shade.  Nice touch!

2004 Tsunami:

On December 26, 2004, Phuket and other nearby areas on Thailand’s western coast suffered extensive damage when they were struck by a tsunami, caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.  The first sign of trouble happened when the sea receded  to expose about 1.6 miles of beach.  Fish were seen flopping on the sea floor.  Locals and visitors were in awe of what was going on, and without an early warning system,   came to see the beach line.  Little did they know that this is a warning sign of a tsunami.  Not too long thereafter, the first wave struck, destroying several highly popular areas in the region, killing 5300 people and tens of thousands more throughout the Asian region.  In December 2006, Thailand launched the first of the 22 US made tsunami-detection buoys to be positioned around the Indian Ocean as part of a regional warning system.

Here is a picture of a warning system on the beach in Patong, Phuket.

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As the sun sets over the water, it’s time to pack up and head home…or did I hear someone say happy hour?

Sunset over the Sea

Sunset over the Sea

Different Modes Of Transportation

24 Feb

You have a few choices when it comes to getting around Phuket. Believe it or not, a car might be your least likely way for a few reasons. One, it’s expensive,  figure on at least $30.00 per day.  Also, Thais drive on the left hand side of the road. There are limited parking spaces and the cost of fuel is expensive.  So, we are doing what most locals and tourists do here, we rented a scooter.  Its cheap, great on gas and never a problem finding parking spaces. We have seen families riding these scooters. They stand a small child at the handle bars, then Dad, Mom and possibly another child on the back end.

Dee and Ron on a scooter

Our mode of transportation

Now, when you need to carry food, packages or your family, a lot of Thais have a side car attached to their scooter.  We have also seen them used as mobile food stands that serve up awesome, inexpensive Thai food!  That’s for another blog .

Scooter with sidecar

Scooter with sidecar

The great thing about having a scooter is you can weave in and out of traffic.  This is great especially in Patong along the beach road where traffic is crazy.  It helps to have previously played the video game Frogger because it’s very similar.  People on scooters just pull out in front of you and it’s expected that you watch out for them!

Scooter in traffic

Scooters in Traffic

Up next are the popular modes of inexpensive transportation in Phuket: Tuk Tuks.  They are small trucks that are converted to carry passangers in the back.  They are less expensive than taking a traditional taxi.  You can find them in abundance in Patong.  A lot of tourists use them to get from their hotel to the beach or to bar hop.

Thai Taxi Van

Red Tuk Tuk

We were on our scooter driving back from Patong to Kamala (playing Frogger along the beach road) and had to take a picture of this “blinged out” Tuk Tuk.  It had neon lights everywhere and LOUD speakers blaring music.

Yellow Tuk Tuk

Blinged Out Tuk Tuk

What we haven’t tried yet, are the Long Boats.  You can take these on day trips to other beaches and other islands like the Phi Phi islands.  That’s where some Hollywood movies were filmed.  Man With The Golden Gun was filmed in these islands and as matter of fact, one of the islands is named James Bond Island.  The other movie was Beaches starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  Again, after we make the trip, we’ll post another blog about it.

Long Boats in Kamala, Phuket, Thailand.

Long Boats in Kamala, Phuket, Thailand.