After a few years away and some careful nudging by my friend Liz, the decision was made to make a return trip to Thailand. It also happened that my 30th birthday was coming up. What better a gift for myself than a trip to the place that started my love of travel?
Thailand will always hold a very special place in my heart for a few reasons. 1 – It’s amazing. The people, the food, the culture. All top-notch. 2 – It’s stunningly beautiful. You know all of those idyllic beach photos you see in calendars and posters? Yep – those exist, and they exist in droves in Thailand. 3 – It’s affordable. Despite the massive influx of tourists young and old, Thailand remains an amazing budget destination. While they boasting more luxury resorts than ever before costing $400-$1000+ a night, there are still no shortage of options well below $50. What does all of this add up to? A beautiful, friendly, fun paradise for travellers of any kind.
I’ll be honest. It didn’t take Liz much nudging to get the tickets booked and time set off from work. We found a good fare sale from our friends at Jetstar, booked the tickets, and waited for the day to board our plane. I was particularly excited that we were flying on the new Boeing Dreamliner 787. Jetstar is an Aussie budget airline but surely, the newest, most innovative aircraft in the world was still going to be a nice way to arrive.
Next stop, Phuket
Flying over “the middle” – vast expanses of red dirt as we crossed the centre of Australia
Given that the focus was on maximising the time spent on the beach we opted to fly into the island of Phuket in the south of Thailand. I was after the calm and serenity of the islands rather than the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Once arriving in Phuket we made our way straight to our hotel, freshened up and headed out to explore.
If you read my prior post on Phuket, I’m not the biggest fan. The main “city” is Patong Beach and it excels at drunken debauchery and dumb drunk tourists. Take my advice – stay at one of the other beach towns north or south but don’t stay in central Patong or anywhere near Bangla Road. We used Patong as a starting point and also so Liz and her friend Jordan could get a feel for the “other” side of Thailand.
Thailand is hot and sticky like most tropical destinations so our time spent in Patong was mostly spent around our pool having a few cocktails.
Given the heat, I was a big fan of our pool.
One of the highlights of our time in Phuket was hiring a driver to take us around the island to a few of the tourist hot spots. I can’t remember what it cost exactly but 1,000 THB sounds familiar – that’s approx US$30. Driver, big air conditioned van, taking us on a private tour all day. Even with a large tip – deal of the century. Sure, Liz and Jordan were a little sketched out because I found him as one of the touts along the beach frontage. He had a business card and spoke good enough English. I mean, what else do you need?
Our first stop was the Tiger Temple. Animal tourism can be a very touchy area for people so I will limit my comments to my experience and a few photos of getting up close with these beautiful animals. The allegations against this type of tourism are that the animals aren’t in their natural habitat (true), they are abused (I didn’t see any signs), and they are drugged (despite vehemently denying this, I can’t make up my mind). On the flip side, I avoid all elephant tourism in Thailand on the basis the animals are mistreated. Call me a hypocrite. Anyways, back to the tigers.
This was a large guy and very awake and active.
The handler kept suggesting I get closer and also pull it’s tail. As you can see, slightly apprehensive.
This one was down for the count. Drugged? maybe. As I said before, they all looked in good heath, good weights, good temperaments. If you do any animal tourism, do your best to avoid the areas where there the animals are being exploited.
After the Tiger Temple we wanted to go see the Big Buddha that sits high atop Phuket. Now, you can either drive up to the car park – take some photos – and leave. But where is the fun in that?
We instead chose to rent jungle buggys and take the 30 minute trip up to Big Buddha driving ourselves through windy, sometimes almost vertical, trails filled with pot holes and jungle overgrowth. It was amazing!
All helmeted up and ready to go
Crossing through open expanses of jungle
Past the local traffic
And finally reaching The Big Buddha
Photo courtesy of phukettravelandtours.com
The Thai heat takes it out of you so it was time to refuel. Our driver recommended After Beach Bar which sits high atop Kata Noi just south of Patong Beach. Amazing views and great food.
The view facing north overlooking Koron Beach
Waiting impatiently – and sweaty
Me looking particularly derpy. Following what would become a theme – we tried to find as many food and drink items that were served in fruit – usually a hollowed out pineapple.
After a good feed, it was off to our last stop of the day – Zorbing at Rollerball. A zorb is basically a human size hamster ball. They either suspend you inside or you get in with a bunch of water. Once in, the ball is sealed and they push you down a track. In this case, we had two options:
The fast track – a straight course that ended with you being stopped by a small incline
The slow track – a zig zag course which tossed you all around inside the ball
Both were awesome!
I’m pretty sure you can’t drown in a gallon of water – but life jackets were mandatory. Another quirky Thai attempt at veiled safety.
After suiting up – we got pushed down this hill – ocean in the distance.
If you ever have the chance to Zorb – DO IT!
After an amazing day in the sun it was back to the hotel for some R&R by the pool. We are off to Phi Phi then Railay Beach.
Much, much, more to come.
Until next time – JJ
PS – Massive thanks to Liz and Jordan for contributing pictures to this post. The majority of mine were lost and remain somewhere in the Thai ocean – life lesson kids – get a camera floaty.