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Phuket and Phi Phi – Thailand June 21, 2010

Posted by matlockmatlock in Travel Log.
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This past weekend a sizable group (about 20) of the students in our program decided to go to Phuket, Thailand, an island off the south-west side of Thailand. We stayed in the Patong Beach area which is very popular for tourism. [GPS coordinates for google maps: (7.8955726270406705, 98.30041766166687)]

We flew to Thailand on Thursday (June 17th) evening, and arrive around 9pm local time. Phuket is one hour behind Singapore, so we were quite tired by the time we got to our hotel around 11pm. We stayed at The Royal Paradise Hotel, which was great for a group of our size. They even had a western style breakfast that we enjoyed every morning.

On our first day (Friday), we slept in a little, and headed out to explore the city around 10am. There is a beach quite near (about 10 minutes) to our hotel, so we were able to walk in that direction and see much of the area’s sights and sounds. One of the most remarkable things about the trip was how affordable everything was, even in the touristy areas. People in our group (not me) were able to do jet-skiing, parasailing, and other exciting beach sports for about 10-15 US dollars. I had lunch with some friends at an italian restaurant near the beach, then went and relaxed in the waves for a while. The water was a great temperature. Even though it was a cloudy day, it was a fantastic beach day… We were not overly-impressed with the quality of the beach (water quality, trash, etc), but many people assured us we wouldn’t be disappointed if we ventured out from Patong Beach to see other areas.

Back at the hotel pool, I met some Australians and English people on vacation for the month. They told us about some of the highlights of their time in Thailand. There is so much to do that we weren’t even able to accomplish (petting tigers at the zoo, and many more things!).

After cleaning up from beach sand and sunscreen, our whole group met to take open-air taxis to a “farm” (not sure if it really qualifies as a farm) outside of the city for Elephant Trekking! We were able to ride elephants around some trails in a forest, up a hill, and to a lookout point to view the ocean. It was a bizarre experience to say the least. At first, we were strapped into seats perched on top of the back of the elephants with our feet resting on their backs. The guides were sitting on the elephants’ heads or necks.

Much to our surprise, as we were about half-way up the hill, the guide on Alex’s and my elephant told our elephant (named “Alaska”) to lean over so he could get off. At this point, we were on top of the elephant, alone, without any guide. Alaska did a good job of following the other elephants, so it turned our missing-in-action guide ended up being a non-issue.

Once we started our way down the hill, Alex and I got adventurous and decided to ride on the elephant’s neck rather than continue to sit in the cushioned seats on top. It took some acrobatic skills and balance, but we managed to perch ourselves on the neck. Alaska flopped her ears back on our legs. They were surprisingly warm! Her skin felt like car-tires and was probably several inches thick. She had black hair all over which we weren’t expecting at all before having the close encounter.

After the elephant ride, we fed the elephants bananas for a little, and then got to pass around a baby monkey who was too young to know better than to play with a bunch of American college students. I’ve put the pictures on facebook already, but I’ll upload them to this website soon.

Friday evening, we all went to an outdoor restaurant as a big group and ordered waaay too much food. One of the guys in our travel group is half-Thai, so he was well-versed in what to get and what to avoid. Basically, we told him to keep ordering foods that he thought we might like, and we feasted! When it was all over, I think I had had 10 or 12 different kinds of meat, tons of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen or heard of before, and lots of soups that came in all types of color and temperature.

Following dinner, we went to explore the nightlife of Patong Beach. There is a “world-famous” street called BangLa Road with tons of clubs, restaurants, bars, etc. There was one place called “Tiger” that we went to which was decorated like a jungle with balconies and catwalks over the dancefloor that looked like branches on a tree. It was definitely a change of pace from the normal clubs in Singapore!

The night ended relatively early because we had an 8:30am bus to catch the next morning. We were headed to the Phi Phi islands! The islands are located east of Phuket, in the Andaman Sea. It’s about a 45 minute boat ride from the east coast of Phuket to get to the Islands. It was a long trip in a very bumpy speedboat, but well worth it!

Our first stop was in Phi Phi Leh, a famous lagoon surrounded by a ring of steep limestone cliffs, popularized by the movie “The Beach.” Upon first arrival, we felt like we were in Pandora from the movie “Avatar!” We walked around here for a bit, took in the scenery, and then jumped back on the boat to move on to the next beach!

After another 20 minutes in the boat, we arrived at “Monkey Beach.” We’re curious as to how these monkeys got to this remote and isolated island (maybe the Thai Tourism Board?), but nevertheless it was awesome to walk around and see all of the macaques up-close and personal. We were able to feed them bananas and approach them to petting distance, even though we were instructed to not touch them. We saw the monkeys attack one person, biting his shirt and pants… luckily the monkeys are afraid of the water, so when they started to chase us, we were able to move into knee-deep waves and be out of their reach.

We rode around the gorgeous islands a bit more, and stopped for lunch on Phi Phi Don (GPS: 7.742503195913314, 98.77502918243408). This island was one of the worst-hit by the Christmas-Day tsunami many years ago. There is an isthmus connecting the two high-rising sections of the island. This is where most of the restaurants, shops, and buildings are. During the tsunami, this area was completely covered by a wall of water. Since the disaster, the area has been completely rebuilt. In fact, we had lunch right on the beach in the area most affected back in 2004.

After lunch, we shopped around for a little, and then headed back to the boat. It was Snorkeling time! We got to a reef around the other side of the island, and had about 10-12 feet water to dive in. Many people in our group were uncomfortable snorkeling, but my friend Travis and I were able to get away from the boat a bit to explore some very interesting parts of the reef. I saw some big fish, small fish, and things that I didn’t know if I could classify them as fish! It was my first time seeing sea urchins. It was shocked at how larget they were! Some were 7 or 8 inches in diameter! We had to be careful not to touch the bottom in some areas as it did get shallow, but overall this was some of the best snorkeling I’ve done in my life.

When we were done snorkeling, we headed to a small island (about 2 acres in size) of which I don’t remember the name. In fact, I’m unable to find it online either! The island was probably 2 meters above sea level at its highest point, with beaches completely surrounding it. We were not near any other islands, so the whole experience was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. On this small island we swam and sat on the beach for a few hours… We enjoyed some coconut milk and climbed on some rocks. By the time we were ready to go, we were all exhausted from a long and quite adventurous day.

The next morning we woke up early to make our flight back to Singapore. While we were initially worried about cutting it too close with our timing, the flight ended up being delayed 3 or 4 hours. We filled in the void by getting Thai massages at the airport. I was hoping that it would make me feel better after the rough day of swimming, but in fact it just made me more sore. They stretch you into all sorts of contorting positions that you couldn’t even imagine! Let’s just say I’ll be avoiding all forms of ballistics stretching and Thai massages from now on.

We got back to Singapore much later than expected, but the weekend had been so spectacular that we weren’t too concerned with delays in the schedule. More updates soon!

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