Thailand 2019: Phuket and Phi Phi islands

Covid-19 is still having a free rein in 2020 and so the travel-deprived moi shall be content with memories of past holidays. My recent-most trip is almost a year ago, to Thailand with the hubby’s extended family, thanks to Banti mama. I find myself back in time on my second day in beautiful Phuket, continuing on from my last post (Thailand November 2019: Phuket).

The highlight of Phuket is the stunning coastline and the islands just off its coast. This day, we had a pre-booked tour to the well-known Phi -Phi islands. Ideally we would have chosen to stay a couple of nights instead of just doing a day trip like we did this time, well you learn something every day! Fortunately for all the older people in our group, we were booked on a huge boat and not a small long-tailed boat or speed boat, which had been a pain for the poor seniors. After waking up unreasonably early and driving almost an hour to the pier, we stood waiting for the boat to be loaded for another hour. Needless to say, we were (as in Krabi Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour), completely disgusted by the tour operators; all except Babu masi, who utilized the time to shop. (In retrospect, it might have been the smarter thing to do)

Ever-smiling Babu masi spent the wait time fruitfully

When we finally boarded the boat, we were even more disappointed to find our seats in the lowest cabin area that had tiny cubby-hole windows way above seat level. There goes the view! “Thomas Cook never again,” was everyone’s furious decision!

The ride to the islands is 2 hours and the airconditioning in the claustrophobic cabin ( unthinkable today!) was the only saving grace. Oh and the “Gujju” food bag! With no food service on board, we thanked our lucky stars for our smart vision in carrying the food bag everywhere (and for finding it at Bangkok airport!). Once you are stuffed silly, even a dull ride can seem less painful! Of course, there are mobile phones to while away the time.

Kids can always entertain themselves. Look at the bored/ sleeping adults behind!
The hubby needed no device, the kids had a blast playing with him and jumping over him!

However, even mobiles, running and jumping about could get boring and after some time with no beautiful sea scape to wow us, everyone slid into a slumber.

Finally, they allowed us to go onto the deck and there was a mad scramble to get out into the sunshine.

Karst islands rising from the deep blue sea and the stunning clear blue skies ensured that we never went back down
Banti mama enjoyed a chilled beer while the kids had icecream

If you travel by speedboat to the Phi Phi islands, you can get off at the island where the Leonardo diCaprio starrer “The Beach” was filmed, but the big boat tour only takes you to an island where you can snorkel and then on to the Phi Phi islands themselves. So a bunch of us and the 2 teens got onto another boat to snorkel while the senior citizens and the kids went onto Phi Phi directly.

It was my first time snorkeling and I really enjoyed it. Not having carried an underwater camera casing, I have no pictures but this is something I have to do again for sure. It was fascinating to see the pretty yellow and black striped fish and marvel at a rare blue one, and fun to be bobbing in the ocean, trying to stay within the ropes.

Tiny fish in the clear waters off the pier at Phi Phi

Phi Phi island is quite large, very crowded and touristy. And yet, it has a certain charm to it. Maybe it’s the beautiful color of the waters, the delicious food available, or just the chilled island vibe, but I felt that this would be a lovely place to stay at, especially after day trippers like us were gone.

Banti mama loved this island

Our tour included lunch at the main beach area, so we rushed through the market without stopping and had a very average lunch (the only 2 bad meals on the trip were those included in the tour). It probably was for the best as we quickly wolfed down the food and dove in to the best beach I swam in on this trip. White sands and clear blue waters, absolute bliss!

Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy our seaside bliss, as we had to head back pretty soon. We walked back through the market place, grabbing some slush and icecream on the way, wishing we’d stayed here instead of at the mainland. On the boat ride back, the seniors and kids had a bit of shut-eye, but we had a great time on the deck in the blazing sun, watching the beautiful scenery rush by.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law getting very tanned on the deck

Back at the hotel, we roamed around our hotel area, making a mental note of places to eat at. We were surprised to see the large numbers of massage parlors in the area, and a little doubtful about what exactly was on offer. We finally decided to actually see for ourselves instead of slandering them without evidence & dived into one. I am happy to report that I had the best foot massage ever and nothing else happened. At least I think so, as I fell asleep!

While in Phuket, one must sample the nightlife, and so we headed off with our younger cousins to Bangla road, the neon lit, pedestrian-only vibrant center of night life in Patong Bay area. The party here is not only in the bars, but all along the road. The long day caught up with us, and we, the older lot needed to call it a day by midnight, which is actually when the ‘day’ begins in Bangla.

Since the last 4 days had been crazily hectic, we decided to just rest the next day and have really no plan but local sight seeing. The kids were desperate to swim, so they leapt into the hotel’s tiny pool, while we walked around our hotel and then headed for a long lazy lunch.

We simply took over the entire restaurant!
Beloved food of our teens

That evening, we planned to visit the local beach that was a mere 1.5 km walk from our hotel. As we set off, we were pleasantly surprised to come across the Phuket Patong Bay parade, with beautifully decorated floats and people dancing in their local costumes.

The kids joined in the parade and merrily danced along. The rest of us walked ahead to the beach to catch the sunset, the only sunset we saw at the beach on this trip.

My sister-in-law loved the chilled coconut water at the beach

As it grew dark, the floats lit up, and the dancers put up quite a show for us. This unplanned evening turned out to be the most fun filled evening for us!

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law posed with the prettiest lady in the parade

My niece spotted a Starbucks, and dived in. Kids and their fads! FYI, back in India, my house is 500m from a Starbucks! So much for trying the local cuisine, the curse of globalisation! All in all, it was worth getting in simply to enjoy some air-conditioning actually.

I loved these pretty wooden lamps

The entire beachfront ahead was lined by beautifully decorated shacks, selling drinks and a huge variety of food. But we already had our share of overpriced corporate cake & coffee so we could only gawk at it!

Filled to the brim, we walked back to our hotel. The next day, we had an early morning flight to Bangkok. Phuket turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable place. Food was outstanding and despite the long distances, this large peninsula had enough to keep everyone entertained. And I slept happily, dreaming of this gorgeous sunset.

P.S. Many many thanks to Yogesh Shenoy for editing my very lacklustre post and making it a post worth a read.

Thailand November 2019: Phuket

September 2020 is when I thought I would be able to take my postponed North Italy trip. Of course, I’ve been living in fool’s paradise with hopes that just cannot materialize. With all plans of travel in 2020 dashed, it’s nice to revisit a wonderful, unplanned and unexpected trip to Thailand almost a year ago, courtesy hubby’s uncle and aunt, Banti mama and Renu masi. I’ve already relived the Krabi trip in previous posts, it’s time to move onto Phuket.

On the third day of our trip, we woke up early (again) for the long 4 hour drive to Phuket. I didn’t know the 2 places were so far apart, and was lucky that I had enough music stored on my phone to keep me company as we drove past groves of trees with no water in sight. Tired by the early morning, everyone else fell asleep but Coldplay managed to keep me up till we finally reached Phuket and planned a long day of sightseeing before reaching the hotel.

As always, included city tours are boring, with visits meant to lure the unsuspecting occasional traveler to overpriced lousy stores and over-touristy destinations from where the drivers get kickbacks. Luckily, we had our own list of places to visit that the kids would enjoy and were spared half of the unwanted destinations that the guide tried to make us visit. After a slow (but delicious) Punjabi lunch at a “dhaba” styled restaurant run by a Sardarji, we went straight to Tiger kingdom.

I really hate the idea of drugging an animal for letting kids and adults pose with them, but we had little kids with us who were too young to understand such concepts and were all charged up about touching a real tiger. Surprisingly, our teens were just as charged up and despite my entreaties, joined the kids in the tiger cub “meet and greet”.

Some day, they will realise their folly, till then, they will be happy with this memory
Delicious mango slush with mangoes while waiting for the kids

Any trip with kids has to have enough for them to do and Thailand certainly provided enough. Straight from Tiger kingdom, we went to Dolphin bay to see a seal and dolphin show. Even with my anti-animal torture sentiments, I loved the show. Dolphins are my favorite sea animals and it’s relieving to see how much their trainers love them, even while making them perform in ways they really shouldn’t be doing.

The highlight of the show was when we could actually touch the dolphins. Having never gotten close to a dolphin, I was the first to rush ahead this time and was shocked by how rubbery their skins were and still amazed by the beauty of these graceful sea animals. Sigh! I really don’t have the right to talk about kids’ folly!

From there, we were whisked away to a temple, only to have our teens groan away at that thought. However, Thai temples are beautiful and peaceful and we enjoyed posing outside and inside the temple.

I was impressed by the photography skill of the driver, who captured all of us with the temple
Ask nicely and y’all will be blessed!

Like all Buddhist temples, the architecture was ornate and detailed, but not a shade on those in Bangkok. We climbed up all the levels to the terrace with a beautiful view of the huge Buddha statue on top of a hill and the surroundings.

Banti mama and Renu masi really enjoyed the temples

It wasn’t just humans and drugged animals who posed nicely for us that day, some animals were naturally forth-coming for their turn on my lens.

It was getting late and dark as we left, but our driver was keen on taking us a viewpoint over Phuket bay, so we drove and drove up a long winding slope to reach a beautiful terrace with a great view.

As we watched the sun set and the city light up, the exhaustion of the day finally caught up with us. Having emptied out the Gujju snack bag, we drove to the hotel past glittering streets and high end boutiques. After some rest, we indulged in some street food (the best street food of the teen’s life, she’s drooling even as I type) and visited a night market for some unique food options.

Tiny tables lined the market
I have never seen so much sea food at one spread

Our teens went off with the hubby’s younger cousins, one of whom was once a chef in a 5 star hotel, to try local cuisine. And did their horizons broaden! For a change, my daughter stayed off pizza and pasta and tried something different, including even octopus and clams!

My sister-in-law and I, much less adventurous and vegetarian, had a blast sampling the exotic fruits and desserts available.

Ice creams and slushes made using delicious fresh fruit

Having had such a hectic but exciting day, we were happy to crash into bed early as we had another long day ahead of us, a full day trip to the famed Phi Phi islands. However, the exhaustion of writing has crept up on me just as the exhaustion after that long first day at Phuket, and so, the story will continue on yet another “locked down” day.