To properly ring in the Year of the Ox, we took a much-deserved trip to Phuket (the "h" is silent, btw). Located in southern Thailand, Phuket is the main bread-winner for Thailand thanks to tourism.
We arrived early afternoon Saturday at our hotel -- Le Meridien, which is the same chain we stayed at on our honeymoon in the Seychelles. After scarfing down some Mongolian BBQ for lunch, I headed out to the beach to soak up a little sun and atmosphere. Out of nowhere, this baby elephant comes trotting down the beach and starts frolicking in the ocean. Talk about a nice welcome!
Check out the video:
Later that night, we decided to hit Patong, the main city in Phuket. I didn't really have any expectations, so was shocked when I found myself in one of the seediest spots on earth. Patong is the crack-head version of a Spring Break town; it makes Daytona Beach seem classy. The irony is that no part of Patong feels authentically Thai. It's just wall-to-wall bars and clubs with English names and neon signs, people running around without shirts and shoes on, drinking out of bright pink, bong-like vessels.
In addition to bars there are store whose merchandise would make Christopher Street blush.
Then there are the Thai massage parlors - something Vin and I were hoping to partake in that night, but quickly ruled out. Once you see what's happening out in the open, it's frightening to think what could be taking place behind closed doors.
Worse than all of that, though, were the hookers which were everywhere and weren't shy. Even though Vin and I were walking arm in arm, they would come up and try to grab his other hand or touch his arm. We ate dinner at a place called Mr. Good's which happened to be positioned on one of the main strips and next to an alley. I cannot tell you the number of times we saw old white men (in their 60's) walking down the alley with young Thai girls. Bon apetit!
Besides the vomitous Thai trysts, there were a few other unsettling things about Mr. Goods -- and they involved the preparation of the food. The entire restaurant was open and we happened to be seated at a table right along the right-hand wall, which overlooked an alley. Right below our table in the alley was Mr Good's "refrigerator", a.k.a. a series of dirty coolers that the "chefs" would walk over to and pull fish, lettuce and other ingredients out of, before walking back through the front door to get to the kitchen.
We did enjoy our Chang, though. Thai beer isn't half bad.
As a fitting end to our memorable night in Patong, we took the most hilarious contraption back to the hotel. It was a club masquerading as a mini-truck whose stereo speakers were bigger than its wheels. The driver blasted club music as we rode back to our hotel.
Smarting from our shower-inducing night in Patong, we spent Sunday as wholesomely as possible by laying out, playing tennis and eating sushi. Oh and we got Thai massages from our hotel spa, a more sanitary option than Patong.
Monday was the day before the start of Chinese New Year, so the hotel had a traditional Chinese parade, well, parade right through breakfast.
Later that night, we were suckers and went to the Chinese New Year dinner event the hotel hosted. It was kind of like a luau, but with really bad entertainment. We each got fortune cookies at the end of the night-- mine said 2009 would make me rich; Vin's said he would find "the one" in 2009. Here's hoping that both come true!
Tuesday we took a day trip to the Phi Phi Islands (again, silent "h"s all around), which are located on the southeastern tip of Thailand. We took a boat with 20 other people and spent the day island-hopping.
First spot we stopped was a great swimming lagoon nestled in an inlet. We passed by some cave-looking spots inside of which entire villages of people live. These people were still trying to rebuild their homes which were severely damaged by the tsunami.
Then we hit the famous beach where "The Beach" -- the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. It is pretty stunning.
Then we did some snorkeling and saw the sickest coral reef ever. I can't decide if the snorkeling is better here or near the Big Island in Hawaii. Next, we stopped off at Monkey Beach, a small beach that's filled with, you guessed it, monkeys. They were really cute and clearly love getting food from the tourists (our guides told us Pepsi is their favorite), but we were warned that they bite. Needless-to-say, I stayed as far away as possible while women from other tours were walking up and petting them...
On our last day in Phuket, we hung by the pool, got facials and had one last fruity cocktail before kissing Le Meridien and Phuket good-bye.
We didn't see much evidence of the tsunami (including ghosts, thank GOD!), although our driver tells us that's because the entire place has been rebuilt. Seeing the tsunami through his eyes and stories, it's remarkable anyone made it out alive. We did, however, see these signs posted all over Phuket.
Another interesting tidbit our chatty driver shared is that it's common for Thai men to have more than one wife. He happens to have only one, but is in the minority. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a place with rampant prostitution thinks bigamy is okay...
We boarded a plane, tanned and relaxed, only to arrive in chilly Hong Kong at 1:30am, miss the shuttle and not get to bed until well after 3am. Back to reality...