So apparently Thai taxi drivers don’t have a whole lot of love for Russians…
We arrived at the Phuket (pronounced poo-KET) airport after a quick (and cheap!!!) flight from Kuala Lumpur (KL), and once we were flush with a few thousand dollars Thai baht pulled from the airport ATM (for which we paid a hefty 150 baht service charge… roughly $5 CAD), we set about finding a mode of transportation to get us to the budget hotel we’d booked for a few nights near the Nai Yang beach.
This ended up being a taxi, whose driver we met in the airport convenience store, and after a bit of haggling settled on the price of 200 baht (taxis at the airport generally don’t bother with the meter, so your best bet is settling on a price beforehand), but only after making sure we weren’t Russian.
When pressed as to why he felt so strongly about this, the cabbie was able to communicate to us that in his and his compatriots’ experience, the Russian tourists generally don’t treat the Thai’s very well, and have a reputation for being rude and confrontational, which is anything but trivial in a Buddhist country whose population is renowned for attempting to avoid confrontation at all costs (oh, and they also generally refuse to bother learning even one or two words in Thai or English, leading to inevitable communication problems..).
Julie and I rarely resort to using taxis to transfer us to/from airports or other transport hubs, but in this case we didn’t have much choice since we arrived relatively late, and despite the demand promulgated by the large and growing number of tourists, there is next to no public/mass transport serving the Phuket airport thanks to a combination of government corruption and lack of initiative (apparently a public-ish airport bus exists, but we arrived outside of regular operating hours regardless).
The ~3km ride proved uneventful, and although it was past 9 pm, we had no trouble checking into the Pen Siri House whose proprietor was even kind enough to let us into the eponymous mini-mart which he’d already shuttered for the night so we could grab a snack and some beerverages before we settled in for the night.
We were blessed with a stunningly beautiful morning, which was made even more breathtaking once we reached the end of a 500 m trek down a dirt path to the beach, where we indulged in breakfast, then drinks.
This superbly relaxing experience alone solidified my love of Thailand, and affirmed my pre-trip excitement about visiting.
Words cannot express the perfection of that moment, especially after the hectic couple of months spent traipsing around South East Asia thus far, which were as exhausting as they were interesting (not that I would trade the experiences for a desk job any day).
The scene was so perfect that we returned to fill our stomachs at dinner time as well, slaking our thirst on Thai beer and easing further into a relaxed state as the sun melted into the Andaman Sea.
Our (now) good friend K picked us up the following morning from our hotel and took us to one of the island’s lesser known gems (Laemsingh beach) before ordering us an authentic meal on a delightful patio up the road a bit.
I’ll gush a bit more about K later, because after this first meeting he had to go back to work, but not before he dropped us off at our abode for the next few days: Anantara Vacation Club on Mai Khao beach, where we were put up for 4 nights courtesy of Julie’s family friend Tracy (who we are heavily indebted to for such generosity; using her timeshare points on us poor travellers…).
Words cannot express the luxury of this property, so I’ll let pictures do most of the talking… but let’s just say our ‘room’ (if you could call an entire house a room) had a private pool that we could dive into from our bedroom.
*** A quick side note: ZOMG THANK YOU TRACY!!! ***
After 3.5 months of budget travel, being thrown into the lap of ultimate luxury was quite a shock for us, but it didn’t take us long to acclimatize.
The only downside to living in such opulent conditions was that the immediate food options were limited to mostly five star restaurants and other out-of-our-price-range alternatives.
Our first dinner consisted of overpriced pad thai and a porkchop at the cheapest bistro place nearby,
so the morning after, we borrowed a pair of bicycles from the resort and went in search of more economical fare down the beach a bit.
Although our new home was very comfortable, and the beach was fantastic (if we wanted to bother leaving our private pool that is…) it was quite devoid of any of the cultural aspects of the country as a whole.
K to the rescue!
Our soon-to-be-new-best-friend once again picked us up from our place and shared more of his wonderful world with us (some local snacks beachside) before dropping us off at our front door and heading back to work while we did the opposite and went back to languishing in the lap of luxury.
What a tough life we had.
When we got back to our villa, there was an envelope waiting for us, inviting us to attend a ‘welcome session’.
In case the name Anantara Vacation CLUB didn’t give it away, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that we were staying in a time-share-esque resort, and this invitation was their sally across our bow, warning us that we were in their sights as potential buyers.
We had sort of been waiting for this, and even been approached the previous evening by a ‘helpful’ sales girl pitching a similar meet-and-greet, so with the promise of 6,000 Thai Baht (about $200 CAD) worth of ‘Anantara Dollars’ as an incentive ‘just for showing up’, Julie and I put ourselves out on a limb, left our wallets and credit cards in our villa, and went to see what the ruckus was all about.
Holy f@ckballs batman if we’d had our credit cards on us we totally would have walked away with a $50,000 CAD timeshare package (for just 1,035,432,546,223 easy payments of [insert affordable amount here])… and that is after we had our own little pre-session pep talk with each other promising that there was no effin way in hell that we would even consider buying what they were selling.
Man, they really have it down to a science, and because we were genuinely impressed with the offering (the property was really really really nice, and we’d have loved to go back), it took us almost 3 hours to free ourselves of the shackles of desire and possibility and to claw our way back to reality where we collected our hard fought Anantara Dollars and bounced the eff up out of there…
… and immediately proceeded to patronize some of the previously un-affordable on-site dining/beverage establishments, making sure they accepted the vouchers before ordering anything.
It was almost like we were back in our previous life, where we could afford to splurge on menial things like cocktails and tapas, and to put ourselves up in a luxury resort rather than meting out our ever dwindling supply of dollars on hostel dorm rooms and dirty street food.
K made sure we didn’t fall too far out of touch with reality though, and he continued to take care of us, this time supplying us with a bag of local treats on his way to work the next day (what a champ!).
We spent the last full day at the resort stuffing our faces on rich foods (courtesy of Anantara Dollars :D) and enjoying the heck out of the property we’d be forced to vacate the following day.
After checkout and our last breakfast,
guess who picked us up, drove us into Phuket town proper, and checked us in at almost 50% off to a fantastic little boutique hotel?
I cannot thank my friends Eunice and Rai enough for putting us in touch with him, because not only did he take it upon himself to ensure that Julie and I never had to want for transportation the whole time we were in Phuket (he acted as our own personal tour guide and driver; unearthing the finest foods and sharing the most beautiful areas with us), but he treated us as old friends from the moment we met.
I’ve never met someone as kind and helpful to us as complete strangers, and although we are now good friends and keep in touch regularly (unless blocked by the Chinese government), we really can’t wait until he visits us in Toronto so we can try our hand at returning the favour (a tall order since he set the bar so high).
Ok, now that’s enough gushing for now.
Not to say that’s the end of our adventures though.
Far from it.
After helping check us in to Quip Bed & Breakfast,
K went to work, then came back after to take us out for dinner (more awesome local foods!) and then drinks with a couple of his friends.
Phuket town was very nice, but K reckoned we still hadn’t seen enough of the local beaches (I could never get enough of them to be honest), so the next day he drove us to a couple lookouts of unrivaled beauty
before going for lunch and a shaved ice dessert found nowhere but in Phuket.
We were on our own for dinner (something about K having to work or whatever 😉 ), but not to fear; K had given us a recommendation for a cheap place within walking distance which we were grateful for.
Also, mark it in your calendars ladies and gentlemen: March 25th, 2013; Julie’s first proper sip of Hoegaarden, a beverage which has since proved much to her liking (much to my delight, as I now have a beer-drinking buddy :D:D:D ).
After (included) breakfast and coffee the next morning,
K picked us up (recurring theme much?) and took us to a spa where Julie and I had a heavily discounted 2 hour massage and spa treatment (omg what a perfect way to complete the unwinding-ness we started the moment we stepped off the plane into Thailand).
Lunch ensued (gluttonous and delicious hot pot),
and after K went to work (poor bugger… meeting us every day to spoil us rotten then going to work while we bask in our employment-free lifestyle :p ) Julie and I hit up the post office to box up the lesser/unused portion of what was becoming an unmanageable amount of luggage and sent it back to Canada the slowest and cheapest way possible: 3 months on a cargo ship (you can read all about this adventure here)!
Our last dinner in Phuket was etted at the same place that we’d et the night before (K recommended), and it ended off on the perfect note with us scarfing down a bunch of coconut desserts (which we miss dearly now :$) followed by some photoshooting of the old buildings in our ‘hood.
As if K hadn’t already done enough for us, he picked us up in the wee hours (like 5 am!!!) the next morning to drive us to meet our ride to our next destination: Koh Samui (that he’d also arranged through some friends he played badminton with), stopping briefly on the way out of town to make sure we got to see the most beautiful old architecture before we left.
I’ll save the story of our trip to Koh Samui for the next post, because this post is already 1,018 words longer than I originally intended it to be (with about 100 more photos too), and I’ve been on detox for a few days (hence the relative clarity/ boringness of this particular entry… I prefer to combat writers block by playing Edward 40-hands, as I find my thoughts generally ‘flow’ better after 2.37 litres of nectar-of-the-gods), so detox combined with a bit of a hiatus on the blogging front (I blame the Chinese government for censoring WordPress…) doesn’t exactly make for the most engaging journal entry thus far.
Oh, and btw, this journal entry is wholeheartedly dedicated to both K & Tracy; K without whom we’d have no idea what we were missing culturally in Phuket, and Tracy for giving us the undeserved gift of ultimate luxury in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Thanks for the memories K!!!