Phuket is known as a beach paradise, a place to get away from it all, relax and enjoy. After almost five months on the road, that sounded ideal, and what better way than in the company of family? For the first time on one of our extended travels, someone paid us a visit! Greta (Donny’s Mom) met us in Phuket to spend some time exploring with us.
We stayed on Mai Khao Beach, one of the most natural, and a protected part of the Sirinat National Park. It was a bit isolated from the more populated, popular areas, which we agreed was probably a good thing. Just south, Nai Yang beach was nice as well, and we spent a few days there between us. It was low season in Phuket, and we had a fair bit of rain, but it didn’t take away at all from our experience. We rented a car for a couple of days, making our way around the entire island eventually. Our first day included a trip to the grocery store, an experience in itself, as we loaded up on groceries for the week. Most nights we threw together experimental curries and soups, most involving chilies, ginger, garlic and lime. We also had a few delightful meals out. No matter what restaurant or business we passed we always admired their spirit house.
Many people in Thailand are Buddhist, but animism still has a role to play in daily life. Most believe in “phi,” or spirit/soul. These spirits are everywhere, in nature, people, animals. They can be good or mischievous, and should be placated and respected. One way is through building a spirit house. Almost every home and business has one. They are miniature houses, like an altar, usually on a post, and placed in a fortuitous spot in the garden or yard. Offerings usually include food and drinks. From what we have seen, the spirits are partial to red sodas or yogurt drinks, and prefer to have a straw when possible.
On our car journeys, we breezed by Naithon, Surin, Kamala, Kata and Karon Beaches, each with their own charms. We passed through famous Patong, which was quite lively, but on the seedy side, with a crowded strip of tourist restaurants, bars, ladyboy shows and souvenir shops. The far-south beach town of Rawai was a nice photo stop on the way to the sunset viewpoint of Promthep. There was a cool hilltop temple here, as well as a lighthouse and monument to a royal historical hero. The hilly east side of the island was filled with latex collecting plantations, small buckets attached to the sides of rows and rows of trees. In Phuket Town we sampled (and purchased) fruit at the local market: bananas, pineapple, rambutan, something unknown but sweet and neon green, mango, papaya, etc.
In the northeast, the small port where boats take off for nearby islands was quiet, but we watched people fishing and collecting mollusks from the lowtide flats before visiting the Khao Phra Thew Forest Preserve. Near the Nam Tok waterfall, we spent some time at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center, where formerly abused or sick animals are cared for until they can be (in some cases) released back into the wild. Their stories were truly sad, but it was a good education.
Possibly our most memorable highlight was an animal towel-folding class we took at or hotel. Arming each of us with a set of bath, hand, and facecloth-sized towels, a talented young instructor walked us through the necessary steps to create elephants, swans, a turtle and a monkey. Our artistry may not have been too impressive, but the skills we gained will sure make fun party tricks in the future.
Photos from around Phuket are HERE.