Saturday, June 21, 2014

Family time

After my daughter and son-in-law (Lainey and Tim) arrived in Phuket Thailand, they soon had their touristy to-do list made out that we followed along with. At first, our stay at quiet Nai Thon Beach was relaxing but we found it a little out of the way of most of the venues on the list, so we relocated to the heart of busy Patong Beach which was more centralized.

Elephant trekking was on the list but we were all very concerned about patronizing any facility that didn't treat these majestic creatures with proper care. We had seen many that exhibited signs of stress by swaying and rocking while confined by short leg chains. We chose a facility after a recommendation by Lonely Planet and after making an inspection.

We first hand-fed the gentle pachyderms bananas that they politely reached and took with perfect dexterity by their pink mottled trunks. One youngster reached down and undid the Velcro strap on Jordan's sandal as slick as a magician.

Yummy, bananas!

We moved to and fro high on the backs of the lumbering probiscans while the Thai mahouts (driver of an elephant) perched behind the elephants' ears gently prodded them on. The 1-hour trek took us through a tropical forest where we were at eye level and arm's length to tree snakes, huge fuzzy caterpillars, and humongous spiders. At 1 point about half way while weaving through the rubber trees, the 2 mahouts dismounted and let Jordan and Tim take their place to guide the lumbering giants back home.


One evening, we attended a Muay Thai boxing competition. This uniquely Thai sport uses hands, shins, elbows, and knees - 8 points of contact compared to 2 points (fists) of Western boxing. Later we were dismayed to learn that we supported a sport where Thailand's estimated 30,000 child boxers can be as young as only 7.

No one wears protective head gear in this tough contact sport, so one's career can be marked by brain damage and even lead to early-onset dementia. But like the not uncommon canine cuisine of Asia, it is a proud part of their culture.

Ziplines were on the to-do list and it proved a good choice. It took us most of 1 day. It started and ended with an intrepid 4x4 jungle drive to the top of a high forested ridge. After climbing a steep ladder to a high tree deck, we started zipping at lofty heights. The 18 different exhilarating ziplines, connected with swinging bridges and precipitous ladders, left Lainey's nerves frayed and heart racing. Before heading back, we were served lunch within a bamboo gazebo with a view to the coast far below.

Who's next!

Steady now...

And down to the next one...

Jordan and Tim couldn't turn down the opportunity to elevate their adrenalin levels by racing high speed go-carts on a challenging track. They had the carts flat out like mad bumble bees, drifting through the corners and pushing them to the point of spinning out!

Another venue included a Gibbon monkey rehabilitation refuge where residents in cages with sad stories were coaxed back to a natural existence. And 1 day when stopping at an outdoor cafe, Lainey was enthralled by a baby monkey who seemed to want to hang out with her. She was able to feed it coconut, hold onto its soft gentle paws, and it even jumped up onto her back - giving her a big surprise!

Where did you go!

We also spent a day at Phi Phi Island. As we did not have Sea Turtle with us, we hired a speed boat for the adventure. Firstly, we stopped for a couple of quick snorkels where the water was unfortunately not the clearest. Upon arriving at Phi Phi with the swarms of other tourist boats loaded of course with swarms of tourists, we spread out on recliners with a frosty cold one till it was time to return to Phuket Island.

People and boats...

Of course then, there was the shopping, the dining, pool lounging, and beach strolling as fill ins.

Patong Beach is known for its beach scene where throngs of all types stroll or lay in beach recliners and under umbrellas, many with a drink in hand watching the parasailers soar and jet skis buzz (jet skis were ruled illegal in Phuket, but no one told the operators it seems).

Patong is also known for its throbbing night life that could be called "little Bangkok". One street becomes a packed pedestrian-only strip at night where a plethora of mind bending scenes compete for attention.

Unbelievable night life

Open air bars are predominant replete with scantily dressed, gyrating pole dancers grinding it out to entice the strolling spectators in for a drink (or more). Street performers working their stuff. Ladies of the night trolling for affection (and more), preferably with a rich farang of any age or shape, share the scene with a prodigious amount of lascivious lady-boys that could fool the best of us.

What's a farang, you say? A farang is a term used for a white person who comes to Thailand from another country (and can sometimes be used derogatorily).

Of course, there are the ever-present massage parlours both respectful and others with the "happy ending". On the last day, Jordan chose the former that emphasized stretches and was more a work-out than a relaxation. And on our last evening, Tim decided to try out 1 of the "fish foot cleaners". We had also seen them in Bali but never tried them! Tim thought it felt ticklish and very weird indeed.


We opted out on other to-do things that the "kids" went for such as a shooting range, cobra show, tiger petting, parasailing, and ATV riding. Instead, we scouted out some marina facilities that we might want once we get up here with Sea Turtle.

We also were able to intercept the Pea Green Book that we sent off almost 5 years ago for its around the world voyage (but that's another story you can read about on www.peagreenbook.blogspot.com).

Normally, we are not inclined towards the typical tourist attractions but it was fun to share in them with family.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Wat Chalong and Big Buddha

Visiting in glorious Thailand for 2 weeks, we decided to explore the island on our rented motor-scooter and see what we could find.

The next day, still on our own, we were heading towards 2 southern beaches. Generally, Phuket's west side has pockets of touristy beaches connected with scenic winding roads. In contrast, the east side is a busy commercial built-up area.

Along the way, we spotted an elaborate Buddhist temple compound, Wat Chalong. Buddhism is the predominant faith in Thailand and this is the largest and most ornate of Phuket's Buddhist temples. There, devotees performing 1 of various rituals, pasted gold leaf in hushed reverence, to 2 statues in the main hall where residuals of the glitter ended up on the floor, and our feet!

Ornate temple

Sticking gold leaf to statues

Another diametrical ritual that broke the quiet ambiance was the exploding string of firecrackers inside a courtyard brick oven-like structure, the significance of which eluded us.

Off in the distance perched high on a hill was the prominent Big Buddha that had its eyes on Phuket Town below and most of the southern part of the Island. Signs vectored us to the steep 6 km road to the top.

The gigantic Big Buddha is 45 m tall and 25 m wide at the base and is made of reinforced concrete with Burmese marble overlay. This impressive and revered landmark is a work in progress that started about 10 years ago by a wealthy devotee and to date is about 75% complete (rebar evident around base). Along the stairs leading up to the base and around Big Buddha are thousands of brass bells, tinkling in the breeze, displayed as tokens of recognition of individual donors for the construction.

Big Buddha

From the top, we admired stunning vistas; and from the bottom, Jordan rubbed a brass gong that echoed amazing sounds far off into the distance.

Next stop, off to the airport to pick up the "kids"...

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Playing tourist in THAILAND

Our repaired auto-pilot finally arrived and Jordan got it all installed, making us pretty much ready to sail to our next destination, Thailand. But we had another conflicting commitment that came with a dreaded deadline that prevented us from leaving.

You see, we broke from 1 of our rules of sailing conduct (in regards to meeting with visitors) which is "You can meet us wherever you like, or whenever you like, but not both." We promised to meet my daughter Lainey and her husband Tim on June 10th in Thailand but their arrival date had come too soon for us to make it up there with Sea Turtle. So, we decided to fly up and play tourist with them for 2 weeks.

So Jordan and I caught a bus from Malaysia to Singapore on June 8th, and less than 2 hours later, we landed in Phuket Thailand. It had been smokin' hot in Malaysia and we found it to be slightly cooler in Phuket, only 30°C!

This was my first time ever in Thailand but Jordan had been before so he was my own private tour guide!

We were immediately approached by several cab drivers, all demanding exorbitant fees of 1,000 Baht, equal to about $30 for what Jordan knew to be a 10-minute ride. We refused but finally settled for 500 Baht which was still too much. We were dropped off at Nai Thon Beach, a quiet seaside village where Jordan had stayed in the past.

Before finding a room, we got our bearings over our favourite Thai dish (Pad Thai) at a beachside restaurant as we were serenaded by the turquoise surf with the compliments of a refreshing breeze.

Adjusting to the Thai scene

We didn't pre-book any accommodation as it was not only low season, but tourism was down significantly because of the military coup of the dysfunctional government, We easily found nice bungalows for $25 a night and arranged for motor-scooter rental for $10 a day.

As we had arrived a couple of days ahead of our visitors, we took the opportunity to cross across Phuket Island to find our friends on Morning Glory who were working on their boat. After about a half hour ride, we met up with them and traded stories over yet another beachside restaurant.