We pick up the travels again on the 27th of December. After a fairly lousy Christmas in Krabi, and both still feeling a touch under the weather the minivan to take us to Phuket, arrived 1 hour early. Luckily, we were ultra prepared (as always, thanks Katy!) and managed to get from the room to the van in 15 minutes, including check out! The journey was uneventful as we crossed onto Phuket Island where we were dropped off at our hotel in Phuket old town for the next 4 nights, In Phuket House Hotel. The owner very kindly gave us a map of the local area with some of her written recommendations on it for food, drinks and sights. We took her up on the first and went to One Chun Cafe around the corner. The food was delicious! However, the smell of fish may have started to churn, the still poorly, Katy's stomach but after some food and water the feeling passed. With all that sitting around, we walked along Thalang Street admiring the beautiful Sino-Portugese shophouse architecture, a by-product of the melting point of cultures brought together by the tin mines in the region. The colours were wonderful in the afternoon sun and the wares on sale were mostly clothes or bolts of every material with samples laid out at the entrances.
On our return to the hotel, our host asked us if we had visited the restaurant she had recommended and if she could point out some other things she had forgotten to when we checked in. After 15 minutes we returned to the room for some down time and to get out of the 38 degree heat. For dinner (after the owner had suggested where to go) we went to our own choice, China Inn, where we had a beautiful fusion of Chinese and Thai cuisines. As it was still early, we walked to the Phuket Indy Night Market which was a nice, quaint market selling items that were either very good copies or had 'fallen off the back of lorries.' The food 'court' looked and smelled amazing and we were kicking ourselves for having not eaten here (no, it hadn't been a suggestion).
An aperitif followed in the Pint Factory and then bed for an early night and no alarm set for the morning.
The next morning we wanted to go to the Big Buddha however our host had been trying to hard sell us a tour that included the Big Buddha (we think she was getting a good commission from it) however it also included a photo stop with baby elephants. Katy had previously looked in to the treatment of elephants in Thailand and knowing how badly they are treated did not feel comfortable giving money to a company that supports it. Instead, we took a taxi to the Big Buddha and on our way we passed some of these elephant tourist traps on the way up the hill and they looked awful. The elephants were chained to either rocks or trees with seats already set up on top of them ready to go as the elephants looked down at the ground. Elephants are not naturally submissive to humans and so to achieve this they are taken from their mothers as calves and are then broken to perform tricks and give rides. (This is known as "The Crush" for anyone interested in finding out more)
When we arrived at the top of the hill our driver offered to wait on us which we jumped on and then we climbed the steps to see Buddha. There isn't a whole lot to say except, perhaps, to paraphrase Craig, 'it is a big fecking Buddha'.
When we returned to the town, we had lunch in the Gallery Cafe before spending the afternoon with a coffee in CUB (Culture Unique Bikes (we think something was lost in translation)) House planning some of our onward travels in S.E. Asia.
For dinner, we went to Raya and it was the best meal (despite entering via the back door) we have had so far in Thailand. We shared plates in a tapas style and it was all amazing, with the cherry on top being the free, freshly cut mango for dessert. We didn't manage to finish the plates but it wasn't for lack of want (for the first time in a week)!
The next morning the alarm went off at 06:00 and after a pastry and coffee breakfast from Cafe 154, we were picked up by our minivan and on our way to James Bond Island. First stop however, was to Samet Nangshe view where we got a spectacular, if somewhat hazy, view of the bay and our first glimpse of the famed limestone islands.
The minivan dropped us at the pier and we boarded the boat that became very busy (with lots of kids) very quickly. After being bashed by bored, riotous kids, several times, (and occasionally being treated as human climbing frames) we sailed past some beautiful stalactites that were suspended over the sea after years of corrosion.
The boat docked just off of James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan) and this is when the real fun began. From our boat we had to transfer to a traditional long boat that sat 4 people per row over 12 rows however there was no walkway and so reaching a row, required climbing over the seats to get there. Also, the sea is notorious for moving and neither boat moved in unison. As you can imagine, this caused a plethora of issues (not for us young, spritely gazelles who were at the front of the boat in 6 (12 for Katy) steps) for both the kids and the unsteady on the tour. It took some time, but we finally filled the boat (front and back in to the middle) and then did the hop, skip and a jump over to the island and docked. To say the place was heaving, is a massive understatement. There were people, everywhere! The heaving mass of humanity wasn't helped by the tourist stalls that lined the dock blocking the direct route to the beach where 'The Man with the Golden Gun' was shot and so funnelled us along a narrow walkway. We got our picture but feel the whole experience was a massive tourist trap and Roger Moore definitely wouldn't have the space to walk the 20 paces away from Francisco Scaramanga with those crowds. Nor would he have gotten a clear shot!
Returning to the boat (after getting in the long boat again) meant lunchtime and we couldn't complain about the quality of the food at the buffet, with the sweet and sour chicken being a particular favourite. The final stop, before heading back to the pier, was to Hong Island where we were taken on a guided canoe tour and this absolutely made the day. Our guide was fantastic, great fun and he truly went above and beyond for our experience and to get amazing photos.
We were safely deposited back to our hotel after a slow boat back to the pier and then an even slower drive in the rush hour traffic. The tour was billed as 'Premium' however we didn't receive a premium product, and we wouldn't recommend seeing the island unless a tour gets there in the morning, before the crowds. Fortunately, booking through the hotel had taken a substantial sum from the final bill but not necessarily to a value we felt was fair.
After chilling out, we had dinner at Sewana (where we should go to watch the premier league and listen to Thai live music, as suggested by our host), and then wandered the Sunday Walking Market. Every Sunday, Thalang street is closed and this allows vendors to set up in the middle of the road. It also lets the store owners to open late and also extend their front shop well onto the pavement. It was very busy and there were lots of lovely hand crafted things however nothing was purchased as there just isn't room for souvenirs but we may have been tempted if we were here on holiday.
After a slow start to the morning and a late breakfast we went back to Cafe 154 and spent a few hours continuing to work on our upcoming travel plans. After dumping our stuff at the hotel (and receiving some recommendations for what we should do tonight) we walked up Khao Rang Hill just as the sun began to set behind the mountains. The views were amazing, with the city spread out below us, running all the way to the sea and we even managed to glimpse the silhouette of big Buddha on the mountains to the West surrounded by the forest. The real highlight however, was the troop of monkeys that were foraging for food in the trees and casually enjoying their dinner and sunset from the road.
The evening was spent packing up for moving on again tomorrow and then heading to dinner, back to Raya as our original choice was full. It was still a good meal and we will definitely be sad to say goodbye to Thai food in 2 short weeks. Our next stop is to Patong Beach to celebrate Hogmanay! Have a wonderful celebration, a Happy New Year when it comes and we look forward to seeing you all in 2020!