Over the last few days we have been in Phuket. A well known island in Thailand, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It has direct flights to several destinations in Europe. And it’s known for its beautiful white beaches, amazing islands and beautiful turquoise sea; a paradise to snorkel and dive.
We had never been before, and wouldn’t have never gone there if it were not for seeing Jim’s family who were visiting for a wedding. Phuket is also known to be very busy, expensive, and hosts tourism on a massive scale.
And that was exactly how it was. At least in Karon beach where we stayed. It was like the Costa Brava in the eighties. Pubs with happy hours, restaurants and hotels filled the streets. Beaches full of hodgepodge of nationalities: a lot of Russians, Chinese, Israelis and a fair amount of Europeans. Some beaches are a bit sleazier, such as Patong beach, where the streets are filled with strip and ping pong bars. The beer is cheaper there though.
Early morning, most hotel lobbies are full of people waiting to be picked up for one of the many tours on offer. Snorkeling trips, canoeing in the lagoon around ‘James Bond Island’, or cooking classes. And there is this constant stream of minivans transporting all these tourists to their destinations, for another memorable experience.
It is fascinating to experience how well it is all organised. To see the minibuses circling the island, picking up the tourists from the different hotels, almost always full till the last seat, and delivering everybody on time to the right place. And, when you arrive, beach chairs, lunch and everything else is waiting for you, as if they knew you were coming. Which they obviously did, since ‘we’ are coming every day.
Like so many, we couldn’t resist the temptation to explore the famous Phi Phi Islands, situated 40 km south-east of Phuket. It was great fun on the speedboat, with our driver Schumacher, racing against the other twenty-odd other speedboats that all left at the same time. Schumacher was the winner and did an amazing job. For some it was a bit of rougher experience, judging the colour of the faces.
The first island we visited, Khai Nai Island, a very small island about 10 km east of Phuket, was a bit too busy. When we arrived, at least forty other large speedboats were moored and had delivered about a thousand other people at about at the same time. That made it difficult to find a quiet spot to snorkel, especially on such a small island.
But then there was lots to see, like the men taking pictures of pretty young women in bikinis while their wives were not looking. Or the youngsters themselves, constantly posing for their innumerable selfies.
And it was impressive to see how the tour operators managed to sell scuba dives to so many people with no previous experience, although they went for less than 30 minutes, and not deeper than 4 meters but paid 45 euro. We have seen at least hundred people, of which a large group were Chinese, queuing up for their gear, and then mainly snorkeling with full scuba gear on, within 10 meters of the beach. All of this was organised in a time span of two hours.
For lunch, we went to Phi Phi islands. Beautiful, how these rock formations (limestone cliffs) rise out of the emerald green sea. And a great place to snorkel. It was the highlight of our trip. After lunch we were first treated on monkeys on Monkey Beach. I felt a bit sorry for the monkeys surrounded by the thirty people from our boat, all taking pictures.
The snorkeling in James Bond’s lagoon was just marvellous. The water was a perfect temperature, and so clear you could see the bottom and many colourful fish.
After that, Maya beach was the perfect place to enjoy the sun and a wee gin and tonic together with Denise and Alan, toasting our three wonderful days together.
It might not have been the place any of us would have chosen to meet up. But then, does it really matter? At the end of the day, it is about who you are with and what you make of it. But sure enough, next time, we will go somewhere quieter, where you have a bit more the feeling of actually being in the country where you are at that moment.
Thanks to Denise for the pictures.