Phuket (Thailand)

We have about 2 weeks left on our Thai visas and it was about time to get our beach loving butts planted on some of the islands in Southern Thailand.  Thailand has some of the worlds best tropical beach islands.  The majority of travelers confine their island time to a select few core/popular islands on the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand.  There are a shitload of islands to choose from with Phuket being the largest and most touristy.  However, there are so many more relaxed alternative islands to choose from if you do your homework and if you are looking to escape the flock of package tourists.  We flew into Phuket for a brief stay primarily because it served as a good jumping off point to some other outlying southern Thai islands.

Phuket and the surrounding islands were hardest hit by the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, but almost no evidence of the damage now remains.  There are many different beaches on Phuket to base yourself with each having a completely different vibe.  Patong Beach is renowned to be be one of the party capitals of Asia and boy does it live up to this bad boy reputation.  Booze, beach, hookers, outdoor beer bars, ladyboys, discos, soapy massage parlors and partying crowds from all over the world. Basically a single man’s playground that is sure to fulfill all possible fantasies.  The development of this beach from my 1st visit about 25 years ago is simply unreal.  A cool low key party beach turned into a supercharged zoo.  My mind is still spinning from our brief visit to Patong.  It’s fun to take the Patong Beach action in and check out for a night but we elected to base ourselves a bit south on Kata Beach.  Kata was nice but found it a bit worn around the edges and did not get the much needed face lift like that of the neighboring Karon Beach. We passed on chilling on the main Kata Beach and opted to hang out on the more picturesque and smaller cove of Kata Noi Beach to hang for a day.  We also spent a day on the long sweeping beaches of Karon Beach which has always been a fav of mine and still remains my fav.  The best way to beach hop is by renting a scooter and check out a different beach everyday.  It sure is a ton of fun rather than being isolated on only one of Phuket’s many great beaches.

The popular backpacker party island of Koh Phi Phi is a short boat ride from Phuket.  This is where the movie, The Beach, was filmed with Leonardo de Crap-io( actually, it was filmed at Maya Beach just off Phi Phi and tourists flock here for day trips).  Maya Beach is admittedly beautiful but spoiled by the boatloads of day trippers.  Koh Phi Phi was an absolute tropical paradise 25 years ago and I can report it turned to shit with the arrival of hard partying vomiting backpackers.  The way in which they built up Koh Phi Phi after it was basically leveled by the tsunami is really a disgrace.  It could have been a real magical place but they rebuilt it way too quickly, apparently without any true planning and really fouled the place up.  However, if you leave the party central area of Ton Sai Bay which is saturated with real young backpackers, you can experience the quieter eastern end of the island which has retained it’s serenity and beauty.

Outside of the two most popular islands (Phuket and Ko Phi Phi) on the Andaman Sea, the following other islands will prove to be much more appealing in my opinion.  (Similan Islands, Ko Yao Yai, Ko Yao Noi, and close by, in the Krabi province, are the awesome Ko Lanta and Railey Beach).  On the western side, in the Gulf of Thailand, lies the very popular islands of Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Ko Tao, Ko Kut, Ko Mak, Ko Chang).  We do not have time to visit these Gulf islands because our 30 day visas are up but will definitely return in a few months after we visit Cambodia/Laos/Malaysia/Philippines.

If you’ve been following the news, you may have already heard what’s been going on in Malaysia, Singapore, parts of Indonesia and Southern Thailand for the past 2 months or so.  The air quality has deteriorated with a nasty fire haze with smog engulfing parts of SE Asia.  Some days are worse than others depending upon the winds, but generally the air outside smells of smoke.  We have completely avoided this nastiness but upon arrival in Phuket we got a small taste of the smoky haze and I immediately planned for a quick exit to Laos.  Fortunately, it only affected Phuket on our arrival day and the haze subsequently completely cleared the next day.  Whewww!  As a result of this haze, we are postponing our visits to Singapore and Malaysia until all this crap clears.  I have spoken to someone that just came back from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where its real bad and she said, “you kind of want to hold your breath any time you set foot outside.”

What’s causing this atmospheric phenomenon?  Apparently this happens ever year around August/Septmber, when the nearby island of Sumatra, Indonesia does their annual (and very illegal) slash-and-burn clearing of their forests.  The haze originated in Indonesia due to idiot/corrupt/greedy plantation owners burning forest areas to clear land for cultivation and the fires then spreading out of control.  Schools have been closed, people with breathing problems have suffered and visibility is reduced.  The smoke blows across the narrow Strait of Malacca and settles over peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, usually for a couple of weeks or a month.  However, this year it seems to have lasted a bit longer.

We were planning to visit Phuket during the colorful 9 day Vegetarian Festival to experience its wackiness but the timing did not work out.  Basically, this festival celebrates the Chinese community’s belief that abstinence from meat during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.  Firewalking, body piercing and other acts of self mortification are undertaken by participants.  Men and women puncture their cheeks with various items including knives, skewers and other household items.  It is believed that the Chinese gods will protect such persons from harm, and little blood or scarring results from such mutilation acts.  This is definitely not recommended for the faint hearted to witness and consequently, we passed.  However, to give you some kind of idea of this madness, check out these pix of last years event.

Our time in Phuket is up and off we go to another Thai island.

BEACHES VISITED – 
Kata Beach – 5
Kata Noi Beach – 7  (vintage Thai beach)
Karon Beach – 9  (a gem)
Patong Beach – 3  (would rate it higher but way to much sleaze here. Note, I am a big fan of sleaze but this beach area takes sleaze to another level unknown to mankind)

LOOSE STOOLS INDEX –  8  (still rolling along without a care in the world)

THRU THE BINOCS –
I basically can eat any food dish that is served to me, in any country, with the exception of anything that has peas in it.  This has led Barbie to proclaim that I eat like an animal cause I can inhale anything put in front of me.  When it comes to food, Barbie is super picky and at all times ‘over the top’ concerned about sanitary conditions.  We eat out every single meal and a major compromise was needed.  I am happy to report a Big Doug & Barbie Treaty was enacted to serve as a basis for our hunt for food that we can both agree on.

The Treaty is called:
GCCCF (Good, Clean, Cheap, Casual, Fast)….in that order of preference.
It’s basically like a Pick 5.  If a prospective meal meets all 5 criteria points then it’s an absolute slam dunk meal and both of us are happy.  Just like at the track, it is quite difficult to hit all 5 but hitting 4 is acceptable.  Being the flexible guy I am, I’m willing to sacrifice a degree of Clean for Good.  In these cases, Barbie is flexible and gravitates to her ‘go to’ food item of this trip……French Fries.  Note, Barbie will never bend from Clean but she really loves Cheap.  I, on the other hand, will take Fast over Cheap but it is imperative its Good.  Are we all clear?

Now, who wants to make a wager on whose Loose Stools Index rating will plummet to a 1, 2 or 3 first?  The Big Doug Blog is open for action.  Note, judging from my previous travel experiences, it’s usually the “safe wimpy eater” that gets burned first.  We shall see in time who makes the dash and unleashes into the toilet first.  However, I do like my odds.

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