Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 8 – First Full Day in Phuket

The first few days of our last sojourn to SE Asia was a little challenging for me. I used to cope with time difference easily when traveling internationally, but I seem to have lost my skill in this area as I kept waking up at two in the morning and could not go back to sleep, which went on for nearly a week, and required the use of afternoon naps which I truly hate and make me feel awful after I wake up. Well imagine my surprise this trip when I fell asleep at 10 pm the previous night and slept straight through to 5 am, avoiding what I call the “zombie hour”. Let’s hope I can maintain this schedule.

I awoke quietly with little fanfare, grabbed my laptop and headed down to the hotel lobby to write some journals and enjoy the dawn experience on the first real day of our trip. From what we saw yesterday, the Chivatera is a fantastic hotel. We got rooms beside each other at floor level, four steps and a giant leap away from the pool. Although we were told the hotel is nearly full, it was extremely quiet last night and in fact seemed to be nearly deserted.

I returned to the room around 7:30 and found everybody up and Ana already showered and nearly ready to go. The kids were lounging around in the room and had started writing their journals. Call me cruel, but every time we take a long vacation I ask the kids to do a daily journal. For me, it’s a way for them to not just practice their writing, but also to create something that will be very interesting for them to read far into the future, and to be able to look back and see themselves through a young set of eyes. This year they were complaining about having to do the journal, so we told them it doesn’t have to be a log of what you did each day; instead they can draw a picture, write a poem, list out some interesting words they learned, write a short story, pretty much anything as long as they are at least doing something creative. Since it is their vacation too we don’t want them getting anxious about this daily deliverable, or feel it’s ruining their fun, and we certainly don’t want to be pestering them. So we’ll see how it goes.

Together we returned to the lobby for breakfast and found a pretty good selection of food. Our typical routine in the past has been to find hotels or guesthouses that include breakfast so that we can have a big meal in the morning, a small lunch - usually soup bowls, street food or fruit, and then go out for an evening meal. It’s a good way to keep the costs down, which is always a consideration when on such a long trip. There were many other people having breakfast, the vast majority of whom looked to be Chinese tourists, so maybe the hotel was full after all. As we were finishing, we saw a huge bus pull up in front of the hotel and dozens of people piled into it, leaving us once again all alone in the hotel.

After breakfast we left the hotel and went for a walk along the beach. The tide was now up and most of the beach had been consumed by water, making it look very unlike the previous night when the tide was quite far out. The first thing we encountered was a long line of debris across the top of the beach, pushed up by the waves. Plastic bottles, glass bottles, caps, rope, packaging and all sorts of other garbage not easily consumed by the ocean was strewn about. Seeing this always shatters our expectation of finding clean, unspoiled beaches, but is an important reminder of just how much garbage gets dumped into the oceans. The stretches of beach in front of the resorts were, of course, clean and beautiful, but the public areas were polluted by litter. Disappointing, yes, and yet tucked inside our day bag was a big, plastic litre bottle of water, which may itself be headed for the ocean once we consume the product inside. So what is one to think of that?

We continued down the beach as far as we could go but were stopped but a small river that had cut a deep channel into the sand and made it impossible to cross with getting submerged. We considered building a raft from all of the debris on the beach but none of us were in a Robinson Crusoe mood quite yet. We retraced our steps and somebody pointed to some trees in the distance, wondering what the giant pods were. Hanging from the trees were large, cocoon shaped objects that were probably large enough to hold a person. Torture chambers? Jail cells? Alien cocoons? Cheese hangers? Nobody knew, and sadly, we didn’t ask anybody what they were, so the mystery remains.  (Fast Forward Explanation – we found out the next day that these are actually just cool, modern light fixtures whose function did not extend beyond being esthetically pleasing). We cut through the Arinara Resort, which is where we stayed the last time we were in this area, and walked out to the road that runs parallel to the beach and sports a string of shops. Tony and I found a table to sit at while the rest of the gang browsed through the shops. The temperature was very nice and though it was humid, it was not uncomfortable. We continued down the road and Mackenzie burst out of a shop with terrible news. Due to some sort of Buddhist religious holiday, all alcohol sales were banned! Now this seemed very strange to me, as I’d never heard of such a thing and Phuket, as the party capital of Thailand, is fueled by booze.

We asked several shop keepers and the consensus seemed to be that you could not buy alcohol anywhere today, Sunday, and maybe even Monday, which was indeed going to be a problem because Monday is when we began our catamaran charter and a not insignificant portion of the provisions was expected to be products containing alcohol. Our first backpacker dilemma, but one in which I was sure we’d find a solution, and one that hopefully did not include teetotaling our way through Phang Nga bay on a luxury yacht.

We walked back to the hotel and all jumped the pool for an extended swim and to enjoy the sun that was now burning its way through the cloud cover. As it is the monsoon season there are always a lot of clouds and you can expect it to rain most days, but it is never a full day of rain – usually just an intense shower or two in the evenings and occasionally during the day. The hotel was still completely deserted so we enjoyed it like it was our own. Between the pool loungers, mixed nut snacks, magazines and pool games, this was sure starting to feel like a vacation.

The kids grabbed some cash and went down to the shops to get us lunch. It was time to introduce the Henriques to the incredible Asian soup bowl. These are the ready to eat noodle bowls that you dump hot water into and are rewarded with an instant meal. But the ones you get in Asia are ten times better than the crappy ones at home as they include two or three “flavor packs” thatn you crack open and dump into the soup. The kids also picked up a small bunch of overripe bananas to add some food group diversity into our backpacker lunch, but I think we need to teach the kids how to colour identify bananas that are ready to eat, from the ones that are ready to be stuffed into the freezer and await their fate as an essential banana bread component, which rarely happens, but it just seems like the right thing to do.

Mac and Maddy had been looking at the scooter and car rentals and proposed to the team that we rent scooters to do some exploring. We thought on the idea for a while and suggested to the group that we avoid the scooters, knowing from our previous visit how hazardous the driving can be here, but also how tricky it is navigating the many winding roads and crazy intersections, which would make keeping a group of scooters together difficult, especially with inexperienced riders. So instead we decided to get a car, and managed to find a small SUV that actually fit all eight of us! In less than ten minutes we had selected a car, negotiated a price, completed the paperwork, paid for the vehicle, and were sitting in the car, buckled into our seats. The nice Thai lady who rented us the car leaned in the window and said, in way of detailed briefing, “Drive on the left.” That was all we needed to know. We actually did ask her how to get to this cool looking market we saw the previous afternoon. She told us it was called Boat Avenue, and then laughed, made a few twisty movements with her hand and walked off. We were on our own.

Boat Avenue had been jammed with vendors, restaurants and people last night when we passed it, so we thought it would be an appropriate first destination to visit. We drove down the single lane road, dodging scooters, children, people carrying bags, other cars, tree branches, and frequent street cats and dogs, and completely missed the turn we were supposed to make, so I let instinct take over and just drove around hoping to get lucky. We passed one house and saw a monkey with a giant, bald bum climbing on the roof, which was rather unexpected. We sized him up and decided he wasn’t going to fit into the monkey butler uniform we had bought in advance of the trip, so decided to keep looking for a better specimen.

We ended up completely missing our intended destination, but we did get onto the ocean road and drove south for a while, getting a feel for the driving and trying to find our bearings. We stopped at a lookout point over a beautiful beach and snapped a lovely group selfie, or at least what I thought was a magnificent photo until somebody pointed out that I had completely cut off Stella.

Ana managed to get the GPS working on her phone which lead us back to Bangtao and directly to Boat Avenue. We parked the car and did a leisurely walk around the area, which was indeed full of shops and restaurants, but not nearly as many people as the previous day. We would find out later that there had been a special night market on Friday, which is why it was so packed when we passed by. We found a grocery store and discovered that the alcohol restriction would end at midnight Sunday so this was great news for our catamaran provisioning plan as we had arranged for a van to take us all to a grocery store on Monday morning on the way to the boat, which we get at noon. There was great happiness all around.

We settled on a neat little kebab shop for dinner and ordered up a variety of dishes. As Mac was eating he spotted a spider crawling out from beneath a piece of lettuce on his plate. I could tell he was getting into the backpacker groove when he simply flicked it off his plate and kept on eating.

Poor Magnus was so tired he was falling asleep with his face in his hands, so we moved him over to a comfy bench where he properly fell asleep. Tony saw his opportunity for revenge and started piling up table scraps like bottle caps, tooth picks and sugar packs on his forehead while he slept. It didn’t seem to bother him.
With that we drove back to Bangtao and everybody was in bed before 10 pm, capping off a relaxing, yet moderately adventurous day.

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