Phuket, unlike Kao Lak, is not a laid-back, beautiful sanctuary. Some parts are laid-back, some parts are beautiful, but Phuket is gritty, Phuket is loud, Phuket is polluted, Phuket doesn't sleep, and Phuket is home to one of the most famous sex districts in S.E. Asia (hello lady boys of Patong).
Despite these set-backs, we managed to have a fabulous honeymoon. We rose every morning with the sun, took full advantage of the phenomenal breakfast spread at La Meridian (complete with an assortment of fresh tropical juices), learned to swim in the pool around eight am, before the other tourist began to crowd in, took daily dips in the salty Andaman Sea and rented a motor bike so that we could have the freedom to set off on our own adventures.
Taking on Phuket:
Get a Thai Massage
In my opinion, there are few things as pleasurable as a Thai massage. Full bodied, reaching your deep tissues, relaxing and interactive, Thai massage is my favorite form of massage. There were several places for Mark and I to get one. Almost every beauty shop we passed offered massage. My favorite location though was under a canopy on La Meridian's private beach where I could hear the ocean lapping against the sand and the distant call of nature. Massages are very inexpensive, around tend dollars for an hour.
Go in search of the giant white Buddha
While in the bike rental shop, we were advised by two local women that we must take the trek into the mountains to see the giant white Buddha. That was all they had to say for me to be intrigued. Mark was on board, and with little more than make a left at the church, a right when you hit the water and follow the signs, we were on our bike, heading in the direction of the giant white Buddha, to see what we could see. The ride was very scenic, especially once we headed up the side of this mountain through a small isolated town. We stopped several times to take pictures of the sun making progress towards setting over the ocean. Then, sure enough, in the distance at the top of a hill sat what literally appeared to be a giant white Buddha statue. We made it to the top just as the sun was setting. After posing for a few pictures, we spent some time in the monastery and Mark attempted to ring a huge Tibetan bowl.
Take an Elephant Trek
I am a huge fan of pachyderms. I think they are some of the most graceful , grounded and beautiful creatures to grace the planet. Thailand is one of the natural habitats of the Asian elephant. Elephants are everywhere, whether embroidered onto clothes and tapestries, or represented in statues and paintings. Elephant trek safaris are everywhere as well.
There was a trek site, not far from the white Buddha statue relatively near our hotel. Mark and I found ourselves riding our bike (correction I sat on the back with my arms in a death grip around him, as he sped up a narrow mountain path) to the elephant camp. At first, my heart melted. Two baby elephants were out front doing tricks. In exchange for a trick they would get a banana. Visitors could pay a few baht to feed the elephants as well. I fell for that hook line and sinker and before I knew it, had emptied my purse of all its change in exchange for a bunch of bananas. My hand was covered in elephant mucus as their little slimy trunks reached towards my hands. They were so cute. I was babbling and cooing with little gray, mini-cooper sized elephants. Their beautiful black eyes surrounded by thick long lashes played with me. It wasn't until I was called away to board our trekking elephant that I noticed the chains. These beautiful little babies, were chained by the foot to a stake in the ground. They could barely move. They stood, placidly rocking back and forth, smiling and entertaining in perfect unnatural misery. This put quite the damper on my mood.
We boarded our elephant for the trek, a large female with a steady slow gait. Our driver (if you can call him that), an elderly gentleman with no teeth and a willing smile called out orders to the elephant as he perched on her head behind her ears. It took a while to get used to being jostled about in the basket on the elephants back, but once I did, I was able to enjoy the scenery, and the fact that I was riding on the back of one of natures most powerful and majestic creatures. Side to side we rocked, slowly approaching a bend around our steep mountain path. For some reason, at this particular juncture, our dear elephant had other plans. Instead of following the trail, I sat in horror as the elephant began to approach the edge of the mountain (I'm talking steep drop off and instant death). The man driving the elephant began to panick and set off screaming at the creature in Thai. The elephant continued to lead us towards certain death. The man pulled out a long iron hooked instrument and began beating the elephant behind the ears. The elephant stopped for a moment, before continuing on her path, the one that lead towards certain death. I wasn't breathing. I squeezed Mark's arm and searched for a way out with my bugged eyes. There was none. Our way out was a steep drop off the side of the mountain. Mark was silent, but his petrified look said everything. Meanwhile, the driver, realizing the situation could turn ugly really quickly jumped off of the elephant's head (perhaps to save his own life) and ran in front of the animal, putting his body between us and the edge of the mountain. With his little iron weapon, he began beating at the elephant until she slowly stepped backwards. I was so fearful for my life and all the while, I was so sad for this poor elephant.
We finished the rest of our trek in somber silence. Despite the tropical beauty around us, there was little to take pleasure in besides the fact that we had our lives. Elephant treks are really cruel. The treks aren't cruel, but the treatment of the elephants for the most part is deplorable. Between the chains on their legs and the beatings with the iron hook, I could see why our elephant considered jumping. Free the elephants I say!
Eat! Eat! Eat!
There is so much great food to take advantage of in Phuket. In Phuket town and in the city you will not only find Thai food but a vast assortment of ethnic cuisine such as Italian and French. Mark and I actually had a really tasty Italian dinner, but who comes to Thailand for Italian food.
Eaters to the core, we left the Phuket city center and sought out our dinners elsewhere. Since we had our bike, we would ride out into the Thai neighborhoods where few tourists could be found and helped ourselves to the locally owned food establishments. We ate so well. The vegetables were fresh and perfectly seasoned. The calamari, muaw, tasty and crunchy greatness. Mark was a big fan of the red snapper meals, while I typically went for the veggie curries (red, massaman, green, they were all delicious). The curry in Thailand is thin like soup and was served with coconut sticky rice.
I couldn't partake in the beer drinking festivities, but Mark had a ball with the local brews.
My drink du jour everyday was coconut in the raw.
Have a suit tailor-made
Thailand is apparently famous for tailor-made suits. On every street their seemed to be a tailor shop boasting high quality suits with the latest cuts for a quarter of the price. Master imitators, tailors claimed to be able to re-produce any suit from Armani to Gucci.
This meant nothing to me, but Mark became a kid in a candy store and thus began our great suit endeavor. I was dragged from shop to shop and forced to sit through lengthy fittings. I am very impatient, this was not a highlight, but by the time we left, Mark had three new suits to call his own and only paid about a hundred dollars for each one. Despite it all, I must admit, he looked quite debonair.
Visit the local temples
The Wat Chalong temple was an ornate pleasure. Wat Chalong is vast, consisting of several buildings and shrines and a large expanse of manicured lawn. A Buddhist temple, some of the buildings held golden statues of Siddhartha Gautama that told the story of his life and rise to esteem.
In front of every building you will find a pile of flip-flops. You are absolutely not allowed to wear shoes inside the sacred spaces. It was a gift to walk delicately and intentionally throughout the devotional spaces.
I first encountered the beauty of Thailand in February of 2006, about a year after the Asian Tsunami ravaged its shores. I was in Kao Lak then, visiting my friend Susan who was on a long term volunteer assignment. Kao Lak, despite the devastation was stunning. I was entranced by the shimmering Andaman Sea, uplifted by the incredible resiliency and spirit of the people, disarmed by the stunning landscape and felt a sense of deep and overwhelming peace.
I always knew I'd find an excuse to return.
When my husband Mark and I were talking about honeymoon options Thailand was at the top of our list. He had never been, and I had enthusiastically talked it up for months. (Truthfully, I wanted to honeymoon in Mozambique, but I am pregnant and venturing to a malaria endemic region at six months is not the smartest idea). Deciding that we wanted to have a slightly traditional honeymoon (in the sense that we didn't want to stay at a backpackers lodge and rough it too much), we booked our package through a travel agent (I never do this, I probably won't do it again), who gave us an excellent deal on our flight and hotel. This was where the excellence stopped.
I remember telling the travel agent, that we wanted to stay in Kao Lak. We even went so far as to specifically choose the La Meridian hotel in Kao Lak after a recommendation from Susan. Murphy's law being Murphy's law, this didn't quite work out. Somehow, somewhere, we were booked at the La Meridian in Phuket (a few hours away). This I noticed way too late as we were chatting with an Australian ex-pat on the flight from Bangkok to Phuket. Now we've learned that both hotels are fully booked. There will be no changes.
So here we are in Thailand, on our honeymoon in Phuket instead of Kao Lak. I suppose things could be worse, we could be in Niagara Falls. We are after all still in Thailand, we are still at a beautiful La Meridian resort, and we are most importantly still on our honeymoon, so it is.
The La Meridian hotel is absolutely stunning. Set back off of the main road, surrounded by a private beach and a foresty mountain view, we're protected from the chaotic hub that can be Phuket. Our ocean view room is lovely (minus the small ant infestation in the bathroom).
It is now nap time, (this 12 hour time difference is rough) but I can't wait to get out and explore our accidental surroundings.