Travelling in Southeast Asia is a bit different from traveling in Europe. There may be visa requirements for Canadian visitors to several places, like China, Vietnam, and Japan. I visited Phuket for a few days with my two friends, Jed and Will.
The Man With the Golden Gun, The Beach and The Hangover were added to my ascetic list of research homework for the week prior to my trip. And what a trip it was.
It began with my graceful acceptance of the award for most prodigious accommodation locator ever. Yes, in my head, the age old phrase “nanananana” rang loud and clear, but on the outside, I was a perfect Kate Middleton. My travel companions had fought me right up until the morning of our flight because I got them to agree to stay at a cheaper bungalow hotel on Patong Beach. What they didn’t know is that not only would it save us a small fortune each, but also that it would be a beautifully decorated hotel serving free breakfast and situated directly on Patong Beach!
On our first day in Phuket, we decided to hop on a boat tour to the Phi Phi Islands. We arrived at the dock at 7:00 a.m. As we crammed ourselves in between the coffee machine spewing sugar-water and the complimentary cheesies, one of the guides was blaring on about sea urchins and the astonishing protective capabilities of a pair of rentable flippers. We sipped the coffee until we were amenable and then quickly boarded the speedboat. Being the eager beavers we are, we volunteered to sit at the nose of the boat. We took our seats across from some first-timers and hid our phones in the cabin as we anticipated it would be a wet and bumpy ride. You have no idea. I flew out of my seat at a height that may have caused passengers of other boats to think I was parasailing; a height that would enable my 5 foot self to complete a slam dunk; a height that, upon landing, would easily shatter my tailbone; I think you get the point.
As we pulled through the bay entrance, a narrow opening in the circumference of a towering limestone slab draped in trees and stalagmites, all of that jabber about broken tailbones seemed to disappear. Despite our guides’ stolidity on their hundredth visit to paradise, my eyes were wide open so as to survey every glimmer of the fluorescent turquoise water, every rumble within the caves, and every flutter of a fish fin. Every sight and creature was exotic and new and wonderful. In all my excitement, I failed to notice that a first-timer lost his cool on the way to the bay and the wind had forced a generous serving of his own white, lumpy vomit into his face.
No matter. I was lost in the Andaman Sea … No, literally. My friend and I decided to grab a pair of flippers and head from the reef to the shore of a tiny, untouched beach and the boat nearly left us there! Before we noticed our boat was leaving us, however, I caught a glimpse of a Moorish idol, also known as Gill from Finding Nemo!
After feeding all our bananas to the monkeys who scaled down the cliff side for a visit, we headed to the Phi Phi islands for a meal of our own. Following a capricious dining experience with one very welcoming and well-off cat, we sped off to the island of Khai Nai for some dessert.
I just want to take a moment here to stress the ecstasy inducing experience that is eating tropical fruit from Thailand, especially pineapples. To this day, it is the first euphoric memory and the first word that comes out of my mouth when anything Thailand is asked of me: pineapples. I sound ridiculous, I know, and I downplayed my reaction at first so as not to draw any unnecessary attention. It was only after I saw other people pretending to be part of certain tour groups in an attempt to get more free pineapple that I began realizing the significance of what I’d just discovered. Anyway, here one is.
Aside from offering mouth-watering tropical fruits and a backdrop suitable for world-class yoga, Thailand also offers some much needed travel perspective. It is not uncommon to feel that the air is tense in many countries in Southeast Asia. Even in Singapore, one of the safest and least corrupt places I’ve been to, it’s easy to feel like you are walking on eggshells where the government is concerned. In Thailand, corruption is infamous; bribery of government officials, drug abuse and prostitution form a lot of the hearsay. While I was out enjoying Bangla Road in all of its Aussie-clad glory, or being treated by a humble worker to a tour of a temple in Phuket’s Old Town, I couldn’t help but contemplate the impact of my visit on Thai culture and politics. Should I avoid putting money in the pocket of government tourist companies? Or a bar owner that seems to be running something a little more dodgy upstairs? Or a Thai “massage” establishment? As it turns out, there is good and bad wherever you go; my resolve is to be well informed, responsible and respectful. Today, the Thai military leader has become president, presumably leading to a less corrupt reformation of the Thai government.