Sunday, January 13, 2008
Sundays from Singapore: A trip to Thailand
View across the pool as seen from the lobby.
Names changed to protect the friendship!
Ah, Thailand! What a trip, literally and figuratively! We abandoned the house with the leaky ceiling and headed out with our friends the Morgs for four days and three nights to Phuket. This word, like many Thai words, contains a silent "h" and is pronounced "Poo Ket." Since the "h" is always silent, I wonder why they bother. Probably to watch the tourists try to wrap their tongues up in knots trying to get to their destination.
So, the nine of us hit the airport in two vans stuffed with luggage, which I will be quick to point out that the four of us only took 3 suitcases and carry-ons. The Morgs, however, had considerably more since they had with them, one mother/MIL, the amah (or maid) Eva, and little Nickel, who at 2 makes Ivana Trump look like the poster child of light packing. We made it to the airport in advance of the Morgs, had passed through immigration and the check-in counter, and were at the far end of the terminal before Silk Air was forced to change the gate to the other side of the terminal. Back we schlepped, while filling out the seemingly endless documents to both enter and exit Thailand, along with a customs declaration form that neglected to specify what was declarable. Okay, nothing to declare. Easy.
The flight was uneventful, except for the gentleman with excessive flatulence who was in the row ahead of the girls and me. I was dearly hoping for a loss of altitude that would drop those oxygen masks! Some people shouldn't eat chili for breakfast when they are traveling!
Upon exiting the aircraft, we found ourselves in a very long line at immigration. Apparently, the Thais are more concerned about undesirables coming into the country than illegal drugs leaving the country. I figured it took about 5 minutes per person to have their documents checked and stamped. Have your passport? Okay, stamp. Does it look like you? Stamp, stamp. Filled out your entry form, stamp again. Planning on leaving soon? Good, stamp, stamp. And so on.
Somebody didn't have something required or lost their passport and were pulled aside to a seating area. The problem was apparently with her, not him, and many tears followed. No fewer than nine officials from immigration, airport security, and the airline took part in the scenario. According to Lucky Morg, if the airline transported you without verifying all your documents, they face massive fines for the error. The situation wasn't resolved by the time we passed through, but it did provide a diversion as we tried to guess what the story was. Now we are off to get some money.
The currency of Thailand is the baht. Again, with the silent "h", pronounced baaaat. And they aren't worth very much. One US dollar buys you about 45 bhat, give or take. On the other hand, most products and services are dirt cheap. Lucky opted for hour long massages on the beach for the equivalent of $8US.
Armed with some local money, we rode in 2 more vans to the hotel, about 30 minutes away. I wished the drivers didn't feel that the very Devil himself was chasing them (a common trait shared by all drivers, it turned out,) because I missed some really great pictures along the way. The basic geography reminds me of very old Hawaii, mainly Kauai, with thick vegetation that reclaims anything left standing empty for more than a minute or so. It was amazing to see the rice fields, with thatched roof shacks perched on stilts above the paddies. We passed very exciting temple compounds with their unique rooflines and high color ornamentation, all at high speed. Most of the houses were about the size and shape of a one car garage, and were constructed of cinderblock and corrugated tin, in various shades of rust and rustier.
The hotel, the Chedi, was situated on a cliff above a white sand beach with pounding surf. According to one map I read, swimming is never recommended at this particular beach because of riptides, the the relentless waves did generate some swell breezes. This was very good, as Phuket is both hotter and muggier than Singapore, if that is actually possible. The only other drawback was the 5200 steps required to go from the lobby down to the beach and your bungalow. I don't think the developers understand the words 'handicap accessible" and definitely there is no translation for the word "elevator." What is required is knee-power and plenty of it.
Our bungalow as seen from the beach. Ours is behind the red flag, the Morgs is to the right.
Our bungalow was a cozy 2 bedroom cottage sitting right on the beach. Lest you envision a spacious house with a living room etc, I will plainly state that this had 2 bedrooms and a bath in the middle. The front sliding door led immediately to the king size bed within about 12 inches. The bathroom was separated by sliding patterned glass doors which had an annoying tendency to outline every naked movement you made to the rooms beyond, and if you forgot to shut the louvered privacy doors to the outside world, to the neighboring cottages as well. I saw more than I cared to on the trip. However, the rooms were comfortable, tastefully decorated, and conveniently located to ensure that the lovely teak floors were permanently covered in a light sprinkling of sand at all times. This fact alone made for some interesting walks and slides to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Not to mention the uncomfortable prospect of sand in the bed.
The views were to kill for, especially the sunsets. We had some good rain storms, but they were short and we could get back to the business of steaming. Thailand has only two seasons, according to the hotel information packet, the Rains Season, and the Hot Season. Figures.
The girls playing in the surf at sunset.
So, now we had made it to the hotel, and a swim was definitely necessary. I will leave you here for the moment, and return later to tell the rest of the tale. Hope you have enjoyed your tour of Thailand so far.