One of the things on my “must do” list here is to take Gaun’s younger sister and her husband, Yuan and Lud, away from the Isaan life for a holiday on a regular basis. This is because otherwise they never stop working seven days a week 365 days a year and their life is no more than farm, home and market in an endless cycle. Not that it bothers them because they are the happiest couple you could hope to meet.
In 2015 we flew them to Chiang Mai and Rai, their first ever airflight, and had a great time exploring old haunts we had discovered when we lived in both those places. You can read about Yuan and Lud’s first real holiday HERE and HERE.
This year I wanted to take them to the beach because neither of them had ever experienced the sea. We had some friends visit us for New Year and they were kind enough to leave us a donation when they left towards the holiday for Yuan and Lud, which kick started my thinking (thank you again Saskia and Gaz).
From Udon Thani, our nearest airport, one of the easiest places to visit on the coast is Phuket because Air Asia fly there direct once a day. It’s an hour and a half flight costing about A$100.00 return per person. The other benefit of Phuket is that both Gaun and I had spent some time there when I first arrived in Thailand in 2013 so we knew some of the best spots to visit to round out sitting on a beach time for Yuan and Lud.
The timing for any break from Isaan has to coincide with a down time for the farmwork and early March suited as although there were new crops in the ground they weren’t at a harvesting stage and the daily watering could be handled by Paed and Tham, my in-laws that run the other half of the family farm.
We ended up booking accommodation for four nights at a small B&B called Good 9 @ Home in Rawai, which is on the tip of Phuket island and a lot less hectic than the tourist centres of Kata, Karon and Patong.
If you are after a very personal, super well run and comfortable place on a modest budget then you’d go a long way to better Good 9. You can find more information HERE rated number 1 of 63 B&B’s in Rawai for good reason by Trip Advisor.
We arrived into Phuket airport at about 6:30 pm and collected a rental car from Europcar booked via Arguscar.com HERE as I wanted to be able to travel around without relying on public transport, tuk tuks and certainly not motorbikes. The only downside discovered on arrival is that Europcar’s office is in the huge new International terminal, which is a long walk through a builder’s yard from domestic. The last time I was here international and domestic were combined and the international terminal was a carpark.
I was super organised this time and had preloaded all the places I wanted to visit on my GPS and for once the coordinates actually matched with the location of our accommodation. The first time I visit Phuket on holiday in 2013 I didn’t fly in until 11:00 pm due to a missed flight in Sydney and it took me three hours to find my accommodation in Nai Harn. Nighttime Phuket looks nothing like the maps and directions I had printed out in Australia.
The massive roadworks that were happening three years ago when we visited Phuket were mostly finished but had just moved further towards Rawai. Even at that time of night the traffic was heavy and reminded me of one of the reasons I decided not to retire there.
Our first day started with breakfast, which appears based on your order taken the night before, by the wonderfully attentive and friendly Jimmie (a girl) at the same time you do.
I had a rough schedule for activities and Day 1 was to do the more touristy attractions to give Yuan and Lud a feel for the variety of Phuket and maybe even get their feet wet in the sea for the first time. Because we had arrived at night a quick stop at the beachfront road that runs through Rawai was an obvious first stop as on a perfect day like this it is a pretty fine place to be. A walk out on the Rawai pier and the local seafood markets were high on the list.
The map below shows you the pier on the right, our guesthouse location and the main street of Rawai running alongside the ocean.
The next two stops for us country folk involved wats. Firstly Thai people are always looking for opportunities to gain merit by dropping into a temple wherever they are and secondly you will quickly come to realise that Thailand has very little architectural alternatives to offer outside of wat buildings.
Unfortunately the two main temples in Phuket, while ticking all the first-time in Thailand boxes, aren’t particularly outstanding examples. Wat Chalong just up the road from Rawai and the Big Buddha on a hill overlooking the whole of the southern end of Phuket are definitely worth the visit if you want something other than a beach and as they are rated number three and number one on Trip Advisor in the sights and landmarks category HERE you won’t be alone. GPS coords for Wat Chalong N 07 50′ 48.6″ E 098 20′ 12.7″.
This temple has a bell tower, shown on the left, the main hall, a chedi (a tower structure), a crematorium as well as the Ubosot or monk ordination hall, which isn’t open to the public and a few miscellaneous buildings. The size and new building work is a reflection on the income generate by being in such a popular location.
A lot of what goes on in a wat (!) has little to do with pure Buddhism. Getting direction about whether you should buy that new car, change your wife or husband and any clue to the next lottery numbers are equally important. Hints to the future can be gained by shaking a box full of sort of chopsticks until one pops out. You then match the stick to a range of printed leaflets available somewhere in the temple to discover your destiny.
You might also come across three heavy stones or small statues in front of the main Buddha “altar”. The idea is that you ask your question and then try to lift the stone. If you can do it easily that’s a “yes” or otherwise forget it 🙂
Big Buddha was out next destination at N 07 49′ 39.6″ E 098 18′ 45.9″. This place is worth the drive not just for the Buddha himself, which is impressive if permanently unfinished, but the views over both sides of the island are stunning on a clear day. Gaun and I went there shortly before we left Phuket to live in Chiang Rai late 2013. We both got one of those good luck wristbands from a monk, which we both still wear well over three years later. I do recommend grabbing one because the last few years have been just wonderful 🙂 Something is working.
The Big Buddha was a building site when we came here three years ago. It still is. Rather than finish the Buddha structure itself a huge staircase is now being built with a large structure underneath, which will probably sit mostly empty once completed if that ever happens. The area where the monks give blessings is still a tin shed the same as it was last time. Completion, maintenance and logic play little part in wat construction but that reflects the Thainess of things so not necessarily a bad thing. It helps break our ingrained need to have everything exactly the way we think it should be and maybe that in a funny way is what the Buddha was trying to teach us!
Having accumulated some Buddhist merit points it was time to head back down and hit the beach. Yuan and Lud’s first sea feet wetting would happen at Kata beach, which is the second of the well know beaches as you head up the west coast (Nai Harn, Kata, Karon and Patong – refer map above).
This is the first time I have been back to Phuket since the 2014 coup. The military forced through a clean up of the big tourist beaches with the bulk chairs and umbrellas being totally barred along with all the informal food, stalls and massage places that had sprung up over time. I believe the beaches were totally bare of all furniture for a while. It was nice to see that a compromise has been reached and although most of the beaches are free of seating (before it was hard to find a spot that didn’t require you to hire a chair) the seating is back in restricted areas. The stalls etc are still absent.
We were on a beach roll so decided to do the full drive and take in Patong, Phuket’s party town and farang heaven (or hell depending on your point of view). The drive from Nai Harn along the coast to Patong is a great one just for the scenery if nothing else. You need to be confident with your Thai driving skills as the roads are busy and very narrow though Kata and Karon shopping streets. Watch out for tourists who think that the traffic will stop for them at pedestrian crossings. Ignore them as a local would!
One day I must take Gaun on a cruise. Endless food 24 hours a day is an Isaan lady’s idea of bliss and a cashing in of all those Buddhist merit points.
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Patong day or night is to grab a streetside stool, keep the cold drinks coming and just watch the amazing variety of people flowing past you. People on holiday are at their most natural with some hilarious and probably unintentional results. Often not a pretty sight but always interesting.
Heading into late afternoon we stopped off at Cape Phromthep on the way back to the B&B situated between Nai Harn and Rawai to catch the ocean sunset (number 4 on the top attractions – Trip Advisor). There is very little you do alone in modern tourism and you will join crowds of both international and Thai tourists lining up to get that perfect Facebook photo.
More to come in the next post. We hire a longboat to take us to Coral Island for Yuan and Lud’s first day on the beach, an art village discovered, Nai Harn beach, Sabai Corner bar, a must to visit and a hidden beach in Rawai you will want to add to your list.
Thanks for reading.