This is a catch-up Phuket entry and will be followed sometime with a catch-up Bangkok entry or two.
I have visited the North East coast of Phuket on a couple of occasions and thought it was worth an entry.
For those of you who don’t know Phuket most of the development you see in the tourist brochures has happened on the West coast, probably because this is where the best surfing beaches are located. Names like Patong, Karon, Kata and Nai Harn are all West facing beach suburbs and mostly heavily developed to cater for the huge tourist influx.
The East coast faces the gulf between Phuket and the Thai mainland and doesn’t have surf so presents a very different face, one that isn’t based around the beach life. This is where you’ll find places like Rawai beach, Chalong and Phuket town.
Although the South East (bottom right as you look at a Phuket map) is still very developed it tends to be geared more for locals and long term residents rather than tourists. A lot of the water based tours leave from this side of the island as there are calm water spots. The following two photos give two examples of boating locations on the South East Coast.
This blog entry is going to focus on the North East (as you look at a map of Phuket the top right area) which is less dramatic than the West however still has it’s own character and points of interest. The development here is typical Thai sprawl and pretty unattractive while the coast is lined with a lot of mangroves.
The first trip we made had food as goal, a restaurant that was recommended in an excellent Phuket blog – essential reading if visiting the area (http://jamie-monk.blogspot.com).
Access to the North East is from the main road that runs through the centre of Phuket North/South. Coming from the airport there is a major roundabout surrounding what’s called The Heroines Monument dedicated to two women who led the people of Phuket against a Burmese invasion in 1785. Turn left and you are on the only road that runs through this part of the East coast and loops round to rejoin the main road closer to the airport.
The road itself runs slightly inland so you don’t get the dramatic views of beach and sea that you do on the West. Neither do you get the traffic. It is all pretty quiet in this area.
The first stop was at a waterfall, once again recommended in Jamie’s blog, called Bangpae. It’s on the left hand side of the road about 15 minutes drive from the monument and worth a visit.
There are a couple interesting sights on the road leading to the waterfall off the main drag. On the right you’ll see a rubber plantation (for my pedantic readers and I have a couple this photo was taken leaving the waterfall so the rubber plantation is on the left!), which is one of many you’ll see around Phuket. Thailand is a large rubber exporter earning $10 billion p.a. for the economy. Keep an eye out for elephants because there is a camp of them closeby.
Further up on the left you will see a great example of Lanna style traditional wooden architecture (Lanna named after the ancient kingdom of Lan Na, the golden land of the million rice fields, founded in 1296 by King Mengrai the Great who also founded the Northern Thai capital Chiang Mai in the same year).
Just to the left of the entry gate to the waterfalls park area there are some buildings overlooking a small lake. This is supposed to be an excellent restaurant but it was closed the day we tried to eat there so I can’t comment.
Entry to the park will cost a non-Thai 200 TBH (A$7.00). Thai’s get in for free. Gaun was most upset at this fee – more so than I was. “Pay money for what”. You will find this is quite often the case where us farang get charged more than the locals. It is often raised as a point of contention in travel forums. I agree it is discriminatory but for the sake of a few dollars get over it and move on.
The falls themselves are a 10 minute walk from the entrance and a path follows the stream through dense rainforest, which is a pleasant experience in itself.
There are several rock pools along the way where Thai groups were enjoying themselves.
As a tourist you can forget that you are sharing the island with Thais who are just leading normal lives. It was a weekend and the local kids were out and about cooling off in the way kids do worldwide when there’s water around. The beaches also fill up on weekends with Thai families enjoying their own coastline.
At the end of the path are the falls themselves. We enjoyed watching slightly older Thai kids climbing up and jumping off. I have a feeling that it would look higher from the jump point than from where I was standing. I would have given it a go of course but hadn’t bought swimmers!
Leaving Bangpae waterfalls behind we drove further North to find the recommended restaurant. Thai road signs being what they’re not we never made it (should have turned at the small road running down the side of the mosque) but did end up on the East coastline. Nothing special in itself but as always the unexpected often shows up if you head off into the unknown.
There is some catering for tourists here. Several slightly run down cruise boats were wrapped up for the low season. I watched as an engine was winched into one of them. In my books it should have been winched straight out and dumped. A gleaming chrome example of mans engineering capability it wasn’t! Floating fishing villages could offer some alternative eating possibilities accessed via a long-tail boat.
We drove along the narrow local road running at the back of this beach before heading inland. It is obviously an area where people once had big ideas for tourist development as there are several major building projects just sitting there unfinished. One of my favourite photos is of this guard dog who was keeping a close eye on us from on high.
The road ended at another bright idea that just didn’t float. What must have been a beautiful hotel perched on a lovely headland was now a wreck. Sad to see.
Heading back from the hotel I decided that as I was driving a large four wheel drive we’d to go bush so we followed a dirt track through the forest (bush), which brought us to an area full of these ponds, something I’ve never seen before.
Gaun’s conversation with a worker confirmed that it was in fact a huge commercial prawn farm. There were many of these ponds with rotating paddles to aerate the water. I presume they are in business to cater to the demands of us tourists although fish also forms an important component of Thai diets too.
My second trip to the east coast was with my brother Richard and his partner Sam. Richard is far better than me at research so we actually made it to the restaurant site I had planned to visit the previous trip (see above) i.e. we did turn down the road at the side of the mosque. Not that this helped us much because the restaurant was closed for the low season, or maybe was closed permanently.
We ended up in a rundown backwater, literally, and it cost us an entry fee of 40 TBH paid to the Muslim gatekeepers to be there. Lots of boats there so it must be a fishing base of some sort.
Although food was a non-event there were a couple of surprises in store for us. In our looking for the restaurant we followed this newly built walkway through the mangrove swamps. It was a huge undertaking and looked as if it were replacing an older structure.
We were expecting to come to a end point where the purpose for this path became obvious but it never eventuated. It is work still in progress and stopped at the river although it looks as if the intention is to bridge the water and continue on the other side. Mangrove swamps maintain ones interest for a limited period I find so the considerable cost of building this structure is a puzzle.
A nice walk none the less and coming back we were very excited to spot this fellow sitting on the edge of the walkway. Thinking this was a Richard Attenborough moment never to be repeated many photos of the monkey were taken.
However when we got back to the carpark it was obvious that the word had got around the local monkey community that tourists were in town because a whole troop of them showed up. Just to prove that it’s not just humans that have a drinking problem this bloke was keen to suck the last drop of Thai Red Bull from this bottle.
So there you have it. Don’t dismiss the East coast. If you have a car and some time to spend drop in and see another side to Phuket
The often delightful aspect of being on holiday with only a vague agenda is that what you start off to do in a day often ends up being something wonderfully different. Go with the flow is a good way to approach time spent in Thailand.