Sunday, October 19, 2008

A trip to Phuket: Day 1

About 3 weeks after my final examination (no more exams, yay!), Saucer and I went for a trip to Phuket, Thailand. It was really an impromptu trip, chanced upon at the Firefly website. I was reading The Star online news as usual when I noticed the bright orange ad flashing on the top banner, a signature colour of the Firefly. Being curious, I clicked on the ad and came upon many discounted travel packages to places in South East Asia. After narrowing down my choices to Phuket and Koh Samui, I decided to choose Phuket because the hotels there were cheaper. When Saucer agreed, we both booked our air tickets and hotels for 3 days 2 nights at RM1020 only. That's about RM500 per person for the flight from Penang to Phuket and 3D/2N stay in a 4 star hotel. Isn't that a bargain? Later only did I find out that they were giving discounts because it was during the off-peak season in Thailand. Apparently, during these times (April - September), there would be rain most of the time. Anyway, since we're from Malaysia, what harm could a little rain do to us? :)

On the day itself, we reached the airport about 45 minutes before departure to find out that the Firefly had delayed their flight for 40 minutes. *frown*

Waiting at the airport

If you remember, there was a case in September where the Phuket airport was closed due to the protestors there. The event evetually led to a state of emergency declared in Thailand as well. Probably because of that, by the time we boarded the plane, there were only, guess how many? SEVEN passengers! I've never been in a plane with only so few passengers before! Well the good thing was we didn't even have to wait for long to take off. Right after we sat down, the plane was ready to go. After more than 1 hour later, we reached the deserted airport of Phuket. I suppose the chaos happening in Bangkok really affected the tourism industry around Thailand.

Empty airport

We saw many pamphlets and flyers placed at one side of the airport and I started collecting them for the maps.

Free maps

witch with Phuket maps

It was really weird to be in such an empty airport at 12pm. Needless to say, our luggage came out within minutes and we were on our way to meet our hotel pickup. One thing to take note when visiting Phuket is to make sure hotel transfers are prearranged. I read from other blogs before that if you were to take the cabs at the airport, most likely the drivers would fetch you to some touristy places along the way to ask you to buy things from there (so that the drivers would get commission). Worse still, some drivers would insist that the hotel that you're going to is not good, and scare you, so that you would give in and go to a 'recommended' hotel by the driver (again, for them to gain commission). In order to avoid all these hassle and inconvenience, it would be wise to arrnage your pickup beforehand.

We reached our resort, situated at Kamala beach, called the Kamala Beach Hotel and Resort.

Kamala Beach hotel and resort entry point

Since it was during the off-peak season, the resort looked rather quiet, which was actually a good thing if you're going there to rest and relax. Under the hot scorching sun (rain? what rain?), I couldn't imagine anyone sitting outdoors by the pool or by the seaside. However, I was so wrong! There were many Caucausians who were outside by the seaside sunbathing. Ah, the thought of that made me cringe.

Gorgeous swimming pools at the hotel

Our room was situated on the ground floor facing this beautiful garden below.

Rooms in Kamala beach resort

The room was rather huge, with all the basic amenities provided: toiletries, fridge (very important, as you would soon know), TV, towels, aircon, heater and the usuals. Best of all, it was very clean and well-maintained.

Cute shampoo bottles

It was already 2+pm when we finally settled down, and only then did we realize that we did not have lunch yet. So we walked out the road from where we came in and saw a few shops in the nearby town which were open. But they were all rather shabby looking and the prices were not exactly cheap! Eventually, we ended up going back to the resort and eat there instead. The restaurant manager was really friendly and even willingly changed our tomyam soup when we told them it wasn't spicy enough. *LOL*

Pineapple juice with orchid!

As expected, the restaurant, called Sea Breeze Cafe, was empty but for one table.

Restaurant at Kamala Beach Resort

The restaurant was just by the seaside, so we could actually enjoy our meals while listening to the calm ocean waves. :)

witch and Saucer

The dishes we ordered:
1) Thai tom yam seafood soup
Initially, they asked us what level of spiciness we wanted. Since we just reached Phuket, and being a little cautious, we chose 'moderate'. Then, it turned out that moderate was actually more like 'non-existent'. :P So we told the manager about it and he gladly changed and added in more spice. Still, Saucer and I thought that we tasted better ones in Malaysia before.

Authentic Thai tom yam seafood soup

2) Sweet and sour prawns
I guess you could not really go wrong with this dish, as Bamboo always said. The prawns were fresh and rather huge, so I wouldn't complain about this dish. A safe choice, I must say.

Sweet and sour prawns

3) Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts
This was highly recommended by the waiter there, and he was so enthusiastic about this dish that we had no choice but to give it a try. The taste was not unlike those Cantonese style stir-fried chicken, except with the additional cashew nuts. Not too bad though. All I can say is the Thais' taste buds and ours are pretty closely matched. :)

Stir fried chicken with cashew nuts

The meal above cost RM51. I guess rather expensive for the types of dishes we chose, but since it's from a hotel, we should expect premium price.

One of the good things about this hotel was the location, just by the seaside. Whenever we felt like it, even when it was at midnight, we could just walk out to the sea in less than 5 minutes. It was surreal. We took a brief stroll to the beach after lunch, to take some pictures. As you can see, it was really hot under the sun. It was not like off peak season at all.
Sea by the hotel

witch at the beach

There were just a handful of people swimming in the sea. Most of them opted to sun bathe on the sunbeds provided by the hotel. After just 10 minutes, (or was it 5?) it was too much for me to handle. *LOL*

People enjoying the sea

We ended up going back to our room to freshen up and watch TV. But before that, we passed by this taxi counter just outside the hotel, which provided day tours as well. We had a rather unpleasant experience with the person who was also the tour guide cum taxi driver.

Since it was quiet business for him, he tried to persuade us to sign up with a day tour around Phuket for the next day. I think he wanted to charge something like RM120 for a tour from 9am to 4pm. We were already rather keen to sign up the tour, and you know being Malaysians, we tried to haggle for something more. :P You see, Kamala was really just a small town next to a beach, with nothing much to do. The real party place in Phuket would be Patong, which was about 15 minutes away. The hotel provided shuttle to Patong town at RM15 return trip. Since we planned to visit Patong that night, we tried to haggle with the same taxi driver cum tour guide to add in a free return trip to Patong on that night, in addition to the day tour the next day. Eventually he agreed and we planned to meet up again at 6pm.

So we went back to our room, and after watching enough TV, I went to the swimming pool for a dip. I still remember I had a bad case of cramp on my BOTH my hamstrings after swimming just one lap! It showed how little exercise that I had had prior to that. *gasp* I had to come up to rest for about 10 minutes to stretch away the cramp before I continued swimming again for another 15 minutes. Note to self: Exercise more!

After swimming, we got ready and went to the taxi counter at precisely 6pm. To our horror, the taxi driver was not there! There was another guy who was also a taxi driver, who tried to take advantage of the situation and asked us to follow him instead. Of course, when we told him that we're supposed to go to Patong for free, he just kept quiet. After waiting for about 20 minutes, we got angry and went to the hotel to ask for the shuttle instead. Unfortunately, the shuttle had left! *sob* In our desperation, we asked for car rentals from the hotel, to which the concierge said that since it was late, high chances we wouldn't be able to get any car at that time. *double sob* I could actually see my plans for the night go down the drain. Then he told us that we could probably rent motorbikes instead from the nearby Kamala Village, which was actually a small town. Since we had no other choice and we didn't want to stay in the hotel again, we decided to walk to Kamala Village just 10 minutes away.

Thankfully, when we reached Kamala Village, we found out that the town was not too bad at all! The town itself had several rows of shops, littered with restaurants, bars, grocery stores, pubs and live bands. I lighted up when I saw the glint of hope that my night did not have to go to waste after all. Saucer consoled me that we would go to Patong the next night, and that the Kamala Village seemed like a nice place to have dinner, too. I happily agreed, considering the fact that I was already starving. :P Anyway, the people in Phuket were really friendly. We walked past many restaurants and looked at their menus, and each time, there would be a waitress standing by to persuade us to go in. Even if we did not enter, they would still smile their warm smiles and waved us goodbye.

After surveying several restaurants, we ended up at a restaurant called H20, simply because they were having promotions and each of us would get a free drink of either cocktail, beer or soft drink. :) Also, the owner of the place was extremely warm. She even said that she liked the Esprit bag that I was using when I was there. *LOL* Such was the power of flattery. Or maybe the power of free drinks. :P

H20 restaurant

Us at H20, Kamala Village

The bartender came over to get our drinks order first and he recommended a Cosmopolitan for me and a Mai Tai for Saucer. Oh Cosmo! I'd always heard about it but never had the chance to try it. It was a slightly sweet with the slightly bitter alcohol taste. Pretty nice. But I'd really not recommend drinking alcoholic drinks on an empty stomach though. It made me feel drowsy for a little while.

Cosmopolitan and Mai Tai

Luckily food arrived soon after to rescue me from falling asleep. We ordered the pineapple fried rice for one. The fried rice at this restaurant beat all the other Thai fried rice that I tasted before in Malaysia, hands down. As you could see from the picture, the rice was fried until each morsel was evenly coated, unlike some fried rice where you would see a clump of white rice here and there. In addition, the rice was so very fragrant! I'd give this dish a 9/10.

Pineapple fried rice

Next, it was green curry chicken, another Thai specialty. As expected, the green curry was also aromatic, with strong smells of pandan and coconut milk with lemongrass as well. I remember mixing the curry with the fried rice... Ah... the combination!

Green curry chicken

Finally, we did not miss ordering tom yam again, because Saucer loved it. The tom yam here was clearly better than the one in the hotel. But I still felt the one from Prontip was better. Maybe I was accustomed to Malaysian tom yam instead of Thai?

Seafood tom yam soup

Oh I almost forgot! When we were surveying for restaurants in Kamala Village before dinner, we saw a 7-11 there and went inside to have a look. To our amazement, the alcoholic drinks there were really CHEAP! You couldn't imagine how cheap. Let me give you an idea, a small bottle of Heineken here would cost maybe RM6 or more from the supermarket. Over there, it's only RM3! We couldn't believe it at first. In the end, we bought six bottles of various alcoholic drinks to bring back to the hotel.

Variety of drinks at 7-11

Guess how much was the total of these drinks?

Bottles that we bought

Less than RM20! OMG. In Malaysia, RM20 could probably get me 1 glass of wine. Speaking of wine, I just found my true love. The Wine Cooler by Spy. I simply LOVE Wine Cooler especially in Red. It was the only bottle that I drank without getting tired of it. Throughout the next few days, our supply of wine coolers and beers never ran short. Hence, the fridge was a very important item in our room, as I mentioned earlier. ;)

After buying enough beers for the night, we came across a place called Benjamin with motorcycles for rent. The rental for 24 hours was only RM20! We were ecstatic to find such a great deal here. Back in the hotel, the taxi counter also rented motorbikes at RM30 for the similar duration. Anyway, since it was already late that night, we wouldn't have any use for the bike and decided to only rent it the next morning. Of course, we swore never to go near the taxi counter again, for his dishonesty and almost spoiling my night.

Motorbikes for rent at Benjamin, Kamala Village

Feeling satisfied with our plan for the next day, we walked back to our room to retire for the night. But not before having a cold bottle of wine cooler by the seaside with Saucer, talking and admiring the stars at night, with the waves lapping in the background. So romantic! :))


Bamboo said...

Hey, when did I say anything about prawns? But as long as I am right, I don't mind :P. 9/10 for fried rice? Sure boh? Must go and see for myself.

Anonymous said...

wow! look attractive in pictures...I had been to Phuket ten years ago if not more and that said, i was 11 years old. I can't remember a thing but its enticing, i may arrange for my next destination-to-be.

iamdoryfish said...

Aiks, how come bamboo said the same thing?? ish, and he said it first!! Well, I am quite surprise that the fried rice deserve 9/10???

iamthewitch said...

bamboo: You didn't say anything about prawns, but I remember you mentioned before that Sweet and Sour goes well with any type of food, didn't you? :P

mesmeric: Oh it's time for a revisit! :)

iamdoryfish: You mean he said the same thing about fried rice? Well, the 9/10 is for fried rice category only, of course. Why are you surprised? :)

zewt said...

half way thru reading... i just look at pics... you can write so looong :)

CY said...

hmm...y did u choose a beach as holiday destination when you hate the sun that much?

it seems kinda creepy to see so few tourists in a travel destination, especially in Thailand.

iamthewitch said...

zewt: Ehhh!!! How could you not read my well-intentioned, well-written, effort-laden work of art??? :P

cy: Yeah I know what you mean, but I like the beach when it's not under the hot sun! Early in the morning or during sunset. :) Haha... it has its good points when you travel during low season, really. No queues and you get to bargain!

kennhyn said...

good choice that u buy Singha, I love the beer very much. If u ever go there again, San Miguel also not bad. Unless u really like Heineken and Tiger, don't waste ur money buy other beer.

nice to know chic that drink beer....cheers

iamthewitch said...

San Miguel eh? I must have seen it around somewhere because it sounds familiar. Looks like you don't fancy either Heineken or Tiger eh? :) cheers!

Sbipk said...

We are planning to visit Phuket in mid-March.
Thank you for posting.
I've been looking at some of the posts on this website to get an idea about travel in Phuket for my next vacation.
I think I'll stay here Surin Beach Hotel This hotel is very nice clean and the people are friendly. VERY nice hotel with helpful staff.
And I really love white sand, crystal clear waters at Surin Beach too.
Thank again.