Post from Phuket

cultural capital

Post from Phuket

S awadee kha (Thai for ‘hello’). I wish I could tell you that I’m writing this as I lie on a beach in some island of Phuket, with fresh colourful cocktails and coconut ice cream. But I’m not.

My holiday is long over. But fascinatingly, the effect  remains. The footprints that I had left on the James Bond Island and the countless beaches in Phuket have somehow found their way into my heart and soul. So, whenever I go to my happy place (eerily similar to the white-sand beaches of Thailand), memories of my soul-imprinting, heart-stealing trip to Phuket come flooding back.

Even the countless images of Phuket — turquoise-blue seas, white-sand beaches, lush green hills and the roaring nightlife — will not prepare you for the larger-than-life effect that this place will have on you in reality. A southern province that lies on the western side of Thailand, Phuket, called the biggest island in the Andaman Sea, is a mix of beaches, culture and adventure.

Since I stayed in the town of Patong, my first stop was Patong Beach. There is a unique place to enjoy this. Head up north and you will find a high point from where you can see the three beaches of Patong in succession. When my guide was trying to sell the beauty of the place, I was reminded of Om Beach in Gokarna. When I got my fill of the fabulous views of the beaches and photographs, I headed to Wat Chalong or Wat Chaithararam Temple. Temples in Thailand are architectural marvels in their own right. Colourful and intricately designed with hues of red, gold and white, they will make your jaw drop. As my guide told me about the origins of the temple (1837, during the reign of King Rama V), dedicated to two monks who fought against the Chinese rebellion, I tried to take account of all the details that adorned the temple and its interiors. The most fascinating aspect of the temple was its pagoda, home to a number of golden Buddhas in a variety of poses.

Magic happens here

I wondered if the next destination was some sort of a magic show. But, Phuket FantaSea, was anything but that. Termed as the ultimate cultural theme park, FantaSea is every child’s (and adult’s) fantasy come true. It houses shopping stalls, gaming arcades, entertainment centres, jungle-themed parks and buffet restaurants. But your focus in this park should be on the Fantasy of a Kingdom show. A world-renowned and award-winning production that narrates the story of a young, mighty ruler Kamala — through magical illusions, aerial ballet, pyrotechnics, 4D effects, magical elements and even elephants — its performers are girls and boys in attractive attire. During my visit, this production brought together dancing elephants, dancers in mid-air, clowns, stuntmen and fireworks, all on a single stage.

Waking up early next morning, with my mind still filled with the magnanimous show of the previous night, I found myself on the way to the jetty.

I was set to experience the Island tour! Armed with my shorts and sunscreen, I headed out to my first island — the James Bond Island. Originally called Khao Phing Khan, the island was named James Bond Island after the Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was shot there. Now a part of Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park, it has a huge, linear limestone rock called Ko Tapu, which juts out of pale-green water. I had no plans of leaving the place anytime soon, but my grumbling stomach won the battle with my mind .

I was told that Thailand is a haven for non-vegetarians. But the abundance of scrumptious vegetarian food made me doubt it. No matter where I went, I was served fresh-off-the-stove cabbage soup, fragrant rice, a sweet-and-sour potato curry, French fries and baby corn fritters, and fresh fruits.

The best part about the island tours was the drive itself. Once I got into the speed boat, all I could see were the innumerable limestone mountains and cliffs amid a vast expanse of water. With the afternoon sun hot and high in the sky, I welcomed the cool and salty breeze — that seemed a relief — before my guide pointed at a weirdly shaped mountain in the water ahead. Suspecting that the intense heat had gotten to his head, I ignored him. But upon getting closer to the mountain, I realised that it was shaped like an elephant! And Thailand reveres its elephants.

Floating free

My vacation was going on perfectly, which led me to believe that it couldn’t get any better. But little did I know that my next destination would prove me wrong. Getting into a canoe floating on the deep Andaman Sea didn’t make me feel safe. But the smiling rower, in his broken English, told me about the many experiences I would miss out on, if I didn’t jump into his canoe. Saying a quick prayer to god, I got in and set out into the unknown.

These canoe trips take place around a small cluster of islands that don’t have any beaches but are big on forests and wildlife. So, what you get is a trip around the limestone mountains with humongous creepers, plants, shrubs and flowers.

Some entrances  to the cluster were so narrow that I had to lower myself further into the canoe (at some points, I even had to lie flat), so that I wouldn’t hit my head against the stones.

My next stop was the beach on a secluded island. While many got into the water for some much-needed relief from the heat, others tried their hands at jet-skiing. You should know that the islands have diverse flora and fauna, which translates to fantastic scuba-diving and snorkelling trips. Do ensure that you spend your evenings in Phuket town, for it has on offer many delights, including a buzzing nightlife and thrilling shopping experiences.

As I got into the boat for the ride back to the jetty, I realised that Phuket is a drug. A taste of its hospitality and stunning locations is guaranteed to leave other places pale in comparison. They say travel makes you get in touch with your inner self. Phuket does so much more.

Khop khun kha! (Thai for ‘Thank you’)

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