I arrived at the Villa Del Mar on the south side of Patong Beach on July 28th. This small boutique hotel recently re-opened in December 2006 after extensive remodeling resulting from the devastating tsunami that struck Phuket a couple of years ago. Patong Beach stretches for several miles and it is definitely a hot tourist spot. I immediately felt the energy from the tourists and the locals. I did notice several chilling reminders of the tsunami - a few signs pointing to tsunami evacuation routes placed on various signposts. I also saw one booth showcasing articles and photos from that fateful day. I heard that I just missed a tsunami evacuation drill that took place last Wednesday. The entire town shut down and some were instructed to feign death. I don't think I would have wanted to witness that.
Overall Phuket was extremely scenic and serene. At night, I can hear the waves hitting the beach. Very soothing.
My second day in Phuket was the most memorable. I booked a full-day Phuket Panwa Canoe adventure package. We left An Poh Pier on a boat packed with 30+ tourists from all over the world. Our first stop was Naka Island. Since I can't swim, I lingered on the boat for several minutes while my fellow tourists jumped into the water from the ship. On the ship, I met Jian - a woman from Beijing, who is also a non-swimmer. The two of us eventually decided to get into one of those inflatable canoes without life jackets (they didn't have any) and have Max (our guide) paddle us to the beach. After 30 minutes, we were back on the boat and headed towards James Bond Island. This is where they filmed "Man with a Golden Gun" in 1974. It was pouring rain when we got there so most of us took shelter underneath cave formations. There were also rows of jewelry and wind chime vendors with overpriced goods. One of the locals grabbed my wrist and proceeded to strap a bracelet on it. Highly aggressive.
Next we explored Hong Island, where our canoe guide paddled us through various caves. We had to keep our heads down since there were several low hanging rocks - all jagged and sharp. Our last stop was Panak Island, where we walked barefoot through these mangrove caves. My guide took us slowly through the cave with only a small flashlight to illuminate the path. We waded through murky water that went up to my knees in some areas. I don't even want to think about what was in that water. I did see one bat, which I was thrilled about!
On the way back to the pier, I met several of Jian's Australian colleagues (Shane, Alli, Amanda and Desley) who were all here for a genetics consortium. I mainly spoke with Desley and Amanda (mother and daughter). I could have spoken to them for hours since we clicked immediately. Desly/Amanda were telling me that they were going para-sailing after our canoe adventure. So I happily decided to join them.
I was slightly nervous at first since I didn't know what to expect, but once I was outfitted with a harness and life jacket, I was ready to take off. The trainer told me to start running after the count of three. Once I was in the air, the local boy who accompanied me to navigate the parachute, climbed onto my shoulders. No wonder Amanda and Desley called him monkey boy. I was sailing high above Patong Beach for roughly 7 thrilling minutes. On our descent, I thought I was going to land on a dog, a jetski, or one of the onlookers since we were approaching the beach at an uncomfortable speed. Luckily I landed quickly and on my knees. What a RUSH! This is the 2nd most thrilling experience I've had to date, second only to skydiving. Wish I could do it again. Shane, Desley, Amanda, and Jian were there to welcome met back safely and take photos of me while I was in the air to help me capture this incredible moment.
The five of us went to a small Thai restaurant for dinner shortly after. We shared laughs and numerous stories. Amanda gave me her business card and told me to contact her when I finally visit Australia. This was the perfect end to my perfect day.
On the 3rd day, Jian and I shared a cab to explore key places we've missed. We visited Viewpoint, Wat Chalong Temple, a cashew nut factory, The World's Largest Jewelry Store and the Pearl Factory. My favorite out of all spots was the Wat Chalong Temple due to their impressive display of golden Buddhas. There were also storefronts and gardens around the perimeter. The last 3 stops were mainly over-priced tourist traps, but worth the visit to get some local flavor.
That night, I joined Shane and Jian for a Fanta-Sea show. I was so impressed when I got there. The place was a miniature version of Disneyland. Since I love theme parks, I was super excited about this. We had a Grand Buffet dinner prior to the show. The room was absolutely massive. I assumed it was to accommodate many people that were there that night. Before heading into the theatre, we were asked to "deposit our cameras" since no photography was allowed. I was terrified that something was going to happen to my camera so I took my SD card just in case. We also had to relinquish our cell phones.
The show opened with plenty of fanfare. Roughly 70 plus performers and 7 elephants marched across the stage. This was followed by magic shows, pyrotechnics, acrobatics, dance performances, singing, and animal numbers. I was most impressed with the trained chickens. I loved every second of it.
After the performance, we made our way back towards the entrance. There were numerous storefronts with cartoon like facades, elephant rides, and so much more. I kept bumping into people since we were all looking up.
I can't believe I'm leaving Phuket tomorrow. This is my favorite stop by far.