10 Jan 2008
Phuket, Thailand
8° 0'11.90"N 98°17'55.39"E


What a couple of weeks we've had to welcome in the new year. We've gone from one extreme to another.

It all started well. We got an early morning bus from Satun to Krabi, about 4 hours but not so uncomfortable and we stopped for 10 minutes in Trang for a bit of a stretch. As in Satun, the bus station in Krabi is located very inconveniently a few km out of town, so we had to get a songthaeo - basically a pickup truck with a roof and bench seats. A mid teen schoolboy was hanging off the end and showing off and fell just before we pulled up in town. Fortunately for him we'd already started slowing down and there was nothing behind us or he would have been road kill/splat. We got off in the town centre, checked out the first hotel we came across and, it being clean enough, we checked in for the night. Nice and quiet and a few WiFi signals floating around meant we didn't bother looking for anywhere else, which is probably bad. There were heaps of backpacker guesthouses - we really should have checked them out, but to be honest, we just couldn't be bothered.

I was surprised at the number of westerners in Krabi. Although most of them only seemed to be staying in town overnight before heading off to one of the nearby beaches or islands (most of them were headed for Koh Lanta), there were literally hundreds of them.

This in turn made the competition good. Laundry was really cheap, and motorbikes only BT150 (A$5/£2.40) per day. The tourist restaurants were also very reasonably priced, but we stuck to the local food stalls and markets. It's not the money - it tastes better. And if they drop your food on the floor and put in back on the plate, at least you've seen them do it. Hidden kitchen, hidden food on the floor.

There wasn't a great deal in Krabi town itself - it was smaller than I thought it would be and really set up for tourists, with market stalls and shops selling the kind of stuff Europeans tend to buy, lots of travel agents selling trips to the islands, even more internet cafes and (thankfully) lots of book exchange shops. Not sure what we'd do without those shops. Usually you get 50% of the purchase price back if you return it, which isn't so bad considering that the average price is A$6/£2.90. Of course, that's more than you pay for a lot of the paperbacks brand new in England or Australia, but we're not in England or Australia, and we need something to keep us occupied. Two out of the three night markets were food only and for some strange reason, takeaway and snack food rather than sit down and eat it places. A lot of the food in Krabi was really, really bad, but we managed to find a couple of gems. As always, it's pot luck. It either tastes good or it doesn't, and it either gives you the shits or it doesn't. Usually it does with Peter. My stomach must be teflon lined, but we can never eat too far from either wherever we're staying or an area with plenty of bars and the like where he can run in. Then run back out and ask me for tissues - there's hardly ever toilet paper in Asia. He always forgets, and runs off so quickly that there's no point in my shouting. I know he'll come back. Unless he's REALLY desperate.

One day we hired a motorbike and went to Ao Nang beach, which is the most popular one on the mainland in the area, about 25km out of town. An Nang was full of Scandinavians, and had the obligatory McDonalds and Burger King and coffle shops. Peter had had a big night, so I decided it would be better for me to ride. I'd forgotten just how bad he is. I mean, he's the worst back seat driver in a car, complete with his own set of brakes in the passenger seat, but on a bike he's absolutely shocking. "Too far over to the right" "Too far over to the left" (leaning over to try and force me to change course) "Change gear" "Brake!!". Honestly, I'd really forgotten how bad it was to have him on the back, but I resisted the temptation of pulling a wheelie to shut him up. The bike was a good one as it was fairly new - it's not often you get a hire bike with enough power to get the front wheel up.

After Krabi, we headed for Phuket. We had decided to give Phuket a miss, given that the island would be full of tourists on their Christmas holidays but we snagged a timeshare rental in a one bedroom unit at Laguna. It was too good to ignore - it's been a while since we had 5 star facilities and pampering and it was just too cheap to let it go.

We had ridden past Laguna on a previous visit to Phuket - it's an enclave of 5 star hotels and private villas bigger than Buck House. We knew it was a fair walk from the local village/shops/eating, but we had a full kitchen so decided to have a week of salads and home cooked meals was in order. We hired a motorbike when we got off the bus from Krabi, and at the entrance took our turn behind the BMW and Jaguar in front of us to offload me and my small bag so Peter could go back to the hire shop and get the other bag that we'd left there. I don't think the porters even expected a tip from us. Just as well. Insidious American practice that we don't subscribe to. Although it was nice to have the luxury, we'd forgotten some of the things that go with 5 star enclaves. Mini marts which charge at least twice the going rate for everything. 45 minutes to walk to the village where we could find reasonably priced mini marts, food stalls and a taxi to take us to town when it was time to move on. The taxi drivers within the Laguna complex were asking more than double the price we paid, and Noi was really nice - there are a few photo's of him, his wife and his son, Mac, on the Phuket photo page.

On the main road we got a very good Pad Thai (fried noodles) for BT25. In the hotels and tourist restaurants around Laguna, we were looking at a minimum of BT300++. ++ means plus service charge (10%) and plus tax (7%). I'm not being mean. Nobody can justify that kind of price. Besides, a 45 minute walk back means those calories just about evaporated.

We also noticed an awful lot of Russians, which we've never noticed in Phuket before. They will do anything to avoid eye contact, and even if I get pissed off and force the issue by saying hello really loudly, they pretend they haven't heard me and carry on walking, looking at the ground.

To be honest, the luxury has been lovely, but I can't wait to get out out of here. Bangkok, here we come.