Travel Diary: Some Beach Somewhere

” The best thing I know is to do exactly what you wish for a while.” – Roman Holiday

The adventure never ends as I, Katie continue to take on the world. Thai massages, scooter rides, island hopping, and of course more rain: these are the things Thailand had in store for me my second week as I decide to take on life at the beach.

After twenty days in Thailand, I’ve grown rather accustomed to Thai customs. It all begins to feel vaguely familiar and seems as if this is the way things have always been your whole life.

When I returned from Kanchanaburi on Sunday afternoon, the sights and sounds and smells of Bangkok put my stomach in a knot. I was unhappy to return to such a cramped and cluttered space. Staying in Kanchanaburi for another week would not have displeased me. But alas, my series of volunteering needed to be completed.

The Monday following my weekend road trip, I knew I needed a taste of muscle therapy and found a local Thai massage parlor to ease my sore muscles. Thai massage parlors can be tricky because few of them offer special services, that go far beyond the ancient healing rituals of actual massage. Some charge twice the going rate simply because they are located in a prominent tourist area and naive foreigners will pay the extra money for an “authentic” experience. Luckily, my team of volunteer coordinators did some research about massage parlors in the area I stay and let me know a good one with a cheap rate that wouldn’t try to be sneaky.

I honestly had no idea what to expect.

First, you have to change into the special “massage” outfit. It’s essentially a t-shirt and the biggest pants I’ve ever had to put on that require some kind of witchcraft in order to tie to make fit to your size. Then, you lay on a mat where a lady wrestles and rubs you.

Thai massages look a little something like this. Source

Some of the people I’m staying with said how their massage was very tough and hurt most of the time because there was so much pressure applied. The parlor I went to had a lady that spoke broken English and told me she wouldn’t be so rough with my poor delicate western body.

When they twist you and pop your back in the end, the whole world feels right again.

I had booked a flight to visit the most sought after place in Thailand: the islands. Many of the Thai islands feature cliffs and amazing beaches which make the place such an enchanting visit. As exciting as a full moon party on Koh Phangan would have been, I decided instead to fly into Phuket so I could see Koh Phi Phi and James Bond Island. I figured it would be less of a mess and cheaper overall.

The full moon would be high in the sky come Friday, September 16th and I would be stepping onto Phuket’s shores that evening.

Arrival

The Big Buddha from Wat Chalong

Every day holds its own unique story. Each moment carries with it promise of glory or dismay. My time in the island’s reminded me of this very notion.

I arrived in Phuket at 8 pm. Too late for the mini vans or buses to be running but early enough to be a part of the mega tourist crowd flooding the islands for the weekend.

As I walked out of the tiny Phuket airport, a storm had just burst through the sky and I noticed there were no true metered taxis. My hostel was booked in old town, about 30-40 minutes from the airport. I booked there because of the proximity to the ferries so I could travel to the small islands with ease. The going rate to get me there was 650 baht from the airport. The absolute most I’ve ever paid for a ride. Heck, the most I paid for anything for the trip so far. The ride from the airport cost me nearly as much as my flight to the island!

After recovering from the shock, I took my chances and bit my lip as I watched my wallet empty. The taxi driver of course had no idea where my hostel was located. We studied a map together and you would have thought he only just moved to Phuket two days earlier.

He ended up taking me to a local shop he said was his “office”. This office just so happened to book ferry rides and other tours. They tried to get me to book through them as my taxi driver went inside to ask for directions.

On top of all this mess, the hostel I booked with was not answering any of my calls despite the fact they stated they have 24-hour reception and it was only 9:00 pm.

We finally make it to the hostel and there does not seem to be anyone at the reception desk. My taxi driver asked me if I still wanted to go there and I told him I would figure it out if I wasn’t able to get in. I tried to phone again after I buzzed the alarm located on the outside of the door. Fortunately, the wifi password was posted on the wall above the reception desk. I reasoned that if this hostel wouldn’t answer, I could find another nearby.

Donations can be made to keep the Big Buddha in repair. 1000 baht to add your name!

After about five minutes, someone came down to the reception desk to let me in. To be sure I was unhappy but I was also pretty exhausted from volunteering all day and then traveling. As far as I knew there was no one else at the hostel (which was also frustrating because the biggest downside to travelling alone would be the fact you have to go out of your way to meet other travelers.) When there’s no one else at your hostel, it gets lonely.

I spent the night contemplating what I was going to do next. According to the ferry schedule, the earliest ferry left at 8:30 am and the last ferry would go back to Phuket at 2:30 pm. The ferry takes two hours to get to and from Koh Phi Phi which meant if I would have gone on the same day (to and from) as per my original plan, I would only have four hours on the island.

So I changed my plans. I decided to take the first ferry out to the island and stay there over night. I’d spend one day in Koh Phi Phi and one day on Phuket.

Koh Phi Phi

View from the ferry as we arrive at Koh Phi Phi

The next day when I woke up, I packed my bag and headed downstairs to tell reception that I would not be staying another night. Yet once again there was no one at the reception. Even after I buzzed, no one came. So I left my key with a strongly worded note then headed out towards the ferry docks.

The docks were a little farther than I anticipated. Luckily a moto-taxi stopped and gave me a ride. I barely made it on the ferry before it headed off to Koh Phi Phi.

A group of Malaysian men offered me a beer as we rode off into the ocean.

Once docked at Koh Phi Phi, I was charged a landing fee of 20 baht (less than $1). Not a totally unreasonable request, since their reasoning behind the landing fee was due to the amount of trash left behind by visitors.

Thai long-tail boats

I walked around the island looking for a hostel, checking out the beach, and overall getting to know my surroundings where I would spend the next day.

I ended up staying at a dorm room that was a rather strange set up. I had to go to the restaurant next door to talk with someone to reserve a bed. The dorm room was a simple room with bunk beds and two toilet/shower rooms.

After soaking up all the sun I could soak up, showering off, eating some of the fluffiest pita bread I’ve ever had, I went back to the hostel and met up with a few travelers that I spent the night out on the town with.

I mean, just look at this beach!

Overall, my time in Koh Phi Phi was marvelous and well worth all the headache and money it cost to get there.

Phuket

Light a candle for a blessing or prayer

The note I left for the hostel was enough to grab the attention of the hostel owner. He sent me an email to discuss my experience. He offered me a discounted stay. After arriving in Koh Phi Phi, I realized in my hurry I had left behind my book and assumed I had left it at the hostel. The hostel owner confirmed my assumption so I was given no choice but to return to the hostel on Sunday when I got back to Phuket. This ended up working out in my favor because I got my 200 baht key deposit back along with advice on what to do on this large island.

Due to the fact public transport is nearly nonexistent and taxis are hard to come by (not to mention crazy expensive) I decided my only real option was to rent a scooter.

Now, some of you may know that I got my motorcycle license shortly before my 24th birthday. I’ve had minimal practice since then but I do have the basic knowledge on how to ride a bike.

Not that the man renting me the scooter cared.

I was given the scooter for the day for the price of 250 baht (around $8). I was told to put fuel in the scooter and all I could think was “Oh great…”

Besides the whole driving on the left-hand side of the road, I have only ever driven a motorcycle or dirt bike. A scooter was a totally different experience for me.

Wat Chalong

Pulling up to the gas station, I noticed the line of scooters and bikes waiting to be fueled up. In Thailand, an agent will pump your gas for you. These agents don’t typically speak English. After opening up the seat and getting my fuel and change, I noticed I had no idea where my key to the scooter was. Despite the language barrier, everyone recognized my concern and were trying to pull the seat up far enough to stick their hands in to check to see if the key had been locked there. When it wasn’t there, panic struck me – as if I wasn’t panicked already. Luckily I found it at the bottom of my big bag.

Oh! I forgot to tell you the best part about this adventure. Not only was I driving on what is the wrong side of the road for me, on a vehicle I’m not used to operating, I also had to carry my luggage with me (which consisted of a backpack and large handbag). And it was raining on and off consistently throughout the day. I also had no GPS because my phone was dying (it didn’t properly charge the night before).

Oh but what an exciting adventure it was.

I drove to what I thought was the southwest, towards the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong, but instead it turned out I was in a southern corner and ended up on a beach.

Rawai Beach in Phuket

So I drove north again, took a random turn, and all of a sudden I was in front of Wat Chalong!

Afterwards, I thought I was following the signs for Big Buddha, but somehow missed the turn, and continued south towards Rawai beach.

After taking in the view, I turned around north again, but made another wrong turn and ended up at Karon beach.

Finally, turning around again, I actually got myself on the right road, and found the correct turn for the Big Buddha.

View from the hills

As I climbed (or really drove) my way to the top of the mountain, I was overjoyed. Even when I got to the top and saw all the fog and clouds, I didn’t mind. I felt so accomplished and liberated.

Big Buddha is built on the top of the Nakkerd Hills and was constructed roughly 10 years ago. The views from the top of the hill is breathtaking and even if you have no desire to see the Big Buddha himself, I would recommend going to see the vast oceans and beaches of Phuket from above. It costs nothing to enter.

Big Buddha when I arrived
Big Buddha when I arrived
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Big Buddha after the fog had cleared

When I watched the movie Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn as a child, I made up my mind I would rent a scooter and scoot around the streets of Rome the way Princess Ann had. As I drove through the wind and the rain and the hills of Phuket, my heart was full with the idea that Rome has nothing on Thailand.

Next weekend is my blissful adventure to Chaing Mai – and I can’t wait to tell you about how much elephants weird me out. Until next time, sawadee ka!

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