Frankie Goes to Thailand
Phuket, Relax: Bangtao Beach
Phuket was again very different from the other parts of Thailand that I had seen before. Originally, I had looked for a paradise-like island to go to during my last four days in Thailand. Unfortunately, these locations are too remote to quickly travel to if you have such a short time to travel. Phuket however was easily reachable, and I decided to invest quite some time in looking for the right spot to go to on the island, an effort that in the end payed off.
Let me start by stating that I don’t really feel like I have been to Phuket properly. I arrived late in the afternoon, went diving the next day, had an excursion the following day, and on my final day I just relaxed. However, to reach both the harbour for the diving trip as well as the location for the excursion, I had to go to both ends of the island. From the busses’ windows I saw a large part of the island. And while the natural landscapes were again beautiful, the cities breathed tourism. It reminded me of Mallorca: a beautiful island with cities built purely for tourism.
But I decided not to stay in one of the larger cities. Instead, I opted for Bangtao Beach. It was as close to paradise as I hoped for: a large beach with palm trees and a blue ocean. It was a quiet beach, away from the masses of tourists at other crowded beaches. It was a beach perfect for relaxing and swimming in peace (see the featured photo!). And instead of sleeping in one of the resorts tucked away behind the palm trees, I went for a chalet – adding to the paradise feeling.
But as I said, Phuket is different from the rest of Thailand in a couple of ways. First, although the island is still largely Buddhist, I noticed that there were are a lot less temples compared to mainland Thailand. In addition, the significant Muslim minority of the island also makes it different. Second, it was more expensive than the rest of Thailand. It is still cheap, but when compared to Chiang Mai, you paid at least twice the amount for the same plate of food. And talking about food, it was not as good as in the rest of Thailand: less spicy and less flavor. I had the suspicion that it was all tuned down to the likings of the stereotypical tourist – and I’m not only talking about the food here. However, and this is a big however, if you like the chicken cashew nut dish, then a trip to Bangtao Beach is an absolute must. Walk the street between the Bangtao Beach Chalet and the Best Western hotel and a young fellow will greet you with a huge, but typical Thai smile. Eat the chicken cashew nut dish at his restaurant and thank me afterwards.
After a day of diving – that will be covered in its own article – I decided to be a proper tourist the next day and go on the James Bond tour. We arrived at Phang Nga bay, which is a bay north of Phuket on mainland Thailand, after driving for at least an hour. Almost immediately after arriving, it was time to board a stereotypical Thai longtail boat and set sail for the Muslim floating fishing village of Koh Panyi. The views from the boat were again breathtaking as we sailed over the rivers. After some time, the floating village appeared: a small rock with a village twice its size attached to it. The front of the village was all geared towards tourism, with restaurants where we were served lunch and all kinds of little overpriced shops. The rest of the village was, however, amazing to see. Walking on small wooden boards over the water, I tried to navigate through a maze of small ‘streets’ in between the villagers’ houses. After some right and wrong turns, I finally arrived at the white and golden mosque in the middle of the village. Even though the interior was still very much under construction, the rest already looked amazing. It seemed like every penny the villagers earned went straight into this building.
The tour continued with the island of Khao Ping Kan, better known as James Bond Island, as it was the island used in the movie The Man with the Golden Gun. But let me warn you: it is a hell-forsaken rock of tourism with the most aggressive shop owners I have seen so far. After hastily taking a picture of the famous rock in the water, I noticed a small road leading towards the other side of the island. There it was quiet and the sensation of paradise returned. It was there that I took my favorite photograph of the whole trip:
After getting off the island, it was time to kayak a bit. Or at least, have someone do that for you. The caves were – again – especially breathtaking and it all added to the paradise feeling. On our way back home we make a quick stop at a temple in the mountains, which again was great to see.
As I sat on the beach of Bangtao gazing at a breathtaking view and reminding myself of all the amazing things that I had done in the those two weeks, all I could do was count my blessings.
By Frank Mutze