Monday, July 4, 2011

Looking back at Phuket

Save for buying suman (this kind of suman) for our team for tomorrow's afternoon snacks, I pretty much had nothing to do over the weekend. There were no movies to watch since I already watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Nothing!

Browsing through lookbook.nu, I see nothing but summer outfits everywhere. Although I've had my share of sun, sand and sea months ago, I still envy those who are enjoying it at the moment elsewhere around the globe (sigh!). Then I went reminiscing about my various trips to the beach -- with My Bibe of course -- and I thought of sharing them on my blog. First stop: Phuket, Thailand.

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The whole length of Bangtao beach in view.

Phuket has long been a top tourist draw for Thailand, and I had the chance of visiting it with My Bibe only last year. From Bangkok, we flew in via AirAsia, which operates several flights a day to the province. Yes, Phuket is a province. Years ago I thought it was just a small island but lo and behold, it was huge! So huge that it was quite the decision to make which beach to call our base, as there were several lined up along the Andaman Coast.

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A long-tail just leaving after dropping off a couple of tourists.

Arguably Patong Beach is the most popular, where the nightlife is very much alive. But after much reading, we settled for Bang Tao, a six-kilometer stretch of beach way up north of Patong, where it was much quieter. Here lies several upscale resorts including Dusit Thani Laguna, Banyan Tree Phuket, Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, and loads more. After much consideration (budget included), we settled for Best Western Premier Bangtao Beach Resort and Spa but more on that in another post.

It dawned on me that the sand in Phuket was not white but cream-colored, though very fine nonetheless (at least in Bang Tao). The waves were quite big as the monsoon season had already started to set in when we were there, but not too big, so we still enjoyed a swim. It's perfectly safe since there are no sudden drops. Much like Boracay in the Philippines, it's still relatively shallow even when you stray far from the shore.

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This dog came running straight to me. Super friendly!

Aside from those housed in the resorts, there were few restaurant choices along Bang Tao. And nightlife was virtually zilch. There were a few shops and tailors, though (yeah, there were tailors on the beach!). Phuket, however, hosts an abundance of things to do, sights to see, and attractions to experience.

We got to drive around Phuket on our third day. It wasn't part of the plan but we got a complimentary half-day city tour just for buying tickets to Phuket FantaSea (about that in another post). How nice is that?! Like I said, Phuket is huge, and they've got three-lane highways on each side. I also love it that they have designated bike lanes all around.

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Driving through Phuket's highways on a rainy day.

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Following the 2004 tsunami, you'll now see lots of these signs around, particularly near the beach.

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The 111.5-karat gold pearl our tour guide so proudly showed us. It reportedly costs around 15 mllion baht.

We visited Gems Gallery, an ultra-huge jewelry store that's actually more than a jewelry store: welcome drinks upon entering, an audio-video presentation in a small auditorium, a tour around the facility, a peek at their goldsmiths at work, souvenir shops, and finally, a spectacular jewelry store with hundreds -- maybe thousands -- in stock, replete with aquariums housing baby sharks watching over you. Too bad you can't take pictures in there because I found those sharks really cute. Here's what I've managed to shoot, though, including a goldsmith at work with a piece of gold:

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Phuket is also a producer of cashew. We weren't really interested but our tour guide kept on blabbing about their cashew, and so we visited a factory. My Bibe and I were both amazed at the variety of "flavors" they've come up with. And there's no shortage of samples here; free taste galore! My favorites were the cashew in honey and sesame seeds and the chocolate-coated ones. Mind you, there's also no shortage of cashew in the Philippines, but this is what sets Thailand apart: they're more creative. So far I've only had salted cashew back home.

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A cashew tree right outside the factory.

We still had a lot of ground to cover but probably next time. We haven't tried the wild nightlife of Patong but we did see the one-of-a-kind Phuket FantaSea and we also got to spend a night at Mai Khao Beach, all of which I'm blogging about soon. Despite what some say that Phuket is overpriced, that it's run by a mafia, I don't care. I still want to go back, probably not for its beach (Boracay is way better) but just for the experience. It's a place worth visiting.

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