Phuket, Thailand - So, I went to Thailand and I had a fish lunch for my 60th birthday. Wait, let me rephrase that: the fish had me for lunch.
There were a whole school of the little buggers swimming around my legs, alert for the plop of bread crumbs I was feeding them. But clearly they fancied some Scots cuisine and took more than a nibble at my exposed legs. They probably should know the difference between leg hairs and bread by now but it didn’t stop them going at me and ripping out a few.
The experience was part of the offering at what is billed as “The First & Only” undersea world live aquarium, on the island of Phi Phi, near Phuket in Thailand.
The aquarium is a barge parked off the main island with a pressurised cabin with glass windows and an open bottom shelf, where you stand while the fish swim around you. You are given a loaf of bread to feed to them and the shoal dashes to where you throw the pieces… or you can, if you are not afraid, feed them from your hand. This was all a bit too much for my Jackie, so she stood on the edge and took pictures.
While there, they take you on your first introductory diving course, or you can swim or snorkel. All in all, a magic day.
Going to Phuket had been a decision taken a couple of months earlier when I decided I wanted to be somewhere different when I turned 60.
I contacted my friend John Ridler at Thompson’s Tours and told him what I wanted to do and he put the whole package together for me. He took into fact my age and what I could and couldn’t do and where in Phuket I should stay.
And that is something you don’t get on the internet.
The Old Phuket Hotel (John’s recommendation) on the Karon beachfront was just the right spot for us; a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, lovely rooms with a balcony over- looking the pool that stretched from end to end of the block we were staying in; air-conditioned, a huge bed with crisp white linen, a bathroom with a walk-through shower to a tub that will fit the two of you in without being too tight. Plus we had a shopping and restaurant area within easy walking distance.
They only do breakfasts, so the other meals have to be planned, booked or off-the-cuff, which turned out to be the best way to do things for us. We visited the tourist booking shop in the main building and booked all our trips for the week, one main event per day as we didn’t want to overdo it, with the odd show at night.
Our local eating house was just outside the hotel on the main road, where the owner and staff gave us advice on where to go for certain things, plus the food was to die for.
We only went into Patong twice for the night life – which will open your eyes and I’m saying no more – but we did have a finger-licking crab and prawn meal right there on the beach and a live performance of a karaoke show and more shopping. I just had to buy a T-shirt that says: “No I don’t want to have a massage tuk-tuk or buy a suit” – it’s one of those keepsakes that will always remind us of our wonderful trip.
Phi Phi Island was our first cruise… the booking agent had planned everything just right for us, we realised after speaking to several other holidaymakers who had less than great service from theirs.
Unfortunately, despite the air-conditioned lounge and fairly comfortable seats on the boat, my old friend, “sea-sickness”, kicked in, so I handed the camera to Jackie and stayed in the lounge while she did all the work taking photos.
The trip I enjoyed the most was the cruise to “James Bond Island” made famous because it was the backdrop in scenes in The Man with the Golden Gun. It’s a full day and you’re on the go most of the time. We stopped at Panak Island and jumped into small rubber rafts which each have their own paddler, and in that heat, boy, was I glad he did all the work.
He took us through the bat cave into the centre of the island – and at one stage I had to lie almost flat as the gap to get the canoe through was so tight I couldn’t keep my camera on my chest otherwise it would have caught on the roof of the opening.
Once inside, the humidity hits you, and even trying to stay in the shadows was hot, tranquil and serene, with clear water to see the crabs and fish below and with the almost sheer face of the rocks and vegetation reaching up to the sky. Then it was back through the opening into the dank, dark cave to pop out the other side and back to the cruiser. Awesome.
At “James Bond Island”, we transferred to a longboat with huge motors on the back and motored around this huge rock standing in the middle of the lagoon – unmistakable if you remember the movie.
On the way home, the boat crew did an impromptu show to keep the spirits happy and gay, with the people joining the anaconda chain and dancing around the boat. An absolutely wonderful end to a wonderful day and, dare I say it, I fell asleep in the taxi taking us back to the hotel.
Finding time to take the odd sleep is a good plan. Sometimes you need to recover your strength and sometimes you get sensory overload with all the new sights and sounds.
So odd sleeps became our regular little treat.
We did take in some evening entertainment, including the Phuket Simon Cabaret Show – an eye-opener with more than 600 seats, a stage with a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting to bring alive the glitter and extravagance of the costumes and performances of the young men dressed up to the nines as women.
Another of the shows was FantaSea, reputed to be the best show in Thailand. They weren’t joking: 16 live elephants on stage, numerous acts and a trapeze show that had me open-mouthed (it left Sun City in the dust), and the entertainment they had for children was too numerous to mention.
I found that generally, the people in Phuket are friendly and understand you.
The country’s airline, Thai Airways, was by far the best we have experienced. I could not fault the food and service, the attention they lavished upon you, drinks through the night and snacks. No request seemed to hassle them.
IF YOU GO
l Different exchange kiosks offer different rates.
l Food can be expensive, but not if you shop around.
l Beer is nice but pricey – buy from the local shops and take it back to your room.,
l Drink lots of fluid as you dehydrate without realising it.
l Always barter, and never accept the first price asked.
l If you’re easily offended by sex then stay clear of the street night life.
l Take plenty of money with you, because you will want to buy lots of things.
l Be careful how you book your trips as getting refunds can prove to be a nasty experience.
l And finally, use sun screen, because you don’t think you’re burning until you hit the shower later that night. - Saturday Star