I was ready early, but that I had a short journey ahead of me this day to Phuket delayed me to be up to date with the blog. After many days I had caught up. There was a huge sense of relief because, to me, the blog is one way of communicating with family and friends. At the time of check out the elderly gentleman, who was a bit short with me yesterday, was all smiles and pleasantries. I guessed it was the pressure of work that made him behave the way he did yesterday. I found him doubling up to serve breakfast to guests who were departing early.
There were no delays at the ferries. Vessels were waiting as I approached both the ferry landing centres. In about an hour I reached the point from where the drive to Phuket began. The drive from Krabi to Phang Nga was glorious, to say the least. Thickly forested limestone cliffs and rock formations virtually lined the route. Some of them arose suddenly from the side of the road. It was easy to be distracted by such ‘pieces of art’. I had a huge problem of multi-tasking – responsibility behind the wheel driving consistently over 100 kph, admiring with respect what Nature had to offer and capturing digitally what I could on the move. Krabi is considered to be one of the oldest continued settlements in the world, with human habitation dating back to nearly 35,000 years. The southern part of Thailand is full of natural beauty – beaches, national parks, limestone cliffs and caves and waterfalls. Hot water springs, fossil beaches and bays are added attractions. Water sports, diving, snorkelling and rock climbing are favourites with tourists. All along the way tourist attractions are signposted prominently. Infrastructure that has been built in Thailand to support and promote tourism is admirable. The roads are outstanding, road signs are clear, facilities at tourist centres are developed along with private enterprise and tourism promotion is ongoing. This has provided employment to the local people, promoted local crafts and skills, fostered entrepreneurship and sustained growth. I understand that Thailand has zero unemployment! Tourism is big in all the South East Asian countries I travelled to this time, but all factors considered, I feel it is Thailand that takes the numero uno position.
While approaching Phang Nga I saw a lot of huge tourist buses taking the diversion to Phang Nga Bay, which was only 5 km from the highway. I took the diversion and followed the buses. Phang Nga Bay is in the Melaka Straits and Ko Tapu, or the James Bond Island, is the most prominently promoted attraction there. I thought I could drive in, see the natural beauty and then get back on to the highway. As I reached the bay area I found many tour operators promoting boat rides. A round trip would take an hour and cost about Rs 5000. I would have done it had it not been for the large number of tourists waiting their turn. After spending a short while there, taking in what I could, I continued the drive to Phuket. The large number of limestone cliffs I saw on the way between Krabi and Phang Nga made me compare it to what I experienced during the boat ride in Halong Bay, Vietnam. One was on land, the other in water.
I was booked to stay at the Phuket Airport Bed & Breakfast. The four room facility is located inside a rubber plantation with a narrow access road. As I parked in front of the B&B I saw a ‘white skin’, who I thought was a tourist staying in the property. As I approached the gate he said, “You must be Suresh and you have a booking today”. I was floored when I found my name written on a small white board near the gate. That was how I met Simon, the owner of the B&B. He took me to the room and showed me the facilities in there and in the common areas. The room rent for two days, 2600 THB, was paid up front, so that he would not have to ‘chase me’, as I overheard him telling a couple of other guests.
Simon turned out to be an absolutely fascinating person, with a lot of experience ranging from a family in Britain, where he hailed from, and three in Thailand, business interests in Phuket, teaching experience in Myanmar and a volunteer policeman. He unabashedly claims to have excellent business instincts and administrative capabilities that have seen him migrate seamlessly from a software professional in London to an entrepreneur in Thailand to being a school headmaster in Yangon, Myanmar.
After I had settled into the room Simon told me that he is off to the laundry as he made sure that every room had fresh linen every day. Sometimes you do not know why you do something when you do it. The purpose of it becomes clear only much later. It is more so with me because I am an instinctive person; I do things on impulse and I enjoy the consequences. All my drives are examples of this – I dare say that most of my life has been thus. I asked Simon if I could accompany him to the laundry! He may have been surprised, but he didn’t show it. On the way he told me how he had established four hotel properties in Phuket and that he had handed over three of them to his former wives. He seemed to have taken a sabbatical from marriage to manage the B&B as well as the properties for his ex-wives. He also showed me alternate routes to the B&B, shops I could get beer and stuff like that. On return to the B&B I got Simon to order me a plate of Thai noodles with chicken and vegetables. The food comes from the kitchen of one of his former wives, who lives a stone’s throw away. It is such an interesting arrangement, how he could be estranged and at the same time be such good friends with his former wives and family. The only child, a son, from his Thai connections is a student in Bangkok. The most interesting part of his life story is how he came to leave London for Phuket. The cold and damp of winters in London made him sick in the lungs. The only solution was to migrate to a warmer clime. He hit upon Phuket 14 years ago and his British wife refused to relocate. End of family number one. He came to Phuket, banked on the growth of tourism in Phuket and started his hotel business. His facilities are all located in close proximity to the Phuket International Airport and it is that segment he woos. He told me that his B&B rooms are taken every night, all through the year!
Simon told me that the majority of tourists to Phuket are Chinese – more than 50 percent. When I woke up from a short snooze after lunch I found two young Chinese couples in the premises. They were looking up the menu on the wall. They watched me for a while and one of the girls asked me for “flench flies and flied noodle”. When I told her that I was a guest there she was profuse with her “sollies’.
Later I drove to the Nai Yang Beach, which was not too far from the B&B. Patong Beach is the showpiece of Phuket, which is almost an hour away from where I was staying. Hence, it is reserved for tomorrow. The casuarina fringed Nai Yang beach is a favourite with local tourists, where they come to relax over the weekend. Part of the beach is in the Sirinath National Park. I have been to many beaches during the expedition, but I never ventured out to even wet my feet. This record was corrected today. More importantly, I was dressed for it; shorts, t-shirt and sandals in hand! I had not done this in a long, long time and it felt absolutely lovely; the receding waters almost pulling you into the sea. In one part of the beach there was a large gathering of people in an enclosed area. There I found turtles being released into the sea, a charity event. It was fascinating to see how the turtles approached the water and swam away once they caught a wave. Every inch the turtles moved was supported with terrific enthusiasm by the people watching the event. The cheering almost resembled that at a sporting event.
At the end of a long walk on the beach I came to a clearing where a huge fish was been skinned. Apparently it had just been brought in from a fishing trip by one of the tourists. It caught the attention of many tourists who arrived there to witness the ‘event’. The fish was so large that the hook could not be taken out. It was late evening by this time and shops had become active. Lights had gone up in the restaurants and menus were being screened by prospective customers. I walked into a massage parlour for a one hour foot reflexology session.
When I was driving back to the B&B police diverted traffic from the route that I had to take. I was flustered initially, but then the route that Simon had showed me in the morning came in handy. I detoured and without hassle reached the B&B. The reason behind the impulse decision to ride with Simon to the laundry in the morning became clear then. On the way I found a lot of people with lights on helmets and long poles in hand walking around in the rubber plantations. Simon told me that they were Myanmarese construction workers out on frog hunting expeditions! He explained that the spurt in construction activities in Phuket had brought in large number of Myanmarese in search of job opportunities and that nearly 1000 of them lived in a camp nearby.