Having never been to Southeast Asia my expectations were unrealistic, is there really any tropical paradise? A place where the locals live in modern comfort, the beaches are pristine and the food, drinks and accommodations are cheap? Uh….no. Koh Samui tempered my expectations for Phuket. Phuket is the largest Island in Southern Thailand and far more affluent and modern than its smaller neighbors. I anticipated a smallish local airport but found a large modern international airport, yes it even has a Starbucks. I have been very impressed with all of our air travel on this trip, modern airports, easy check in, on time flights and new equipment. In total, a much better flying experience than most of our flights in the US. Of course, now I have jinxed it and our next flight will be delayed a day and they will lose our bags.
I expected to leave the airport and drive through jungle or fields on our drive to the condo at Karon beach. Instead we started on a modern divided highway out of the airport past new car dealerships and all of the trappings of a modern capitalist society and never left the city for the country. Our hour drive was a steady stream of traffic and town after town all running together. Phuket is densely populated with almost 500,000 permanent residents who host over 2 million tourists each year. We encountered surprisingly few Americans. Regardless, English is the second language of everyone and Thailand as a whole has proven very easy to navigate without any knowledge of the Thai language. Yes, I do feel a little guilty knowing zero Thai. But you can get a long way simply smiling, putting your hands together as if praying, bowing your head and saying “thank you” after every interaction with a local.
We booked five days at a beautiful 3 bedroom Condo overlooking Karon Beach. Another view property but a much easier walk down to the beach, stores, restaurants and bars. After settling in we wandered down to the beach, Karon is a great beach with white sand stretching for almost 2 miles. The water is clear and warm. Sunbeds and umbrellas are available to rent for the day costing $3. We stepped into a beach front club thinking of grabbing a drink until we noticed the $100 minimum if you wanted a view table, they offered us a no minimum table in the back next to the pounding dance speaker and we decided to move on. We landed at The Rock, a quiet hotel bar overlooking the beach and decided to have dinner and drinks, we still spent $100 but in a better atmosphere and with an entire meal, not just a few drinks.
The next day was our down day and Kelly and I spent almost the entire day at the beach, trading time between the warm water and our $3 beach chairs. A very nice day. Both Laurie and Tim took long walks in the hot sun and met us for lunch. Whatever makes you happy.
Next was an early morning pick up and a 2 hour drive north off of Phuket Island. We were surprised to find this was a private tour with just the 4 of us, our delightful guide and a driver for $75 a person. The first stop was the cave temple of Wat Suwan Khuha where the locals had built a temple within a cave, including a 50 foot reclining gold Buddha.