Thursday, April 26, 2007

Island Vacation

This is going to be the post with the most photos that you will see here...

"in case of emergency, run up a hill and hug a coconut tree!"

Last Sunday, neil flew to Phuket with angie and meemee for a 4-day, all-girls vacation. Other than enjoying total relaxation and having lots of fun, we also made it a point to snag handsome men. I even jokingly told angie that minimum quota is 3 men each! (which, by the way, angie fulfilled 2/3, and meemee fulfilled the whole quota!)

The first lasting impression that we got of Phuket was the horrendous driving style of the drivers. We booked a taxi (650 baht) to take us from the airport to our hotel, and the taxi driver had us traumatised throughout the 40-minute long journey. He sped up to 120km/hr on narrow trunk roads, tailed other cars closely while moving at 100km/hr and weaved through the traffic as if he was a nimble bike! A little way off the airport, he made a sudden stop at what seemed a tour agency office. Alarmed, angie asked "What's the problem?" but the driver got down and hurried away without a word (I don't think he spoke any English at all, and probably didn't realised a question was directed to him). As we sat, wondering, in the car, a nice Thai lady came and explained to us that the driver had to sign a log or something, and it will be quick. True enough, less than a minute later, he was back in the car, and we were back speeding recklessly down the road. At a T-junction where the traffic light was red at our direction, he made a sharp turn to the left, (which, coincidentally leads to Tesco, and we thoought - wow, he was bringing us to shop at Tesco?) and then a U-turn about 5 meters later, back to the junction, and on our way again. He skipped 2 traffic lights this way, and ran right through a third.

traumatised look

We didn't know if we were required to tip the driver upon reaching our destination, but decided against it, for being scared out of our wits.

We stayed at Sugar Palm Resort Hotel. It was a very nice one, about 5 minutes' walk from Kata beach. We checked in at the reception, got our welcoming drinks, and before we knew it, had our bags "taken" by 2 men, porters, I presume. We wanted so much to carry our own bags, so as to not need to tip them, but unfortunately, we didn't know how to get our bag back from them. Anyhow, we got to our room, tipped the porters 50 baht (~RM5) and settled in.

our room looked (not) over the swimming pool

Our plan for the evening was to take a tuk-tuk to Patong, explore the area and have a nice, sunset dinner there. However, the moment we walked out of the hotel, we could hardly remember who we were or where we're supposed to be heading, for all the colorful things for sale, everywhere!

we managed to bargain the price of a bikini from 1200 baht to 400 baht here, but didn't buy it... heheh

We had to walk up a small road to the main road for tuk-tuk, and all along the small road were stalls with swimwear, souvenirs, sundresses etc - we had to remind each other, admist our own distraction, to remember that we had to get to Patong before it got too dark! Tuk-tuk was 400 baht from Kata to Patong, and the ride about 30 minutes. It had two rows of small bench-like seats facing each other, long, permanently-open windows on each side, and a doorway without a door at the rear. The ride was windy and noisy but it was fun.

view from inside the tuk-tuk

Patong was bright, crowded in parts, noisy and messy. We walked up and down the Bangla road several times, looking at the stalls, shops and restaurants. Most of the restaurants were classy and served western food, probably due to the immense number of kwailo tourists there. Whenever we walked past roadside shops and stalls, we'd hear "wo ai ni" (in mandarin, meaning I love you), "ni hen mei" (you are very pretty) or "where you come from" and "you very pretty" from the male merchants. Thai men sure are friendly - especially when they want to sell you something. (girls, remember - "I like the middle one!" and "I like the small one!")

Bargaining was really fun. We'd start by pointing to something and saying "how much?" (we couldn't speak in too perfect English there - they wouldn't understand - so we got the message through in as little words as possible). They would either verbally communicate the price, or pick up a calculator and punch out the numbers to show us. Then, we'd scrunch up our faces, shake our heads and say "no, no. expensive!" or "discount!". Sometimes, they would lower the price about 50 - 100 baht after that, or they would hand us the calculator, saying "how much you give me?", where then, we would offer a price about 30% of the one they first mentioned. meemee managed to get her first bikini at 350 baht, from excellent bargaining skills.

Deciding what to have to dinner was a bit hard since there were so many choices, but none too appealing. We finally settled for a little place called the "The Islander Restaurant & Pub". (Unfortunately, the sun was already set) We ordered grilled pork chop with mushroom sauce, seabass in white wine sauce and deep-fried scampi prawns. The pork was too salty and overdone, the fish ok, and the prawns nice but not filling. It was altogether not such a nice dinner, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same.

miss phuket, made from left-over dinner

Everywhere in Patong were people carrying flash cards with details of cabaret shows, and they would shove these cards into the faces of anyone walking by. In the pubs, there were scantily-dressed girls dancing on tables and counters, with men sitting all around, ogling at them.

ladies or converted gentlemen?

time for (window) shopping!

A bit more walking took us to Jungceylon, a new shopping mall in the area. We went into it and took a look around. We didn't make any purchases, but managed to see some interesting stuff.

oh no!

All the walking, talking, laughing and photo-taking made us tired and thirsty, so we stopped at an exotic-looking bar by the roadside. This was where angie was first scared by a crawling cockroach - she screamed loud enough to cause a nearby kwailo to turn and stare at us, causing my friends to mutter "mei kin guo leng lui ar?!" (never seen a pretty girl before?) Some cocktails, several dropped pineapple slices and a wink at the bartender later, we were on our way back to our hotel, by means of a tuk-tuk.

we took only 1 cocktail each, and turned into boiled lobsters

We had, on arrival, booked a day trip to the Phi Phi Islands (1600 baht per person), and the pick-up was to be at 8am, the next morning. We rose early (7am, Phuket time - considered early la, though not early enough to catch the sunrise) and had buffet breakfast at the hotel. After having our fill, we tapau-ed 3 slices of bread for the fish we will see on our trip (yeah, it was my idea - typically Chinese, heheh) The pick-up van came around 8.30am, much to our indignation, and took us, together with a few kwailo couples (one of the men rather handsome!) on a long ride to the pier. There, we rented swimming fins for 100 baht each, and waited for the speedboat to come.

While waiting, my two worthy friends spotted a group of very good-looking Asian men, probably Koreans, also waiting by the beach. They were delighted - only to be crushed moments later when they discovered that the group was wearing a tour sticker of a different color from ours! angie and meemee were contemplating walking over and asking to take photos with them when our boat came. There was still time - they were still arguing - "let's go!"; "don't want la"; "come la"; "really meh?!" - and then it was too late and we were on our boat.

We travelled by the speedboat across the sea for about 40 minutes to reach this beautiful beach which name I simply didn't catch (or if I did, couldn't remember). We were given about half an hour to frolic and swim. From there, we moved on to two different snorkelling spots.

beautiful beach, clear water, majestic rocks


The boat rides from one place to another were long and we spent much time standing on the seats, letting the wind do as much damage to our hair as possible. Since conversation by normal volume is impossible, we shouted at each other whenever we wanted to say something. The snorkelling was fun, but a bit boring after a while. The corals and fish visible were rather similar at both spots and though the swimming fins enabled us to swim faster, the combination of the life jacket and them made us rather clumsy in the water. It was also almost impossible to walk with wearing the fins, and definitely impossible to climb up the boat with them. Therefore, everyone had to take their fins off before climbing up the metal rungs at the rear of the boat. Once, as I was getting out of the water, and taking the fin off my right foot, a kwailo (the rather handsome one from our tour!) behind me reached out and helped take the other one off my left foot - which had my friends laughing and teasing, saying something about "just like Cinderella!" (Ahem - Prince Charming put the slipper on Cinderella - not took it off!) Anyway, it's too bad he came with a partner... hahah!

"a lot of fish down here!" (thinking of my seafood lunch!)

We stopped for a short while at a beach called Monkey Beach, where monkeys were all over the place, taking food from tourists (the tour guide gave us bananas to give to the monkeys). The kwailos seemed very smitten, but we couldn't wait to get away from the hairy primates (it's not like we've never seen monkeys before - Bukit Melawati and Batu Caves got even more la!)

Lunch was included and we had it on an island. The place was ok, but the food was far from great. In fact, the "seafood tom yam soup" tasted like it was cooked with water scooped directly out of the Andaman Sea.

After lunch, there was some sightseeing on boat - we saw some lovely islets of rocks, rising high and vertical from the waters. Later, the boat brought us to a superbly lovely and crowded beach (crowded by people and fishes!) where we would spend the next hour and half.

this cave has a name, though I seriously can't recall it

It was around 2pm, and very extremely hot on the beach. Many people were sitting in the shallow waters, in whatever little shadows the big rocks could afford ("udang di sebalik batu"!). We rented two deck chairs and an umbrella for ~200 baht, so we'd have somewhere to hide from the sun, and a place to put our things.

umbrellas, chairs and kwailos all in a row!

We went into the water, about waist-deep, carrying bread (the ones we tapau-ed from breakfast) with us. It was very exciting, having so many fishes swimming all around us, nibbling the small pieces of bread we let drop. meemee and neil enjoyed themselves a lot; angie however, weren't too pleased with the fishes, because, in addition to the bread, they nibbled her too. She suffered at least 3 fish bites to her thighs and butt. (meemee said that maybe angie looked like bread! :P)

After the bread were gone, we waded farther - until we were chest-deep in the water, and all of a sudden, meemee screamed (really, really loudly), and jumped towards neil and angie. neil, being an easily-scared fella, thought something had attacked meemee, jumped as well, and landed on some sharp rocks, which resulted in her screaming, and jumping again, and landing on successive sharp rocks, and more screaming... (it was freaky a chain-reaction) By the time angie came to warn us that our screaming had caused every single person on the beach to stare at us, meemee had already screamed herself hoarse. And the "thing" that touched her in the first place? Her own bikini string!

The waves were at times, rather strong, and there were many rocks on the sand in the water, sometimes visible, sometimes not. Many of them were sharp. At one point, angie was relaxing on one of our rented deck chairs on the beach, and suddenly, neil brought a bleeding meemee towards her - a strong wave had flung her towards some sharp rocks and she had a small cut on her foot (it was bleeding quite hard, nevertheless) We washed the wound, stopped the bleeding, and applied a plaster. Then, while meemee rested on the beach, we went back to the water.

When we returned to the beach, we saw this really handsome, charming, young kwailo sitting on the sand, just in front of our chairs and umbrella. angie and I straightaway decided to "target" him (heheh) I sent angie to meemee and told them to pose - pretended to take a photo of them, but we really wanted a photo of the handsome fella actually.

forget the background... look at that handsome fella!

We then gathered under our umbrella, admiring the man from behind and joking about approaching him, when a handsome friend of his turned up. I was making a joke about asking them if they had a "third friend" (since there were 3 of us! hahah) when another man joined them! There were then, 3 of them. The two who joined the one sunbathing had just returned from a swim and were talking about what they saw. We heard the word "shark" several times, and angie, perhaps being determined to achieve her "quota", jumped on the opportunity to strike up a conversation. "You saw sharks?" And then they were talking, and then we were taking photographs - and the next thing I knew, I was asking for their email addresses to "send you guys the photos" @@ (Mad as we seemed, I'm really glad we got to know them - they were such nice and interesting people!)

After half an hour's speedboat ride, we arrived at the pier, and after another long ride on the van, we reached our hotel.


We took dinner at Mali Restaurant, which was right next to our hotel. One of the dishes we ordered was pineapple fried rice (Thai style la...). It came in a hollowed pineapple, with several herbs and meat floss in heaps on the plate. To eat it, we poured the rice out of the pineapple, and mixed it with the other ingredients "lou sang" style. meemee managed to take a video of us doing that, and throughout, auspicious phrases in Cantonese were audible: "pou pou gou sing" (rising higher with every step), "gong hei, gong hei" (congratulations), "duo duo leng cai" (a lot of handsome men), "ka guo yao chin yan" (marry a rich man), "ka ge yan fai dit yao chin" (the one I marry get rich quickly)... (ini 3 orang memang siao!)

pineapple fried rice in its original form

Day 3 - we would be going on a trip to Phang Nga Bay (James Bond Island) and the pick-up would be at 10am. After breakfast (from which we again, tapau-ed some slices of bread), we had some time to spare, so we walked to Kata beach and frolicked for about half an hour, taking silly photos.

one of the silly photos I meant

Phang Nga Bay excursion began with a 1.5hr van ride to the pier where we boarded a long-tailed boat out to the sea for sight-seeing. The waters were not deep, and there were mangrove swamps all around.

I half-expected to see crocodiles swimming around - but no, I didn't

The long-tailed boat was like a big sampan with roof, and a noisy motor at the end, with its rotor extended a couple of meters behind the boat on a long pole. It was slower than the speedboat we took on the previous day, and much less comfortable. One kwailo (old one, not handsome), despite having been warned not to put our hands into the water, dropped his hand over the side of the moving boat, and caused water to be splashed into the boat - mainly onto the people sitting on the two rows behind him i.e. us. We took of a photo of ourselves with angry expressions on our faces (but it is too ugly to be posted here...)

long-tailed boat experience

The long-tailed boat ride took us directly to a place called Koh Hong, where there were many rock formations and caves rising directly our of the waters. We first boarded a large boat, and then went onto individual canoes with a "professional" rower for exploration of the rocks and caves. Each canoe normally took 2 passengers, but we 3 decided to take one together, and it was ok.

rocks and caves

The exploration on canoe was extremely grand. We went under rock arches, saw countless types of formations and patterns and even bought coconuts from a peddler on a boat (20 baht each, ~RM2 - cheaper than Bagan Lalang coconuts!). There were so many canoes at the time that we tourists even had fun photographing each other! We even managed to exchange greetings with a nice couple on an adjacent canoe: "Where you come from?"; "Malaysia - where you come from?"; "Japan"; "Ooo! (angie) konichiwa!"; "Oh! Hahah..."

I shall take a photo of you taking a photo of me taking a photo of you... @@

The canoes took turned going into a tiny lagoon enclosed by mountainous rocks, with a small "beach" area of rough pebbles for photo shoots. It was here that a nice Japanese lady (named yuko-san, which we found out later) whom we spoke to earlier approached us - "Can my friend take photo with you?" Did she mean her handsome Japanese man-friends? Yes, it would be a pleasure! :D

We took some photos with her 3 male companions, and took some photos with herself too. Then, we were on our way. Passing underneath a rocky arch, we found our canoe parallel to the canoe carrying yuko-san and her male companion. Jokingly, we told our rowers "Faster!" and yuko-san, being such a bubbly, cheerful sport, said, pointing to themselves "Japanese team" and pointing to us "Malaysian team!" and that was it! "Faster, faster!" and when that wasn't enough, angie and neil dipped their bare hands into the water on both sides on the canoe and started paddling like mad (meemee must've been, for a moment, embarassed to be our friend!) Needless to say, the "Malaysian (damn kiasu) team" overtook the "Japanese team".

most of the time, we took photos of ourselves this way

canoe rower said "look - jellyfish"; angie said "yum yum!"

Following the canoeing, we took the boat to James Bond Island, so named because a long time ago, a James Bond movie, The Man With The Golden Gun, was partly filmed there. In the boat, we had the "honour" of sitting next to the youngest and handsomest Japanese guy from the group of four we got acquainted with during the canoeing. I took a photo of angie and him, which turned out so wonderful that she now owes me teh tarik, roti canai and ayam tandoori!

On the island, we spent so much time bargaining at the souvenir stalls for pearl and shell necklaces that we almost missed the actual "James Bond" island - a vertical tower of solid rock, rising from the sea. We took a few hurried photos and then rushed back to the waiting boat. While waiting to get on the boat, meemee pulled me back to the souvenir stall so I could get a shell necklace to match the one she and angie had bought earlier. This caused us to be so late that we had to sit at the front-most row in the boat - the only one left (to angie's great disappointment, as she noticed the Japanese group actually waited for us while we were making our last-minute purchase - and failing, sat at the end of the boat, which were full by the time we got there - alas!)

James Bond Island

We went to a Muslim fishing village - Panyee Village - for lunch. (The tour guide, upon getting us settled at a table, announced "We meet here for boat 1.40pm. Please be on time!" I can't help feeling that the last part of her speech was directed to us - we were the last to board the boat for the previous two stops!) The food was not worth mentioning, but at our table were an American couple who love Penang food, and a Malaysian Indian couple from Puchong who understood perfectly our own Malaysian English language. So all in all, lunch was great.

After eating, we went to a market place behind the restaurant. There were many stalls overflowing with souvenirs, merchants and tourists. Quite a few of the merchants were carrying gibbons as one would toddlers - some of the gibbons were even wearing diapers! Tourists can have photos taken of themselves carrying the gibbons for 50 baht. We spent some time bargaining for some souvenirs but didn't buy any since we couldn't get them for the price we wanted.

We were not late to the boat this time - thank goodness! The boat took us back to the pier, and from there, we took the van to a temple called the Monkey Cave. It was actually a Buddhist temple built in a large cave, with some monkeys living outside. These monkeys were lucky we didn't give our breads to any fish this time - they got all of the bread we had with us.

Monkey Cave Temple

There was nothing much to explore in the caves. There was a huge statue of sleeping Buddha and a monk in front of it, performing blessing rituals. The inner parts of the caves were more interesting. The walls and ceilings were curious rock formations and it was very dark - lit only by a few yellow spotlights. We took some photos, bumped into the Japanese man whose photo with angie I took, took a couple more with him and (back to our fail-proof strategy) exchanged emails with him for "sending photos" :P

inside Monkey Cave Temple

We left the temple a little while after the Japanese guy did, and as we were heading towards our van (his companions and him took a different van) he ran up to angie and gave her a piece of paper, obviously torn from a notebook, with his email address written "properly", as the one he wrote previously was too "messily scribbled". In addition to his email, he drew a caricature of himself and labeled it "nice Japanese boy".

she was on cloud nine when she got it - and I bet she is still on cloud nine now!

On the ride back to the hotel, we had another traumatic moment when our driver ran the red light at a junction, and another car nearly rammed into us from the right. There were some swerving and screeching and it was over in about 2 seconds, and everyone was fine, but the kwailo couple sitting at the right side where the collision almost happened were visibly shaken. The driver and our guide, on the other hand, were perfectly indifferent - they just laughed it off. Perhaps these close calls happen all the time!

That night, we took a taxi to Karon marketplace and spent about an hour shopping for souvenirs. After that, instead of having dinner at a restaurant, we settled for roadside food - which was really tasty - except for the sotong, which tasted ok, but was tough like rubber!

day 3 dinner!

The following morning was our last in Phuket, and we spent a lovely 3 hours right after breakfast pampering ourselves with full-body spa at the hotel. We had steam / sauna, foot bath & herbal tea, body scrubs, massages, facial and some embrassing moments I'd rather not elaborate. It was an extremely grand way to end a great vacation.

We booked a taxi (700 baht) to take us to the airport. The over-friendly driver, who took a liking to meemee, told us his name was "Bullet" and he was 28yrs old and he has an "eek" (which means gf in Thai) and bought us each a string of jasmine to hang around our necks. He was rather a typical Phuket driver too - when we started on the road, we asked him how long it would take to get to the airport. He said "1 hour" then added "how long you want? 40 minutes? 30 minutes?" and we were like "oh no - 1 hour is fine!" (The jasmine he bought for us he actually did by getting out of the car while stopped at a traffic light!)

At a curved road going downhill, we could see a fanstastic view of Chalong Bay, a very beautiful beach area, and we saw many people crowded at a spot. "Accident!" our driver said, and immediately slowed down, arched his neck towards the window to look. I was thinking how Thai drivers were the same as Malaysian drivers (slowing down to look at accidents) when this guy actually pulled over by the side. Muttering "I go see - maybe my friend!" he shoved the automatic gear into "parking" and rushed out of the car. He didn't even pull the hand-brakes!

meemee, looking at the accident site, suddenly cried out that there's a kwailo who looks like Brad Pitt walking there - I immediately took out my camera for a photo, but only managed to get his back

When he finally came back, "Bullet" told us that it was a lorry - not his friend - and the driver was alive and on the way to hospital, and no one else was hurt. Good to know, we thought.

Instead of taking us directly to the airport, we stopped by Naiyang Beach, which was close to the airport, to "make photos" (in the words of our new friend) There, it was pretty obvious that he was only interested in taking photos with meemee, and I didn't even have the chance to ask him to take a photo for the 3 of us in front of his car - he was too busy asking me to take a photo of him and meemee and angie! Really beh tahan him!

and he called himself "handsome driver"! (I shrunk the image on purpose - in case anyone got too shocked looking at it)

When we finally left the beach, we went on our way. When we reached the junction into the airport, he didn't turn in - instead he went straight on, muttering something about "make photo" somewhere else, saying there was enough time. By then I was a bit worried and anxious about his over-friendliness, and expressed my concerns to my too-attractive mates in our own tongue. angie then discreetly asked "Bullet" if there was indeed enough time. Perhaps he caught the look on my face, or the tone in angie's voice - he took a u-turn shortly afterwards, and after making a brief stop to buy sugarcane drink by the roadside (we belanja him la - since he bought us flowers), we went straight on to the airport. I can't say I'm not relieved to be out of his car, though he was, afterall, a nice driver (and meemee's final conquest!)

At the airport, we did some last minute souvenir-shopping (mainly to rid ourselves of extra bahts) and then, upon boarding the plane, our vacation was officially over!

I took an amazing 10hrs - including choosing photos, arranging my thoughts and words, friendster-, internet- and computer-problems-related delays, dinner and toilet breaks and editing - to complete this post. If you've enjoyed reading it, then it was all worth it.

I had such a good time - thank you, girls - I love you both!

sunset and silhouttes (neil's masterpiece from Phuket)

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