- Travel Topics
This post is sponsored by Tourisme Montreal
Initially the plan had been to visit us in China. Then it got pushed back to Vietnam. Finally, in typical Berman fashion (always late) the real trip materialized in Thailand. Unfortunately, all of us have completely different ideas on how to spend a “holiday” together. This became evident when my parents came to visit me while I was studying abroad in Spain:
The easiest option was to pick a Thai island and limit ourselves to two activities – pool and beach.
Slightly jetlagged, but still energetic my parents arrived in the dead of the night in Bangkok, on the eve of my mom’s birthday. Luckily, I found an awesome looking set of flowers at the flower market in Bangkok to greet my mom with.
After spending a day in the city we were off on an Air Asia flight to Phuket. Simple enough right?
In true American traveling fashion my parents arrived with two 25 kilogram suitcases and an array of hand luggage. Not exactly compliant with budget airline Air Asia’s flying regulations, which cap out at 15 kilograms per person. For every kilogram past 15 the fee was 400 baht – equivalent to $13 – outrageous. Suddenly my dad was regretting all the liquor bottles he stocked up on in duty free.
The shuffling about of the suitcases began and after a good half hour of sorting things out (pocket stuffing) we were able to get the suitcases down to the allowed weight. Except now we had a full bottle of wine on our hands which wouldn’t be allowed through security and 7 items of carrying on luggage for the 4 of us. Woops.
Well what better way to ring in a family vacation than by splitting a bottle of wine at 8am in disposable plastic airport water cups?
Ah the joys of being reunited with my parents.
So, lightly tipsy and way overloaded with bags we boarded our flight and were on our way.
Settled in our rental car we made our way to the condo my dad had picked for us by one of the northern beaches – Nai Thon. Luxurious condo on the beach? A nice break from the hostels we had grown accustomed to and a huge step up from our accommodation in Tokyo when we slept on bean bag chairs. With the pool a stone’s throw away, the beach just across the street, a full kitchen at my disposal and a TV with dvd player, this was bound to be an awesome week.
While Dave was snoozing in the mornings my parents and I had worked out a perfect routine.
We would enjoy a 7am walk along the beach, followed by a swim and snorkeling section, then a dip in the pool en route to the condo, a homemade breakfast (by yours truly) and a glass of chilled prosecco. I could get used to this kind of living…
And what a beach! Sheltered on both sides by cliffs, along with a line of trees behind the beach, providing welcome morning shade, this felt like a secluded slice of paradise. The water was the perfect temperature, warm enough to swim comfortably in, but cool enough to feel refreshing when you went in for the first dip.
There was one problem.
Russian tourists. Hoards of them. There weren’t many tourists on the beach but the ones we found were all Russian. There were Russian signs for massages and restaurants lining the beach and even the vendors knew how to quote prices in Russian. The Thais were ready for them.
We were not. My parents flew half way across the world to land in the middle of a Russian vacation spot it seemed. Our secret language was no longer so secret, with literally everybody now understanding everything we said. This was seriously strange and not cool.
We took a drive down to the southern tip of the island for the sunset and even from the top of the cliff we could hear Russian shouts of GORKO (what you yell at a Russian wedding to get the bride and groom to kiss) from the beach below.
Later, when we went to the Fanta Sea show – advertising itself as an entertaining show with acrobats, elephants, dancers and performers showcasing history of Thailand we were seated in row full of Russians, with Russians behind and in front of us. Out of the 2000 seats in the theatre I wouldn’t be surprised if 1800 were filled with Russians.
The show itself was beyond disappointing. They have built a whole monstrosity of a complex surrounding this Fanta Sea show pavilion, full of souvenir shops, restaurants and displays. The show itself casts no less than 100 people with dozens more employed at the complex. Yet the show itself is completely incohesive and lacking substance. There are tons of characters on stage at all times, but there seems to be no set storyline in place. At one point, in the middle of this “traditional retelling of Thai history” two clown comedians ran up on stage, picking staged “volunteers” from the audience and showcasing the “saw the person in half” trick. Random? I think so.
What furthers my bewilderment is the slew of outstanding Trip Advisor reviews – these people must have never seen a good show in their lives! Seriously though if you’ve been to Broadway or Vegas or even the local playhouse in your village, skip the Fanta Sea show and save yourself the $50 (and yes that’s 50 USD).
As for activities worth setting aside time for in Phuket, I highly recommend renting a car or motorbike to drive around the island. The roads are windy and steep at times so learning to drive on the opposite side of the road or taking out a motorbike for the first time can be somewhat scary, but it can be done.
Though the island is not so big due to the one lane roads you can’t go very fast so it can take an easy 1.5-2 hours to go from northern to southern tip (where the sunset view points are located).
There are tons of different beaches in Phuket with the central ones more developed and crowded then some of the northern ones. Patong is known for its nightlife and seedy areas with a long and somewhat crowded beach. Karon, Kamala and Kata are some of the other popular beaches around the central part of the island, but once again good luck avoiding the Russian tourists.
One place we were able to dodge the Russians was on our day tour to the Phi Phi Islands. Knowing that these budget tours are almost always poorly organized and rarely depart on time I was ready to be patient. Luckily we left only slightly behind schedule and within 1.5 hours were slowly coasting by Phi Phi Ley – the island made famous by the movie The Beach. The “beach” is somewhat protected from the open sea by cliffs on both sides but as we looked on instead of peace and serenity in the distance we saw a beach filled with tourists with barely any open sand left. The water was packed in with various day trippers from the main islands and the whole area looked nothing like the scenes immortalized in the Blockbuster hit.
Instead of docking we sailed further onto the main island Phi Phi Don, from which we hopped onto a smaller boat to take us snorkeling. The snorkeling was ok, but with tons of tourists in the water I’m sure we scared off more than a handful of fish. Back on the island for lunch, we had a decent Thai themed family meal with only a little bit of free time to explore the island before departure. Unfortunately the nicer beaches on Phi Phi Don are further out and need a longtail boat to get to, as there is no motorized transport on the island, so we just had to jump in the water only meters away from where the local boats dock. This was really the only way to get in some beach time on the island. As we made our way back on the boat and passed by tourist shop after tourist shop it became clear to me that this is a place where tourism has become a curse instead of a blessing.
The rest of our days in Phuket we spent lounging around on our beach or by the pool. Oh and don’t worry I did find plenty of time to test out my Thai cooking and breakfast making skills.
Overall I loved my time in Phuket with my family. For us Nai Thon Beach was the perfect place to relax and take it easy.