Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thailand: Phuket

We sat on the beach in Phuket for a week and enjoyed some R&R -- a bit of a vacation from our vacation, if you will.  After a barrage of new experiences and hopping around the world, the downtime was welcome.

Sunset from our balcony

Phuket is an island in southwestern Thailand, located in the Andaman Sea.  Before we arrived, I failed to grasp the scale of the island (hey, we were only planning a few days in advance): at 576 square kilometers (222.4 square miles), it's not-so-small.  Tourists largely stick to the coastline, where built up coves with beaches are strung together by hilly, windy roads with gorgeous views.  B. had the time of his life driving our moped around; I hung on for dear life and prayed.

We started out at a boutique hotel on Kalim Bay, just north of Patong Beach.  Patong, by privileged analogy, is the Waikiki of Phuket.  Which is to say, it's terribly overcrowded with tourists and terribly overrated.  At night, the strip along the beach lights up with neon lights offering everything from food and alcohol to souvenirs and sex.  The hawkers in Phuket -- and especially around Patong -- are infamously aggressive.

We migrated north, toward the less-populated areas, checking out Kamala Beach (our favorite), Surin Beach (aka "Millionaire's Row".  While beautiful, the steep angle of the beach made for dangerous currents at low tide), and Laguna Beach.

We were privileged to catch the Loi Krathong festival at Laguna Beach.  Krathongs, decorated floats with incense sticks and candles, are launched onto the water, symbolically carrying away negative thoughts and sending out good wishes.  B. and I decorated our own krathong and set it afloat with belated honeymoon wishes.  We watch it bob magically on the lake, surrounded by hundreds of other points of light.

An entry in the krathong decorating competition.
We had a fascinating discussion about environmentalism in Phuket and what's being done to protect the area from the ravages of mass tourism.  They have a long way to go.

Our krathong (below: lower left corner)

We wandered south to the Kata and Karon Beach area only for activities -- namely a Thai cooking class and a scuba diving trip (my first!).  We learned to make papaya salad, pad thai, and the best red curry I've ever had.  The recipes were simpler than expected; the hardest part of reproducing them at home would be finding the right ingredients.  It's interesting to see how Thai recipes use fruits at all stages of development.  While we're used to thinking exclusively about ripe fruits, Thai cuisine uses young papayas and mangos in very fresh-tasting salads.

Fresh ingredients

Papaya salad

Chalong Harbor

Racha Yai, our scuba destination

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