Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phuket and the Andaman Sea

Thailand.. the quintessential backpacker destination, and the most famous spots? Probably Ko Samui and Phuket in the south. The latter where I am, and a friend from Korea, Yumi, is flying down to meet me, which is cool - one of the best bits about my travels has been meeting up with people who I’ve met previously – Tony and Marcia in SA and then in Perth, and another surprise – Jason from Egypt and then not quite Perth (long story) turns up in Phuket too!

So, today after camping out in Starbucks through the heat of the day, I head back to Lamai and have a massage from the very sweet Bo, who is apparently 18 and from the north of Thailand. She’s only been here a month, but still laughs at my shyness. It’s an oil massage. Does one take pants off? Apparently so. She laughs and tells me she’s not looking as she holds a towel up for my modesty. Oil massages are full body, i.e. involve everything from pulling your toes from their sockets to massaging your scalp. At the end of it one is generally very slippery. Price seems fairly standard at 300-350baht, i.e. about 5 pounds, for the full hour. And it’s good! No extras offered, though she does ask me if I want to go eat. I politely decline.

Yumi turns up
Next I head off to the Sunset Resort, where we’ll stay for the next few days. It’s at the end of the Patong seafront strip, almost at the next beach, Kalim. There’s a shuttle bus which leaves from Bangla Road, but I fail to spot it. I later learn that this is (a) because it’s unmarked and (b) it’s not a minibus like I expected, but a tuk tuk-like affair, effectively a pick-up truck with two benches in the back and a makeshift roof. Classy but fun!

Yumi arrives at 00:30am, just when I’m dozing off.

We spend the next morning relaxing at the hotel swimming pool before eating at one of the restaurants just along the road, Ban Lim Pa, an award-winning place which isn’t cheap, but then is probably still much cheaper than a basic Thai restaurant would be back home. And the setting here is lovely, perched on top of rocks upon which the waves crash, plus the food is beautiful and very tasty – prawns wrapped in crispy noodles, spicy salad and more.

Walking lunch off, we dodge the inevitable tuk tuks waiting outside the restaurant, and walk along the beach to the centre of Patong. We have a few hours to kill until the FantaSea show that Yumi wants to go to. It’s a big cabaret dance thing, which according to the girl selling tickets is a must (!) for anyone visiting Phuket.

I am dubious, but go along with it. My fears are confirmed when we arrive. It’s one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been to in my life.

Everything costs money on top of the rather pricey 1,100 baht admission ticket – I’m surprised they don’t charge for the air you’re breathing. We have two hours to kill before the show starts. There’s only one thing for it. Beer!

That was quite a night

Finally it’s time, and we all head into the auditorium. More con action though as all our cameras are confiscated, and then immediately afterwards they have an array of cute photogenic things like baby tigers, all of which are waiting to have their photo taken with you, for a fee. We hurry through this and find our seats in the large theatre. We’ve actually got fairly good ones, just outside of the so-called “VIP” block (extra 500 baht for those). I grab a couple of beers and we get comfy. We’re surrounded by Koreans!

The show starts with a bang, fireworks going off and elephants marching through the walkways being the seats. There is a story to the show, supposedly explaining Thai culture and history, but it’s not obvious, so we just enjoy the acrobatics. It is good, given all the horrible build up.

The thing I don’t like though is the elephants having to do all sorts of tricks and being in the middle of loud bangs, music and fireworks. Surely they don’t enjoy this, haven’t elephants really sensitive hearing? I can’t believe this is good for them, and I for one would rather they were left out of the show. Yumi likes it of course. Probably wondering what elephant tastes like grilled with some chilli sauce!

We get back fairly late, but not so late that we can’t squeeze dinner in at the sea-facing restaurant at the front of Sunset, entertained by the Philippino solo singer chap who was playing last night (we get a smile and a hello as I was the only person clapping him yesterday evening when I ate alone).

The other side of Phuket

Next day is explore the island day. Again I am inconvenienced by not being able to find my driver licence before leaving the UK – one can rent motorbikes here for about 200 baht a day or cheaper, which is a great deal compared with a cab for 400 or so to pretty much anywhere.

Before heading off, I pop into Scuba Cat Dive Shop to book diving for the following day. Unfortunately it takes no effort at all to twist my arm into doing the Advanced PADI course, only a bit more money on top of what I was going to pay for the LiveAboard anyway. My brother Hedge will indeed be jealous! Unfortunately part of the deal is that I get the Advanced manual, of a similar size to the original Open Water one, and am told I should read various chapters before the following day. Hmmm!

We take a local bus (20 baht each) across to Phuket Town on the other side of the island. This is the main town, and is not very exciting apart from a large shopping complex called Central World, which we don’t get to see.

We take a tuk tuk minibus thing (?!) down to Wat Chalong, the most important temple on the island, built in memory of two monks who died fighting the Chinese (doesn’t sound very peace-loving!).

We feel a bit awkward being there though as we’re dressed for the beach, so walk round the buildings and pagoda, but don’t go in.

Not far away we can see the “big Buddha” project – they are building an enormous (like Lamma Island) Buddha at the top of a hill. Apparently very nice view, but we don’t get up there without our own transport!

An English Pub in Paradise
We walk from here along to Chalong Bay, have a quick look at the water, which looks nice but no good for swimming, too many boats here, then double back along to the real objective of the way (for me at least) – an English pub called The Green Man (http://www.the-green-man.net/) . And certainly it does look authentic! Would not look out of place at the edge of a wood in Suffolk!

I walk in, big smile on my face, only to find that they don’t appear to have any decent English beer, at all! Not even bottles. What a disgrace! They do have copies of the Torygraph though, which tempers my disgust!

Spot the hairy legs

After many more beers, the live music gets going, only outdone by a tremendous laugh filling the whole pub sporadically. Turns out to be the owner, Howard, a larger than life Englishman married to a local and clearly resident on the island for quite some time. http://www.the-green-man.net/s1/howard.htm

So it’s Phuket Beer and jugs of Tiger instead. Doesn’t take long to work up an appetite, so I have Bangers and Mash with Lincolnshire Sausages and Yumi has a “Brick Lane” curry! Food is good. Yumi asks me about what or who the Green Man is had me researching:

Who is the Green Man?

(apologies – this is stolen verbatim from the Green Man Phuket pub web site)

The Green Man is one of those traditional country pub names in England. His story is extremely old. The Green Man is a relative of Bacchus, Dionysus, Pan, Okeanos and eventually of Vishnu and of Enki, the creator of Adam and the savior of Noah. His images appear in churches and temples in Europe, the Levant and Asia. Medieval Western European images have been faithfully copied in The Green Man of Phuket.

Since The First Time, man was in awe of the overwhelming strength of uncontrolled nature, represented by The Green Man. In the Age Of Rationalism, Man thought he could tame and harness nature and The Green Man faded. With B.S.E, pollution, Global Warming, desertification, and the downstream devastation of dams, The Green Man is relevant again.

He is in orgies on the hillside, riots in the street, the celebrations of plenty, and the privations of crop failure. He is in inebriation, orgasm, trance and possession. His eyes typically do not focus, and His image is part comforting and part worrying, like the force He represents. The Green man likes wild places, hence His association with the countryside. He is also sometimes known as as Robin Goodfellowe, Jack o' the Green, Green George, or Robin Hood.

The Green Man dies each year on the 5th of November (The Old English New Years Day) to the sound of bangs and the site of bonfires, much later associated with Guy Fawkes. He is reborn on 1st May each year. Spring rites celebrate that renaissance, and children conceived on this day (particularly as a result of the spring rights!) were known as Robin's Son or Robinson. So He is a vegetation force, dying each winter but leaving His seed in the womb of Mother Earth for the next spring. He is also the last protector of lost souls.

Looks like I missed the festival this year: http://www.clungreenman.org.uk/

We finish the night by going for an oil massage just round the corner from our hotel. Again very good, and Yumi’s first. She’s clearly quite a fan, as she suggests we should can the boat trip the following day and just spend the whole day getting massaged! My girl was fairly brutal, which is generally good, but I didn’t appreciate having my stomach crushed given how full of beer and food it was!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Morning Chap, quite a shock to see your picture of the green man - I have used the same (or almost the same) picture in the past as my avatar for nearly-obvious reasons i.e. ancient + bearded + eco-focused + not entirely benevolent.

In parallel with your globe-trotting, I have been doing some exploring of my own (my book "voyage to the far side of South Oxfordshire" is in early development"). I have taken the family camping in Harpsden and even as far away as Binfield Heath - fully 4 miles from Henley. It rained all weekend both times, but we still managed roast spatchcocked poussin and baked apples over a log fire, as well as more traditional sausage stew. We breed them tough in the Chilterns!