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In the Summer of 2016, a travel to Asia. We hit Manila in the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand. We spent 5 days in the Philippines, 7 in Malaysia, and 23 in Thailand. Thailand is a hard place to give up! Here are some of the highlights of our trip with Ultimate Country Guides – 3-part guide
By Cyril House
The seventh day we would leave and fly to Thailand. Landing on the island of Phuket, we disembarked the plane and got settled into the condo we had rented for the next week. We had a staggering view from the 8th floor, the shore of the Andaman Sea visible from the balcony. We had plans to travel to another small island off the Northwest coastline, but I was accosted by a parasitic intestinal infection, landing me in in the International Care Ward for a 3-night stay; after which it became a dicey operation to attempt to venture far. The island we were planning to visit was only accessible by speedboat and, being the rainy season, these boats would not operate in a storm. So we lavished ourselves on the island we already were on, seeing many beautiful things such as:
The aquarium was awesome! We did a full tour and were fully enraptured throughout the entirety of the large collection. There were many types of fish all around, but some of the coolest ones were the eels, stingrays, and an honest-to-God Dewgong skeleton! The stingray was great because its aquarium had a walkway beneath it, so it would slide along the glass floor – glass roof from our perspective – and go right over us in all it’s magnificence.
The Giant Buddha was definitely one of the most incredible things we saw while in Phuket. The island itself is mountainous, rising high in the middle and descending towards the coastline. The Giant Buddha sits at the highest point on the island and can be seen from almost everywhere. We took our scooter and drove up, and up, up, up; winding around, and around, and around, and around. There was an elephant tourist attraction on the way to the top, but we did not stop due to the elephants being tightly chained together and our desire to not support such animalities. At the top of the mountain we encountered a massive construction site. Although the Buddha itself had been completed (as seen in the photo below) at the time of our visit, in 2016 the main worship site and complex grounds were still largely under construction. The incompleteness of the site did little to diminish its magnificence. There were several locations which had spectacular views looking out over massive swaths of the island below. Furthermore, there were monkeys everywhere (we love monkeys)!
Of all the various villages along the coast, Patong was definitely where the entertainment scene was at. We went here regularly for a ‘night out on the town’. There is a massive shopping complex here called Jungceylon and there are four or five massive, sprawling floors of shops and kiosks of all different types, including a wonderful movie theater on the top floor with all the hottest new releases (a day before they come out in the West!) and providing most movies in English. Furthermore, there is a large open pedway section at the base of the complex, filled with a couple gentle water features and more kiosks and vendors, which leads to a smaller section of enclosed complex beyond it. This smaller section had a ground floor of various great restaurants and eateries. We ate at most of them and were always impressed.
For a much classier dining experience, however, we frequented a restaurant across the road from Jungceylon called Tiger Seafood Restaurant. A sight which is impossible to miss, there are countless massive tigers and various fish and animal sculptures hanging from all the pillars and walls even out into the street. Recommended dishes at Tiger Restaurant: Veggie Spring Rolls, Fresh Oysters, Steamed/Barbequed Squid, all tropical drinks.
Chou Chou Deli Shop in Grand Mercure Hotel
This was such an impressive place! It was a little out of the way from where we typically loitered, but regardless we made the trek several times to enjoy their gourmet selection of baked goods and coffee products. They had all varieties of fruit cups, and cream puffs, and chocolate cakes, and lattes, and Chai drinks, and sandwiches, and candies, and much much more. This is quite a small shop and is located off the side of the entrance lobby to the Grand Mercure, which is in the Patong area. There are nice little tables to snack and rest at within and the shop was generally quiet to chat in.
Karen and Kata are each popular beaches along the coast. Both have small village areas associated with them, and we lived in both while we were there. In Karen, we rented an extremely nice condominium about 500 meters from the beach. Even this 500 meters was staggering to traverse in the mind-boggling heat of high 40’s. The beach was nice, although there was little shade to be had. There was a beach umbrella renter located on site there, but we felt that the price to rent an umbrella was a little unreasonable and thus limited our time on the beach altogether.
After our week long lease had expired we moved to a very nice resort in Kata. We particularly enjoyed that the resort was not ‘apart’ from the local culture. It was a location in the middle of the village that meshed fluidly with the stores, people, and streets of the village itself. Now about 1000 meters from the beach we actually spent more time on it. Kata is slightly less popular and that made the shade from the few trees around more easily available.
One of our most pleasurable experiences in this area was a restaurant called Red Snapper, which was right beside the resort. A brilliantly pleasant Japanese man had fused Japanese cuisine, with the more local Thai seafood cuisine. We ate here nearly every night and had the best time interacting with the few staff who ran the place as well as the owner and head chef. Additionally, one of the servers sold t-shirts here from her private design company ‘MSF’. We purchased one each and they are some of our favourite shirts. Exquisite graphic design combined with high-quality material. Recommended dishes at Red Snapper: Mackerel, Fresh Baked Chocolate Lava Cake, Baked Chicken with Lemon Sauce, Gyoza Appetizer, Fresh Pineapple Juice, Mojito, Squid, Sushi.
Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the Surf House on Kata Beach. Just across the access road to the beach itself is the Surf House (different than the hotel/resort of the same name). I spent a good couple hours ripping this hydraulic wave set up. The staff there are highly professional, skilled, and easy-going all at once. They afterwards even connected me to the ocean surfing community for further training!
Recommended Attractions in this Area: Moto Rental, we rented a little scooter for ultra cheap and drove it everywhere! You do not even need a driver’s license, just a passport and cash. It is important to note, however, that they will request to hold your passport until you return their bike. Many people were fine with this, but we were not leaving our passports with anyone for any reason. Luckily we had some photocopies of our documents with us; so a photocopy of the passport, in addition to a little persuasive argumentation, was enough to convince them to rent to us.
Shaved Iced-Cream Rolls
Shaved iced-cream rolls were our very favourite treat, we ate at least one every day. There are small street vendors every fifty or hundred yards in Kata and most of them deal in shaved iced-cream rolls. We have seen a vendor up in Canada here since returning, although I had never seen one before, so this concept may or may not be familiar to you. The idea is that they have an industrial refrigeration unit which super cools a circular plate on the tabletop. They have jars of fresh fruit and jugs of cream which they will mix together in a cup and then dump onto the plate. They then dual-wield mudding trowels to chop the fresh fruit up very small and mix it into the cream. As the mixture continues to exist on the supercooled tabletop it begins to freeze. They then trowel the mixture into a very flat pancake before scraping it off the surface in strips, and as the trowel is pushed, further along, the iced-cream begins to roll over itself. So what results is four or five conical rolls of frozen fresh fruit and cream, which is then dropped into a wide paper cup in a delicious, bouquet-looking, health-conscious dessert!
Chaithararam Temple, Wat Chalong
There are twenty-nine Buddhist temples on the island of Phuket, and Chaithararam Temple, Wat Chalong is the most important, and sacred, of the twenty-nine. There is a beautiful complex ground here with many astounding buildings, statues, and grounds-work. There is a fireworks oven for making prayers and offerings. There is also a prayer hall and, what seems to be, a revenant temple. I do not follow Buddhism, but if the concept is similar to certain other spiritualities then the smoke from the incense is the vehicle which carries your prayers to the heavens). The revenant temple is double-plus-excellent. There are four or five floors to ascend, and while the square footage of each floor is quite concise this does not detract from the magnificence of each. The floors are filled with golden statues and stunning architecture. All the way at the top is a large glass room with slots in the windows and visitors are welcomed to slip donation money through the slots and into the chamber. At the time we were there-there was a large pile of donations contained within this chamber and it was a pleasant and humbling sight to see.
We had such a brilliant time in Southeast Asia and we are excited to one day return, and do a more outward-bound exploration of this cultural quintessence. The rich cultural experience in Manila was a nice precursor to our more extensive, and exploratory forays into Kuala Lumpur and Phuket. If we were to give any advice to travellers planning a visit, it would be to set a strong intention to split your time between the population centres and the countrysides. We thought we could rip around and check out all the cool stuff in the cities before progressing on and branching out into the rural and jungle areas. As it turns out, however, there is such a staggering amount of spectacular sights and experiences within the population centers themselves that we believe it would be a powerful and motivated person(s) to be able to enjoy all the spots of interest before moving on, up, and out to the more peripheral areas of interest.
We hope you enjoyed reading through our short report, and thank you for taking the time to do so. We wish you peace, safety, and prosperity in your travels, and we anticipate connecting with you again after the next of our adventures to come!