Monday, November 23, 2015

Phuket, Thailand

Eden near the hotel pool
After getting up at 5am in Marloth Park, driving 4 ½ hours to Johannesburg, taking a 10 ½ hour flight to Singapore, waiting 6 hours in the Singapore Airport (our flight got delayed), taking a 1 ½ hour flight to Phuket and a 30 minute car ride to the hotel we finally arrived at 3pm the following day.  We had traveled for 28 hours and had a small amount of sleep.  Of course the first thing Justin and I wanted to do was lay down and sleep, the first thing the kids wanted to do was go to the pool.  So we went to the pool.  Actually, the pool is pretty great.  They have a kiddy pool with a small but fast slide and a splash zone with lots of water squirting from the ground and other features.  Eden asked to go to the pool every day.  Once we finally got to bed we slept for 15 hours and when Eden did wake up she stated, “I can’t sleep anymore.”  We decided that since we still felt rather jet lagged we would just spend the day at the resort.  Up to this point, we had not stayed at a resort of any kind and Justin and I decided that since our time in Phuket was short, 1 week, we would go ahead and book something fancier.  The resort has a kids club, which Danielle, our little social butterfly, took full advantage of.  She had the schedule in hand and knew exactly what she wanted to participate in.  She got to make all sorts of things including puppets, ice pops, cookies and elephant hats to name a few.  Caleb and Joel played table tennis and lots of water volleyball.  Eden went down the pool slide, a lot. Justin and I partook of some pool side drinks and then we headed to a Dim Sum buffet for dinner.  Now, just to let you know, our kiddos would rather eat Asian food any day than anything else, so we all took full advantage of the buffet and left feeling very stuffed.  At the hotel we met the housekeeping manager, Joelle.  Joel was very excited to meet the female version of his name.  She is from the Netherlands and has been working in Phuket for 1 ½ years.  We got to talking and she offered us some wonderful advice on things to visit and do while on the island.  She is such a nice and charming person, we really had a great time getting to know her. The following day we took Joelle’s advice and picked up some bikes at the cycle center in the resort and biked around the adjoining resort.  We then headed towards a nice lake that has a path all the way around.  The entire time we were here the temperature has been 90 degrees and about 90% humidity, so it is very hot.  The air feels thick, almost like you can grab onto it.  So needless to say, we got rather hot on our bike ride.  I was not exerting much energy, yet I felt like I was melting because I was drenched in sweat.  After our bike ride we headed over to a restaurant for lunch called Bill Bentley’s which was a take on and Irish pub of all things.  I skipped the Irish dishes and ordered a Pad Thai that was amazing.  The shrimp was so succulent and the flavors were extraordinary.  After lunch we headed over to the beach to take a dip in the Andaman Sea.  Well, that had to wait because the waves were rather large and the sea was rough.  Since we were still hot and ready to swim we just headed back to the resort pool.  

Going on a bike ride
At the JW Marriott in Phuket
The following day we headed over to the adjoining resort to watch the turtle feeding.  The area where we are staying, Mai Khao Beach, is one of the last beaches where green sea turtle come to lay their eggs in Phuket.  Once they lay the eggs, the Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation retrieves them and hatches them in a protected environment.  Twice a year the turtles are released.  The turtles that we were able to see are 3 of the turtles that, due to disabilities, are not released into the wild.  The first turtle, Tommy, was born without eyes.  JJ has a deformed shelled which does not let him swim correctly and the last turtle, Keiko, has been released 3 times but he keeps coming back.  We had a great time watching the turtles eat.  I thought it was interesting that they feed Tommy seaweed with chopsticks because he has a difficult time finding the food in the water.  They need to keep him in a smaller pool because he is easily confused.  The kids were given special pellets and were able to feed JJ and Keiko.  They all had a kick out of that.  After the turtle feeding we walked over to the beach and each got a 1 hour beach massage.  Now, I had never expected my kids to have a massage at their age but when they are only 400 Thai Baht ($11) for 1 hour, Justin and I thought why not.  They boys went first and Danielle and I went second.  Eden did not get a massage because, as she would put it, all she would do is “screw around.” It was amazing.  I felt so relaxed and mellow.  I thought at this price I may just come back every day!  
Danielle at the turtle center
Joel and Caleb getting a Thai massage
Later that afternoon we headed over to a dinner and Thai cultural show called FantaSea.  Once we arrived Joel saw the sign and said, “Wait a minute is that how you spell fantasy?  Have I been spelling it wrong this whole time?”  I laughed so hard.  “No, dude, you’re spelling it right.”  Walking in, I had this weird Disney moment.  There are parts of it that are very Disney like and then there are parts that are very Thai.  We headed over to the restaurant for dinner and walking in we were blown away by the sheer size of the place.  It could easily seat 2,000 people.  Here we had a Thai buffet and every dish I tried was amazing.  I think the green curry was my favorite, but the beef meatballs in this brown sauce was a very close second.  Joel went back 7 times.  Justin and I felt like Joel carried the team and made sure we got our money’s worth.  After dinner we had a little time to kill before the show so we walked around and went to check out the elephants.  You could take an elephant ride, but while the elephants were not busy they let you pet and take pictures with them.  Of course we went over and petted the elephants.  Then we snapped a few pictures.  One of the handlers tried to get Eden to sit on the elephant’s trunk for a picture but she wanted nothing to do with that.  A very nice man bought some bananas and sugar cane to feed them and gave some to the kids.  So Caleb, Joel, Danielle and Eden got to feed the elephants.  Once the food was gone the man came back with more and again gave it to the kids.  They were delighted to be able to feed them. It was so cool how they eat.  They take the food right from your hand so gently and pop it right into their mouth.  We thanked the man and headed to the show.  I was totally blown away by the man’s generosity.  The show itself was a mixture of cultural music and dance with animals, the main ones being elephants.  There were 15 different elephant on stage and also goats, water buffalo, doves, a horse and some chickens.  It was very interesting and we had a great time, except Eden did not like the pyrotechnics, she did love the fact that they dropped tons of balloons from the ceiling at the end of the show.  Here is a quick side note.  During the show there is absolutely no photos or video to be taken.  To insure this, you are to hand over all cell phones and cameras before entering the theater.  No one seemed to mind.  Justin and I thought that if they tried this in the United States there would be a huge backlash.  By the way, they go through your bags and pat you down to make sure everything is turned over and nothing gets past them.  Weird.  
Phuket FantaSea
Entrance to FantaSea
Palace of the Elephants where the night show is held

Getting close to an elephant
The elephant snatched the food right out of Danielle's hand
Eden enjoyed this rather unique faucet/sink at a FantaSea bathroom
Since we got back after 11pm, we stayed at the resort for the following day.  In the afternoon, Joel and I headed over to a nearby restaurant, Thai Express, for a cooking class.  We had a great time learning how to make papaya salad, spicy shrimp soup, chicken green curry, pad Thai and ruby red dessert.  We got to try everything as we made it and all of it except for the ruby red dessert was delicious.  I am not a pudding person so I didn’t love the texture.  I was amazed at how fast it is to cook.  The prep work is what takes the longest but the actual cooking time is 10 minutes or less per dish.  And everything was so flavorful.  We got to bring home all of the leftovers so the rest of the gang could give it a try.  They were impressed.  I told Justin that once back in the States, Joel and I will be having a dinner party serving these great recipes!  Every good chef needs and even better sous chef.  After dinner we headed over to the ice cream shop, Swensen’s, just down from where we were staying.  I have to say that I have found it rather interesting which America businesses are abroad. Here in Phuket there are tons and tons of 7/11s, KFC,s and Swensen’s ice cream.  I had thought that Swensen’s went bankrupt, but I guess not.  Lucky for Eden she was able to get her strawberry ice cream fix.  
Caroline making Pad Thai
The following day we had hired a van to take us around the island and visit a few paces.  Justin and I had decided that driving ourselves in Phuket was a bad idea since we had heard that sometimes accidents are not accidents at all.  Well, I was glad with our decision because the driving is crazy.  So picture this, three lanes in the same direction, the driver is in the right lane and the road curves to the left, so the driver shoots over to the left most lane.  Who cares if there are cars around, just shoot over.  Then the road curves to the right and we shoot back over to the right most lane.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Your lane goes away, no problem just cut off your neighbor.  I was very glad we did not rent a car.  Although the drive was crazy the scenery is beautiful, rich, green jungle.  Justin and I found that the city itself is cleaner than other places we have visited, Mauritius for one.  People have pride in the land and in what they have and it is very evident.  I love that.  After about an hour we arrived at our first stop, an elephant trek in the jungle.  The boys got on a fourteen year old male elephant named Lucky and the ladies got on a 16 year old female elephant named Sara.  We headed down the slope and when you are on top of an elephant’s back it seems much steeper.  Once down the slope we stopped and the handler took some pictures for us.  Then he told Caleb and Danielle to climb towards the elephants head and sit right behind it.  Danielle had nothing to hold on to, but she did great.  She ended up continuing the rest of the trek there.  After a while Caleb moved back to his seat and Joel took the spot.  All three of the kids were thrilled to have been able to not only ride an elephant but ride right behind the elephant’s head.  Once we got off of our elephants we got to pet a baby elephant.  I absolutely love that the baby had this pokey black hair sticking straight out of his head.  It was so adorable.  Their skin is rough and thick and their trunk seems to be constantly searching for something.  We found out that their trunks are made up of 100,000 muscles! 
Ready to go
View of the coastline from the elephant trekking site
Stopping for a snack
Not to be left out, the lady elephant took her turn for a snack
We continued down the road to visit the “Big Buddha”.  I think that that is a funny name, but that is really what it is called.  It is as it sounds a big, as in huge Buddha at the top of a mountain.  The view point in magnificent and the Buddha itself is pretty incredible.  It is completely covered in small 3in x 3in white marble tiles.  It is built by private donations only.  
Big Buddha
View of the water from Big Buddha site
Once done visiting the area we headed down the mountain to Chalong to have a seafood lunch.  We stopped at a restaurant that was chosen by the driver right on the sea front and thought this is going to be good.  We ordered some prawns and rice to share.  They brought the platter out and we all dug in. The meal was so so at best.  Justin and I were rather disappointed.  We had figured that being right on the waterfront, you would have some fantastic seafood, but I guess location is not everything.  The shrimp had little to no flavor, kind of like the rice.  To make matters worse it was grossly overpriced.  
After lunch we headed north to take a long tail boat to Naka Island.  Joelle had suggested that this would be a great and economical way to visit another island.  She was right.  Our driver was able to negotiate for us and off we went.  A long tail boat is mainly used by the locals to fish and get from place to place.  Riding in the boat was a unique experience in itself.  The scenery along the way was stunning.  In the distance, we could see these other island that are taller as opposed to wider.  They are towering rock formations just sticking out of the water.  Once we arrived on Naka Island we got off the boat and set up on the beach to go swimming.  The water in Phuket is a beautiful green color and very clear, and the sand is, in Caleb’s words, “like your sugar in the raw, mom.”  We all got in the water for a nice swim to cool off.  Unfortunately after 30 minutes the kids started to complain that something was stinging them.  As luck would have it each of the kids got stung by a jelly fish or two. Oww!  So we headed back to our boat a little sooner than expected.  The boat owner took us a different way back to be able to see more and that was greatly appreciated.   The scenery is really beautiful and so peaceful.  It was later in the afternoon and the sun was lower on the horizon and the water was absolutely calm.  There were no other boats in sight.  It felt like the entire bay danced in the sunlight just for us.  We headed back to our place and Justin picked up some green curry for dinner.  We had a pretty awesome day.
Our long tail boat.  Engine sits on top of long propeller shaft to the rear
On the long tail boat to Naka island
Jagged islands in the distance
We had one more full day in Phuket before leaving and we decided to hang by the pool in the morning, eat lunch at Bill Bentley’s again.  Then we did a bike ride.  I had one more beach massage, amazing!  And then met Justin and the kids at the beach.  Caleb and Joel tried the kayaks and Danielle got a boogie board.  We had a great time swimming in the Andaman Sea.  Then all of a sudden the sky got dark and it started to downpour.  We all made a run for it but by the time we got back on the bikes and rode to the resort we were beyond drenched, although we all laughed the whole time.  Luckily, the rain is nice and warm.  Phuket has been a great experience.  They say that it is the land of joy and smiles, and I can say that I really think that it is very true.  Everyone we have met has been so nice and happy.  Phuket is a truly amazing place. 

Joel and Caleb kayaking

Danielle trying out the boogie board

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