These impressions are therefore limited to that context.
1. The Food is Awesome!
Anyone who knew I was going to Thailand advised me to “eat all the food”, and they were right! From street pad Thai to sticky rice and mango to banana pancakes and rolled ice cream and even authentic Russian cuisine... the food is fresh and just generally amazing!!!
On arrival our first night, we wandered out into the street not too far from our AirBnB to discover a lineup of street vendors selling various skewers for BBQ as well as a variety of pad Thai. We selected several of the former and two of the latter (a chicken and a vegetarian) to take back to our apartment.
The best part was how affordable everything was: Most items cost less than 120 baht (the equivalent of about $5 CAD or less), and without taxes and tip added on (tipping is not really customary in many parts of Asia), our money went far!
2. The Wiring is Lava
One thing I noticed almost immediately upon arrival and often after that was the number of wires hanging in the street. It was as though everyone had just added whatever they needed to the thick, electrical jumble.
3. Body Care Options Are Ubiquitous
Everyone who goes to Thailand talks about the cheap prices for awesome massages... unfortunately, many of these seem to be linked to “happy ending”.
But many places are legit, and offer a wide range of delightful body services at very reasonable prices. You can even get them right on the beach, which I did, three times, with the lady below. No attempts at a happy ending, thank goodness, but I was happy at the end!
While in Phuket, I enjoyed two oil massages, some foot reflexology, and a Thai massage. On our final night in town, Alex joined me at a little spot tucked into a side street for a face massage and back and shoulder work. Unlike the fancy spas here in Toronto, most places there just have a row of hard mattresses with a curtain between each one (and no curtains at all at the beach). It’s not super private, but seems to be the norm.
The Thai massage in particular was fantastic, and if the prices were like that here at home, I’d get one every week or more, no question!
4. Laundry Service Rocks
Our Airbnb didn’t include a washing machine, and since we’d packed pretty light, by Day 3 we urgently needed to wash a load! Luckily for us, there was a place right around the corner (and indeed, they are pretty much everywhere), where you could drop off your clothes to be laundered, ironed and folded.
The charge per kilo was about the equivalent of what we spend on the machines in our laundry room at home, only we didn’t actually have to do the work, just drop it off any pick it up all clean and nicely folded!
Laundry service is definitely worthwhile (and necessary if traveling light and you sweat like a pig... as I do!) if you are visiting Phuket.
5. Thai Language and Google
The language in Thailand is super cool... and very different from English. The alphasyllabary of the Thai script contains 44 consonant symbols and 15 vowel symbols, and the language is mostly (though not exclusively) monosyllabic. There is also considerable use of gender endings when speaking, so for example the way I say “hello” and “thank you” would differ slightly from the way one of my sons would.
This vacation was my first trip to Asia, and unlike when traveling to other destinations, I hadn’t really done my homework beforehand in that I knew essentially no words in Thai. But I soon learned to say hello and thank you with the appropriate gendered language (as an aside, apparently most ladyboys - or “kathoeys” as they are known in Thai — use the female gender when speaking; I asked a local!)
6. The Islands are Plentiful and Beautiful
Some of my friends who who visited Thailand before for longer periods of time advised visiting at least some of the smaller islands, of which there are many, surrounding Phuket and Thailand generally. They have been made famous from the filming of James Bond movies as well as “The Beach”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio (we did not see Leo while there).
Since we only had a week, we opted for a day excursion to Koh Phi Phi, a string of small islands about a two-and-a-half-hour boat ride way from the pier. This adventure served to be an incredible day of diving and snorkelling, and we marvelled at the nature both above and below the water (only got photos of the former, though)!
I imagine that a week spent on one of the smaller islands would provide a considerably more authentic flavour, in some cases, than the crowded tourist beaches of Phuket.
Perhaps one day....
While Tats wanted to do some diving, my main interest in Thailand stemmed from a desire to visit the elephants, and learn more about these magnificent creatures.
I’ll write a separate blog post on our magical day at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, but for now, suffice it to say that there are many opportunities to spend time with the elephants on they island of Phuket, and one should research very carefully to ensure one is not supporting the many abusive/fake “elephant experience” tourist traps that continue to exist under the guise of “sanctuary”.
8. Burmese presence (Myanmar)
I noticed in Ban Karon that some of the locals were wearing a sort of face cream in large circles - mostly women, but also some men were wearing this, and I wondered about it.
As I learned during our visit the elephant sanctuary, they are Burmese (as they refer to themselves, rather than saying from Myanmar) - apparently this people group constitutes Thailand’s largest migrant population. And the creamy paste on the face is actually called “thanakha”, and is both cosmetic and practical: Made from ground bark and a little water, it cools the skin and provides protection from sunburn as well as being an effective anti-fungal.
An interesting aside: Several of the Mahouds at the elephant sanctuaries are Burmese, and have to learn Thai for their jobs - the retired elephants don’t understand Burmese!
9. Traffic is insanity
In order to get to the beach (or anywhere, really) from our AirBnB, we had to cross a main road. Traffic lights are few to none, and scooters and busses whiz by on the sidewalk-less streets. Congestion in Thailand, which has the unfortunate notoriety of having the world’s deadliest roads, is infamously bad, and Phuket is no exception!
On the days when we had arranged outings and excursions by car (van), we learned to anticipate long delays as a result of traffic. These delays were made more unpleasant by the often sharply winding and hilly roads, which caused me personally a fair bit of car-sickness.
With so many beautiful sites to see, traffic was really one of the most annoying features of our time in Thailand, and all things considered, I guess we shouldn’t complain about something so insignificant. But I do wonder how people who live here full-time manage!
During our week in Phuket, we enjoyed many exciting adventures and also had a chance to swim in the ocean and relax at the beach.