Another bloomin’ holiday

Phuket for beginners

Phuket for beginners: don’t look down

You’ll notice we go away rather a lot. That was kind of the point of this relocation exercise – that we burn runway fuel as often as we can in the short space of time that we are here. I won’t excuse it any further, that was the plan and it’s going nicely. I give write-ups about things I have enjoyed and tend to leave the disappointments blank. I’ve written only a few Tripadvisor reviews, nine in total, to date. Four of those were pre-Singapore trips. Six of the nine have five stars; one has two stars; two have four stars. You can see that I really hate giving a bad write-up. So I won’t do that for Phuket, the location of this weekend’s Chinese New Year break, but I can’t say I’ll be rushing back.

It wasn’t the Newquay factor – I quite like Newquay, in the same way that I also like Scarborough, and also Herne Bay. Patong was flagged up as being a bit similar to all that, coming with several gaudy warnings, but it was alright in the end, a jolly strip of colour and sand, which SM loved as this is where he learned how to haggle, spending his CNY hong bao on a pair of flashy shades.*

In fact this was a holiday of firsts, and there’s a lot to be said for some of them: the haggling for SM, the ride in an ox cart, and also on an elephant – ours was called ‘Margaret’ and she was quite tall and loved our bananas. We also took a ride up a fast A-road in a flat-backed truck, that was another first.

The sun was very nice and our beach, Karon, was pretty, and the hotel not bad at all, really very pleasant give or take a spot of mould and a lack of authentic local cuisine. I mean, though, what’s to nitpick about, really, when you’re on a lovely short break like ours? If the staff are lovely, which they really were, just float into the pool again and leave the catty reviews off. Here I must quote a fellow Singapore-based blogger who writes about how she goes all-out to avoid the local hotel culture – it’s just not her thing: – I won’t stop HavingFunAtHotels, K, but I know what you mean.

Along with all the good things came not-such-good things: the chained monkey riding a trike, the skeletal oxen heaving us along in the cart, the poor old elephants trained to wiggle dutifully from side to side before popping a load of balloons with darts (I didn’t know whether to burst into tears or shout out ‘180!’) and then pretending to step on a number of small children lying prone on the ground, our son included, lightly tapping their huge feet on the lined up little backs; another first for SM, who of course loved all the animal antics. And no, I didn’t intend to see any chained-up chimps. ‘An elephant ride,’ was all they told us, and even that was something I had my moral doubts about.

Could it have been the pre-election road protest literally set up right beside us as we walked along Patong Beach road – causing a mile-long block and all the street vendors to come out and stare? Or the fact that my right arm muscle is now so much stronger than the left thanks to the bizarre position I adopted while we sped along in the truck, last passengers to get in so first ones, presumably, to risk faling out. Sat loosely on benches in the back of the open-air vehicle going very steeply up a massive A-road way too fast with nothing to hold onto but the ceiling strut above us and the rails on either side, I adopted a He-Man position, getting SM to put his little arm tightly round my waist while I kind of hung on over him. Every time the guy stepped on the clutch to get his tin death machine to motor on we were shrugged back towards the tarmac. I never want to have to do that again and wasn’t comforted when I found an online news report about the decline in Phuket road deaths not being down to drivers adopting a more sensible approach, but by the roads being jammed thus preventing instances of speeding. The taxi driver on the way back to the airport hammered this home, dashing us alongside a motorway ravine as his lids lowered again and again in the rearview mirror. Finally he decided to keep himself awake by repeatedly phoning-a-friend for the remainder of the hour-long drive. I’ve never really had a religion but I crossed myself when we got out. SM, after a spot of white-knuckle caution at first, of course wanted to do it all over again: blissful ignorance.

We weren’t entirely sure where to eat and should probably have done some homework, but Singapore has spoilt us with Thai restaurants like Esarn and Mai Thai and I suppose we were expecting something along those lines. We ate burgers and chips, a bit of floppy Pad Thai – I suppose if you choose to go to Newquay then you eat what Newquay offers. All credit to the Thai Airways restaurant on the upper floor at Phuket airport: really delicious food, finally, and a nice view of the end of the runway as well.

I’m not complaining though. I’m just saying. We did have such a nice relaxing time that I forgot (again) to write postcards but if I’d managed it then I would have genuinely wished you were all here. Or there.

*Mr PC’s lesson in haggling for SM amounted to: ‘take a third off and then halve it’. Sadly he didn’t supply SM with a notebook for all the workings out, and SM didn’t have the required 20 minutes to do such a sum, or access to a table to sit and make the required spidery mathematical diagrams, but he did a great job of sweetly asking the price and then sucking air through his teeth theatrically until the sunglasses lady caved in. I’m taking him with me next time I have to haggle, and pushing him to the front.

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