Phuket Island Thailand
SE Asia comprises a large number of diverse and interesting countries/cultures. It also has some of the world's most beautiful landscapes, ocean beaches, mountains and interesting cities. Our Story in this region began in October 2011 when we flew into Phuket, Thailand from Europe. Both Lana and I were working, she in Denmark, me in Germany at the time. Flights from Europe are generally less expensive than coming in from the US due to both shorter distance and perhaps more competition between the air carriers. We'd been talking about flying to Thailand for several years so this trip was destined to happen and the time was right. For Lana this was her first adventure in SE Asia. I had previously spent a year in S. Vietnam during the conflict but had never visited Thailand. Nevertheless the vast differences between west and east hits you immediately upon arrival. We stayed a week in Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Resort, Patong Beach, one of our time share exchange hotels which turned out to be a little less luxurious than advertised but still quite nice. Our hotel was located just off the beach. In 2004 this same beach was ravaged by a tsunami that struck the entire SE Asian region. In 2011 there was no evidence that anything unusual had ever occurred. Check out this link for the graphic details:
2004 Tsunami Damage Then and Now
Phuket Island is a crazy place. It consists of a collection of villages, most located along the beaches. Each village is unique but all have the usual tourist facilities, hotels, bars, restaurants etc.. In Patong Beach where we stayed, there were plenty of tourists, hustlers, prostitutes, shops of every kind, bars, nightclubs, pole dancing salons, massage parlors, beach massage huts, jewelry vendors, thousands of vehicles ranging from pedal bikes to semi-trucks, motor scooters, and even an occasional elephant. Yes, this is the only place where I've had to yield to an elephant crossing the highway. I would not recommend renting a car unless you are ready for full-up combat driving, have nerves of steel and maybe a little death wish. There are rules of the road but each driver chooses which ones they are going to follow that particular day, hour, minute and second. Be ready to be passed on the left and the right, simultaneously, by drivers who have no fear nor any sense of self preservation. To die violently on the street must be the hero's way to end life. I've never been so anxious behind the wheel, and I've driven in some well known crazy places like Rome, Milan, Barcelona and Paris to mention a few. Oh, did I mention that in Thailand one is supposed to drive on the English side of the road. Forget about getting an automatic shift vehicle, they are only mythical creatures like unicorns. You'll be shifting with your left hand and trying to remember which lane you should be in making turns. Traffic lights are somewhat observed but forget about stopping at stop signs unless you want to get rear ended. Even the cops run the signs. The only time I ever saw a policeman doing anything but sitting along the side of the road smoking was when they were involved in pickup up the pieces after an accident. You got the picture by now...... take a taxi, live longer and more peacefully, nemaste.
Since we had a car we decided to escape the madness of Patong Beach and drive south along Highway 402 towards the Big Budda Monument. Supposedly to be finished in 2011 it was still under construction when we arrived. The route took us down the west side of the island through seaside villages Karon Noi and Kata Noi to the southernmost tip of the island at Promthep Cape. The road to the Big Budda takes off shortly after rounding the cape and ascends into the jungle covered hills overlooking the ocean. After several kilometers of climbing the Big Budda comes into view sitting on a bench looking out at the ocean. The monument is impressive and surrounded by a bevy of tourist kiosks selling the usual trinkets inspired largely by buddist images, elephants, wind chimes, etc. There is also a restaurant and a couple snack counters where one can rest and have a cup of tea, soft drink or whatever is your taste. Beer is also available nearly everywhere tourists are to be found. The drive back can be done as a partial loop by taking the high road through the hills until you must descend to the coast road back to Patong Beach. The drive in the hills was definitely the most relaxing part of the ride. Arriving back in Patong Beach it was full combat profile in the late afternoon traffic.
The remainder of our trips that week consisted of short ventures into nearby villages. Not much to say about the villages except that they all had some kind of charm but definitely not worth risking your neck to visit. We also visited the Wat Suwan Khiri Wong Buddist Shrine in the outskirts of Patong Beach. After finding and parking we walked around the grounds taking photos and finally settled in for a rest at their snack shop. No alcohol there so it was soft drinks or tea. The monks were super friendly and a few spoke very good English.
Patong Beach is packed with attractions. We didn't see them all. If you're into transvestites check out the world famous Simon Cabaret. Kick boxing is a big there also. There are two boxing venues, Bangla and the Patong Boxing Stadium. Both advertise their events with flatbed trucks that roll slowly through the streets with boxers sparing on the back while a barker yells into a mike promoting the upcoming matches. This and a lot more lively entertainment is available in this beach side ville. Check out the following link for the full array:
Patong Beach Attractions
The next leg of our SE Asia adventure took us to Singapore, a city state correctly defined. It's a relatively short flight from Phuket to Singapore. Several airlines compete for this route making the air fares quite inexpensive relative to similar flights in Europe and the US. Our carrier was Tiger Airlines.
Singapore is a long way from where we were living in Europe so a good economy was realized regards travel expense, and the city was on our list of possible retirement locations. On top of that, Lana knew a Russian couple who was operating a business there providing deluxe medical treatment for wealthy individuals who could afford to fly to Singapore for their operations and therapies. The city is really amazing, so different from the other locations in Asia that I have experienced, except Hong Kong. Money makes a difference and Singapore has an abundance of capital being one of the 5 Asian Tigers (Asian business cities that dominate the region's economy), explains the glittering display of wealth that hits the visitor in the eyes on the drive into the city from the Changi Airport. The few photos we took were taken from the taxi on our departure from Singapore. There are so many great websites showing the details of life and activities in this world city that it seemed redundant to take many of our own. At the bottom of this page are links with photos and info that present the interesting and amazing aspects of this city far better than I could here.
Lana had booked a "boutique" hotel in the city center. Boutique apparently means.... looks charming, quaint and/or avant garde depending on the "theme" that the owners have chosen to pursue.Our hotel wasn't the first two so it must have been avant garde. The lobby if you could find it was minimalist including a receptionist who apparently also had other duties that kept her from actually greeting new arrivals and checking them in. To give credit where due the elevator although tiny did function and took us to our third story suite. We had inquired before booking if the room was air conditioned before making the reservation. Singapore is only a few degrees of latitude above the equator and has a tropical rain forest climate so a/c is mandatory unless you grew up in the region or just liked to sweat 24/7. On turning on the a/c we experienced a sensation not unlike standing next to a runway at a busy airport. Although very little actual cooling there was enough ambient noise coming out of the unit to require shouting or hand signals to carry on a conversation. If all the sound energy had been converted to cooling the room probably would have been comfortable. We called the desk and eventually a gentleman appeared who fussed with the a/c then disappeared. After about a half hour with no feedback we called again to find out if we could change rooms. Not possible at that time as all the others were occupied. The decision was obvious since we had passed numerous hotels along the same street as our hotel. We checked out after finding another place to stay nearby with the help of the invisible desk clerk who actually was quite apolegetic. Dragging our bags along the sidewalk to the new hotel we experienced some of the tropical rain forest weather. It poured buckets for about a half hour, the half hour we spent moving to the new hotel. Fortunately many of the sidewalks were protected by an arcade style building architecture that allowed us navigate the route without getting totally soaked. The new hotel was a more conventional and expensive four star but at least we could have a normal conversation in air conditioned comfort.
Our first full day in Singapore we visited Lana's Russian friend, Nina, at her luxurious apartment. The middle class in Singapore mostly live in rent controlled apartment buildings owned by the government. Real estate in Singapore is among the most expensive in the world so the fact that her friend owned her own apartment was in itself a statement of financial status. On arriving at the place by taxi we were impressed by the modern, clean nature of the buildings and the landscaped surroundings. The complex had its own pool and we had a chance to take a dip. Afterwards Lana's friend took us to a pub where we met her husband for lunch. The place could have been cut out of the middle of London with dark wood paneled walls, solid dark furniture with a tropical touch of canning on the backs and seats of the chairs. Ceiling fans were whirring away although not really needed as the air conditioning was functioning just right. The lunch was light and tasty. Drinks were done right. Service was impeccable every detail was in place. British colonial heritage oozed out of this place.
Next day, our last in the city, we spent visiting the Raffles Hotel and the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Both have excellent websites so I will let them tell you about themselves:
Raffles Hotel Singapore
It takes a lot of brass to make the statement that your hotel is the finest in the world, but Raffles Hotel begins with that announcement on their web page. We did have drinks in the Palm Bar so experienced exactly what is described in their writeup on the most famous watering hole. Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock likely had a drink or two in this same place.
Singapore Botanical Gardens
Our last day included flying out of Singapore mid afternoon. For that reason we could only spend a few hours walking the paths of this amazing garden. But even a few hours is enough to see the excellence the pervades this jewel in Singapore's crown. Every plant is clearly labeled in English which is the official language of Singapore and in Latin. The grounds are meticulously maintained by numerous caretakers who are constantly trimming, weeding, cleaning the beds and bushes. Small but charming kiosks are conveniently located to help the visitor rest and refresh. Diversity is in abundance. The Singapore Botanical Gardens are in their way on a equal scale of comparison with the famous Louvre Art Museum in Paris. To see it all takes days.
The time had come to catch our taxi to the airport for our flight back to Thailand. On the way out of the city I was able to take a few photos from the moving car of the spectacular world famous buildings that comprise the heart of the Singapore business district. One of them, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the most expensive building in the world. The following link presents the highlights of the what is known as skyscraper city i.e. Singapore, enjoy:
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