We first flew to Singapore , where we stayed for a few days before flying with Silkair from Singapore to Phuket directly. The service on Silkair was absolutely fantastic. We had decided to go to Phuket without making any accommodation arrangements as we had heard there is generally no problem getting a place to stay. We arrived at about 8pm and the taxi driver took us directly to the Duangjit Hotel in Patong and sure enough we got 2 rooms quite easily - and we were even able to negotiate the room rate down by nearly half.TIP - it is important to haggle & bargain in Thailand. This is totally accepted and don't feel at all embarrassed doing it. Most of this bargaining is non-verbal and is done using a calculator, which is passed back and forth with the price displayed. Never loose your temper in Thailand, it is a sign of weakness and is frowned upon. The Thai's are very friendly and lovely people. Smiling will get you everything!, especially when bargaining.
The beaches on Phuket Island are absolutely stunning, the water is warm, crystal clear
and the diving is fun as well. The only scary thing we experienced was seeing a brightly-coloured coral sea snake swim past us about
a metre away. We snorkelled quite a lot and were always lucky to see hundreds of brightly-coloured fish, not big fish but just so
many. Often they would swim alongside one, following ones arms as one swam. Very often they wood pull at the hairs on your arms -
a really great experience. Be careful when snorkelling, we suntan lotion and a shirt, you will be badly sun burnt on your back
if you don't.
Shopping is a totally different experience in Patong, many street stalls sell fake Rolex & Rado watches and clothing, all bearing the top designer labels, the main beachfront street is where most of the stalls are. Here one can buy a Rolex, even with a sweep second hand, for as little as $15. Polo golf shirts for $5, all fake but reasonable quality. There is also a wide range of other clothing, many items we bought in Patong, lasted as well as clothing we have bought in well-known clothing stores in the US.
At night the little side streets come alive with table top dancers - pubs and restaurants pull out all the stops in order to entice patrons into their establishments. We saw and were approached by many sex workers, but never did any of us feel threatened. The seedier side of Patong comes put at night.
There are a few very interesting & inexpensive day trips one can undertake from Patong. We visited James Bond Island (the official name in Pang Nga Island), which is situated on Pang Nga Bay. We hired a long-tail boat to do this trip which lasted most of the day. On the way we visited Crystal Cave, Limestone Cave and stopped at the floating village to have lunch. This trip is well worth it and was thoroughly enjoyable. We were very surprised to see how many steep sided islands we passed on the way, each one more spectacular than the last one. TIP, make sure you have a boat that does not leak, ours did. The captain had to bail about 5 litres of water each half hour out of the boat, there was no danger but it was a bit disconcerting to see what he was doing. The long-tail boats are most amazing, with single cylinder diesel engines mounted to a long propeller shaft, we were amazed to see just how well the locals could control them.
The boat trip across to Phi-Phi Don island was interesting, on the way we stopped off at Phi-Phi Li island where we had the opportunity of going into a large cave where birds nests are harvested - for birds nest soup. We also fed some brightly-coloured fish with the sandwiches we had been given as lunch. These little fish were almost piranha like, the way they attacked the bread dropped into the sea. The approach to Phi-Phi Don island was spectacular, the water was a magnificent turquoise blue colour and crystal clear.
After staying in Phuket for about 10 days we caught a coach to Bangkok, for the equivalent of about $20 we bought 1-way tickets in a luxurious coach, the fare even included a meal half-way. Yvonne did not eat much of it. It was genuine Thai food, the soup had little black eggs floating in it, this put her off totally. I ate them and they were quite tasty. Besides this the trip was great as we travelled through the night so we had a good rest. We had planned to hire a car and drive back to Phuket so we figured we would see all the scenery on our return trip.
Unfortunately Bangkok was not a town any of us liked. It was really hot and steamy and the gas fumes were unbearable. We made the fatal mistake of hiring a tuk-tuk to be driven around Bangkok. Within minutes we realised why the police, cyclists and many of the public wore masks across their noses. Within 30 minutes of being driven around in the open backed tuk-tuks we all felt horribly ill and nauseous. The fumes were just too much! In fact for days thereafter we could taste the gas fumes whenever we coughed or cleared our throats.
We walked around quite a lot in the tourist area and off the beaten track as well. On one of our walks we found a local food market where we saw the strangest of foods, one stall was selling deep-fried cockroaches - but enormous ones! The stall-holder was not at all happy with me taking a photo of her food. another aspect we did not like was the many sweatshops we saw in the industrial bits, usually in little side streets. Here we saw young children toiling away very industriously at sewing machines making the shirts we probably bought in Phuket.
The Chao Phraya river that runs through the centre of Bangkok was filthy - we all agreed we would rather suffer any other fate than fall into the dirty water. The water traffic on the river was incredible, just so many boats and long-tails. After 3 days in Bangkok we decided to hire a car and drive back to the beautiful beaches of Phuket.
We hired a Suzuki jeep for the trip back and left Bangkok on a Sunday, foolishly thinking the traffic would be less on a Sunday. No such luck, it was chaotic! The traffic in Bangkok rivals Los Angeles or Seattle for back-ups, in fact I think it is worse than LA could ever be.
The 1200 kilometre trip back was very interesting and scenic. We really got to out-of-the-way little villages and met lots of local people. Most times we were well off the tourist trails so we really saw Thailand for what it is - beautiful.
We first travelled down the east coast, then cut across to the west coast, where we stayed in Ranong, which is on the Thai side of the Kra estuary - on the other side is Myanmar (Burma), but we were not allowed to visit Burma.
Throughout Thailand we felt very safe, the only exception was in Bangkok, but we have found this to be the norm in any large city.