A Wedding on Valentine’s Day in Phuket

14 03 2012

Valentine’s Day. A day set aside in the year for you to proclaim your undying love to that special someone in your life. I couldn’t think of a better date to be attending a wedding at Surin Beach in Phuket. This was the very reason why we began our travels through South East Asia in the first place. We had a special wedding to attend, so why not visit a few other places on the way there.

There would be no shorts, tank tops or stinky sandals today. Instead, we pulled our glad rags from the dark depths of our backpacks and slipped awkwardly into them, our outfits clinging, sticking and riding up into every sweaty bodily fold and crevice imaginable. I considered applying make-up for the occasion but that thought lasted a total of two seconds, as even the chameleon’s colours outside were running off him.

At 5pm we wandered across the road to the Catch Beach Club of the Twinpalms Resort and found the Australian and Kiwi guests mingling around the bar (no surprises there!) passing time until the nuptials began.

All dressed up and ready to go!

The wedding itself was straight from the pages of a Disney fairy tale – minus the talking mirrors, wicked step-mothers and poisoned fruit. As the sun began to dissolve into the crystal water, the prince and his groomsmen arrived and took their places, opting for fedora hats and dark sunglasses to top off their beach style. The invited guests took their places on the decorated white chairs in a specially sectioned area of beach, while around us sun seekers clad in Speedoes and bikinis, swung to sitting positions on their loungers, lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on their holiday to be honorary guests at a Valentine’s Day wedding.

Guests milling about on the beach before the wedding

The princess, escorted by her father and the cutest flower girl in the whole kingdom, was dazzling in her Dolce satin ivory gown, leaving the ever popular Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty dead in the water, and not a glass slipper in sight. They are so impractical when it comes to sand! And in front of a white lace and ribboned gazebo, the prince and the princess declared their never-ending love for each other as the shimmering sun set in the distance behind them.

“Why couldn’t we have just watched the sunset tonight?” whispered Roger. But as the bronzed topless bather lying to our right sat up erect on her deck chair to watch the exchanging of rings, he was momentarily distracted, along with every other male guest around him. Thankfully she covered her *clears throat* er-hms up for the remainder of the ceremony!

Rog and I after the wedding. Funny thing, straight after this photo two blokes in Speedoes also stood in front of the gazebo posing for their own photos.

The wedding breakfast afterwards was spectacular, a huge variety of fare from right throughout the land – everything from the finest cheeses, to the chocolate fountain which Roger felt the need to stick his finger in! After the cutting of the cake, the happy couples danced to the smooth melodic tunes of romance and were the first dancers of the evening to kick-start the Valentine’s Party. As the last wisps of daylight scurried away, the bar morphed into an up market and funky nightclub.

Rhi Rhi’s latest hit single pounded out across the sand and down to the shoreline where the princess and the prince lit two huge floating candles and released them into the night sky, each containing their hopes and dreams for the future. And then entwined in each other’s arms on a shared wooden sun-lounger, they enjoyed a display of fireworks from a young Thai beach seller…even though the signs explicitly stated that they were banned on the beach! LOL

Twinpalms Catch Beach Club - photograph from http://twinpalms-phuket.com/phuket_beach_club.html

As the pace of the music became more frenetic, two fire dancers appeared on the sand in front of the nightclub, dancing and rolling fire around their lithe bodies in time with the music. Flaming balls, ropes and sticks spun and twisted in the air while the dancers somersaulted on the sand below. They were brilliant!

The princesses attendants in their chocolate brown taffeta gowns eagerly downed bottles of champagne and set the dance floor on fire…metaphorically I mean. They weren’t throwing back flaming sambuccas or anything. Well, not at that stage of the evening!

While the warm breeze of South East Asia caressed our bodies, the party wore on. And as midnight approached with the possibility of us turning into pumpkins, we wearily made our way back to our hotel.

As we strolled through the park we felt incredibly lucky to be part of such a romantic and beautiful beach wedding and after a quick dip in the pool to cool down, we climbed into bed.

Our trip through South East Asia had come to an end, and what an incredible note to finish on!

Sunset at Surin Beach, Phuket

6 03 2012

Just fifteen minutes north of Patong Beach we finally found it; the island paradise we had been seeking. Surin Beach was a small peaceful inlet with gigantic rocks clothed in green leafy palms guarding the bay at each end. The warm blue waves of the Indian Ocean lapped quietly at the shore while sun loungers and umbrellas dotted the hot white sand. Along the back of the beach, tall tropical palm trees swayed lazily in the warm breeze, offering much needed shade to the small outdoor restaurants lining the beach below. It was beautiful, and exactly what we had expected to find in Phuket.

Surintra Resort, Phuket

We found our hotel, Surintra Resort, unpacked our bathers and immediately jumped into the swimming pool with all the finesse of a block of cheese, where we splashed around to our heart’s content before making our way down to the beach.

Rog happily enjoying the swimming pool at Surintra Resort.

There wasn’t much to do in Surin except relax, and it was just what my doctor had ordered: lazing on a sun-lounger, splashing about in the ocean, losing oneself in a good book and letting one’s body absorb the peaceful serenity of the Windows screen saver you had blissfully ended up in. A Thai massage on the beach had been on the top of our list since we had left New Zealand, and was recommended by fellow travellers we had met along the way. This was definitely the place to do it: one full hour for only 300baht ($12NZD) – fantastic!

So we stripped down to our wabba-dabbas, sprawled ourselves across the wooden massage tables and surrendered our tired muscles to the skilful and dexterous hands of two very round and very happy Thai women. I chose to luxuriate in an oil massage, enjoying the scent of tiger balm lingering on the breeze and the warm feeling of the medicinal oil seeping into my muscles. It was heavenly.

Buddha sandstone carving

As for Roger, I couldn’t help but think that his massage looked to be a little hellish. Feeling that he was in need of a good body moulding, he had opted for a traditional Thai massage. It took only ten minutes for his grunts and wheezes to intrude on my relaxed slumber, and from the corner of my eye I could see his legs and arms flailing all over the place, his body parts being tugged, pulled, kneaded and contorted.

The idyllic scenes we had been seeking!

I tilted my head to peek in his direction in time to see the masseuse, her arms interlocked around Roger’s neck, wrench him quickly to the left, then to the right, his spine crunching, his eyes bulging from their sockets and his mouth hanging open in shock. Next, she sat behind him, put her knees into the middle of his back and with her arms still hooked through his, pulled him backwards over her knees – his hips lifting off the table so that his back was literally rolling over the top of her, and his belly button was reaching for the sky.

I lay in my oil heaven sniggering and chortling. I don’t think Roger knew I could see every wrench, yank, twist, twizzle and strain, and the look on his face when he saw his own foot just inches from his ear while lying on his stomach was priceless!

Sun loungers on the beach at Surin, Phuket

After I peeled Roger off the massage table, we walked along the beach to find a place to eat. I couldn’t leave Thailand without trying my favourite dish, Thai green chicken curry. So I followed along behind Roger as he stomped between the sun-loungers in his hat, t-shirt, cargo shorts, socks and bright orange Reebok ZigTech trainers, kicking up sand behind him from his oversized soles. I laughed. Rog doesn’t “do” beaches, and standing amongst the other bathers who were all dressed in speedos or bikinis, he stood out like a sore thumb!

Rog and I admiring the beauty of the sunset at Surin Beach

After emptying the sand from his shoes and socks, we found a small restaurant, Two Brothers, where I enjoyed the most delicious curry I have ever tasted. Of course I would expect nothing less. But by now, there being no vintage English cars, aeroplanes or internet to look at, Roger was getting restless, and I had yet to coerce him back onto the beach to enjoy the romance and beauty of watching the sun set.

Me wading in the water at Surin Beach as the sun sets.

“How long does it take?” he whined, perching on the end of his wooden sun-lounger. “Oh, not long, about half an hour,” I replied, reclining back on my own lounger seductively. Just off shore a luxury yacht had dropped anchor, no doubt some rich celeb on board also wanting to admire the beautiful sunset. And on the horizon, one lone traditional fishing boat putted quietly along.

Spectacular - travel brochure spec or what?!

But I had misjudged the sun’s timing, and an hour and a half later we were still waiting. “What’s taking so long? It’s only moved an inch! Can I go now?” he grizzled. Finally, two numb backsides and two Reebok Zigtechs full of sand later, the sun disappeared into the ocean. And after much needling from me, Roger reluctantly admitted that it was, actually, like all good things in life, worth the wait.

Phuket. An island paradise, or is it?

1 03 2012

I’m not quite sure what my expectations were of Phuket.  Well, no actually, that’s not true.  I expected the pristine beaches, swaying coconut trees and sparkling azure waters that I had seen in the travel brochures since as long as I can remember.  Where bamboo and coconut husk huts line the shoreline and you can step out onto your own piece of tranquility.  And of course, who could forget the tropical paradise depicted in the film The Beach.  I believe that this actually exists somewhere in Phuket, but I certainly can’t afford to go there.  And it certainly isn’t at Patong Beach in Phuket.

In the back of our tuk tuk heading to Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

Why so many people pour into Patong for their holidays is completely beyond me.  Run down buildings line the streets, litter lingers everywhere, the roads are terrible and pockets of nostril crippling stench waft on the breeze and assault you when you least expect it.  Oh and don’t forget the rats that scurry under the broken concrete pavers, or the family of eight rats who live under the bridge next to the shitty brown pollution filled stream that runs through the village.  However, I may be being completely unfair here.   After all, a massive tsunami did wash through only eight years ago, and the bamboo scaffolding on the local building sites would indicate that progress is rather slow in Phuket.

The footpaths in Patong are practically non-existent so it’s you against the traffic:  the scooters which they hire out to drunk white guys visiting the island for their stag’s night; the tuk tuks (and no thank you for the one thousandth time I do not want a damn tuk tuk); and the knobheads who try to force their huge brand new 4WD vehicles down streets the width of popsicle sticks.  Walking is hazardous to say the least, and then there’s that whole ‘no-one-stops-at-crossings’ thing to contend with.

Patong just isn’t my cup of tea, and based on my observations I think you have to be a particular type of person to choose Patong as your number one holiday destination:

Type 1:   In an open front bar, a fat white bloke in his sixties sits slavering and ogling a young Thai girl standing between his legs, while she in turn dances in front of him, gyrating and rubbing her hips against his pelvis.  This was a common sight in most bars we passed; old white blokes, suffering some sort of mid-life crisis, who were passing their days with three or four Thai girls hanging off them like pretty Christmas baubles.  I guess in Patong they got more bang for their buck, so to speak.

Type 2:  Beefy Russians seemed to be everywhere we looked, walking the streets topless with their pecs and calf muscles permanently flexed and looking like they had just strutted off the Conan the Barbarian film set.  Have you ever tried walking like that?  With your calf muscles flexed?  It gives one an unusual and constipated sort of a gait.  Well at least that’s how Roger looked when, not wanting to be outdone, he tensed up every muscle in his body, blew his chest out and Schwarzenegger-strutted towards the beach.  He slipped into a full body cramp just twenty metres down the road!

Type 3:  And finally, as we got closer to the beach, from amongst these sleazers and posers there appeared the most badly sunburned tourists I have ever seen in my life!  Hundreds of them, one after the other, minced past us carefully, chests blistered red hot, shoulders burning, arms burning, faces on fire.  It was extraordinary!  Red lobster-like westerners with seemingly no comprehension of skin cancer or slip, slop, slap.  God it was horrific.

We had to give in and take at least one tuk-tuk ride before leaving Thailand.

Type 4:  Add to this mix the hundreds of hawkers who would do anything and everything to get your money.  “Hello hello.  Tuk Tuk?  Giddaya!  Tuk tuk, tuk tuk?  Hello Roma!  Where you going – you need tuk tuk?  Hey mate.  Giddaya Australia.  Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?”  Oh God, make it STOP!  One thing that did catch us out now and again was when we strolled down a random alleyway – past six suit sellers, four DVD sellers, five watch sellers, seven silk scarf sellers, four t-shirt sellers, three massage parlours and a partridge in a pear tree – only to be confronted by a dead end, which meant we had to bloody well walk back past them all again to get out!

The only street seller I bought from because she actually picked that I was a Kiwi - not an Aussie, and not from Rome!

Type 5:  And then there were the “suit guys.”  These were immaculately dressed young men in beautifully tailored suits who stood in front of you, arms spread the width of the pavement and tried to get you into their store to buy three suits which would be ready for collection in just 24 hours.  “You wanna suit mate?  You wanna suit?” they called to Roger.  From underneath his Tui hat and behind his dark sunglasses he chuckled, “Do I look like I would wear a suit MATE?”  Grinning from ear to ear and undeterred, the suit seller continued his pitch, “Ahh, you English.  Lovely jubbly!” he mimicked in his best Del Boy accent.  Roger simply shook his head and walked away.

After dark in Patong Beach

And finally, Type 6:  The weirdoes.  As night fell and the neon lights erupted from every corner, the face of Patong came to life.  Tuk tuk’s turned into glorified chariots as boom boxes thumped out the latest rave music, flashing lights surrounded the cab and neons glowed brightly from underneath.  And that was when the freaks really came out to play!  Very tall (a little too tall if you get my drift *wiggles eyebrows*) Thai hookers lined the streets, eyeing Roger up appreciatively as he brushed past them.  A large Japanese sumo-wrestler-looking bloke happily strolled the streets, his face painted white and made up like a geisha.  At one point a man with wide scary eyes loomed out of the darkness, a chameleon clinging to his forearm, and thrust the small lizard’s scaly face up under our noses.  You can imagine my reaction…and the stream of swearwords that followed!

A VW Cocktail bar on the side of the street. At night time the roof pops open and the neons lights up.

While the beach itself is nice, it is chock-a-block full to the brim with tourists and types 1 through 6 – which doesn’t make it the relaxing idyllic paradise I imagined.  For any Brits reading this, Roger would say Patong Beach is “like San Antonio (Ibizia) on speed.”  It’s cheap, it’s cheesy and it’s sleazy.  I really can’t understand why the hell anyone would chose to come here for a holiday.  But if that’s what spins one’s wheels then so be it.