Sawatdee Khrab Ocean City! Greetings from Phuket, Thailand. Known as the land of smiles, Thai people are among the friendliest in the world. Phuket is an island off the
coast of Thailand and borders the Andaman Sea. Central Phuket is dominated by mountains and rainforest. The beaches are crammed with hotels and restaurants that make up one of Southeast Asia’s most bustling resorts.
In the 17th century, the Dutch, English and French all competed for the trade rights to this lucrative port. Modern Phuket is a harmonious melting pot of culture. The locals are about 70 percent Buddihst and 30 percent Muslim. It draws million of European and Australian tourists every year. The weather is perfect (except for the rainy season-April through June) and you get tremendous value for your dollar. A quality hotel room with air condition runs about $20 a night. A “tuk-tuk” taxi runs about 40 cents a mile, a lobster dinner goes for $7 and a one-hour massage is $5. Massage mats are set up right on the beach and we tried to have one per day. Karon Beach is one of the prettiest beaches we’ve seen. We were fortunate enough to have a friend from Ocean City living in Phuket who could show us around. Local attourney Walter Drake married Thai local Sara a few years back and moved to Thailand in 2002. Fellow Coconut Times writer Pete Wimbrow made the trip out to see Walt a year earlier and highly recommended it. All three of us played basketball with the local Thais while we were there. The average Thai male is about 5 foot 5, and big Pete was finally able to fulfill his destiny as a dominant big man in the paint. Walt’s place looked like a Miami Vice gangster crib. His powerful U.S. dollars were able to purchase a wonderful estate with automatic brass gates and a garden of banana and palm trees. He says he’s never leaving and I can’t blame him.
During our time in Phuket, Cassandra and I had some amazing adventures. We played soccer with elephants and then harnessed one and took it for a ride. We fed milk to a baby tiger cub. We even took a spin on a Thai mountain Bull. We loved the food and nightlife. The snorkelling and scuba diving off the coast were outstanding. We found some great kayaking in the mountain rivers. The clubs were amazing (especially Tiger Bar) and we had plenty of fresh seafood and pork. We were there during the middle of the Avian Flu epidemic, so chicken was off the menu. At only $7 a lobster, we loaded up on the good stuff! For contrast, we always visit a McDonald’s in each country we visit – they all have a unique twist on the American version. Thai Micky D’s had a “Samurai Pork Burger” – kind of like a breakfast patty in a sweet chili sauce. It was D- Licious!
We spent January of 2004 in Phuket. In December of that year, Phuket was bashed by the Tsunami. 250 people were killed on the island that day. Sara lost friends and family in the storm. Tourism ground to a halt. In the beginning of December 2006, Thailand launched the first of 22 U.S.-made tsunami-detection buoys to be positioned around the Indian Ocean as part of a regional warning system against giant waves caused by earthquakes under the sea. Today, Phuket is nearly fully recovered from the disaster and tourism is booming once again.