Phuket Day Four: What Everyone Else Does On Phuket

This is the last in a series of posts on our holiday to Phuket. You might like to read the others too!

Simply because it would be nice to finish blogging one trip in totality for the first time since the inception of this blog, here is what we did on our last day in Phuket: nothing much, because this was the day we tried to do what everyone else does on Phuket.

After a leisurely breakfast in our hotel we walked to Kata Noi beach, took windswept pictures, drank girly cocktails at the Katathani Resort’s beach bar, and had an indulgent and really rather decent Italian meal at Capannina restaurant before retiring to our hotel pool (and the day-long happy hour at the poolside bar) until our flight home.

Pool bar at Sawasdee Village hotel

Phuket Day 3: Beaches, Buddha and Bargainhunting

Nai Harn Beach, Phuket

While our experience of Phuket was generally very positive, perhaps due to visiting in very low season, one of its annoyances was still in full swing: the powerful transport cartel that rules Phuket’s Western shores, resists all attempts to improve the abysmal state of public transport in Phuket and charges an arm and a leg to take you anywhere. I’m aware true travelistas would throw caution to the wind and vroom glamorously around the island on a rented moped, but ever since I heard what a state coroner had to say about motorbike travel I’ve been nervous about it. So the next best alternative was to engage a driver, and after a bit of research we contacted Daj, who is very popular with Tripadvisor forum members.

Nai Harn Beach, PhuketHe picked us up at 10 a.m., and we headed south, passing Karon viewpoint on the way to the gorgeousness at the top of this post, Nai Harn beach.  I don’t know what it’s like in high season, but on this low season Sunday morning it was pretty idyllic.





It’s popular with families because of its little lagoon that stays calm even as monsoon season waves crash onto the main stretch of beach. (I experimented with adding a texture when processing the photo below. I like the end result, but would be interested in your opinions: evocative or naff?)

Nai Harn Beach, Phuket

Picnickers at Nai Harn Beach, PhuketThis family parked right next to the sand and picnicked while their kids played in the shallows.




Once I’d managed to tear myself away from photographing Nai Harn beach, we drove on to Ya Noi viewpoint, which doesn’t photograph too badly itself.

Ya Noi Viewpoint, Phuket

Child at Rawai, PhuketAt Rawai fishing village, I nearly fell prey to a very persuasive hard-sell. I bet she’d have overcharged me too.







The tsunami caused less destruction to Rawai than the west coast of the island, but I still found the sight of the children playing in front of the tsunami hazard zone sign poignant. I was delighted when I realized they were not only playing zero-point[1. I did a quick Google to see if I could rustle up a description of zero-point for non-Asian readers and found this bizarre video, apparently produced as some sort of outreach effort for the Youth Olympic Games Singapore’s hosting next year. The “fun” URL they’ve come up with for more of this stuff is “”. I think “” might have been more appropriate.] – one of my favourite childhood games that I’d somehow forgotten ever playing until seeing them – but playing some of the exact same “stages” of the game that we did twenty years ago.

Village children at play (Rawai, Phuket)

While waiting to work up an appetite for lunch, we went to see the Big Buddha, already seen in distant evening silhouette in the previous post, and really damn freaking big when you’re up close. The statue is still under construction and surrounded by scaffolding, which makes for easy cheesy faux-spiritual photo captioning as follows. (I tried another texture experiment with the photo – again, opinions appreciated!)

Ladder to enlightenment (Big Buddha statue, Phuket)

Wat Chalong, PhuketWat Chalong doesn’t have the history or ornate decoration of other temples you can see in Thailand, but it does feel like it has a life as a local centre of worship beyond its tourist visitors, which is what I always hope to see in religious sites I visit.





"Apple balsam leaves" salad

For lunch, Daj drove us to Phong Phang Seafood at Palai bay. Upon walking in it was immediately obvious that this was the sort of place where all the guides take their tourists – it even had a separate room where all the guides were eating their own lunches – but the food turned out very decent. The “apple balsam leaves salad” (sounded interesting, but I still have no idea if that’s the correct name of the leaf or not) in the photo was the first dish we’d had in Phuket where we found the level of spice remotely challenging, so given our reasonably high tolerance for spice I’d say the restaurant hasn’t totally watered its food down for tourists. The ambience is pleasant too, sitting in breezy shade looking out at long-tail boats in the bay. I scampered a few metres down to the beach after lunch for this picture, which I quite like.

Low tide at Palai Bay, Phuket

Ko Sireh monkeysAfter lunch we went to Khao Kad viewpoint at Cape Panwa (my photographs weren’t very good) and the monkey mangroves at Ko Sireh. It was rather depressing that visitors are not in the least bit discouraged from feeding the monkeys here (we didn’t), so I expect some of the monkeys just spend a lot of their day lounging by the river eating fruit that literally landed right at their feet.



In accordance with my strange tendency to be besotted with every kind of animal baby except the human baby, I squealed a bit at this.

Mother and baby

In conversation during the drive, Alec asked if Daj knew a good place to buy muay thai shin pads and most conveniently, it turned out that Daj has been doing muay thai since he was a child. He said that for good quality shin pads we could go to Jungceylon (snazzy tourist mall at Patong) but for cheaper stuff there was a place in Phuket Town that locals would usually go. I expressed the view that we should buy shin pads at a value commensurate with the quality of Alec’s muay thai skills, so we went to Phuket Town.

The place the locals shop is called Supercheap, and is pretty fantastic. It’s in a dim, cavernous warehouse space bigger than any hypermart in Singapore, with an incredible range of choices for anything you could dream of buying. It’s difficult to capture in pictures and I didn’t wander too far from Alec and Daj while they were poring over the shin pads for fear of getting lost, but I saw electric guitars in the distance, multiple three-tiered shelves of children’s tricycles and more varieties of rice than I have ever seen in one place.

Rice section at Super Cheap hypermarket, Phuket

Clocks at Super Cheap hypermarket, Phuket

Knockoffs in Thailand

Once the boys were done with their shopping (Alec got his shin pads, Daj got craft scissors for his daughter), Daj drove us to his friend’s muay thai gym to let Alec have a look at it, but unfortunately they don’t train on Sundays so nothing was going on when we got there. The last stop before dinner was the obligatory sunset at Laem Phromthep, and Daj had got his wife and daughter to meet him there. We didn’t find the crowds detracted from the experience, though perhaps it’s different in high season, but as scenery goes I was a little underwhelmed. Sunsets are always beautiful, but this spot probably isn’t so significantly more beautiful than other sunset views in Phuket as to justify the hassle of finding a parking lot.

We ended the day in Rawai again for dinner, with fish grilled in salt, fried chicken with garlic and pepper, clear sour seafood soup, steamed rice and 2 Cokes for under 500 baht. The chicken was a disappointment (soggy) but the seafood dishes were unsurprisingly fresh and generously portioned. They initially brought us an insipid sweet’n’sour sauce with the fish so we asked for something spicier and got the proper Thai stuff. I always blame stuff like this on the white dude who goes around with me.

Finally back at the hotel, we bid farewell to Daj. For anyone who comes across this post while researching a trip to Phuket, we found him professional, cheerful and responsive to our particular requests, such as going to Supercheap for the muay thai gear, and his English is fairly good. I’m sure that finding our own way around Phuket on rented transport would have been lots of fun in a different way, but we were happy with our day with him.

Sunset at Laem Phromthep

Phuket Day 2: Mandatory Minigolf

This is part of a series of posts on our holiday to Phuket. You might like to read the others too!

Back from our sweaty day in Phuket Town we changed clothes and recharged a bit in our hotel before heading out for dinner. Kata and Karon dining options seemed much of a muchness, but since we hadn’t been to Karon yet we walked in that direction. The bars lining the road were totally dead on a Saturday night – each had one or two guests at most, and some only had a group of bored girls lounging around. We wondered if it was because it was still early, about 7.30 pm, and if things would liven up for them later.

We’d had a late lunch, so we still weren’t very hungry by the time we’d arrived in Karon. Most adults would have had a drink in any of the struggling bars, but in our case we had already spotted the Dino Park minigolf. As regular readers may know, our penchant for minigolf coincides with our penchant for surreal kitschness and bitter, unsporting competition, so this was impossible to resist.

When I was in primary school a dinosaur exhibition featuring animatronic dinosaurs came to the Singapore Science Centre, and bearing in mind that this was several years before the release of Jurassic Park, it was the most amazing thing to hit my young brain until I watched Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and discovered Kevin Costner and hormones. Phuket’s Dino Park is kind of like being with those old-school dinosaurs again, except in a dramatically landscaped setting complete with rivers, high waterfalls, appropriate ambient sounds and a huge, spectacularly erupting volcano.

Erupting minigolf volcano 

The dinosaurs are life-sized, or at least close to it. I’m not enough of a long-neck connoisseur to be sure if their long-necks are Littlefoots specifically, but they definitely have a Cera, Petrie and Spike. (Youtube diversion: It’s crazy how familiar I am with every clip on Youtube from the first movie, it feels like as if I only watched it yesterday.) If you have a kid, I cannot imagine how they will not love this, but it would probably be less fun during the day due to the heat. By night though, it’s pretty amazing.

Life-size minigolf dinosaurs! 

We were so enthralled with the place that I even stopped caring who was winning or losing. Though to be honest, complexity of minigolf hole design is not one of this place’s strengths. For example, here are the obstacles you’ll encounter at the first hole.

Minigolf dino turd obstacles

Still, for all the reasons I mentioned above, I loved it and would highly recommend it, unless you are too cool for minigolf, in which case I would wonder why you even read this decidedly uncool blog to begin with. And for 240 baht each, it was cheaper than our neighbourhood minigolf in Singapore, which has NO DINOSAURS, NO VOLCANO, NO DINO POO OBSTACLES. (Vitalic diversion: No guitars, no drugs, no leather either.)

Phuket Day 2: Phuket Town

Alleyway, Phuket Town

Phuket Town doesn’t seem to be regarded as a must-see spot in Phuket, and if you’re already familiar with Straits-Chinese culture from, say, Penang, Malacca or Singapore, those are certainly better places to experience it than Phuket Town. But perhaps in the same way that some travelling Chinese gravitate towards foreign Chinatowns to see what “their” version of “us” is, this Peranakan and unofficial Peranakan (given that ang moh Alec probably knows more about Peranakan food and culture than the average Singaporean, I think he’s allowed that status) decided to check out if Phuket Town could compare to our beloved Katong and Joo Chiat. The short answer is that it can’t, but it was still more fun than sitting on a beach the whole day.

My research had indicated that the Kata beach taxi cartels won’t accept less than 400 baht for that trip, so I smilingly insisted on that in the face of offers for 600 and 500 baht. We took the cab to the area around the Robinson’s store, where a 70s UFO building made me happy and a cardboard cutout child gave me the creeps.

Feed the birdsIn the central touristy area of town, we stopped for a drink in China Inn, failed to see the Shrine of Serene Light (the travel agency next to it was being renovated and the path to the shrine was blocked by rubble) and took a gander down Soi Romanee, which was pretty but seemed devoid of life except for a few other tourists, a couple taking wedding pictures and this kid feeding pigeons. (Click on any photo in this post to see a larger version, by the way.)


Vintage greenery


Menu item at Natural RestaurantWith our tweeness quota fully satisfied for the day, we walked to Natural Restaurant for a late lunch. It’s a bit of a walk from the historical streets but the famously wacky decor is worth the visit, and while I’m normally wary of places with voluminous photo menus, the simple, delicious lunch we had there was one of our best meals in Phuket: winged bean salad (it’s hard to find winged beans in Singapore so I was really happy about this), fried catfish with chilli, steamed rice, beer for him, lemongrass juice for me, less than 500 baht in total. I highly recommend it, except that you may want to avoid menu item number 163.

Fishtanks in Natural Restaurant


We wandered around a bit more after lunch, not really looking for sights but enjoying the low-key feel of this part of Phuket where nary a souvenir stall or travel agency had set up shop.

Slices of life


By about five, constant sweatiness had finally worn us down and the streets of Phuket Town had gone very quiet. Although we had been besieged by “Taxi?” requests earlier in the afternoon, there were none to be found now and we had to walk back to the touristy bit and ask a travel agency to call us one. Later the same night we would discover the awesomest minigolf experience known to man but I’ll save that for another post, and end this here with one of the views through the windscreen on the way back to Kata.

The Big Buddha from below

Phuket Day 1: Kayaks And Caves

Sea kayaking in Phuket

We’re not beach people so we’d never bothered with Phuket before, but it seemed like an easy trip to throw together since I needed to use up a little leave, and its low season flight and accommodation prices were very appealing. As it turns out we had a great time, which was a nice reminder for us that sometimes the road most travelled is still good fun, and not every holiday needs to be about Meaningful Cultural Experiences.

On our first day there we booked ourselves on the Hong By Starlight sea-kayaking day tour, which is pricy but so universally raved about by every source of travel information known to man that we thought we should give it a shot. Also the tour doesn’t start till noon, which makes it totally my kind of tour.

We were picked up at our hotel in a minibus and driven to the east side of the island where we boarded the boat that would take us out to the sea caves and had a simple but extraordinarily tasty lunch of fried kuay teow, spring rolls and fresh fruit.

Kayaks at the ready

Soon after lunch, it was time to hit the water. The tour’s focus is on the sea caves east of Phuket. These are created by the percolation of rainwater through limestone karsts, which results in the formation of “secret” lagoons enclosed by rock on all sides but open to the sky. There’s a good diagram here which explains things better.


Silhouetted Many of these caves can only be accessed by paddling through tunnels when tidal conditions are right, but even then, sections of the tunnels are still pitch dark, and sometimes so low and narrow that everyone has to lie prone in the kayak in order to get through without cutting themselves to ribbons on cave walls studded with razor-sharp oyster shells.


I read that previous sentence over after writing it and thought I was maybe exaggerating a little too much, but then I read this article by John Gray, the founder of the tour company we used, and realized I wasn’t. Still, it’s a credit to the skill of our guide, Kop, that I honestly never felt in a moment’s danger.

Exploring the "hong"

We emerged from the tunnel into the hong, as it’s called in Thailand (in Thai hong means “room” or “chamber”), which totally felt all magical and tranquil and shit.


"Hong" perspectives

The walls of the lagoon are pretty high (that little thing in the bottom left is a kayak) and covered in lush vegetation. I like this picture but it still doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere of paddling amongst mangrove trees through the calm waters of the hong’s lagoon, surrounded on all sides by craggy, dramatic rock-faces giving way eventually to sky.


SqueezeWe visited two more hongs over the course of the afternoon, each with its own particular characteristics. Sometimes the cavity in the karst would house two or more lagoons connected by a narrow channel little wider than a kayak.


I like caves, can you tell?

Cave coloursLimestone cave interior









Before dinner, each guide helped their kayak pair to make a krathong. Each krathong‘s design depends on the idiosyncrasies of its guide – Kop’s featured carrot slices and flower buds which he artfully snipped to look like birds in flight. The last activity of the day would be returning to one of the hongs we’d visited earlier to release our krathongs – or at least, let them float for a while, and then take them back rather than litter the landscape with them. The hong was pitch dark by night, except for flickering light from the candles on the krathongs and the occasional iridescence of the bioluminescent plankton in the water (which sparkles when agitated).

On the way back to the mainland, the guides initiated a series of the sort of silly but fun puzzle games that rally groups of strangers round a table. I’ve always found boat rides at night a bit depressing, something about the fluorescent light and the tiredness of the body after an active day out, and this made things better. In general, this tour is highly regarded for good reason. It is professionally and efficiently run without being impersonal – while there are quite a number of people on the boat, you get the same guide assigned to your kayak the whole day, and the guides are a really likable, jovial bunch who try to make sure everyone has a good time. The strong emphasis on safety and environmental consciousness is heartening, as is the decent food. I’d describe myself as a mid-range traveller at most and this tour is a bit of a splurge at 3950 baht per person, but I also like to reward businesses in the tourism industry who do things with a sense of responsibility to the place they are trying to showcase. So to the good people at John Gray’s Sea Canoe company, this krathong’s for you.


Chiang Mai: Day Two – Lampang

The usual elephant camp / handicraft village / long-neck tribal zoo day tours that most Chiang Mai travel agencies offer don’t appeal to us so we decided to go to Lampang instead to see Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang. Our hotel wanted to charge us about 2000 baht for a driver to do this, so that was a fairly simple hell-no decision.

Alec in songthaew

Instead we did it ourselves for considerably more fun (and yes, also a little more difficulty and frustration) at these costs:

  • Songthaew to bus station: 30 baht
  • Return bus trip to Lampang: 142 baht each (284 baht total)
  • Return songthaew trip to Wat Phra Tat Lampang Luang: 400 baht
  • Tuk tuk from bus station into town: 20 baht
  • Total: 734 baht


Lampang, or at least the bits we saw of it, was really quiet considering it was a Sunday. We came across so few songthaews that I was worried the temple would be closed by the time we arrived, and visiting Wat Phra Tat Lum Pah Pah Lan as the sum total of our day’s adventures would have been a bit depressing. We probably didn’t haggle hard enough when one eventually arrived, which explains the slightly high price, but at least with some of the usual maniacal Thai driving our songthaew driver unleashed we arrived at the wat in good time.

Naga temple guardian
Sexy beast

It’s an imposing complex, situated on an incline and surrounded by fortress walls and you enter by an elaborate flight of stairs flanked by lions and nagas.


Candle wax residue

Once inside there was a real feeling of reverence, with Thai pilgrims outnumbering gawking tourists about 9:1. One group intoned chants in front of a chedi containing a relic of the Buddha as other worshippers processed around it silently with hands clasped. We snuck around trying to be discreet and respectful.


Boy at bullethole shrine

Another small shrine commemorated a historic battle victory against the Burmese, apparently featuring the bullet hole in the stonework from the actual bullet which killed the Burmese commander in question. Um, okay.


Being a woman, I was unfortunately deemed unworthy to enter a small viharn at the back of the complex to experience one of the most interesting features of the wat, but according to Alec it was really cool. It was pitch dark inside with light only entering through a small hole in the wall, such that a detailed, panoramic camera obscura image of the entire temple was projected onto the back wall. Ladies could glimpse a scaled-down version of this in another viharn to the left of the main temple where a colour image of the chedi was projected onto a concrete slab next to the entrance, again, through a chink of light in the window.


Very lame Catholic mass pun there in the caption, sorry. I don’t remember coming across this method of collecting donations from worshippers in Singapore’s Buddhist temples, though of course it’s possible I just didn’t notice or haven’t been to the ones where it’s done.


Money shot

Very lame porn pun there in the caption, sorry. Can you tell it’s been a long week?


Chicken bling

This is where the temple’s chickens live. I think it’s nicer than most of the backpacker hostels I’ve stayed in.


The shrining

I found the gold-leaf monks in Wat Phra Singh quite touching, but I must say the life-size, super life-like monk figure encased in this shrine creeped me out a little.


I don’t have any experience with taking, Photoshopping or appreciating black and white photography, but tried some out anyway with the bodhi trees in the temple compound. I’m not sure if the results are decent or just meh, but I do quite like them and how they work as a pair. Comments/advice from more clued-in photographers very welcome.


Chiang Mai Weekend Market

The weekend night market in Chiang Mai’s Old City is lovely. Just to make things clear, this isn’t the permanent Night Market which I suppose every tourist in Chiang Mai visits at some point. That one has built-in stalls crammed along a nondescript main road, this one has ad hoc stalls sprawling along the wide thoroughfares of the Old City (pedestrianized when the market is on) and spilling into temple compounds, where many of the prayer halls remain open and people sit outside eating on the grass. There’s a really laid-back atmosphere to the whole place, with absolutely none of the heat or claustrophobia that make Chatuchak a little trying even for a shopping junkie like me.

Plus, prices are great. The same slippers I saw here for 99 baht (as in, the sign said 99 baht so the real price would have been even lower) here were apparently 250 baht when I asked about them a few days later in the Night Market. I made smiley good-humoured attempts to convince the guy to match that price, but he wouldn’t go lower than 180 baht, so I walked away. S$7 is a bit much for slippers which will spend most of their time getting slept on by our 5 driveway cats.

I must admit I was a little more absorbed in SHOPPINGGGG! than committing myself to doing much photography at the market, but here’s what I did get.

I took this from the street surrounded by stalls and shoppers, but only a few metres away all is peaceful.


The market stays open till about midnight, which I guess is a little late for some of its stakeholders.


We passed these guys on the way home, playing chess on the fringes of the market. I don’t know if they actually knew each other or were just bonding through shared shopping avoidance.


Chiang Mai: Day One

Perhaps there was turbulence during our flight to Chiang Mai, but given that it took off at six in the morning I slept like a baby the whole way. We landed about nine, checked blearily into Chiang Mai Thai House at ten, then promptly fell asleep till two. Not the most intrepid start to the holiday then, but hey, h-o-l-i-d-a-y.

Recharged at two, we sallied forth into the Old City (a five minute walk from our guesthouse) and headed for Wat Phra Singh, figuring that since it was at the other end we’d get to see lots on the way. People were setting up their stalls for the weekend market to be held later that evening – hence the photo in my earlier placeholder post.

Wat Phra Singh seems to have a fairly large population of young boyish monks relaxing picturesquely around its compound, which added to its already considerable aesthetic appeal.


Life-size monk statues covered in gold leaf sit in permanent meditation beside the main altar. Each is obviously modelled after a real person, presumably an elder monk who has passed away. Being more accustomed to the somewhat more monumental style of European church memorial statuary, I found the tender realism of these quite moving.


Here’s a view of the altar just to put the monk statues into context. There are about five but it was hard to capture all of them.


Candles in front of the chedi outside, which is in pretty good shape for something built in 1345.


Next to the chedi, each tree bears its own signboard with a characteristically Buddhist exhortation. We came across these in other wats during our trip, but Wat Phra Singh’s trees were the only bilingual ones.


This was just a nice moment I happened to glimpse between a young monk and his friend. The dogs you can just about see in the top right are only a few of the numerous dogs in the temple compound. At 5 pm (I think), temple gongs were sounded and in response the entire pack of dogs howled for about 30 seconds.


The walls of the viharn are covered with murals. I loved the light streaming through the sides of the door but assumed my camera wouldn’t be able to capture it, only to be proved wrong. Yay Canon Ixus.


Some detail of the murals on the walls. The woman in the middle with the cigar somehow made me think of Frida Kahlo, despite having two distinct brows.


More mural detail. I love the depiction of the waves.


Some detail of the door. While I was composing the photo the monks I photographed at the start of this post got up and started heading into the temple. Based on how damn slow I always am at sightseeing, they must have been chatting a long time.


We finally finished seeing Wat Phra Singh and walked around a little more in the roads around it. I love Chiang Mai’s profusion of wats, and how each wat we visited always felt like a distinct and active faith community. Kids were playing basketball next to this one. I don’t know its name or whether it has any historical significance, we just wandered round a corner and found it.


Aroon Rai looked like a good choice for dinner since it seems to have widespread guidebook and Internet forum acclaim for cheap authentic Northern Thai cuisine, but unfortunately we were rather disappointed with it. We ordered pork with ginger, chilli and tomato paste, which was supposed to be a Northern specialty but tasted a lot like a dish my Eurasian mum’s been cooking all her life. It was tasty, but not spectacular. Our second dish of stir-fried kale with crispy pork had no crispy pork whatsoever. Our third dish was so forgettable I don’t even know what it was any more. And, while I admit our taste buds have perhaps become too spice-dependent for their own good, all the dishes seemed quite bland – which is about the last thing you expect from the average Thai meal. I don’t know why this place is acclaimed, it was pretty much the sort of meal you can get from a decent economy rice stall in any Singaporean hawker centre. It was cheap and filled the belly, but nothing more than that.

After dinner we headed for the weekend night market, now in full swing. I’ll write about that in the next post since this one’s already rather long.

Chiang Mai: Placeholder

Yeah, as you might have guessed I haven’t quite got my act together yet for blogging about our trip to Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao. And with Russ arriving this Saturday and our, er, “happy” threesome trip to Siem Reap the Friday after that (heh, the boys are gonna have soooo much fun!), and the wedding planning hamsterwheel we’re constantly on, I’m afraid I can’t pretend I’m suddenly going to be the world’s best time-manager.

But in the meantime, here’s a display of bare flesh to make up for my dearth of content! Don’t say I never put it all out there for my readers.


Three things that caught my eye on the walk between our hotel and Siam Square on the one Bangkok day I did bother to stop for photos.

Components of a street stall. Some assembly required.


Check out what I think is the only anti-Singapore graffiti I’ve ever seen in my life. [Backstory]


You’re A Shopfront, Charlie Brown!