Friday, April 16, 2010

Kuala Lumpur & Phuket

{KL Airport}

We landed at 5:15am Malaysian time (11:15pm the day before in SA). Kuala Lumpur airport was amazing! We must have looked like real tourists gaping at and taking photos of how modern and clean it was. The terminal is so big that you have to get on a monorail to get from one side to the other and we thought this was such a lot of fun. We had about a 3 hour stop over before we took off for Phuket, so we walked around the duty free shops a bit and goggled at all the cool stuff that we couldn’t afford (Rudi at least got to buy me the cutest dragon soft toy), had very expensive water at one of the coffee shops ($7!), emailed family and friends for free from a Samsung promotional terminal and then went to find our boarding gate. We just sat around for the next hour and a half as we were so bushed and jet lag had finally set in.

We finally boarded and dozed a little as we flew to Thailand. It was interesting to see how much of Malaysia is covered in palm trees. As we got closer to Thailand we flew over some of the islands. And as we came in to land I was astonished to see that the runway starts just after the beach, so you have sea, beach and then you land.

{Malaysian countryside}

{One of the Thai islands – I think}

{our first glimpse of Thailand}

Phuket airport was much less grand than KL and didn’t even live up to the standards of CT or JHB. My first impression of Thailand was very different to what I had expected. You always only see the beautiful beaches and grand vistas in the travel guides and not the busy and untidy place it actually turned out to be.

We got through immigration and customs without a hitch and our hotel transfer shuttle found us very easily. I must say this about Thailand, the people are all very friendly and helpful. It took about an hour to drive to Patong Beach were our hotel was, but not because it’s that far. The roads are well maintained, but everybody drives like crazy and there are no discernable road rules that I could see. Thailand feels very different to SA, but still has just a little something of the rural feel of some of our towns. Everything is very duurmekaar though and you’ll see nice houses next to run down shops next to farm land. One thing that stuck us immediately was the number of wires hanging from the telephone poles. How more electrical fires don’t break out I’ll never know.

{a shop on one of the main roads in Phuket}

{look at all the wires!?!}

Ek het myself verkyk aan al die dinge, but I was so exhausted that I couldn’t keep my eyes open and kept dozing off. Both Rudi and I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel just to lie down for a little while and sleep.

The other thing that struck us like a ton of bricks is how hot and humid Thailand is. I think we also got there on the hottest day they’d had (or so the locals told us) and we almost couldn’t bear it. The temperature doesn’t actually get that high (between 30 & 35 degrees), but the humitity must be close to 100%. We felt like we were melting. Thank goodness for aircon in the shuttle and our hotel room.

We finally arrived at our hotel, the Seaview Patong Hotel, to our immense relief. It is at the south end of Patong beach and was really stunning. Our Travel advisor, Mr Noy, met us in reception with a cold drink and equally cold towels to wipe our faces with (a custom that almost all the hotels and restaurants practice) and to tell us a little about Thailand, the people, the places and the shops (which is a big attraction in Phuket). He was a very sweet man and made us feel quite welcome).

{Seaview Patong Lobby}

{Seaview Patong from the beach}

We were shown to our room, which was much more luxurious than I had expected and which was situated on the 3rd floor overlooking the one swimming pool. We finally has some time just to relax and catch up on some sleep.

{Our room}

{Our view}

We slept for about 2 hours and when we woke up we felt loads better. So we braved the heat and went for a walk along the beach to have a look around as see what we could see. The first section of Patong is mostly hotels, but as you go further down beach road you come to the stalls and shops, where people try to sell you any number of things, from Thai crafts to the latest big name brand of sunglasses and clothes (which are all fakes of course). Or they try to get you to rent scooters, taxis and jet skis and around every bend there’s someone offering a Thai massage. After about 100m we got tired of having to say no to every person we saw.

{Patong Beach}

We walked along the beach for a bit and where so surprised at how warm the water was. We’re so used to bracing ourselves for the cold cape water, but in Thailand it feel like a bath. It was actually a bit disappointing as we were getting so hot that we just wanted to take a cool dip in the sea, but it wasn’t refreshing at all.

Because we weren’t getting any relief for the heat in the water we decided to stop in at the Starbuck to get something cold to drink and thankfully they had their aircons going full blast. I love the fact that I’ve now had Starbucks coffee (a iced coffee in fact), even if it wasn’t in New York and even if it was horrendously overpriced. So Rudi and I sat there, me drinking my iced coffee and him his very yummy mango smoothie.

{Starbucks… mmm}

When we were cooled off enough we decided to walk back to the hotel past all the stores. There was really just a lot of junk to buy and I hadn’t yet seen all the amazing shopping opportunities that everyone had been bragging about. Half was back we were accosted by people handing out scratch and win cards promoting a hotel/holiday chain called Absolute. We didn’t really want to participate, but feeling to bad to say no Rudi and I each scratched one to see if we’d won anything.

I won a t-shirt – yippy *sarcasm*, but Rudi stood the chance to win either a Samsung laptop, camcorder, $1000 or a holiday and all we had to do was spend 90 minutes listening to someone tell us about the hotels and then get shown around Patong. We thought what the hell, we’d get a free mini tour out of it and we were really hoping to win the laptop, so off we went. Rosanne, our guide, took us to 3 of their hotels in the area, which were all very beautiful and luxurious and then took us back to the Absolute offices to see if she could sell us one of their packages. The concept is great as you get amazing deals on holidays at any of their 200 resorts around the world if you’re a member and you get 1 week free once a year. We would really have loved to join, but it costs a fortune (over R150 000). Maybe one day if we have lots of money we can give it a go.

Well, so much for it only taking 90 minutes. We must have been busy for 2.5 hours and all we got out of the deal was a free holiday, which would be great if only we didn’t have to stay at one of their Thailand hotels and redeem it in the next 18 months. I don’t see that we’ll have the money to fly back there anytime soon.

{Sunset of Patong Beach}

We finally finished at about sunset and walked back to our hotel. We decided to go for a refreshing dip in the hotels one swimming pool, only to discover that the water was just as warm at the sea. But it was nice none the less. We then went back to our room to change and went downstairs to the hotels restaurant to have some dinner. It was a bit pricey, but the buffet was well worth the money, with scrumptious veggies and a wide variety of seafood. We even ordered some nice cocktails.

After supper we walked down to the beach, which is just across the road from the hotel and sat watching the little crabs running around like mad things on the sand. Then it was off to bed to catch up on some more of our sleep. All in all it was a good first day in Thailand.

Just an interesting fact about Thailand, which I loved: in all their buildings you will find a number of steps, even if it’s just a small one leading from one room to the next. The reason for this is that the Thai people believe that bad spirits can’t climb steps and so won’t be able to enter any buildings containing them.

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