A Bucket in Phuket

A Bucket in Phuket, Pt. 1

(Continued from “Oh My, Thai!”)

On the morning after our first day in Bangkok, we all woke up at different times from a rocky night of sleeping in cramped berths. Our stop in Surat Thani was scheduled for 6:30AM, but because of the delay from the previous night, our train arrived at almost 9:00AM. The delay threw a wrench in our spokes because our plan was to arrive in Surat Thani at 6:30AM, board the 8:30AM bus to Phuket Ko (the main port town of the island of Phuket), arrive there at noon, and take the 1.5hr afternoon ferry to the resort island of Ko Phi Phi (pronounced ko-pee-pee).

First, we missed the morning bus. When we got off the train, we were not sure what should be our next move. There were dozens of other travelers who disembarked here and we were all solicited for tours as soon as we stepped onto the platform. By this point we instinctively suspected all solicitation, so we were even skeptical in boarding the bus labeled “Panthip Tours.” In fact, we irritated the conductor and the agent because we were delaying the bus from leaving the station with our questions and concerns. Where is this bus going? Is it free? We want to go to Phuket…how do we get there? Finally, we boarded the bus and realized what was going on. All bus companies send shuttles to the train station to collect tourists to bring them to the bus station. There, all bus companies have offices and help tourists board their designated buses. We just didn’t understand this intermediate step and were worried we were boarding a bus we didn’t pay for and would later have to pay a higher price for.

At the bus station in the heart of town, we learned that the Surat Thani – Phuket route is very popular, so our travel agency (Travex) booked us on the next bus to Phuket, operated by Panthip Tours-without additional charge (though the route is only ~150 baht, or $5). Unfortunately, that bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11:30AM, so we were bound to miss our ferry to Ko Phi Phi.

With a little time on our hands, we deposited our bags into the bus’s storage compartment and set out to find some breakfast at the bus station. Only a few stalls were open, but we collected fruits (including rambuton, a strange-looking cousin of lychee), drinks, and a staple Thai breakfast item, the steamed pork bun. The bus was empty and the seats were VERY accommodating (almost business-class sized). We left at almost noon and it didn’t take long for us to finish our breakfasts and fall asleep. The next 4hrs went by in a sleepy haze as we crisscrossed the Thai countryside. Most notably, we were amazed at the dense, lush green landscape. It rained almost the whole time, so the few towns we passed were just blurry streaks through the foggy windows.

As we neared Phuket, we all woke up and discussed plans. While we still had our fingers crossed that we could somehow book a different ferry to Phi Phi, we were prepared to make phone calls, shift hostel reservations, and rebook ferry tickets for the following morning (the ferry runs just twice a day – morning and afternoon) in a last-ditch effort to see what many consider the most beautiful beach and island in Thailand.

We reached Phuket Ko around 4:30PM and found our way to a nice hotel near the bus station. A friendly receptionist gave us her cell phone to call the ferry company and our travel agency. Sadly, we ran out of luck and learned that there would be no more ferries to Ko Phi Phi that day. After a quick team meeting, we decided that instead of spending more time and money trying to get to Phi Phi, we should just make the most of our extra few hours in Phuket. Ryan called Bodega Phuket – the hostel we planned to stay in the following night – and asked if they had availability for that night. They confirmed availability.

We went back to the station, got a taxi at a fixed price (500 baht) and headed towards the world (in)famous Patong Beach area on the western coast of the island. The half-hour ride was one of the wildest rides we had on the entire trip; our driver was fast and reckless. We made it Bodega Phuket but learned that in the 30 minutes it took us to get there, someone had walked in and taken the last few spots – they were full. We were sad, unsurprised, and excited at the same time because the hostel looked awesome. It had a vibrant art-deco theme with lots of modern art, hip music, and a general air of stylish leisure. We could tell this would be a cool place to stay the following night when we actually had a reservation. The hostel manager pointed us to another place three blocks over that had availability. We slung our packs and headed over to find a place VASTLY different from Bodega. This dive was run by stout angry man, the rooms smelled like feet, and the only “air” was stuffy and cheap.

Desperate to catch the last few rays of sunshine, we settled for this hostel, changed into swimsuits, and walked towards the beach. We walked down the street and turned the corner down a pedestrian-only boulevard leading to the beach. Sadly, the promenade looked no different than your typical beach town promenade – bright neon lights, tons of commercial hawkers, overpriced food stalls, and bars, bars, bars, bars, and more bars. It was already 6:15, though and we were on a mission, so we put on our blinders and marched towards the sound of waves.

At the end of the promenade, the commercial atmosphere faded into a broad, pristine white sand beach over-looking a huge half-moon enclave called Patong. The salty breeze washed over us as we took off our footwear and dug our toes into the hot sand. Ryan and I were eager to feel the water, so we walked straight into the ocean – we were thrilled at how warm and inviting the water was. Everyone else settled onto the beach and dug into the McDonalds they snatched up on the promenade (yes, we are trying McDonalds in every country). Hardly a half-hour later, we were rudely shooed off the beach by the police because the public beach closes at 7:00PM.

We headed back up the promenade, which was now more lit up than before, and we were amazed at just how many bars there were. There must be several hundred bars on this one 300m strip, and there were dozens of similar (but smaller) strips arranged in a grid around Patong. Clearly this was a party town, so we decided to would embrace the culture.

On our way back to the hostel, we stopped by a 7-Eleven, picked up some Chang and some snacks, and prepared for a quick pre-gaming session before dinner. At the hostel, we all showered and piled into one room to enjoy our Chang. Roughly an hour later, we were primed for a great night out.

Perhaps it was the Chang or perhaps Cliff was just feeling adventurous, but he had his mind set on trying exotic street foods that night – the kind of foods Andrew Zimmern eats (and, occasionally spits out) on Bizarre Foods, After all, Thailand was famous for these semi-edible delicacies. Just steps from our hostel, Cliff spotted a food cart selling flat, grey chunks of…something…that reeked of saltwater and barnacles. He immediately bought 4 pieces for Jared, Ryan, him, and I as per our agreement at the beginning of the trip; if one of us is willing to eat it, we should all try it.

“Cheers!”

We bit into the meat(?) and started chewing…and chewing…and chewing. The saltiness of the delicacy cut the heavy sea flavor, but it was undeniably intense. The texture was also difficult; like jerky but less fibrous and more gummy. As it turned out, we were eating dried squid skins. None of us wanted to try it again,

We continued walking towards restaurants hoping for inspiration from a street-side menu. Jared, the Thai-food connoisseur, was at the helm of our starved ship, so his discerning taste kept us yo-yoing in and out of restaurants. He turned us down a different street hoping to find food there, but even at the end of the street, there were only some food carts.

Unfortunately, Cliff spotted another Thai delicacy, and something we’ve actually seen before, but never tried – barbecued chicken feet. Again, we each bought a piece (10 baht each), toasted, and dug in. The flavor is recognizably chicken, but the crunch of the small bones in the feet and the talons is completely unexpected. This was certainly better than squid skin.

By this point, we were so hungry we half-considered eating more chicken feet. Jared insisted we march on, so we turned back down the street and headed towards a restaurant Jared spotted earlier. However, Cliff spots one more cart of delicacies – the creepy-crawly cart. If you’re easily disgusted, skip the next paragraph.

A short, toothless woman was selling a smorgasbord of cooked insects. We could identify grasshoppers, cockroaches, worms, and beetles, but under the dim light, there were some critters none of us could figure out. Cliff pointed to a section of the cart overflowing with crisscrossed legs and wings and said, “seven of those, please.” The woman laughed and grabbed seven huge grasshoppers one at a time with napkins. As she handed them to us, we asked her to show us how to eat them, so she happily grabbed one, ripped off it’s head, wings, and legs, and popped the body into her mouth. She then nibbled on the remains. We snapped a few shots, took a few deep breaths, and followed suit. Everyone but Priya ate their treat wincingly. Priya tried, chewed, but spit it out. Cliff took a liking to the creatures, and bought a small bag to go. I can’t speak for everyone, but the consensus was that fried insects were actually not that bad. They tasted more like the oil and seasoning the were fried in than anything else. Still, I cannot look at a grasshopper in the same way ever again.

When we walked back to the main promenade, Jared spotted a joint with a reasonably priced menu (pad Thai was our go-to comparison item…the cheapest we found was on Kao San Road, for 25 baht, and this place sold it for 60). The restaurant was called “No. 6” and we would only later learn that it was the Number 6 rated restaurant in town. The place rightly deserved its name because the food was incredibly delicious and pretty cheap, too.

After dinner, we were too full with delicious food and Thai beer to enjoy the nightlife, so we turned in around 10:30, ready for a big day the following day.

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Comments
6 Responses to “A Bucket in Phuket”
  1. Jude Mahler says:

    Hello travelers,
    One question: How are your tummys feeling? I guess Thai beer enables you to lose any inhibitions you might have experimenting with exotic food. I can’t wait to see the pictures!
    Jude

  2. Diane briggs says:

    All I can say is YUK! But I give you all credit for digging in and enjoying all the Thai culture has to offer!

  3. Some Dude says:

    You shouldn’t end sentences in prepositions.

  4. Becky Bennett says:

    I can’t believe Cliff got a bag of grasshoppers to go!! Love reading about all your adventures! Be safe!!!

  5. Ami Costello says:

    Quite an anecdote of Cliff’s cuisine adventure – ala “survivor Thailand”. And you won’t even try some of my Filipino dishes:) I seriously will not do the same in Beijing Cliff but Singapore is okay. Regulations in Singapore are supposedly very strict. Keep those blogs coming TOW travelers! Good job again Ali. Thanks.
    Ami

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