A Bucket in Phuket, pt. 2

A Bucket in Phuket, pt. 2

The following morning, we were as eager to start the day as we were to leave the dingy hostel we stayed in the previous night. We originally planned to catch the sunrise over Patong Beach, but we woke up around 8:00AM with wicked Chang-overs. Still, we changed into swim suits and charged back towards the beach through the now abandoned promenade. There were no lights, no hawkers, and the bars were all closed. Peace.

Like most beach towns, Patong was deserted during the early morning hours. We felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves. Steph spread out the large bedsheet she had been lugging along all this time, and we anchored the corners into the soft white sand with our bags. Two by two we all went into the water and splashed around in the waves for a while. By 8:45, we were all back on the sheet, shoulder to shoulder, and fast asleep under the rising Thai sun. Except a little stirring to flick a baby crab away, or a quick turn to keep from burning, we laid motionless for about an hour.

We woke up only because the beach was coming to life with the sounds of unstacking beach chairs and motor vehicles. But once we were awake, we were all quite energized. We took turns again hanging out at our camp while everyone else swam out into the waves.

Because Patong has a wide, rolling shelf with soft sand, the incoming waves were only about two or three feet high, and very gentle. There was hardly any undercurrent, too. The waves were ideal for relaxing fun in the sun. We played in the water and tanned on the beach until mid day, when we headed back to our dingy hostel for check out. Then, we grabbed our stuff and walked over to Bodega, hoping to check in. Unfortunately, check in was at 2PM. What could we do until then?

Scooters!

There were dozens of scooter rental outlets all over town and all of them advertised 24hr rentals for around 200 baht ($6.50 – cheaper than cab fare!!!). We even found a place renting them for 150 baht, but they required us to surrender our passports, and Simon the Brit told us in Delhi to avoid surrendering our passports and negotiate a different form of collateral instead. So we asked around with no luck until we found a place just across the street from our hostel. The manager insisted on passports at first and then asked where we were staying. When we told him we were staying at Bodega, his face lit up and he said jokingly, “Bodega? Why didn’t you say so? No problem! Just take them!” We still had to give him one of our licenses, but we also talked him down from 200 to 180 per scooter. The scooters were actually really nice, too, and this deal felt way better than ATVs in Santorini.

We picked up some maps, paired up on scooters (driver + navigator, and Jared “Ridin’ Solo”) and headed off down the beach, throwing away all our cares (including what the first rental place told us…if you don’t have a motorcycle license, you could get fined 500 baht at one of the checkpoints on the main road. But more on this later…)

We remembered Simon telling us that the few beaches south of Patong, like Karong, Kata, and Naiang, were equally beautiful but more peaceful and quiet. So we stayed on the left side of the main highway (yea, by this time, we had seen so much opposite driving that we were used to it) and headed south. We were all a bit wobbly on the scooters at first, but we quickly adapted. Also, the traffic on the road had a lazy, relaxed, beach-town feel.

After 10 minutes of winding, hilly passes above the shore, we descended back down towards the water and found ourselves driving parallel to a beautiful, empty beach. We pulled off into a sidewalk parking area, locked up our helmets, and walked towards the beach. Karong Beach was indeed peaceful, but our growling stomachs were drowning the sounds of the waves. We walked back to the scooters, hopped on, pulled onto the road and drove less than 10m before spotting the police checkpoint ahead! Uh-oh!

We casually pulled U-turns and again parked. We were about 200m up the road from two motorcycles cops on either side of the road, so we were convinced they saw us hesitate and turn back. We watched carefully as we saw them pull over a group of four touristy guys. I could make out a flipbook (like one that holds many tear-away tickets) in one cops hand, and Steph could even see the morose expressions on the guys’ faces. We called a team meeting an discussed out options.

Plan 1: we try to get our scooters off the main road and onto the beach, where we saw others riding scooters. Plan 2: we wait to see if the guys turn back and ask them how it went…perhaps they didn’t get fined? We were scheming up excuses like the fact that our rental place failed to mention these details to us. Plan 3: we turn back, return the bikes and get a refund. Plan 4: we say “Phuket” and split the cost of the tickets.

While we were planning and scheming for about 15-20mins, we grew hungrier and the sun or hotter. It was decision time. When we turned back to the cops, we saw the guys riding back, but they flew by quickly and angrily, so we couldn’t wave them down. Just then, we saw both cops mount their bikes and drive away from us. Interesting turn of events…

We decided to try Plan 4, but cautiously. We hopped back on, pulled onto the road and crept along the left side, ready to stop or turn around if we saw them again. Heading away from the beach, we again were driving uphill through winding, twisting roads, fearing at every blind corner that we would see them again. Five minutes went by at a slow pace, then ten minutes, and the fifteen more. Our nerves made us forget that we were starving. Just when we were getting back into the groove of driving down the inter-beach highway, we hit the next big town and traffic became heavier. We had to weave through the town’s streets, and with Ryan and Priya in the lead, we lost our way. Worse yet, Ali and Cliff were bringing up the rear, but after a few turns into the town, they were nowhere to be seen.

CLIFF: We were driving slowly because one of the motorcycle cops was actually driving just a few feet in front of us! Ali and I didn’t want to pass him, because he would have had one look at Ali’s flowing golden locks and known we were tourists.

The rest of us pulled off at a gas station and waited anxiously for any sign of Cliff and Ali. We feared another Santorini incident or something even worse. After 10 minutes or so, we saw them cruise around the corner and head towards us. They miraculously made the same wrong turns we did! We reunited at the station, got our bearings on the map and agreed on some “what-if” scenarios to make sure we had rendezvous points and times. Then, we headed towards Kata with our skin roasting in the sun, our mouths dried from the wind and heat, and our stomachs cringing with hunger.

Ryan and Priya redeemed themselves by navigating us quickly to Kata. We made it in 5 minutes, parked our rides, and didn’t even glance at the beach before turning back up the road towards a food canteen with 6 or so small kitchen-and-tables restaurants. We quickly price-shopped the pad Thai and sat down at the fourth stall. We all ordered nearly the same things: pad Thai and ice-cold Cokes – Cliff’s addiction was contagious. Our ordering process was also a show because the chef spoke no English at all, but she tried so eagerly and happily to communicate with us; we used lots of hand signals.

Finally, under the scorching sun, we devoured our delicious noodles and sucked down our Cokes for one of the most satisfying meals of the trip. We then headed down to Kata Beach. Like both Patong and Karong, Kata Beach was like a large lagoon with clear water, white sand, and warm, rolling waves. We were so stuffed after our meals that we again laid out the bedsheet and took a big nap as the sun came down across the sky. Then, just before dusk, we decided to hop onto our scooters and race the sun back towards Patong, to avoid night driving.

Thanks, again, to Ryan and Priya, we made it back in just 20 minutes. As we drove into Patong, however, all the lights were back on and the streets were packed with revelers. Our caravan split up as we had to weave in and out of traffic on our way back to the hostel. We all made it, though, safely. However, we did have to return the scooters because we were planning to leave the next morning before the rental place opened for business.

We showered quickly, drank some Chang and headed out to find a restaurant nearby recommended by our hostel. The restaurant was so traditionally Thai, though that we actually don’t know what it’s called in English. We all finally ordered dishes besides pad Thai. I ordered the Tom Yum Soup, and asked for it to be spicy, so they dumped tons of red and green chillis into the already spicy tomato-based seafood soup. All through India, Ali and Cliff had a spice-rivalry going, so when I could handle no more soup, I challenged the two of them to settle the matter once and for all. They agreed, so I gave each a centimeter-long piece of red chilli and declared the spice-off; the loser would be the first person to take a drink of their beverage.

Ryan had already tried the chillis so he warned them both, but before they could think about it, they popped the chillis into their mouths. Cliff’s face became very serious, while Ali looked puzzled. Cliff started to make faces, and Ali still looked puzzled. Within 10 seconds, Cliff spit out his chilli and we could tell he was in pain. Still, Ali kept chewing hers, then opened her mouth to ask, “Is that it?”

The rest of us agreed that Ali won the challenge, but because of a technicality, Cliff was awarded the title. We agreed at the beginning that the first person to drink his or her beverage would be the loser. Cliff actually had to order a new Coke while he suffered because his was empty. In the midst of his torturous wait, Ali began to casually drink her water, giving Cliff the victory. Sadly, Cliff didn’t even feel like a winner.

After dinner, we headed out to the promenade with one mission: to try the famous Phuket Bucket. Back in Delhi, Simon told us about this fabled specialty drink available only in Phuket. It was said to be made from a dubious mixture of local rum, local whisky, Chang beer, some soft drinks, and “The Original Red Bull” – a locally bottles concoction that supposedly inspired its demure commercial namesake. One bucket was reportedly potent enough to level decorated drinkers. Simon shared a story with us about how he remembers drinking a bucket and waking up on islands he didn’t know existed. When we asked him how to order one in Phuket, all he said was, “You won’t find the bucket…it’ll find you.”

Find us it did. Nearly every bar had a bucket special, so we shopped around and found a bar selling buckets for 250 baht. Heeding Simon’s words of caution, we ordered just one bucket for all of us. As we watched it being made, we couldn’t help notice that there was only a little bit of rum in it, lots of Coke, and just a little red bull. It seemed that in the time between Simon’s last visit (6 years ago) and ours, the bucket took a commercial turn.

Still, we sucked down the drink with seven straws and the boys split one more for the road. We bounced around a couple of bars before we ended up finding the only good deal in Phuket: a club named Factory at the west end of the strip offered a Friday-night-ladies-drink-two-for-free deal. Of course, we went up there, the ladies ordered their free drinks, and the gentlemen enjoyed 50 baht Changs. The atmosphere of the club was great. It was on the second floor, and it had a totally open layout with balconies open to the promenade and the street and it had a thatched roof. The DJ played the latest American club hits, and the crowd was mostly upscale expats. We even met two international school grads who attested that Factory and a club across from it were the best in town. We danced the night away in the tropical heat, and we could feel the red bull more than anything else from the buckets.

When we were finally exhausted around 2AM, we headed back to our hostel. On the way, we were compelled to stop at a tiny kebab stand that was releasing incredible aromas of slow-cooked meat. While we waited for our snacks, we leaned that the owners were from Lebanon who came down to Thailand, fell in love with the place, but noticed a severe lack kebab joints. The kebabs themselves told their story just as well. We bought some more water at the 7-Eleven, made it back to our hostel, and fell fast asleep in our comfortable beds.

The next morning, we woke up leisurely, packed our things, took a cab back to Phuket Ko, and hopped onto our bus to Surat Thani. We did sneak in a quick brunch at the bus station, though. Jared and I ventured into a local joint where there was a long table with 10 pots of different curried dishes. We watched a couple of locals step up, order a plate o rice and choose their curry. We followed suit and picked dishes with no names or identifiable characteristics. Both our dishes were hot, delicious, and very spicy!

On the bus ride back, we all slept briefly, and spent most of our time playing Pictionary and Family Feud on Ali’s iPad. At times, we got pretty rambunctious.

When we got to Surat Thani around 5PM, we had about an hour to kill. Before we even stepped out of the station, though, the sky turned a dark grey and we had our first tropical downpour. Priya and the girls made the most of the hot air and cool water by jumping out into the downpour and dancing in the rain.

We found one of the only local restaurants open and ordered some dinner – pad Thai, of course. The dinner came with entertainment, too. The owner’s young son played among the tourists, and obviously, Ryan made friends with him and even gave him the protest whistle we got at Syntagma Square in Athens.

After dinner, we bought some fruits at the station and boarded the train. We waited for our beds to be made, secured our belongings in our berths and went three cars back to the “bar car” or the Restaurant Bogie. We settled into adjacent booths, took out playing cards, and drank lots of Chang until 10:30PM, when management booted us out for being too loud during Pictionary.

We angrily stumbled back to our berths and went to sleep right away, ready for a full day back in Bangkok.

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Comments
One Response to “A Bucket in Phuket, pt. 2”
  1. Jude Mahler says:

    Hi Travelers,
    Are you able to upload any pictures of this adventure? Would love to see this place. It sounds beautiful. Aren’t you sick of Pad Thai yet?
    Jude

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