Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
I always associate Phuket, Thailand’s largest island, with two Hollywood motion pictures. The first one was Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000), which starred heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio. Based on the novel of the same name by Alex Garland, it was filmed on Koh Phi Phi’s island.
The other one was Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible (2012), which earned Naomi Watts an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The film was based on the events from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, which hit Phuket in 2004.
Those two films lingered on my mind when I learned that the seminar would be done on the island situated off the west coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. Of course, I was excited. I had been to Thailand several times but mostly in Bangkok. It would be my first time to be in Phuket.
It was past 3 in the afternoon when we left Manila. The travel time from Manila to Bangkok was more than three hours. When I arrived in Bangkok, I had to check in again since I was flying on a different plane to Phuket.
I arrived very late in the evening in Phuket. I immediately went to Carousel 1, where I was supposed to get my luggage. Almost everyone had already taken theirs, but I could not find mine. When I checked-in Manila, I was told that I could pick up my luggage at Phuket since it was already tagged.
I was already petrified; what would I wear during my lecture (which was scheduled in the early morning the following day). Just when I thought I would be going to my hotel without my luggage, an airport personnel came. He asked for my boarding pass. After seeing it, he said, “Yours is international flight; come follow me.”
Yes, I got my luggage. It was in Carousel No. 3, which means that your luggage is not included in the domestic flight if you are flying on an international flight. That was the first lesson I learned from this trip.
Here’s another lesson you need to know, although I didn’t experience it since I have already booked a hotel where I would be staying. There are minibusses at the airport, which can bring you to the place you want to go. It is cheaper by hiring a taxi. Just bear in mind that they don’t leave until they’re full.
Here’s the information I get from a travel agency: “Don’t be surprised if the minibuses will stop at a travel agent about halfway to the area where you are going. They’ll ask everyone to get out (you don’t have to) and then they’ll ask you where you’re staying, and they’ll try to sell you a hotel. You’re not obligated to use the hotels they push. Just say you already booked a hotel, and tell them the name. They will inform the driver, and he/she will drop you off at the hotel. This is a little annoying, but it’s over in 10 minutes, and you’re on your way again. Any travel agent can arrange a minibus ride for the way back to the airport.”
Lesson number three is that Phuket may be an island, but you don’t feel like it is an island at all. It’s so huge, but, on second thought, it’s still smaller than Singapore. Approximately 863 kilometers south of Bangkok, it covers an area of 210 square miles, excluding small islets.
In the past, Phuket formerly derived its wealth from tin and rubber and enjoyed a rich and colorful history. History records showed the island was on one of the major trading routes between India and China and was frequently mentioned in foreign trader’s ship logs.
But times have changed. Today, tourism is the island’s top earner. So, don’t be surprised if the prices are higher compared to those in Bangkok. My fellow journalist, Imelda V. Abano, ordered a canned soft drink and was billed 150 baht. A beer costs 210 baht. Prices of foods are even higher!
“What comes into the mind of travellers when we talk about sea, sun and sand?” someone once asked. “Phuket must definitely be one of the answers. A number of exciting activities can be found on this island.”
Unfortunately, I really didn’t have much time to explore Phuket. Sorry, but I wasn’t able to visit Wat Chalong, the most visited temple on the island. The temple is associated with three revered monks of Luang Por Chaem, renowned herbal doctors and settlers of bones.
I also didn’t have the opportunity of going to Phuket Town, which reportedly features “an exciting mix of old and new, simple and sophisticated, peaceful and pulsating.” The night markets offer exceptional shopping opportunities.
What I really want to visit is the Phuket FantaSea, a nighttime fun-for-all entertainment complex. Dubbed as the world’s first Thai cultural theme park, it offers a highly entertaining and spectacular theatrical show (think of 30 elephants!), a colorful shopping street full of games and carnivals — and more!
But I was still lucky since I stayed at the hotel located in the heart of Laguna Phuket, Asia’s finest destination resort. Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket is a sanctuary of tranquility shaded by native casuarinas and coconut palms. Gentle breezes waft through the open-air lobby’s vaulted ceilings, carrying the sound of breaking waves from the adjacent Bang Tao beach.
The hotel also offers unrivaled dining experiences in Phuket, from Italian delicacies to authentic Royal Thai cuisine, from poolside dining to beachfront barbecue. It’s Laguna Café has a sumptuous breakfast buffet selection.
A ten-minute walk away from the hotel, you can find restaurants and souvenir shops. So one afternoon, after a day’s workshop, Imelda and I went out. We found a place where we had our shopping spree — for our pasalubong.
Lesson No. 4: Buy what you want to bring since you cannot buy them at the airport. There are few items you can buy at the Phuket Airport. I was glad I bought them when we went out one afternoon.
Yes, I know I will be back in Phuket. I still have to explore the island. I need to visit Phang Nga Bay, a seascape described as both “bizarre and beautiful.” The bay is thought to have been formed about 12,000 years ago when a dramatic rise in sea level flooded the local mountain ranges’ summits.
As I left Phuket, the words of Ingrid K. Williams, in an article she wrote for The New York Times, kept flashing into my mind: “The teardrop-shaped island of Phuket has long been known for its dazzling beaches and naughty nightlife. But for many, it was the catastrophic Asian tsunami in 2004 that finally placed Phuket on the map. Recovery has been swift, and in recent years the island has firmly reasserted itself as a premier beach resort in southern Thailand, with a growing crop of luxury hotels, top-notch restaurants and even a thriving art community.”
Yes, I definitely agree with the words of Williams!