06 December 2008

Travel: Alex in Asia - Phuket

My brother Alex made his first visit to Asia this Fall (that being a not well-understood term here), wrapping his trip around the inaugural Formula One Singapore Grand Prix. We started the trip in Phuket, but not before Alex stepped into airports in Amarillo, Denver, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Singapore. And my bad advice almost made his stay in Singapore a little longer. He flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines to Singapore, and Air Asia to Phuket. But, Air Asia does not have interline agreements with other airlines, so he couldn't check his bags through to Phuket. They also don't have a facilities inside security, so even if you fly two separate segments on Air Asia, you have to come out of security (which means Immigration and Customs on international flights), check in, and then go back through security to get to your next flight. And Alex had to do this. Fortunately, Changi Airport is incredibly efficient, especially when uncrowded mid-day on Friday. He was out, up, and back through in less than twenty minutes, and we were on our way to Phuket.

Phuket is an island off the west coast of Thailand, just south of the Phang Nga province peninsula in the Andaman Sea (more on Phang Nga later). It features miles of sandy beaches and all of the kinds of troublesome nightlife one would expect of a beach destination. After arriving at the provincial airport, our hotel car drove us the hour to our accommodations in Karon Beach (a friend of mine runs the Movenpick Karon Beach, and it is a wonderful place to stay - check with me for details). Alex noted the resemblance to hotels he has visited in Hawaii, with the open lobby and beautiful sights, which we took in over a Singha as our rooms were prepared.

We took a tuk-tuk into Patong Beach, the liveliest area on the island. After a look around and a stop for milk and cookies, we decided to call it a night. The next day we spent lazily around the pool - after all, Alex had just traveled nearly 30 hours to get here. No reason to overdo it. We were able to add Chang to the portfolio that afternoon. We opted for a night in the tamer Karon Beach on Saturday, ending at the Sand Bar, where we were the only audience for the band. This meant we could not only request every song, but we were also given singing duties. Good thing we both have jobs, because we'd probably have to go out on the road with these guys, given our stellar performances that night.

The next day was my last in Phuket. Alex would head to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur on his way to Singapore, but I was flying directly back Sunday night. We spent the day on the water, heading up into Phang Nga Bay National Park to see the beautiful rock formations on the way to James Bond Island. This is the island with the iconic rock formation that served as Scaramanga's lair in The Man With The Golden Gun. Our vessel was a slow boat made to look like a junk. I think of it as a junk in the Western sense. The boat was fine, but it was slow, and the voyage was part of a typical tour I try to avoid.

The island isn't incredibly impressive (except THAT A JAMES BOND MOVIE WAS FILMED THERE), and the rock formation is tiny compared to others in the area (a sequence in Tomorrow Never Dies also was filmed in Phang Nga). Although I was glad to see the island, the trip itself is one of those all day ventures that includes a lunch at a far away destination (a "floating" Muslim fishing village that is built on stilts above the water; it survives almost exclusively on tourism) and a swim in the ocean. Now that we know, we would have rented a speedboat for half a day to take us to James Bond Island and back.

It had been a whirlwind weekend, but a good introduction to Asia for Alex. Especially as he was off to Bangkok and KL on his way to Singapore for the race.

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