thailand

January 2016 | Family holiday

After a nine hour flight that included screaming children, a drunk mother (which we were #blessed enough to see again on our flight home ten days later) and entertaining ourselves with music, photos and a plethora of Uno games – I was SO ready to be in Phuket. Shout out to Jetstar for being absolute legends and charging $$ for watching anything more than the three-minute trailers during the flight.

We checked in to our hotel in Patong, Phuket called the Grand Mercure. The hotel was amazing. With the hundreds of rooms situated around a gorgeous pool in the centre and a swim-up bar that you could sip cocktails on while cooling down, the Grand Mercure was nothing short of fancy.

Each morning we enjoyed a buffet breakfast at Bubbles, the hotel restaurant and ate our weight in dumplings, sushi, fruit, pastries, eggs, sausages and baked beans. We spent the first day planning activities, tours and sightseeing that we wanted to tick off our list during our stay.

Orientation Tour

We completed an Orientation Tour of Phuket organised through Buffalo Tours. I would definitely recommend this tour as a way of seeing plenty of places in a day. We hopped in to a minivan and our first stop was Kata Beach where we had the opportunity to take plenty of pictures from Kata view point and hold a huge sea eagle – now, I hate birds, but this thing was awesome.

Our next stop was the Phuket Shooting Range and Phuket Racing Kart Track where we paid around AU$40 each for ten minutes around the track. Tip: you’ll feel like you are going really fast around the track – don’t look back over the video footage!

After a long drive in second gear up a huge hill, we finally arrived at the Big Buddha around lunchtime. As there are temples, women wearing shorts above the knee and tank tops are required to wear a modesty skirt which they provide at the entrance. This place was amazing – plenty of statues, Buddhas and even a monk anointing people inside one of the temples.

An hour or so later we stopped on the side of the road to feed and pat a baby elephant. His name was Ida and was two-and-a-half years old. Such an awesome experience!

We then drove to a few temples that were completely embellished with incredible, ornate decorations and architecture both inside and outside. A man outside was lighting fire crackers and throwing them inside this huge ‘bee-hive’ looking cone which was their way of giving thanks.

We arrived at Gems Gallery in Phuket where we went on a roller coaster type ride which showed us how the gems are found, cut and examined to create the perfect jewel. So many shiny things!

Tiger Kingdom & Monkey Show

The people in Thailand are beautiful. They all have incredible stories to share, you just need to find those special moments to reveal those experiences. Our taxi driver that took us to Tiger Kingdom was a sixty-eight year old retired service man of the police called Noi. He had served as an officer for over forty years. His family all live in Bangkok and he worked in Phuket as a taxi driver. Due to distance, he would only see his family approximately four days a month – crazy, but sadly that is a reality.

Tiger Kingdom was an amazing experience. Having the opportunity to pat, touch, cuddle and take photos with the small tiger cubs to larger ones was incredible. It was, however, sad seeing them constantly hassled for pictures when all they wanted to do was sleep. I did feel conflicted about whether or not they larger tigers were drugged or not. There was one moment when two of the larger male tigers were getting quite agitated and the trainers instructed us to move away. Apart from that brief encounter, the rest of the experience was great.

Noi picked us up and we had the choice to see either a snake or monkey show. We chose the latter and enjoyed witnessing monkeys riding bikes, completing better sit-ups and push-ups than myself and cracking open coconuts after climbing a tree to collect and drop them.img_6453

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Night Markets

The night markets in Thailand – and anywhere in Asia, really – are a must. Highly recommend taking a water bottle and ladies, definitely tie long hair up! The night markets are incredibly cramped as they try to squeeze as many different stalls in such a confined space. It gets extremely hot very quickly and be prepared for walking around in circles and getting lost in the maze. You will more than likely walk past the same row of stalls at least five times before you realise that everything looks the same. Another tip: haggle and barter as much as you can. The beautiful silk scarf one lady is selling you for 400 Thai Baht (equivalent to AU$15), the lady fifty metres away is selling for 300. Don’t be scared to haggle the price (within reason) and be confident when negotiating, because at the end of the day they will make sure you are buying from them rather than their competitors surrounding them.

Another place we visited was Patong Beach Street. Now, this street is very educational – and yes, I mean the other type of ‘educational’. Think: lady boys, strip teasers, ping pong shows, lady boys, hammer + nail games aimed for those slightly (or greatly) intoxicated and lady boys – or did I mention that one already? If you are unsure as to what a ‘lady boy’ is, they are exactly what you think it is. So just be aware, particularly if you are travelling with family that this can be a bit confronting and intense for a younger audience. Additionally, Patong Beach Street – with its plethora of strip clubs – personally made me quite upset seeing the extent to which women (but more importantly, their bodies) were idolised and sexualised in that way.

Phi Phi Islands

WHAT A DAY. Phi Phi Islands is 100% a must. The clear water and the surrounding scenery is absolutely stunning. The tour we went on was organised again through Buffalo Tours and made for a very long and tiring day, but so worthwhile.

We hopped on a mini-bus around 6:30am with ready-made breakfast packs and arrive at the wharf about forty-five minutes later. We picked up snorkelling gear and flippers before being briefed by our tour guide for the day and heading out on the speed boat to the various islands. After about an hour on the boat, we finally arrived at Maya Bay at Phi Phi Islands. It was absolutely incredible – the clear water reflecting a cloudless blue sky and the beautiful sand and view. So serene and magical. I was constantly asking myself if what I was experiencing was even real. We had some time to relax, go for a swim, take pictures and enjoy the island before heading back on the boat to see some crazy stalagmites and stalactites that had formed on some of the rocks and cliffs. Keep an eye peeled for the monkeys that wait for you to throw them food!

Our next stop wasn’t an island, but in fact the middle of the ocean which was apparently a ‘nice snorkelling spot’. I personally am terrified of snorkelling due to the vastness and depth of the ocean. Although I was petrified, I worked up the courage to suss out what was in fact beneath me and for the brief moments I had my head under and wasn’t experiencing a mild panic attack – it was definitely more than just a nice snorkelling spot! Warning: myself and a few others did get bitten by plenty of sea lice, so make sure you don’t stop moving!

We stopped at a gorgeous bay where we were treated to a huge buffet lunch and the opportunity to spend an hour swimming and relaxing, before returning to the boat and cruising past some more rocky areas where you learn about the use of bird’s saliva in creating edible bird’s nests harvested at an expensive price for human consumption (fascinating stuff!)

Our final stop was another island where we slept, swam and relaxed by the water for a few hours. Definitely a very long day, but more than worth it! As you can tell, the islands were picture perfect!

Thai Cooking Class

We booked a Thai cooking class through our resort to complete as a family. We headed to the markets to have a look at the typical Thai ‘grocery store’ and the different things available. After an hour of insane food, smells and things to see – unformed chicken eggs in raw chicken halves as one example – we drove back to the resort with our two chefs for the class. We attempted to cook three main dishes each including curries, soups and main meals which were all successful and tasted amazing. With newly acquired cooking skills (and quite possibly, my only cooking skills) on top of four very full bellies, we were quite happy with our efforts! The chefs were so lovely and incredibly patient with us, teaching us how to cook the meals properly and making sure we got the most out of the cooking class as possible.

James Bond Island

Another incredible full-day tour – very lengthy, but again so worth every minute! We left from the same wharf as that of our Phi Phi Islands tour. Our guide’s name was ‘Bird’ and he was the most hilarious person I have ever met. After stopping to appreciate and take pictures of stalagmites and rocks with fifty-year old trees growing from the side, we spent just under an hour at the James Bond Island where the movie was filmed. This next part was probably my highlight of the day: the tour group was divided up and we hopped in to canoes with a ‘paddler’ (a person who does just that and paddles to steer the canoe) to get up close and personal with some amazing caves. The precision of these paddlers were faultless. We maneuvered through small gaps and openings which would reveal more incredible caves! We stopped for a buffet lunch on a floating Muslim Village and then headed to our last stop where we could swim and snorkel for two hours.

Overall, Thailand provides so many great places to visit, amazing people to meet and of course, fantastic food to eat! It is incredibly humid and sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and bottled (!) water is a must. My highlight from the entire trip would without a doubt be the Phi Phi Island Tour.

Check out some of the footage from #aholidaytothaifor (yes, a cheesy, pun-fuelled hashtag that we used during our trip!)

Thailand | 2016 from Jess Shipton on Vimeo.

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