We’re Going to Phuket This Year
March 9, 2018 § 2 Comments
Two years ago the family was given a choice. Let’s rephrase that. Two years ago, Susan and I decided that instead of spending money on Christmas and everything that goes with it, “Why not have a really low key Christmas, and spend that money on a vacation instead?”. We put that question to the girls, and their first question was “What kind of vacation?” Skepticism is good trait to have, especially with the current occupier of the White House and the proliferation of bullshit, and our daughters were expressing theirs. “How about 2 weeks in a warm climate? Doesn’t have to be this country, take your pick, however do the research, present options, and then we all agree? Agreed?”. That year we rented two different places in Barbados and spent 2 weeks. This past October we were all together in San Francisco and we were looking at options. At that time Columbia was on the table, but research wasn’t turning anything up that appealed to those doing the looking, and then the idea of Thailand, and more specifically, Phuket came up. It didn’t take long to decide “Thailand it is!”
While I helped research places in Barbados, I had nothing to do with Costa Rica last year, and I had little to do for Phuket. Susan has some deal group that she is a part of, and she found the Thavorn Palm Beach Resort in Karon, on Phuket. With Phuket having its own international airport, we could fly right to the island, Phuket is an island, though it is an island by the fact that there is a small channel of water separating it from the rest of Thailand, and then secure transportation to our resort. Dates were picked on the assumption and conclusion that because Phuket is exactly 12 hours ahead of us, and it takes nearly 24 hours of travel to get there, that we should limit our time there to 10 days, so we would have an adequate amount of time to recover before going back to work. We would leave on February 22, and return on March 6th. For Susan and I we secured passage on Korean Air in two hops: The first, a 14 hour hop from JFK to Incheon Airport in Seoul; Then another 6.5 hour flight from there to Phuket after 3 or so hours of layover. We would arrive Phuket 10PM on Friday night, so we wouldn’t make it to our hotel until well after midnight.
Corinne and Alyson decided between themselves that if they are going to fly halfway around the world, then they would stay longer and in fact schedule stay in a different country. They chose Vietnam, and more specifically, they chose Hanoi in what was what us older Americans recall as the former North Vietnam. Few people are aware that the Vietnam War (The American War to the Vietnamese), was not fought in North Vietnam. It was fought in the South, and it was waged across the border in Laos and Cambodia. I am going to use language here that reflects the Vietnamese struggle to liberate their country from an occupying colonial force, which is what began the struggle against the French, and what led to a UN decision to demarcate the communist forces in the North and the non-communists in the South. Ho Chih Minn and his followers wanted a united Vietnam, and that wasn’t acceptable to them, and so the struggle continued as they poured human power, weapons and supplies into the struggle to re-unite with the South. The point here, is that though the North made great sacrifices during this time, their land and cities did not take the brunt of the war. Yes there was some bombing, but international outcry put a stop to US forces bombing the North. With this paragraph, I do not mean to shed disrespect for US forces and combat personnel that fought and left a part of their soul, and for some their lives, there. They were sold a false bill of goods, and were led by people who were blinded to the realities of the war they were fighting. I think Ken Burns recent production should validate everything I wrote here. Anyway, the girls found themselves an AirBnb place right in downtown Hanoi about 3 blocks from Ho Chih Minh’s burial tomb, and they flew out the weekend before us, did their explorations of the area, and then would meet us in Karon.
Does Phuket, Thailand sound familiar? How about Banda Aceh? You may remember these places because they were among the hardest hit locations as a result of the 2004 Tsunami caused by an earth quake, 500 km West in the Indian Ocean. I am not going to link to any video that can be found any where from people who suffered through that, but that is where we were going. If you recall, that was the day after Chirstmas and it happened in the morning when most people were probably getting ready for work, children on their way to school, and the tourist season in high gear, and some of them starting to get their day started. Fourteen years later, it would be interesting to see how the area has recovered and moved on.
Freed from any decision making in planning this trip, other than to say “That sounds great!”, I started my own research. First I looked at a topographical map of the island to see what the lay of the land was. It would seem the West Coast, and more specifically the Southwest Coast of the Island was carved in four major coves with a backing ridge line and separation hills. East of that ridge was mostly flat, and the Northern part of the island was mostly flat. Seemed like it might be a decent location to ride a bicycle. I dropped the google maps street view icon in various places and the roads looked pretty decent, albeit there was traffic, but I am an “up before dawn” rider, so I could have the roads for a couple hours before the real traffic built up.
The next task was to see if there were others who rode there, and for that I used the popular social media fitness tracking app Strava. They have a feature in which you can search a location for riders, or clubs, or specific “segments” of rides that are used as yard sticks of virtual competition. So I search for clubs that included Phuket in their name, which hit with various results. For each club, I looked at the members, and then looked at some of their weekly activities. Some clubs were definitely local Thai clubs, and simply looking at their titles, and their comments it was clear that English was probably not understood, so asking for their assistance would be futile. However I did find a club that was made up of mostly European ex-pats and out of that group I found Mark Grafternik, from Leeds UK who spends his winters there in Choeng Thele and who I reached out to for information. He pointed me to Siam Bike Tours in Choeng Thele where I could secure a decent road machine, and that rides went out of there almost daily at 6am, except for Sunday when the ride left at 6:40.
I reached out to the folks at Siam Bike Tours, and was able to arrange a decent Canyon in size XL with Shimano Ultegra equipment for about 4800 Thailand Baht a week ($162), which seemed like a bargain. I spent more than that for 4 days in San Francisco this past October, as well as for 4 days in Scottsdale Az a few years ago. It was a good deal, and I said yes. “Can you deliver that bike to my hotel so it is there when I get there, AND pick it up when I leave?” That, would have been so convenient, and I got this idea from Ken, who I met in San Francisco and is from Norway. He showed up to the ride that I showed up early for, and we chatted before others arrived, and where as I had to take care of getting my steed, he arranged to have it delivered to his hotel. I really liked that idea, but Siam Bike Tours did not do that. Perhaps I should have asked “What amount of money makes that a possible idea?”, but I did not, and so therefore I would have to make my own arrangements.
Fast forward and I found myself committing to drive Alyson to JFK during rush hour so she could start her adventure. I was expecting disaster getting there, and returning, but the reality was quite different. Traffic was heavy, but it wasn’t entirely all that bad, and I made it out there and back in less than 3 hours. I told her I would NOT be doing this for her return, as she was returning the day after us, and there was no way in hell that I was going back to JFK again the next day.
Our own flight was a 12 noon departure the following Thursday. I made a reservation for offsite parking with Bolt, the company that runs buses cheaply to DC and Boston also manages offsite airport parking. I had wanted The Parking Spot, but their JFK location was kaput, so Bolt it was. We arrived with plenty of time, secured the truck, and caught their shuttle to Terminal 1 JFK. I don’t think I had ever flown out of Terminal 1 before, but let’s just say that Terminal 1 is still the relic of an old airport terminal architecture design. It is awful, but there wasn’t anything to hinder us. The fine personnel with Korean Air were very helpful, and we found our baggage checked quite easily, and then moved on to security where we both passed with flying colors. I should point out that I did have to transfer my Lithium Ion cycling battery from checked luggage to carry-on. They didn’t want those kinds of products in the cargo hold.
The first leg of our flight was to be made on one of those Airbus A-380 behemoth of a plane. The largest wide body passenger jet in service today. It does not dwarf a 747, but it is larger. These planes require multiple, as in 3, jet ways. One for the second floor which is all business and first class travelers, a second business and first class one for the first floor, and then the Economy Class one to handle the likes of us. It is Susan’s opinion that the back of the plane offers the least disturbances, and so that is where our seat assignments were. She, a window seat, myself an aisle, and by luck we had an empty middle seat between us! I have to admit a slightly prejudiced fear when I found out we booked fare on Korean. Have you met Koreans? Nice people yes, but have you met any tall Koreans? I am sure there are some, really, but I have never met any, so my fear was you could fit a lot more Koreans on a plane like this than you could humans with one of my key DNA traits. As it turns out, that was an unwarranted fear. As Americans we should be used to unwarranted fears, because we get them from Fox News, the NRA, and the GOP all the time. My fear was unwarranted, and I had plenty of room. Better yet, the seats actually slide forward when the seat back inclines, so that actually helps with space control during flight.
Though I did observe at least one male flight attendant, the rest were young, extremely pretty, Korean women wearing a uniform consisting of a tan skirt, a white blouse with a teal jacket, some kind of neck gaiter, and a thick ribbon thingy in their hair which was tied up in a bun. With matching make-up, I am ashamed to admit that I had to concentrate very hard to see the individual women. As the flight progressed, that became a little easier as I became more familiar with them.
I am going to say this right now, and to my American friends who work for the various American Corporations, take this to your superiors. We suck. I would fly Korean Air everywhere if I could. The service was great. The food they served was healthy, if you asked for the Korean meal, and their attention was fantastic on a 14 hour flight. We had 2 free pieces of checked in luggage as well. This company does flying correctly, and United sucks. Delta sucks too, as does Southwest etc. Movie selection was rich, and though I didn’t watch any TV during our outbound travels, I observed some really crappy Korean sitcoms that others were obviously enjoying. I found I could listen to a streamed music channel, or I could assemble a playlist of songs and play that in between my movies. In addition to that and tracking progress over land, the plane is equipped with 3 outside cameras, forward, down, and from the tail, so you can stream takeoff and landing right at your seat. I thought that was pretty cool.
After watching Blade Runner 2049 (I liked it), Murder on the Orient Express (Okay), and then Goodbye Christopher Robin (I love Winnie the Pooh and all AA Milne stories), as well as listening to the same Classic music stream 3 times, and playing countless KenKen games, with some minor napping, we finally started to descend in Seoul Incheon airport. This airport is built out on a large island, and it appears that perhaps the Island may have been enlarged to accommodate this massive structure. I see looking at it from the air that we were in the newly completed terminal 3. Terminal 3 was more like a 5th Ave Mall in which planes happened to taxi up more than it was an airline terminal that I was familiar with. There were shops, high end, everywhere, AND people were shopping. I wasn’t shopping, but I was observing, and I was hungry, and we had heard that Incheon Airport has some of the best food options in the world, so we spent our layover hours walking around and settling in for a nice Korean noodle place. Had we been MORE observant, there was a ramen place right by our departing gate! Oh well.
Before departing, Susan found a Liz Arden station that carried a product she has long since not been able to find in the US, and soon we were boarding a Korean Air 777 for our final leg to Phuket. Another wide bodied plane, again we had aisle and window, though for this leg we did not have a free seat between us. Our seatmate was Russian, and I think she thought that it appeared that Susan and I were not traveling together (who would travel with a seat between you) she touched my arm and the arm of her mother who was 2 rows in front and wanted us to switch. I had to get up to let her in to her seat, but Susan grabbed my arm and shoved me back into my own. I have to admit, I was a little confused. She was not asking me anything in English, and for a moment I thought she was hinting that I was in the wrong seat. Anyway, she figured out her mistake, and took her seat after I stood, unhindered this time, and let her in.
Everything the same as on the A380, and to the back we went. We wouldn’t land until 10 PM Thailand time, so it would be dark soon but we would be fed again. I managed a nap, and more music and to be truthful, I think I watched Goodbye Christopher Robin on this flight and not the first leg. Before the end of the flight I previewed “The Man Who Invented Christmas” and decided I would see that on the return trip if it was available. I liked Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as I have enjoyed many of Dickens’ works.
We landed, and walking the jet-way we could feel that we were in a warm place, even at 10PM. We made it through customs/immigration, found our luggage, and using Corinne’s instructions found the Taxi station inside the terminal and secured a taxi that would take us to Karon and our hotel. From there it was door 5 where we found a taxi, loaded up and began the final leg of our long journey. Knowing I had a bicycle and having studied the road system on the island, I was intent on observing the main motorway to assess its ridability (new word). Our route took us down the 402, and then onto the Phuket bypass all of which did not seem all that bicycle good, but there was little choice. The bypass was a mixture of fully controlled intersections and some that allowed two center lanes in each direction to tunnel down beneath the intersection so as to allow some traffic to continue unheeded by the intersection controls. Where we needed to turn West to get over the ridge, the road was under construction, and even at 10PM was a choke point where 5 roads came together in a round-about with little to no organization. You simply had to be aggressive. Our driver was, and we were soon over the hill and pulling into our resort.
The check in process was a little confusing because the night desk personnel couldn’t quite figure out that we had two rooms reserved, and that our daughters had already checked in and taken one of them, and we simply needed the other one. They showed Susan pictures of Alyson twice, seeming to indicate that this woman checked in using your reservation, and Susan having to explain, and show receipts for two reservations. Finally resolved, we found ourselves in our room at about 1am, Saturday morning which was 1PM Friday afternoon EST which was 28 and half hours after we left our house in Little Silver. The nice man led us to our room off to the right of the lobby and along the Northern arm of the hotel. We took the elevator to the 3rd floor and walked near to the end of the arm were we found room 3302. I don’t think it had been used in a few weeks because of the initial mustiness when we entered. With a room key engaged in the main shutoff switch, the AC came on and soon that mustiness was gone.
We were in Phuket, and we now had nothing to do but relax and enjoy ourselves.