It’s been a crazy week and a half, but we’re taking a break from our eating holiday in Malaysia and hopping it over for the beautiful blue oceans of Thailand, Phuket. The most torturous part our Malaysia holiday is all the planning and waiting for it to finally begin, I’ve become more than a little obsessed with finally making it to back to Thailand – massages, seafood and beaches? Bring it on!
It’s a hectic journey from Malaysia to Thailand, a 5 hour drive from Penang to Kuala Lumpur before running off to the Airport to make it in time for our flight. It’s our last day with Brian, who has decided to head up to the northern border of Malaysia and is staying in the country to meet up with family, and a reunion with The Pom who has been exploring the Philippines and is eager to show off his naughty purchases. It’s a late flight into Thailand, and by the time we check into our rooms we simply collapse after a long day of commuting.
Pit Stop – A peak at the local life
I feel like the world has slowed down to a crawl, while I’ve enjoyed every minute of running around and eating in Malaysia it’s the first time we’ve had the chance to simply sleep in and wander around without an itinerary in mind. We’re staying at Kata Beach in Penang, it’s a deliberate decision to get away from the mayhem of the main beaches and being before midday shops are only just beginning to open. It’s easy to get cynical looking around, every other shop seems to be a bar and haggling with the store owners is exhausting in a fun way.
It’s not until we get turned around on the back streets on our way back to the Hotel that we get our first glimpse of the locals of Kata. We’re not far down the street before we see a roadside stall selling iced teas and coffees, the weather is as muggy as Malaysia and the thought of Iced Coffee has me in tears. The owner starts the terek-ing process and she’s pulling out all the stops, hot coffee filtered through giant nets before being terek-ed in 1m long streams and drowned in plastic cups of ice.
The coffee is sweetly refreshing, made in a similar style to many Asian coffees – strong black coffee mixed with condensed milk and served chilled, it’s a combination that I’ve had all over Asia and one that’s ruined me for conventional style coffee.
It’s the middle of monsoon season and things are no different in Phuket, the skies opening up only moments after getting our drinks. While running from the rain I suddenly realise that there’s a local food market across the street and we’re set for entertainment (show us food and we’re impressed lol).
The markets are a one-stop shop, fresh produce, kitchen supplies, mounds of spices, fresh meat and seafood and event a stall selling lunch to the various workers roaming around. It’s impossible not to be impressed at the variety, I’m enamoured of the rows of birds nest, grossed out by the tub of live frogs and mesmerised by a tub of live catfish swarming in a tiny tub.
The variety isn’t restricted to just the wildlife with the fresh produce being equally impressive. There are literally aisles of long benches, seemingly haphazardly placed in an order which only makes sense when you realise that different types of food have been placed together. The sight of these spices and vegetables is enough to make me twitch for a knife and yearn for a kitchen, but I content myself with simply taking photos. The locals on the other hand seem more amused than anything else by the sight of this strange group of people, they call Thailand the Land of Smiles, and here away from the tourist strip it’s easy to see why.
James Bond Island Tour
We’ve scheduled 5 days of our trip for Thailand, but the truth is with 2 days of commuting it’s really only 3 full days of exploration. Simon‘s taken the opportunity to head up towards Chiang Mai, one of the cultural highlights of Thailand to visit his sister for a few days, I’m envious that he’ll get to experience a much less touristy part of Thailand but at the same time we’ve organised a few island hopping days around the Phuket area and I’m looking forward to the blue oceans.
Our first trip the James Bond Island tour, originally named Nail Island it became famous in 1974 after starring in the James Bond film, ‘Man with the Golden Gun‘. The island is actually only a pit stop, with the entire day organised around a series of kayak rides around the various island cave systems surrounding Phuket. Our first stop takes us into a natural mountain valley accessible only via cave, once through it’s like we’ve been dropped into the middle of a crater with the water center completely surrounded by amazingly high walls.
The trip through the caves is definitely not for the claustrophobic! The roof of the are caves vary in height and at one point it’s so low that I nearly scrape my nose even though I’m lying down in the Kayak, once we’ve moved past the opening the natural lighting is gone and we’re given torches to light the way for our guides steering the Kayaks. The trip is well worth it, but Helen and I do get very up close and personal on these journeys (why Hello Helen ;)).
There’s really only 1 photo we can take when we finally make it to James Bond Island. It’s probably my favourite photo of our entire trip! (Look at that toe action on Billy!!)
Shockingly, there are no photos of dinner. It was actually a rather fantastic meal bought from the local markets consisting of Pork Belly, roasted Chicken, made to order Pad Thai and even piping hot Soy Milk for the ridiculous price of 6bhat. The problem was, we’d bought everything from a market which had spontaneously sprung up opposite our hotel, and when we returned 20 minutes later for round 2… the market had packed up and gone!
The moral of the story is, always carry your cameras with you kiddies. And always buy more than you think you’ll eat!
Phi Phi Island Tour
We’d gone for the nature route with our first trip, but now we’re ready for some old fashion tourist island hopping. There was no doubt in our minds that we wanted to visit Phi Phi, and take advantage of this by taking a speed boat trip which will take us around to various snorkeling spots as well Phi Phi island. It is of course, the island made famous by the film ‘The Beach‘, I’ll admit, I get a weird thrill out of visiting places made famous by films… I even get happy just walking past the fountains in Martin Place (The Matrix & Superman!).
It’s been over 6 years since the Christmas Tsunami devastated the infrastructure of Phi Phi, destroying over 70% of the buildings on the island. The tourists have returned in droves with the famous beach full to overflowing, packed out with people and the various day tripping boats, it’s a surreal site knowing the history of this beach but knowing just how much locals depend on tourism it’s a necessary evil of sorts.
It’s a whirlwind stop at Phi Phi and we’re back on the boat within 20 minutes. I’d thought the waters at Phi Phi were beautiful but I’m proven wrong within moments with the sight of a brilliant turquoise ocean expanding out as far as I can see (no photoshop I promise!), the waters are clear enough to see schools of tiny fish rushing past and below them I can just make out the ocean floor.
Snorkling in these waters is nothing but fun, we’ve decked ourselves out with flippers and underwater cameras (Billy’s promptly malfunctions within the first hour) and are just enjoying the opportunity to exercise a little of the holiday fat we’ve been accumulating. The skies are sadly getting darker and the fish more wary to our presence, it’s a wet and gloomy afternoon as we finally begin heading back to the shores of Phuket.
Dinner – Cart Style
Much to our dismay, the phantom markets of the night before have not returned and we’re forced to roam the streets in search of dinner. It’s our last night in Thailand and after having the market style food the night before I’m resistant to the idea of a sit down restaurant, resulting in a frustrating 20 minute search. We’ve about to give up the hunt and are headed back towards the hotel when suddenly a roadside cart selling made to order Som Tum appears in front of us.
The carts have been rigged up to be easily portable and numerous times we’ve seen various vendors trundling down the road with carts rigged up behind their motorcycles, it’s the first time we’ve bumped into one while in search of food and the timing couldn’t have been any better. The setup is surprisingly efficient, with the main work area holding the vegetables and meat and a mini coal grill on the right, already with meat sizzling away.
The owners of the stand appear to be a husband and wife team and they work easily in unison, the husband making single orders of Som Tum with a huge pestle and mortar while his wife works with the meat and handles the money. There’s a fair bit of miming and charades but we’ve put in an order for 3 lots of Som Tum – the Thai Papaya salad mixed with dried shrimp and peanuts. The husband is brutally efficient and uncompromising making each order separately before bagging them in a plastic bubble for safe transport.
I’m confused by the meat system, the cart seems to already be full of skewers of cooked meat and while I can see even more meat sizzling away on the grill I can’t figure out the source! It takes a few minutes of spying on the other customers but eventually I figure out that the grill is simply for re-warming the meat! We’ve already come this far, so I grab a few skewers of pork, chicken and various bits of gristle (mmm gristle) and pop them on.
Moments later I notice another customer ordering a pork based salad with the wife chopping up the pork and throwing it directly into the salad, a spot of miming and I’ve promptly added it to our order along with 3 servings of sticky rice. The damage? 330 Baht ($11.20 AU) for 3 people.
Of course, there’s no way we’re satisfied with just Som Tum. Only meters away we spot a Pad Thai stand and a fresh batch of noodles is promptly whipped up and boxed up for us to take away, the stand is complete with condiments on the side for us to add to our liking. A final stop at a local 7/11 for drinks and our night is complete!
I’ve lost track of the number of times people have told me not to eat food off stands on the side of the road, it’s been advice I’ve always been happy to ignore and I’ve always been the happier for it. The Som Tum is crisp and refreshing if lacking a little bit of the sheer heat I’ve always associated with it, the skewers are a little tough after their double roasting but the Pad Thai is exactly what I’ve been craving for.
For all of it’s insanely touristy ways I’ll miss Thailand, it’s been a crazy 3 days of massages, speedboats and market haggling. There’s only 1 more stop left on our itinerary – one last stopover in Kuala Lumpur before heading back to Sydney. I’m sad and excited at the thought of heading back to Kuala Lumpur, it means our trip is nearly at an end but it also means it’s time for some serious shopping!
Check out the rest of the Malaysia Monday’s series here!