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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Motor Cycling Around Phuket Island

The On on Hotel

This morning found us boarding a bus for Phuket which took another 4 to 5 hours, followed by a long haul of our luggage several blocks in the heat and dust to the cool cheap comfort of another traditional Chinese hotel, the On On Hotel, with an air con double with cold shower for 400 Bt and Honda 125 motor cycles on hire for 150Bt.

Main commercial street Phuket

The street running from the On on to the restaurant with the red sign

Dining out

Having set our selves up in comfort, we proceeded out to the local public hospital to get Christine's next shot. There was a selection of hospitals in Phuket, the International hospital which is very good but expensive and the one we chose which I think was the Vachira or Wachira. At first this seemed difficult or impossible, as everything was written in Thai, but some helpers, who spoke English, appeared and ushered us very efficiently through registration, checking they had the same vaccine, testing Christine's weight and blood pressure (way down to 130/69) a short appointment with a doctor and then to the 'dressing room' where the nurse tried to finesse using an old resterilized needle until I stopped her in her tracks shouting 'new needle' also making sure she used a new syringe.

Some of the classic commercial buildings

Phuket far from just being a holiday resort access point is actually a traditional town with some classic South East Asian architecture in the older central buildings.

Now we are settled for a day or two and will ride the bike out to Patong and round some of the beaches tomorrow. We are neither sun bathers, nor beach combers, but Phuket itslelf has a multi-cultural profile as an old trading port and some nice period buildings, with a challenging mix including 35% Muslims.
In a few days we'll have to brave the terror bomb zone of South Thailand to get through to Penang.
Phuket, Thai traffic and Krabi markets

View from the hill park overlooking Phuket

2006-11-11 We drove around the south half of Phuket Island yesterday. Phuket is renowned for the number of motorbike accidents (1000 killed or injured a year) and we quickly found the situation perilous for those who don't know how to drive in Thailand. I have learned to interpret the complex one-way traffic signalling system with heaps of different kinds of red and green arrows, so I seem to have avoided the 500 Bt spot fines for a variety of insidious or unreal offenses.

Thailand drives on the left but has a large number of one-way streets requiring a lot of clockwise perambulation and frequent complete loss of direction getting from A to B. In Chiang Mai it took me days to know how to get back home because of the many curved one-way streets which could have you facing the opposite direction and heading south rather than north. Eventually I could ride at night clean through the city even when the Kraton festival had all the roads blocked in a snake like pattern winding through the old city.
There were also weird situations to keep this circulation complete where you found without warning that you had to drive on the wrong (right) side of the road, which was utterly uncanny. The only other place I have seen this change of sides which could result in a head-on, is on steep mountain passes in Bolivia, where drivers need to be on the out-side of the vehicle to make sure it doesn't fall off the cliff.

In Phuket, despite being a small town, the lights and signs were complex and subtle. In addition to red, orange and green traffic lights which also like China gave a second by second count down, there were flashing green (about to turn orange), flashing orange (lights turned off but be careful because there is no control), flashing red (stop and give way at a roundabout), red crosses (no entry), as well as green arrows and red arrows. In addition to all of these there are blue arrow signs which allow free turning left or right even on red (and sometimes both since it is only cross traffic which confuses one-way systems). Then there are black arrows with red borders which mean you MUST turn this way (to avoid going wrong way up what is about to become a one way street).

The road from Phuket to Patong, the main tourist Mecca beach, is steep, full of heavy traffic, fast and has precipitous turns, deep drains and very steep gradients, which all make for a risky motor bike ride. For the first time we had a Honda 125 rather than a 100 or 110 which really added to the power on the hills.
Patong was absolutely scorching. There was a searing sun and a hot offshore breeze blowing from the East (which makes the Eastern Coast inclement at this time of year). The season hasn't really gone mad yet but the whole town was a mausoleum to a dream people in Europe have to a sunbathing paradise under a beach umbrella.

We traveled North and all the beaches were tasteless inflated tourist traps until we came to Leam Singh a small sandy beach surrounded by steep forested hills which you have to park your motor bike and walk down the path to get to. This was a real charmer with white rocks, an unspoiled coastline a couple of restaurants, the usual umbrellas for 100 Bt for a chair and a couple of water shoots to clear the salt from your skin.

We then drove north to Sarin and circled back south past Karon and Kata, both equally tasteless, although more pleasant then Patong, and drove back to Phuket via Charon which at least had some fishing and boat life.

This morning I went out to the causeway capped island just East of Phuket where they have a Paua (Abalone) farm where there were peerless deserted beaches because they have mud flats at low tide, with a bay for International sailors (sea gypseas) and for long tail boat fishermen.

There were lower class fishemen's 'ghettos' on the Eastern side of Phuket

A small fisherman's village right at the end of the Eastern road

Two Eastern beach panoramas

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