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Phi Phi on the horizon
Thursday 15 March 2012, 03:01PM
It’s only 8.30am on a Thursday morning, but already the five large ferries, docked three abreast at Rassada Pier in Phuket Town, are full with passengers. Hundreds of expectant tourists form this formidable friendly invasion force, heading for the two islands of Phi Phi, those small and fragile natural jewels all on their own in the pristine Andaman Sea. Judging by the languages I hear around me on the boat ride over, today hordes of Chinese, Russian and French visitors, all in assorted beach gear, are ready for sun and sea. They all disembark en masse onto the narrow jetty at Phi Phi Don, the larger of the two islands, before streaming into the narrow lanes of the holiday village already packed with tourists. The beach is lined by longtail boats; a couple of them are already noisily reversing with their passengers on board, escaping to a less-crowded stretch of sand on the other side of the island. Meanwhile, sleek speedboats power in with more visitors, their row of large outboard engines revving. Blond Scandinavian men sit, somewhat bored, in the many dive shops near the beach, ready to teach people how to dive down to see the richness of the coral reefs under the crystal clear water. Signs on almost all hotels and guesthouses read “FULL.” It is after all high-season on Phi Phi. In the fierce afternoon heat, the many air-conditioned convenience stores offer cool respite for passersby. On a rough field, against a striking backdrop of lush green hills, teams of young men compete in a football championship, with much laughter and cheering. Village life goes on after work is done. Just offshore, a particularly eye-catching longtail wooden boat, built of thick old exposed timber, waits to take other villagers home. It’s has been a long day for them too, catering to the international tourists who bring in a daily baht bonanza for the islanders. Back onshore, a troupe of wiry young men limber up and twine cotton strips around their hoops and twirling sticks ready to be lit for their fire dancing and juggling, once the sun dips below the horizon. In the glow of sunset, viewed from the deserted curving end of the beach I find myself in, the bright lights and flags of the throbbing tourist village in the near distance sit in contrast with the blue-green steep timbered cliffs. A couple of swimmers float in the warm sea, now turned bright red by the sunset.I wonder, what was this island like before it was developed? Why in the world have visitors come here in such numbers? And have they all found what they were seeking? So many questions to answer. Meanwhile, Phi Phi settles down to relax for the evening. It needs its rest, for tomorrow is another busy day.Getting there: Passenger ferries leave at 8.30am and at 1.30pm for Phi Phi from Rassada Pier southeast of Phuket Town. Costs vary but expect to pay about B600 for a return ticket. While good accommodation can be found on arrival, it’s best to book ahead during high season.
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Rang Hill temple
Sunday 4 March 2012, 08:50AM
Imagine a bright, sunny morning and I’m driving through Phuket Town with my wife. The kids have been dropped off at school, and we’ve put in a broken laptop for repairs. We’re driving on familiar roads, heading north near the Vachira hospital. There is a little-used side road by the hospital that heads up to the top of Rang Hill. My wife asks – do you know the temple up this road? Indeed I do not. I’m sure I’ve driven this way before, but seem to have missed Rang Hill Temple (Wat Khao Rang) every single time. It’s a shame, as hidden from view up the small side road by the hospital is something quite impressive – there’s more than one Big Buddha in Phuket. We arrived at the temple late morning, but I did not have my camera with me (we hadn’t planned to stop anywhere that day), so instead we had a quick look, bumped into a local photographer I know, then dashed home, picked up the kids, and told them we were going to a temple. Hooray, they said! Well, perhaps not quite, but at least this temple was one they’d never seen before.Rang Hill Temple was founded by a monk called Luang Pu Supha, who some claim to be the world’s oldest man (a fact not ratified by Guinness World Records). His image can be found on amulets for sale at the temple, though the supposed 115-year-old now lives at the temple named after him, Wat Luang Pu Supha, also located in Phuket. Beyond the Big Buddha there is a new temple building, which looks to have been recently completed and is reached by a separate staircase lined by Naga snakes guarding the entrance. Unfortunately I didn’t enter as the rest of the family had seen enough and were already waiting in the car. In any case I will return sometime soon.   Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.
Mobile café on a roll
Sunday 4 March 2012, 08:46AM
Malisa & Me mobile café owners Dan and Malisa Shults have found a niche market in Phuket, delivering a tasty variety of food and drink to customers around the island from the comfort of their travelling food truck. Their unique food truck was specially made in Bangkok. Dan says the trucks are incredibly popular in the United States, so when looking to start up a business, they figured the same idea might work here. Malisa has worked in the tourism industry, and Dan is a student at Prince of Songkla University studying hospitality management, but the couple were looking for a new business venture. The simple but great-tasting sandwiches are reasonably priced, with the pair offering vegetable or chicken quesadillas, grilled sandwiches (including pizza, mexican, tuna and bacon, barbecued pork), plus s’mores (B85) and the famous American peanut butter and jelly sandwich (B70). Malisa and Dan also make great iced drinks – all created using homemade syrup –including the unique pumpkin flavoured ice latte. The couple have big plans for the business, including perhaps a franchise over the next few years. But for the meantime they are happy driving around the streets of Naiharn and wider Phuket, ready to deliver fresh, home-made food to eager customers. Disclaimer: the mobile café is on its way to becoming an institution at The Phuket News’ Kathu office, where Dan and Malisa arrive to feed the hungry staff twice a week.Malisa & Me: 081-956-8635,;
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Phuket Old Town Festival 2012
Friday 17 February 2012, 11:45AM
The end of January was a busy time for festivals and fairs in Phuket. We had the lively Chalong Temple Fair, then a food fair at Saphan Hin (the south end of Phuket Town), it was Chinese New Year on the 23rd (welcome all to the Year of the Dragon) and from January 28-30 there was the Phuket Old Town Festival; three great nights of street fair, food stalls, stage performances in the old part of Phuket Town along Thalang Road and in the Queen Sirikit Park next to the TAT office. We headed into town on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 in the evening. A bit late on Saturday actually as there was a street procession with people dressed up in old style Chinese clothing, and we missed that. But there were plenty of people dressed up along Thalang Road. Phuket has large Chinese influence, with a lot of Chinese-Thai people due to large-scale immigration during the 19th century when Phuket went through a major tin-mining boom. But there's not exactly a ‘China Town’ in Phuket. Thalang Road is very mixed, there are Muslim shops, old Chinese hardware stores and printers, the old herb shop and a Chinese shrine which is right next door to the Christian Assembly. The old town is a place I always like, but it looks especially good at festival time. In these articles I keep using the term "real Phuket", which is hard to define, since Phuket has many sides, but in the old section of Phuket Town there is certainly plenty to interest visitors. I'm not going to knock someone for spending two weeks on the beach, but I've been doing this blog for years now, trying to show that Phuket is so much more than beaches. I guess the "real Phuket" is what you make of it.   Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Ride of a lifetime
Friday 10 February 2012, 04:06PM
First off, I should admit I've never actually been on an elephant ride. There are elephant trekking places all over Phuket. Some are close to the main beaches, while others get a bit more off the beaten track (and are much better in my opinion –  after all, I don't want to be trekking with a view of Patong or within earshot of a busy road). And it's good business for sure – riding an elephant is on many tourists ‘must do’ list. My parents have been over here a number of times, and it was on their second visit in 2004 that they went for an elephant ride. I recently asked mum to write about her experience. Here’s an abbreviated version of ‘My Elephant Experience’, by Paula Monk. “When I was a child, I would look through my books and see pictures of far away, wonderful lands. I was fascinated by them, but in the 1950s, growing up in post war Britain, it didn't seem possible that I would ever see any of those places for myself. “I was filled with wonder at the sights of children riding on elephants, and imagined how it would feel. That little dream lay dormant for almost a lifetime. "The world has moved on during that lifetime and people travel far and wide – ordinary people like me. “Now we have family in Thailand (it was called Siam in my childhood) and on one of our visits I was determined to fulfil my childhood dream. I can't now tell you the name of the place where we went for our elephant ride. "It was in the rural south of the island, in hilly terrain. I feel there couldn't have been a better place – the elephants were well looked after and so were we – my husband and I. The jungle was thick and lush and the views from the hill tops were superb. “Slowly we moved off. I was all grins and happiness! At first the ride seemed fairly smooth, but soon we were traversing the slopes of the jungle through narrow pathways. It was like a fair ground ride – I was thrilled and exited and scared stiff at the same time. “Going down hill it almost felt like we would be lurched forward and roll over the beautiful elephants head, but we hung on tight and enjoyed the thrill. Mostly our elephant strolled slowly along the familiar paths – sometimes she broke into almost a trot, accompanied by gasps and squeals from us. “Our ride lasted for a long time – about an hour we recall. As we realised we were coming to the end of the ride we became aware that we felt physically tired. “It is hard work to keep the body stiff and alert and to be holding on tight. But above all, we felt exhilaration that in our 60s we had taken the chance to fulfil a dream.” Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.
A very cool Christmas
Friday 3 February 2012, 04:18PM
TRAVEL: "Let’s have Christmas somewhere cool,” said someone in the family. “Where?” was the next logical question. “How about the Cameron Highlands?” said I, reviving pleasant memories of a few cool and picturesque days spent on that elevated valley in the Malaysian mountains many years ago. The late-evening Air Asia flight lifted off from Phuket airport, taking us on a two-hour flight on this rather crazy rushed long-weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur. Even the long walk from our aircraft to Air Asia’s own bustling terminal, which is separate from the KL international one, did not dampen our enthusiasm for this short break in a different country. Nor was the fact that the airport was some 60 kilometres from the city, meaning we still had an hour and a half of late-night bus travel in front of us to reach the business district of the city where we had booked our little hotel for the night. For late Thursday night, KL was alive with diners eating in the many bright street restaurants that wafted delightful aromas into the warm night. We were surprised to come across one cosy street as liberally supplied with ladyboys as Bangla Rd. Our view of the green and pleasant capital the next day was mostly from the windows of the monorail and a suburban train, as we headed for our weekend rental car. But the pace of the city was definitely slower and more relaxed. If only Bangkok were like this. On the pleasant three-hour drive to the highlands, the comfortable black Malaysian-made Proton Saga cruised easily on the freeway north and climbed the mountain on the narrow winding road that was quite a historical engineering feat, cutting through tall dense tropical jungle. As the traffic thickened we began to realise that many, many Malaysian families had also said to themselves that, for the long-weekend holiday, they too would spend Christmas in the Cameron Highlands. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on the narrow roads. But the little village of Tanah Rata was as I remember it. The row of old colonial-style shops on its main street always reminded of old photos of Darjeeling or Simla where the British colonial rulers and plains people escaped up to cool air and mountain views. One memorable meal was relived at the Mutiara Indian street restaurant that I had visited before: fresh-made roti, mutton and vegetable curries of all sorts and friendly staff warmly welcomed us. The oddly-named multi-storey Hotel de la Ferns, with its faux Tudor facade, gave us a fantastic room, high up. Mist blew across the balcony, which looked along the lush valley of this veritable Eden. A green golf course nestled among trees. Pine trees in the little village park bordered a clear mountain stream, and cosy houses with their white plaster and black timber imitation Tudor architecture hid away in the misty jungle at vantage points on hill tops. England is far away but a valley of it has been lovingly duplicated here. Christmas Eve saw well-to-do Indian, Chinese and Malay families enjoying traditional Christmas dinners offered at all the guesthouses and hotels, complete with turkey and plum pudding, if not much ham – this is, after all a Muslim country. A bright-green valley, patterned by low tea bushes as far as the eye could see provided a picturesque backdrop to the steaming cups of the best that the old Boh Tea Plantation could offer. Tea pickers were “plucking” away in the distance. Strawberries were overflowing from the tunnels of plastic greenhouses in nearby plantations, in this mountain land of plenty. Walking among hills rising to the mist, we were very grateful for our very cool Cameron Christmas. –Norachai Thavisin GETTING THERE: Air Asia flies from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur for less than B2,000 one way. Car rental is B1,500 a day, and petrol in Malaysia is cheaper. WHERE TO STAY: A double room at the Hotel De La Ferns ( cost about B5,000 a night.
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Phuket Mining Museum
Friday 13 January 2012, 01:59PM
If anyone is at all interested in the history of Phuket, and at the same time interested in getting a little off the beaten track, the often-overlooked Phuket Mining Museum is very much worth a look. The location is a bit odd – on a road that many people don’t know about that winds through the hills between Loch Palm Golf Club and the British International School. However, it’s great for children. Located around the large central courtyard are rooms that have been lovingly decorated and made to look like old streets or filled with old pictures and dioramas of mining techniques. Phuket made its fortune through tin mining (as well as rubber plantations and fishing) well before any tourists first arrived. There’s no mining any more, but it was tin that made Phuket, built Phuket Town and changed the face of Phuket, with many immigrants heading here from China. In the first room is a traditional island bus, while the next room is filled with old furniture, and displays of old household items. Then you have the real meat of the museum: a very well presented educational section all about geology, with information presented in both English and Thai.This leads through to the history of mining, with models of stone age people banging rocks together, and more specific information and life size dioramas about local tin mining techniques. From mining, you then move onto tin processing, a room full of technical information and photos, as well as a big bench full of rocks for kids to look at. I was very pleased when my boy agreed that sand, viewed with a magnifying glass, looks like little rocks – I love watching my kids learn. However, my wife’s favourite part of the museum is a mock up of old Phuket, a whole street with shops, a little café, a shrine and much more. It’s very well done, and you can see that the people involved in the museum must take a lot of pride in their work. The artwork is very good, with many walls painted with street scenes that have receding perspectives, so you feel like you could almost just step into the painting and take a walk through old Phuket. My daughter even tried... One of the best things about the museum is the low entry fee, although, if you’re a tourist reading this, it’s not the kind of place a tuk-tuk driver will want to take you (no commissions!). In sum, the museum suits those who want to learn something and see more than just beaches. Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Making a splash in Mai Khao
Thursday 5 January 2012, 01:14PM
JAMIE'S PHUKET: The Splash Jungle Water Park opened in early 2010. I think everyone agreed that Phuket needed a waterpark. Ideal for tourists, for family fun in the sun. However, not everyone was so enthusiastic when it opened. Most of the tourists in Phuket stay at the main beaches – Patong, Karon and Kata. Splash Jungle opened as part of the West Sands Resort at Mai Khao Beach, just north of Phuket Airport, and that’s 40-45km from the main beaches. Location. And then the price. Full rate is B1,495 for adults and B750 for kids. In other words, for our family of four we’d pay B4,490. It’s not cheap, although they had a “local price” for a while, and also have a membership package which works well for people like us who are likely to be back.So we drove up on a Saturday, the car park was packed with about four minibuses and 10 cars. To be clear – it was not very busy. Now that’s my kind of place – a tourist attraction without the tourists! OK, it was low season and the weather was not perfect (though I ended the day with my usual mild sunburn), but I thought there would be more people here. I know it’s not “Thailand” – this place is pure watery fun, and due to the combination of price and location, I had not been there. My wife and kids had been once on Thai national Children’s Day – there was a special promotion for the day with kids getting in for free. This time we paid up for membership, so now we are sure to go again! Inside, you have changing rooms with hundreds of lockers, then you cross a bridge over the “lazy river” which runs around the whole complex – you can drift around with or without an inflatable ring (the “river” is shallow enough for even our 6-year-old to stand up in). We drifted around it a few times, passing under bridges and waterfalls. The river would be the least adrenaline-fueled attraction! We found a chair to dump our stuff – the open areas are filled with beach chairs all shaded with umbrellas. Don’t leave valuables on the chair unattended, but towels and clothes and sandals are not likely to go astray. So the idea is to bag a chair, then go and have fun! The kids all started at the kids’ play area, but that area really is for little tiny kids. So we progressed to the slides. There are many different waterslides – 3 of them head down to the same splash pool – the green slide was pretty scary! My son went down countless times, I went twice. The first time I went down I shocked the lifeguard at the bottom by shooting off the end at full speed, 110 kilos of speeding fat panda coming down! I’m generally not into adrenaline rushes, I prefer nice and easy scuba diving or a gentle bike ride. The waterslide called “Boomerango” seemed to be beyond me. Boomerango works like this: You shoot off the highest point of the slide tower down a steep ramp, shoot up the other side and then off to the splashdown pool. I was worried that someone my size might go too fast and shoot right off the top of the ramp. My kids both went on it – they kind of wandered off without Mum and Dad for a while, they had found some school friends and did the rides with them on rings for two. Next to the Boomerango is the Super Bowl – again you launch from the top of the tower down a tube and then into this huge bowl which you spin around several times and then out and down another tube in the center. Not too scary! We were impressed by the safety at Splash Jungle. There are loads of staff, there are people to help you onto the rides and people in the splashdown pools to catch you. There are lifeguards all over the place, so we weren’t too concerned about the kids going off and doing their own thing. After a few hours we were getting hungry. We decided not to eat at the park restaurants – there are three of them, and they are not that cheap. But I enjoyed the day. Fun for me, and a lot of fun for the kids. Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.  
Luxury in the jungle
Thursday 5 January 2012, 01:08PM
TRAVEL: For those in Phuket who yearn occasionally for something other than gorgeous sunsets, powdery sand and sea as azure as a property developer’s brochure, Khao Sok National Park comes as a welcome relief. No more the sound of waves on the shore, karaokes and beach discos. Here the sound effects are provided in the morning by gibbons, their whoops echoing around the hills, or by troops of macaques crashing carelessly through the trees, and in the evening by the millions of cicadas in the forest, each triggered by the next, combining into an eerie wail that goes on for minutes at a time. The best place to appreciate this has to be Thanyamundra, one of Thailand’s smallest (nine rooms) yet most luxurious resorts. Part of the Thanyapura group that includes the complex surrounding the Phuket International Academy, Thanyamundra sits at the high end of a valley, looking down on its own 60-rai organic farm and surrounded on three sides by Khao Sok National Park. Wake up early and the place is swirled in mist. As the sun climbs at the far end of the valley, the hills smoke with clouds in creation, until finally, an hour or so after sunrise, the sun breaks through. And then it’s time for breakfast. It’s all ready and waiting – your own personal butler knocked on your door the evening before and discussed the menu with you, as he does for every meal. Wherever possible, the food comes from the organic farm, so it’s fresh and tasty. The organic chicken is a special treat, and the cellar, though not enormous, is well stocked with very good wines. The butler comes and goes quietly and gently in an electric golf cart – your car is parked next to the entrance, half a kilometre away, and stays there unless you summon up the energy to go outside the resort, not easy to do when waited on hand and foot and pretty much every other part. There are no rooms at Thanyamundra. They’re all suites – bedroom, living room and two bathrooms, at the very least, with French windows in the bedroom leading to a verandah just outside.Important: each suite comes with a Nespresso machine, one of the great inventions of our age.   The service is impeccable: efficient, low-key, super-polite and solicitous without being obsequious, friendly when you feel like a chat, waiting quietly when you don’t.There’s a spa, a gym and a swimming pool that’s nearly as big as the hotel but, when it comes down to it, the winning feature of the resort is that view. It’s good for the eye, the heart and the soul. Thanyamundra is the place to get away from the getaway. To get to Thanyamundra, head north through Khao Lak and then Takua Pa. Keep right, following the road to Surat Thani. After about 60 km, the park entrance is on your left. Turn in and the entrance to Thanyamundra is about a kilometre down, on your left. For more information visit recently placed third in Agoda’s new list of the To p 10 Eco-Boutiques in Asia 2011. It was also named one of Thailand’s “Big Six Chic Thai Retreats’’ by leading British newspaper The Independent. –Alasdair Forbes
JAMIE'S PHUKET: Floating restaurants off Coconut Island
Friday 23 December 2011, 04:56PM
If you head north from Phuket Town on the main airport road there is a small side road to the right (you’ll ned to do a U-turn)leading to Laem Hin, a fishing community where you find the very popular Laem Hin Seafood restaurant. A new jetty was built at Laem Hin a few years ago to serve Koh Maphrao – Coconut Island – and allow larger boats to dock in the area. In the water just off the island, there are several floating restaurants to choose from, among them Kruvit, Bang Mud and Kru Suwit. To reach them, you need to get a longtail boat from Laem Hin – boats leave from a wooden jetty with shallow muddy water all around, and longtails jammed in like sardines in a can. The deal with the boats is that if you spend a certain amount at the restaurant you don’t have to pay the boat. While I don’t know the exact amount, don’t be worried – I think the idea is just to stop people trying to get free rides to drink a coke. On the way out to Koh Maphrao (the ride takes only five minutes) there are fishermen’s huts floating in the water too. Is this the same Phuket you see on the west coast? I think not. Things tend to be more traditional here. We chose to eat at Kruvit restaurant (full name ‘Kruvit Raft’). Even on a grey day, quite a few tables were occupied (all local people, although I did see one farang arrive later with a Thai woman). We were met by a friendly boatman who held the longtail steady so we (especially my mum, who cracked a rib on a longtail last year) could step off easily. Nothing to worry about really; the sea over here is calm as it’s very sheltered. Kruvit has space for a couple of hundred people.  We found our table near the fish tanks. Live seafood is kept in large enclosed keep-ponds built into the raft. We ate very well too, but with a restaurant like this, eating is only part of the experience. The boat ride, the view, the fresh air, getting away from the crowds... good food is almost a bonus. The bill was very reasonable (we don’t do expensive). We do eat at Laem Hin Seafood now and then and maybe the food there is better, but hey, you don’t get that floating feeling or the boat ride...   Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: You can read more about Phuket on Jamie's Phuket Blog or follow Jamie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Flickr.