FOOTLOOSE
Lifeís abeach
By Anna Rich
Friday, July 20, 2012

Whatever youíre looking for in a tropical island family holiday, youíll find it in Phuket

Sun and water

The kilometre-long stretch that is the beautiful Kata Bay in the Andaman Sea is a treasure. The balmy water of the bay is perfect — we floated on the gentle swells for hours. The tropical climate means there’s bound to be a bit of rain — certainly in the wet season from mid-year to November — but it won’t be cold. Best time to visit? From November to February. 

Good food

You have to try two signature Thai dishes: papaya salad, a fusion of flavours of crushed peanuts, palm sugar, cherry tomatoes, lime juice, fresh chilli and tiger prawns; and for dessert, the warm mango with sticky rice and coconut sauce. If you’re trying to persuade your children to eat a balanced diet, here their trays are split into colour-coded sections to correspond with the different food groups, and with the variety available, surely even the pickiest eater will find tasty vegetables.

Local culture

When you walk the streets, buy fresh fruit dipped in a salt, sugar and fresh chilli mix from the vendors on motorcycles. Look out for the arrangements of incense, flowers and food left outside shops and homes — offerings for the spirit that protects the area. Big banners advertising Thai boxing events and tattoo parlours offer further insights as to what moves the locals. And don’t get run over by the ubiquitous motorcycles, often loaded with several riders all at once. The cultural highlight of our stay was a trip up a long and winding road to the top of the hill to get close enough to the Big Buddha to see him looking benevolently down at us through heavy-lidded eyes. The white marble statue is 45 metres tall. There is no entrance fee, but the completion of the project depends on donations. Barefooted people queue to be blessed by the monks with the words ‘Happiness, happiness, happiness’. 

Rest & recreation

The words ‘Thai’ and ‘massage’ don’t go hand in hand for nothing. You’ll have offers of a massage — and at a price that won’t make your shoulder muscles spasm. A massage on the beach surely takes paradise up a notch? If you’d like to be on the move, you could sign up for the flying trapeze academy. There’s also a golf academy, and you could try snorkelling, archery, yoga and aquafitness. Diving lessons are an option, but you’ll need to pull out your purse. 

Shop till you drop

Shopkeepers here deliver a couple of lines ‘foreign languages’ to sweeten the sale. Tourists are mostly looking for knock-offs of premium-brand watches and bags. There are lots of bargain-basement clothing stores, but here, as with everywhere else, the labels tell the same story — Made in China. My best buy was a couple of Thai silk scarves. 

Time at ‘the beach’

Yes, the one made famous by the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Go to the hotel excursions desk to get them to set it up for you. Another sight made famous by the movies is the James Bond island, which you travel to by longboat. This is part of the Phang Nga Bay day-trip — the limestone cliffs rising straight up from the sea are a stock screensaver.

— Gallo Images 

Fast facts

  • CAPITAL CITY Bangkok, with a population of about 5,600,000.
  • GOVERNMENT Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The bespectacled gent in fine clothes whose picture hangs in many a shop is the well-loved King Rama IX (or Bhumibol Aduljadej to be precise), the longest serving head of state in the world. Thailand — ‘land of the free’ — is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been colonised by Europeans.
  • FORMERLY KNOWN AS Siam — where Anna and the King / The King and I is set.
  • RELIGION Buddhism.
  • LANGUAGE Thai. Here are two key phrases:

sa-wad-dee-kha (use this form if you’re female) or sa-wad-dee-krap (use if you’re male) means hello, and kop-kun-kha (if you’re female) or kopkun-krap (you get the picture) means thank you.

NATIONAL SPORT Muay Thai (Thai boxing)

 

 

Don’t miss

>THAI TAILORING. The tailors need just 24 hours to sew up the deal, but just in case, order your made-to-measure outfit within the first few days of your trip.

>FRESH COCONUT. The vendors keep these on ice, so the coconut milk is cool and refreshing. Once you’ve drunk the last drop, there’s creamy flesh to chip away at.

 

 

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