Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bangkok To Phuket

Yesterday was one of those funny travel days during which it feels like a much longer journey than it actually is.

Our Thai Airlines flight was on an Airbus 300, a fairly large plane that holds 267 passengers, with 2-4-2 seating in the Economy cabin. Kathy managed to change Tom's and Ellyn's seats to an exit row so we sat a fair distance apart. The plane itself was pleasantly decorated in purples and other complementary colors.

The service was excellent, particularly given it was only about a 75-minute flight. The impeccably dressed crew members first handed out a little box containing a sandwich and a juice, then followed up with tea and coffee. They were genuinely friendly throughout, and we counted something like four traditional Thai bows, the Wai, from the flight attendants as we left the plane at Phuket. Incidentally, we don't Wai back because we don't want to violate the protocol involved - we just tip our heads and smile. To make a stereotypical generalization, we find Thai people to be sweet, gentle, friendly, and quick to smile. Not a bad place to spend a couple of weeks...

What a place Phuket is to fly into, by the way! After several days of observing flat landscapes around Bangkok, suddenly we see rolling hills and a whole collection of steep little islands poking out of the water.

The airport was mildly chaotic, not dissimilar to our arrival in Tahiti earlier this year. There were people selling transportation services everywhere, and we made a beeline for the taxi stand, only to find out they had no taxis large enough to seat all four of us. It was no trouble to find a private van to the resort for 1000 baht, about 34 US dollars. It sounded pricey but it turned out to be money well spent.

The drive from the airport to the hotel took at least as long as our 400-mile flight, and it was pleasant to be sitting in a large van when we realized how aggressive the driving is. The trip was lengthened as we stopped at the headquarters of this outfit long enough for the manager to try to sell us a tour during our stay. We managed to gently say "not right now" but we did pay a deposit and set a time for return transportation to the airport, which appears to have been another good decision, compared to what the hotels charge for similar services.

We passed through quite a lot of urban sprawl during our drive, a variety of somewhat rundown looking shops vaguely reminiscent of business neighborhoods we've seen in Turkey and Mexico. The drivers like to tailgate (ours at least) and to zig and zag. There's a fair amount of driving on the shoulder when rooms permits, and two-lane roads become three or even four lanes. As well, there are lots of motorcyclists on the road with as many as four passengers (Dad, Mom, and two kids). The ones that raised our eyebrows were ridden by obviously Caucasian tourists. Good for them but you won't catch any of us venturing out into that kind of traffic.

We saw a lot of uniformed school children walking home. Once we zoomed past a school as students were milling around outside - no school zone speed limits here. We also noted that many, if not most, of the women are wearing hijabs, confirming our understanding that many Muslims live in the southern part of Thailand..

Toward the end of the drive, we ascended a steep and curvy hill and at the summit suddenly saw the ocean. Are we there yet? No, we descended and in a little while had another hill to climb. Only toward the last few minutes of the trip do we find ourselves in the beautiful setting in which the hotel is located.

Once we arrived at the main entrance, an open bus transported us to the main lobby. In a few words, the Hilton Phuket Aracadia Resort and Spa is a magnificent property, we've been welcomed royally, and more details of that will follow.

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