Thursday, March 21, 2013

Our 115 day World Cruise, day 75, Phuket, Thailand

Today started out as usual except that we dropped off the car to have it detailed before we went to Starbucks.  We walked about 3 blocks to Starbucks.

And this is about all she wrote!  It was downhill from there.  We ran a few errands as usual and headed home.  At 2:00 Vicki had a doctors appointment and off we went!  Well, the doctor has decided to run some more tests on Vicki and to refer her to a heart doctor.  This means that she will be taking several tests over the next two weeks!  We will keep you posted as this progresses!

I am going to cut this short today, we have a big day tomorrow as it is Tami's birthday and we are taking her to lunch and shopping!

Where we did not go today....but the Amsterdam did!

Postcards from Paradise!

 Phuket, Thailand March 21, 2013 Thursday

The Amsterdam arrived very early to the port of Phuket, Thailand, their largest and most visited island. With a forecast of 94 degrees, no rain, and 90% humidity, we knew we were in for a killer visit. This fact came to mind when during our tour, we recalled that we have always done a "water" excursion when here, meaning boating and swimming on the water somewhere. Like in Phang Nga Bay, Khai Island, and Phi Phi Island, where we navigated the shoreline or went into the mangroves. Today, we never left the city on the Best of Phuket tour we chose with our travel group.

We met very early at 7:15am in the Ocean Bar to find that at least 100 of our fellow passengers had booked this trip. This excursion was also an HAL tour, and due to recent changes in their policy, some of the travel groups, such as ours, are subject to combining the same tours together. In other words, HAL has dictated that our agency has to buy the tour through them. In the past, most of the places visited were the same, but we always broke off and dined in a different, sometimes better, restaurant. Not so today.

When we finally were called to go down to the buses, we found that the HAL group going on the same tour was huge. About 10 buses were being filled, mainly because it took you to the major city sites, and also included lunch for under $100. per person. A bargain so far on this trip.

Passing a nice stretch of white sandy beach, we first headed towards Promthep Cape, a hill with a view of the of the date palm covered hillsides and the sea below. Also up here, is a shrine dedicated to the King of Thailand. A small outdoor temple was surrounded with hundreds of wooden, stone, or carved elephants all dressed with brightly colored flower wreaths. Even at this elevation and time of day (9am), there was barely a breeze stirring. Even the local dogs were laying low on the marble steps of the shrine.

As expected, there were bathroom facilities at the bus parking lot, as well as souvenier stands. Scanning the items quickly, we realized the items were almost identical of those in Vietnam, and we think we have seen enough of that for a long time. Some of the things being sold, for instance, the wire molded motorcycles, were not made by grandpa in his little shop as we have been led to believe. Strange how they all look like the ones we saw in Malaysia, Vietnam, and China.

Time for the next stop, the island's most famous temple, Wat Chalong. This is a complex of many richly decorated temples with gold-leaf covered statues. The ones that were opened to the public had rules for entering. One must remove the shoes, eyeglasses, unless you cannot see well, and have your shoulders and knees covered. For that reason, we did not go inside, but decided the best photo ops were from the outside anyway. Besides, we believe we have been here before, when we did enter some temples. We were given about 1/2 hour to explore on our own or follow our cute Thai guide. Our group has the extra attraction of using the Vox system, which is an ear piece and monitor for hearing our guide talk. It has always worked well, but today with three buses, someone else was on our channel, and we were getting dueling dictation. Best to take it off, and wander around aimlessly. Unfortunately, none of the signage was in English. We did notice that the surrounding gardens were not lush and green. Our guide informed us that this part of the country has been in a drought recently and water is scantily used for landscaping. Wasn't it just a year ago when Bangkok was mercilessly flooded for days? Believe us, some rain would have been more than welcomed today for sure.

Driving through Phuket Town, the main shopping center, the driver took us through narrow streets of buildings built by the Portuguese, a legacy from the tin barons that inhabited here centuries ago. All the small houses have been converted to cafes, bars, shops, and boutiques. What detracted from the ambience, was the mess of wiring from phone lines and electric cables that hung in clumps like crazy bird nests. What a nightmare if something went wrong....they'd never find the source of the problem. They probably would abandon the old, and add new wiring. The whole city looks the same with the old wiring.

The following stop was at Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village. When we booked this tour, we specifically noticed the orchid garden feature, and thought it was worth doing just to see that. Well, the garden was a tiny plot of shaded orchids in pots, like a nursery, without one bloom among them. We were told that due to the dry conditions, they were lucky to have saved the plants, and could not worry about the blooms not happening. However, we did have a royal welcome by the Thai dancers, who pinned tiny orchids on each of our lapels.

We noticed that there were almost a dozen buses in the parking lot. Yep, these were the HAL people, who arrived to enjoy the cultural show about to happen. We were escorted into seating that was tiered up steep cement stairs, with no hand railing, we might add. They must have squeezed at least 400 of us in here. At least there were some fans running to help cool everyone off. We sat with Bill, Leta, and Mel, who was alone this morning because Helen was not feeling well. The high temps had done her in yesterday. In our opinion, today's heat was even worse. The show lasted for about 30 minutes, and was done well. The costuming and dance performances were marvelous. There was one moment that was priceless. That was when one clueless man from the HAL group, kept walking in front of the ground-level stage, taking photos. One pass by was tolerable...maybe his wife was sitting at the other end. No, he went for a second pass by, when one gentleman in the front row jumped up and told him to leave. When he did, everyone clapped. Did he appear to care? We think no.

At the end of the performance, all the actors and dancers stood outside the curtains and bowed to each of us as we left. They definitely made up for the disappointment of the orchid garden that really wasn't there. We all thanked them and gladly re-boarded the cool buses.

We had a long ride, heading back in the direction we came. Mostly because there was a lot of cars and trucks on the road, and there were many traffic signals along the way. Lunch was the next stop at a place called Srivichat Thainnan Restaurant. In order to feed a group this large, a buffet was the only option. Now, on previous tours that we have shared with the HAL group, we have veered off and gone to a smaller venue, and perhaps a served lunch. It's one of the reasons we like to book these tours, because our group is always smaller and can move quicker, and be fed swiftly. Not so today. This restaurant had two strikes against it for intimate dining. First of all, all the seating was under a roofed patio with open-sided balconies. By the time we got inside, most all of the tables were occupied, since the HAL groups had gotten there first. That left seating in a lower dining room where no place settings were ready, nor would they ever be attended. With no overhead fans, but just a small fixed fan, we almost melted into our seats.

Martha, Bob, Judi, and the two of us placed some items on the seats to save them while we went on the hunt for the food. We found the four stations of buffet-style food being scooped up rapidly by the "starving" passengers. These types of situations brings out the worst in folks sometimes. And what are the chances that out of dozens of dishes offered, the ones we preferred were empty? OK, enough complaining. We easily found substitutes when a new batch of chicken wings arrived. They even had spaghetti with tomato sauce. That works when uncertain of the many spicy, hot Thai dishes. We had the choice of soda or beer along with a bottle of water. We needed every drop of it. By the time we got back to our table, we were lucky to have seats. One of our fellow passengers had kindly turned away some folks who were going to remove our belongings in our absence. Not nice. In 20 minutes or so, lunch was over and most of the HAL crowd had departed. At least we had full run of the dessert table, which had an assortment of Thai sweets, fresh fruit, and ice cream. We would find out later on, that a portion of the HAL tours, specifically the elephant ride tour, also dined here, but were escorted to an air-conditioned room, where they ate in comfort. Too bad the timing did not allow us to follow behind them, and also utilize this nice room.

Back to the pier, we stopped at every souvenier stand, finding a couple of small decorated purses to buy. With all the visits we have made to Thailand, we already have the t-shirts, lovely elephants, carvings, and decorative umbrellas in our collection at home.

All aboard time was 3:30pm, and we left shortly thereafter. Not too many people braved the heat to attend the sailaway. Promptly at 4:30pm the band exited back into the cool ship. Soon after, we followed.

We had all done something different today when we checked with our tablemates. Barb had spent the day nearby on a beach with Ellen and Aart and his friend. Carol and Van had gone to Phang Nga Bay and really had a great time, although they were not thrilled with their lunch. Compared to our fiasco, they had the better venue as we remember. Joan decided that it was going to be way too hot to go anywhere, and chose to stay inside the ship all day. She was the only one that was fresh and lively at dinner with enough energy to spend the rest of the evening in the Crows Nest dancing. Good for her.

Mary Ann & Bill

 Phuket, Thailand  from Jeff's blog


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What a great day!  We arrived very early in Phuket and were immediately met with our friend John Ziment who lives in Phuket for most of the year.  We were also joined by Susan Hasson a friend of Johns whom we met on this voyage.  We toured Wat Chalong first before heading up to see the big Buddha on the top of the mountain.  We spent the rest of the day touring the beaches and markets with a special stop at the sea gypsy village….  We finished the day with a wonderful Thai lunch at Karon Beach.  It was such a treat to see our friend John again….  Hope to see him again on another cruise in the near future…..

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