Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday Wanderings... 15 TIPS for a GIRLS ONLY getaway to Phuket, Thailand.

Okay, Thailand was something that I was looking forward to exploring with my boys... as in my two sons and husband, because I had heard so much about the various activities and places that were child friendly and fun to do (other than the sleazy part of Thailand that held absolutely NO interest for me)
And then my sister who stays in Hong Kong, dropped a bomb! A rather nice bomb if I may say so...
She was wanting to celebrate her 40th with a girls only trip to Phuket, Thailand, with her sisters and her bffs.
This coming April. Now the month of April 2017 had a lotta things happening on my front...
A new posting, so pack up the whole house and move,
Sister-in-law's wedding... so going to get hectic... with a lot of travelling,
Had to get the kids admitted to a new school, etc. etc....
So. April. Was. Just. Not. Right.
And I felt dejected and morose and on top of that my husband's paranoia that Thailand would not be safe for a group of hyper-ventilating women girls!!
But somehow, the wedding went off well, kids were sorted, the home packed and moved and there was still time for me to go for a quick getaway (a bit of persuasion and emotional blackmail didn't hurt either)
So off I went, to meet my sister who was flying in with her two best friends from Hong Kong, and one sister who was flying in with her toddler son from Australia, while I was flying in from good old India.
So this Blog Post is all about the various activities that we did, adventures we had and the tips and experiences that I can give YOU to enjoy your Thailand/Phuket trip.
And learn a few lessons from the goof-ups as well!

1- Visa is on arrival, and  be prepared for a long wait at the visa/immigration counter of Bangkok.
If you have a connecting flight to say, Phuket, or Ko Samui, or Chiang Mai, from Bangkok, then make sure that there is enough time between the two flights, because the lines are looooong.
If you are carrying all yr bookings (hotel+connecting flight tickets etc) on your phone, (like I was), then make sure your phone is charged.
Mine just died on me while I snaked my way through the long queue....
Just when there were 7 people left ahead of me, I realised my phone was dead! And there was NO charging station anywhere near the immigration counter....And the immigration guys were asking for hotel booking as well as the return flight ticket!!
All on the phone.
Like we do these days.
I went helter-skelter looking and asking and people either gave me a blank look, or pointed me in some vague direction.
anyways got it charged finally!
Point is, have your phone fully charged or carry a power bank!!!

2- Pay close attention to the Bangkok airport "name" given on the ticket!! I landed in Suwarnabhoomi airport late at night and had a flight to Phuket early morning.
Most locals at the airport gave me a blank look when I showed them my ticket and told me the counter was closed, and will open a couple of hours before the flight.
Just one hour before the flight, the lady at the counter tells me that this flight does not go from this airport but another!! And that airport is an hour away!!
How I managed to reach the next airport with 20 minutes to spare, is only due to the cab driver who literally flew over the flyovers!!

3- Baggage... I booked the best available deal online with regards to the flight to Phuket, little realising that the flight only allows hand baggage! No Check in Baggage!
So I had to pay the airline 900 Baht for an extra check in baggage which by the way cannot go a gram over the stipulated 15kg. Very stern about it!
So there went my hopes of shopping to my heart's content!
So its always better to book yr check-in baggage weight online when booking yr tickets, especially budget airlines.
I paid just 350 Baht online, later, for booking a 20kg luggage for the flight back!

4- Exchange of currency: I didnt have my Rupees exchanged at the Indian airport, but at the Bangkok Airport... bad choice, coz Indian Airport was giving me a better rate. Though less than the rate given on the internet. But even better would be to exchange it, not from the airport but through some exchange agents in India (maybe ask your travel agent) I believe they give competitive rates.
But fret not... My money finished half-way, so even though the hotel did not exchange my rupees, there were a lot of ATMs and exchange booths all through the market and they gave me waaaay better rates than the airport. If you are carrying Dollars like I was, better still!

5- We stayed at Hyatt Place which is just a stone's throw from Phuket's main, beautiful Patong Beach!!
If you are travelling alone, girls only, like we were, then a safe, known hotel is a better bet than any budget hotel where you might not get the amenities and the staff might not be good enough.
Although there are loads of hotels to suit all budgets and needs, and Phuket cannot be more tourist friendly... but one can always be careful when travelling alone...
Look up all reviews online, from Tripadvisor, Expedia etc. before booking your hotel.

6- DONT go looking for amazing shopping here... for amazing shopping, the place is Bangkok not Phuket.
Phuket is a relaxed, all beach and adventure sports place where you do have a big Shopping Mall with all the brands, but you dont want to shop brands, do you?
You want the nice flea market, Thai street shopping, right?
Then head onto the main market area just opposite the Patong beach.

Also there are a lot of night Markets bursting at the seams with eclectic stuff... the link to that is here
If you've done street shopping in Goa, or even the Janpath Market in Delhi, you wont find much that is worth it here.... all the Thai pajamas and little kaftans, tie and die t-shirts etc. are all easily available in India. Loads of fake brands of t-shirts and perfumes etc. are there at throw away prices.
Buy at your own risk! Some are pretty good.
But if you are coming from outside India, then yes, a little, very affordable beachy shopping wouldn't hurt at all!
I picked up a couple of floppy wide-brimmed sun-hats, that I absolutely adore...

....a few funky t-shirts for myself and Muay Thai Boxing t-shirts for my boys.
Loads of magnets as gifts....
then there are a lot of fruit based and shaped like fruits, hand made soaps that make good gifting options for you to take back.
The rates of little magnets and trinkets are waaaay better in the market, while quality wise, you get better ones at the airport.
So in case you missed buying your loved ones anything...there is more than enough choice in terms of hand made soaps, scented candles, magnets and trinkets as well as Thai Spices and condiments to pick up at the Phuket and Bangkok airports.

7- One more thing to check out are the famed Night Markets of Phuket, a few which are held every Saturday and are worth a visit if you are there over the weekend. The stuff is somewhat the same as in the street market opposite the Patong Beach, with a little more variety and design. And do bargain!! Bring the price down at least by half!!
But... reach there early, because though it says "night market" the shutters start coming down by 10pm!!

image via google

8- Oh the Massages.... you HAVE to try the Thai Massages... There are no dearth of Massage Parlours all along the Market place and they will have something that suits your need of the moment.
Thai Massage (full body), foot massage, oil massage, aroma massage and what have you!!
And very affordable, so much so that we had a massage every single night that we stayed there....
and its heaven if you have been on your feet the whole day, shopping and sight seeing.
For men accompanying thier women and not interested? Most parlours have free wifi that you can use to browse the internet while your partner gets pampered.
Or why not have your feet massaged too? after all you have been lugging her bags all day as well!
But make sure that they have AC and are clean. A quick look is enough!
Oh and not to miss are the Fish pedicure parlours as well... loads of fun.

9- Though we were not really interested in the nightlife of Patong, but other than the sleaze (which is very much there, in your face) The Bangla Road is the place to be, if you want to check out the discos and the clubs.... lots of good quality nightclubs and bars are there as well, for people interested in having a good night out. You can check the list out at this link:
Then there were trapeze artists and pole dancers and well as magicians, all along the road that provided us with good entertainment while we took a stroll, wide eyed!

10- What we really wanted to see was the dance programmes and the concerts!
And we were completely entertained by The Simon Cabaret where the performances are by the so called Lady-Boys!! It was fantastic, over the top, colorful and good fun!

FOR KIDS? ummmm.... there were a few bawdy jokes which some might deem inappropriate, but there was nothing overtly inappropriate. Just fabulous costumes and amazing dance sequences.

And you also get to have yourself photographed with the amazingly costumed performers once the show ends... for a fee, of course!!   ;-)   (appr. a 100 Baht each dancer.)
Can you believe that they are all males?? Amazingly graceful and beautifully made up!

Another show we checked out  was the Phuket FantaSea... which is again wholesome family entertainment.... with lots of cultural heritage dances and drama thrown in with the feel of an immersive circus... action happening all around you with elephants and neon coloured trapeze artists and even a tiger!! Though we didn't book it, I believe there is also a ticket that comes with a buffet dinner, because by the time it ends, everyone is generally hungry!
Loads of trinkets and souvenirs to buy there too.

A few other MUST DO's: with some "happy" postcards!

11- We did the Flying Hanuman.... a fantastic Zipling activity that had my adrenaline pumping!!
I am a scaredy cat so it took the presence of friends and my daredevil sister, for me to jump the gun and take the plunge.... and it was so totally worth it!
There are a lot of options for ziplining, and you can pick and choose the one that suits you in terms of timings, money and difficulty levels.

12- We went island hopping and also did snorkelling.... again my sister was the one who took me under her wings and got me to practice the breathing-through-the-nose-bit with the snorkelling equipment at a shallow beach. So that once we were thrown off dived off the boat into the deep, I was snorkelling like a pro!

And I cannot stress enough.... its a magical experience swimming with the colorful fishes! You've got to do it at least once in your life if not more.
If you want to do scuba diving like my sister (in which you go deep-deep into the water, while snorkelling is just floating on the surface) - you need at least a full day, because they really take you out into the ocean faar away....

The Island-hopping Trips where they take you canoeing, snorkelling and visiting many small islands like the Monkey Island and Phi Phi Island, Paradise Island, Bond Island... (you guessed it- there was a scene of a Bond film that was shot there) is either a full day affair or a half day trip.
We took the half day because we wanted to get back and check out the Night Market after that.
Yeah, yeah we have awesome amount of energy where "shopping" is concerned!
The massage at the end of the day, is always there to soothe our aching legs and tired spirit!

So there are various ways where you can book all these activities:
Ask the hotel where you are staying, to arrange them for you,
The booking is usually done at the price given on the brochure. So no extra charge. Pick and drop and a basic buffet is usually part of the package.
And believe me, there is no need to jump the gun and book it with the first brochure you see...
Take your time, browse, and see what timing, day and price suits you best.
There are lots of options.
And you can also ask around the Tourist Agents that are all along the market, so you can compare the rates and the activities!
Of course the scooter rides, banana boat-ride and parasailing etc. is all along the Patong beach. Dont book with the first person that approaches you.... stroll along and compare and bargain... bargain hard. They will come down.

13- we also tried the temporary tattoo.... not too fond of the permanent one...would get bored way too quickly after seeing the same design again and again.
And like I said: I am a scaredy cat!!
The temporary tattoo is rather like black mehendi, and lasts for about 10-14 days. And it looks really real....
And I also brought the black tattoo ink back with us, so that I could make something again if I wanted to!
You can go for the real one if you want.... there are many Tattoo parlours all along the Patong Beach market with amazing designs.

14- Transport:There is a mini-bus service as well as private cabs at the Phuket International Airport to drop you at your destination. We took the mini bus of course, because it was 1/3rd the price of a cab...
But other than that- the best part is the tuk-tuk (similar to the Indian auto rickshaw) that runs all around Patong. The rate is fixed, (300 Baht anywhere in Patong) but it suited us becoz all 5 of us could fit in and it was economical.
Though another person told me that if you come across a decent cab-driver, you can fix up with him for the entire stay, and he will definitely give u a better deal, than hailing a cab every time.

15- Food: Now food was a tricky affair with us!! We were all Muslim girls, so halal was the only way to go... And we desperately wanted to try the authentic street food!
And finding halal street food was turning out to be an unending search though we did try out the many Mid-Eastern restaurants in the main market when we didnt have a choice.
Till we discovered that there was one little stretch near the beach that had topi covered men and hijab wearing women who were selling food in stalls... and they had everything from a yummy mango sticky rice dessert, to sweet chocolate+banana pancakes and satays on sticks...

Mango with Sticky Rice

Yummmm.... we were in foodie heaven.
If you go to the Night Market, the Food stalls there are awesome.
And there were halal options too!
From chicken/meat balls and fish balls on sticks that are either steamed, fried or grilled with a whopping HOT sauce.... (be careful with that sauce) to different kinds of satays and fresh, chilled coconut, fruit juices to weird looking but yummy tasting desserts... we had it all.

via google

Oh and I forgot to mention "fried" Fresh Fruit ice-cream...which is made right in front of you.
with berries or mangoes or coconuts or chocolates... take your pick!
You have to try it.

And of course we tried the various thai curries and stir fried greens and veggies+fish in proper restaurants. But the fun with street food in incomparable!

Couldnt leave Thailand without that, could we?
For the slightly less adventurous, there are a couple of proper Indian Restaurants, Pizza joints, Starbucks, so you really won't go hungry!
So there you have it... I tried to cover as much as I could with this comprehensive list of things to do.... and NOT to do, to make your Thailand (particularly Phuket, Patong) trip fun and easy!
If you have any questions, feel free to drop a line.
Or even just to say "hi"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

July 2017 Desktop Calendar

Been feeling really low on spirits and blue.... and purple.....
Life when you feel is going well alhamdolillah, always has some unpleasant surprises waiting just around the corner.
Just when you feel you know and trust people.... those very same people show a side to them which completely stuns and demoralises you.
Not been wanting to work, just wasn't getting up the energy for it with so many things happening on my personal front.... no happy thoughts and feelings to share with you all through my drawings and sketches....
But hopefully this phase too shall pass, and I will bounce back.
Till then please bear with my radio silence....
and enjoy this blue and purple watercolor desktop calendar.

and here's one for your phone.

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