Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Day 377 - Patong (Phuket)

Leaving Chumphon I was on my own again. I got directions out of town from the people at the guest house, then decided to ignore them as they seemed to heading the wrong way, I find it much better to just go by instinct and the compass. Then I saw signposts pointing in the direction I was going to a beach and the port, a bit odd as I was heading in land and across the peninsula. Then I realised I had my east and west mixed up, something I do even more than left and right, so I did a U-turn and followed the instructions the guest house had given me, they were spot on. Sod my instincts! Once on the right route things went really well, I felt good and strong all day and it was a breeze. I had expected to climb through mountains, but it was a flat twisty road through the hills, much easier than expected. It probably also helped as I was back on my own again and could ride at my own pace, it is so difficult at somebody elses pace, whether they are faster or slower. Roadkill here consists mainly of snakes, all different flavours. I had seen a few live one too, some I have had to swerve to avoid. I am not sure if I would kill them if I went over them or if it would just make them angry. Later in the day I passed a signpost that said "Union of Myanmar 100m", so two months after leaving the place I am no more than a stones throw from that God foresaken land and regime, definately not the time for a wrong turning! And anyway, in whose eyes is it a Union? Only the military rulers I would guess. In Ranong I decided that the hotels would be near the port, they weren't, but the port was 5km the other side of town, so more wasted time and effort, though at least I got a glimpse of the sea, the surrounding islands looking really nice.

The next day I felt as bad as I did good the previous day, if that makes sense. I stopped for food, more rice, but I still lacked energy, so I stopped again and decided to throw as much sugar at the problem as I could, that did the trick and normal service was resumed. Looking at the map I decided to stop at the only place that was really close to the beach, about 3km off the main road. There was a lovely beach there, about 4km long and not a soul in sight. There were lots of signs about, all tsunami related, highlighting the fact that it was a danger zone and lots of sign to evacualtion points. From here on for the rest of the coast down to Phuket I always knew when I was near the sea as there would be evacuation signs. Nature and man have a remarkable ability to recover through and other than the signs there is no indication as to what happened here 4 years ago. Anyway, I decided to stop the night on the beach, but went back to the village to pick up some food. Whilst there I called in at the tsunami museum. I didn't really see or learn anything I didn't already know from the extensive coverage at the time, though I saw one picture of locals running away from the wave as it hit the land and one western person apparently casually walking towards it. I couldn't help but wonder if that man is still alive. Whilst there I was told they had a guest house, so enquired at the price. It was over my price range, but the people were so friendly and helpful that once they reduced it a little I decided to stay. The museum is in a community education centre, funded by the Americans to help the recovery from the disaster, and a lot of very good work is being done there. They had built the guest house, a wooden structure on stilts, just 3 months ago so that visitor to the centre had somewhere to stay. Officially it wasn't open yet, so I was the first person to stay there, which would explain why they were taking so many photos of me whilst I looked around it, and I thought they were taking photos for my good looks! Today also saw a dramatic change in people. Suddenly there were roadside signs to mosques, and the women were all wearing long skirts and veils, I was now in an area that is 90% muslim. Even some of the men had long beards, beards being a very rare sight in Asia.

The following evening I hit package tourist land, still 100km short of Phuket, but there were now pricey hotels and restaurants, no street food vendors and prices had pretty much doubled for everything. Then I had a pretty easy final run into Phuket, but from about halfway down the island it became hilly, very hilly. I now belted down hills and really had to work hard going up short steep twisting hills, sweat pouring off me, progress was now really slow. At last I could see the beach of Patong in the distance and soon enough I was heading down the main street, one block back from the sea front, a mass of signs, hotels everywhere, where do I start? It took me a while to find a suitable place, most were too expensive, or too grotty if in my price range. One place a little over my price bracket showed me into a very dark room, but as I walked further in I was surprised to see a window, a very large one at that. I pulled back the curtain and lurking behind was a balcony, so I went out onto it. It was still dark, a bit odd as it was still only 2pm. From the balcony I could touch the build next door, no thanks, not for me. But my search paid off as I found a big clean room with an enormous bed, fridge, TV and balcony that overlooks the town and the hills beyond, oh, and one very small patch of sea. I went for a walk on the beach (1st photo, it obviously Patong isn't it?), hardly anybody was there, but enough to keep those running the parasailing in business. Walking around I once again felt very out of place as I didn't have a tattoo. Not a problem as there are no end of tattoo places, though I drew the line at getting my body pierced. It's great having a fridge for a change, it gives me the chance to have little things that I have missed for so long, like bread and butter as there are no end of 7/11 Supermarkets here. But I was soon left looking at the empty wrapper of a loaf of bread, where had it gone because not even I could eat a loaf as quick as that. I have given it alot of thought and the only answer I can come up with is that it evaporated, it's still about 30-35 degress out here. I will buy another load, but next time I will eat it really fast to see if that makes any difference. A walk in the evening was an eye opener. Every few yard is a massage place and price lists are thrust in front of you, most are exactly the same, even the way they have been printed. I asked one girl what a Russian massage was and she demonstated by gently caressing my arm, but gentleness apparently comes at a price, 50% more than a Thai massage. There are dozens of bars, enormous ones at that, they have a roof for shelter but no walls and they stretch way back from the road. Girls are used to bring in the punters, though there are very few being the low season. There are girls dancing on tables, girls in fancy costumes, though judging by their voices they are probably men, and scantilly clad girls sit in the smaller bars to entice the men in. Not my scene really, I returned to watch Sharipova getting knocked out of the French Open.

I spent a rest day touring around the southern part of Phuket island. The west side is really nice. I passed through the resorts of Karon and Kata beaches, though hardly anybody was either in the towns or on the beaches, probably due to the imminent rain. I took shelter under a shop front as it tipped down and got talking to a young man from one of the shops. He was facinated to hear that I had come through Burma, then told me that he was Burmese and had left 5 years ago and didn't want to go back other than to see his parents. Once the rain stopped I headed off, the road climbed sharply but thankfully I turned inland to the left. Shit! It was far steeper and went of for 2km, sweat was once again pouring off, though it was far easier than when carring all the baggage, but the views from the top were worth it. The southern most tip of the island is supposed to be really nice. It was ok, but not worth the trip alone. I made way north along the east side of the island, vastly different to the west, flat, with a dual carriageway to Phuket town and built up all the way, nothing nice about it. There was one last steep climb back across the hills to Patong. I only rode 52k, about half of it flat, yet I had still done more climbing in a day than I have for weeks.

With such a hard rest day and getting back late, I decided to have a proper rest day today. I have got up and that's about it. Had a quick walk on the beach again, but it looked like it might rain to I made my way to an internet cafe instead. Patong is not really the place for me, but at this time of year it is the only place that has a bit of life. Overall though, Phuket is much nicer than I expected and having seen this island I can only assume that some of the other must be really stunning, though I am not going to be able to see them.

No comments: