BY ADITTI AHLUWALIA
I suppose she should have warned me. I had not heard of a Divorce Anniversary before this day. Or that it could be perceived as grounds to request a welcome cake on arrival. Blessed be the hotel and the legendary Thai hospitality who conceded to one such demand from my impish daughter.
This trip was intended to be the first step towards celebrating my several decades on Earth, even though D-day was still a month away. Like most travels for me, this one too had a quest at its Centre. Not the "find myself once again" kind of a quest but perhaps the "find how many massages can I possibly get in a day" types. Monumentally important too as it had been painstakingly planned to its minutest detail by my daughter, right till the "D- Anniversary" bit. But of course this quest was not the ONLY reason that we had chosen Phuket.
Nothing about Thailand was new to either of us so we clearly knew what we were getting into. We understood the heat and the humidity and were ready for the thick downpours. We anticipated the incessant bargaining with the street vendors and looked forward to the familiar comfort of putting our feet up on a deep chair for a deeper massage. Striking out half a dozen similar destinations, we had unanimously zeroed in on this one. The stage was set and there still were experiences lined up for me which couldn't slip my radar now. Phuket wakes you up. To many things.
Phuket has two infinite advantages. Both God given. One is it's breathtaking location which offers panoramic views of the Andaman Sea, from wherever one views it. The other is the emphasis on ensuring that the vacationers leave with memories of unadulterated fun, good food and warm hospitality.
To experience an uninhabited island experience, one only has to look East. Plenty of lovely islands, each accessible by boat of every kind, make for an easy pick. Inclusive of land travel in a private limousine (pick up from hotel/ airport in Phuket) to your chosen resort on the island, it's a three hour journey, priced at 12,000 Baht for two. The ferry option comes at one third of the price, takes twice the time but offers no speed thrills. Holiday Inn Resort, in Phi Phi Island is located in an exclusive beachfront position. Miles and miles of finest white sands lapped by water which seems to change colour from green to a deep indigo depending on the mood of the skies above.
Adding to its lustre is a cluster of villas, some visually linking the rooms and the seascape beyond, all the way to the breaking line of the surf and the azure skies. What a vision to open your eyes to. Breakfast is wide ranging as is the rest of the menu, predictably genuflecting to matters maritime! However, we are keen to embrace the salty tang so we opt to pig out at the few standalone shacks with their tables set on the sand. Each night we leave, wined and dined, with enough sea wind in our hair, blown away by the visual impact of an intense alfresco experience.
If you have ever wished to soar effortlessly like a bird and touch the skies, the islands fulfil this fantasy too. Try viewing this expanse, tied to a parasail, which scoops you up to 200 feet and above in a heartbeat while a speedboat tows you all at Godspeed.
My pleas and yelps of "I have changed my mind" get swallowed by the merciless roar of the waves and the flailing hands are possibly perceived as a sign of gay abandon. It's paralyzing fear, albeit quite short lived. I am in good hands. With my turn over, I sit on the sand, watching my petite daughter sway like a leaf against a stunning backdrop. Its clearly visible now. In this moment I see how we ARE and WILL remain tiny and insignificant in the larger scheme of things. A sensational learning carved out of a thrilling experience. One can find several operators on the beach for all adventures activities and water sports. Parasailing in particular starts at 2500 baht per person. At Sunset, romance seems to come alive for everyone over pre Prandial cocktails. But my searching gaze takes my eyes past the celebrations, soaking in the descending blackness.
The journey back to Patong is rather rough as if the choppy seas are in sync with the agitated energy of my soul. My daughter's banquet of commentary is a reminder that there are promises to keep, a long way to go before eternal sleep. As I bid adieu, I leave in body but leave a part behind.
The Millennium Resort in Patong is chosen carefully with two prime considerations. First, it opens up right in the heart of Jungceylon, a lively and well stocked/equipped shopping mall in Patong which in turn saves the two of us a zillion sweat and rain soaked trips to our favourite stores and spas. Secondly, it's steps away from Bangla Walking Street. A street well known for its delicious array of street food, happy pubs and spunky shopkeepers hawking everything from clothes to shoes to bags to eyewear and watches. All copies. First copies, as they say.
The ruthless ricocheting of blaring music, the awkward attempts to keep one's belongings safe amidst the bedlam, the over enthusiastic street performers and the gorgeous Lady Boys (they charge 100 baht+ for a pic with/of them). The street is rigged for ruckus! Ready for an army touting a unique menu card in your face, hard selling an adult experience that you may or may not be ready for? Or saying a yes to being seated at a communal table of sorts with total strangers? Or leering at the extravagantly dolled up beauties in a cabaret show? This isn't even peak season. The staff at the Millennium Resort is unfailingly courteous, the grace beautifully maintained for the entire length of our stay. Caring enough to serve us our "store bought" passion fruit in their restaurant. No unnecessary snobbery, serving with a smile that looks and feels original.
The foodscape in Thailand has undergone enormous gentrification and between the two of us so much food is put away in a week, it's more outrageous than grand. So amidst all the sharing how does one remember all that was tried, treasured or disrelished on these damp shores. Thai Green/ Red and Massaman Curry continue to be the fiery arriviste that it always was. Chilled smoothies and fresh coconut ice cream (100 baht for two scoops) seem fair game 24/7 and many savoury nibbles are needed as a mid day stimulant. A fiery lunch with all its trimmings still cannot suppress the need for a lazy walk up to The Coffee Club, an Aussie born, Thai owned chain. From French Toast to pancakes and smashed avocado, the place also serves some extraordinary Mac and Cheese fritters, a fiery Thai Chicken Curry with cashews and a Coconut frappe that's insanely good.
The massages are unable to reverse the damage of The gluttony. Patong caters to the World's growing affluence, yes, but more to those with an appetite for unadulterated fun amidst this chaos called life. We knew that this travel will turn out to be a fortunate stroke of serendipity, with our days filled with equal measures of drama and joy. Because that's just so us. So as I recount priceless moments, caressed by a memory of a week well spent, it's easy to say that Phuket holds the power to infuse life into the lifeless. Get your dose now!
Destination Rating :****
(Aditti Ahluwalia is a blogger. The views expressed are personal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)