Kata, Phuket Town
My first stay in Thailand was at a small beach in Phuket called Kata. The guesthouse staff and owner were kind, helpful, and gracious. They helped me book some fun tours without getting ripped off, and cooked some amazing meals. The guesthouse was also located just a 5 minute walk from a gorgeous beach surrounded by coconut palms and turquoise waves lapping at the sand. There is where I first discovered the banana chocolate pancake made by street stalls/vendors. The pancake is a thin layer of dough that is quickly fried in a little oil, then it's filled with delicious local bananas and drizzled with chocolate. Oh. So. Good.
Kata is also the place where I went to my first local market for fruit and whatever else I could find. As with many local markets around the world there is always something strange, something stinky, and something delicious. Strange would be the small fish and frogs kept in little plastic bags that locals examined and purchased. Something stinky would be the stench of dried fish that the Thais are so fond of, and something I would be forced smell regularly over the next 2 1/2 months. Something delicious is the fresh raw cashew nuts and mango. Mango here is unlike any mango I have ever had. The flesh is a yellow-green, firm, and the meat of the mango is not slippery and super sweet like the ones in the Americas.
My second stay was in Phuket at the British International School, a boarding school for kids during the school year, summer camp when school is out, and home to International House CELTA for one month each year. I participated in an English language certification program called CELTA, a syndicate certification through the University of Cambridge. I think there was a total of 16 people in the certification course all from 10 different countries. That in itself was interesting for so many obvious reasons. The program was quite demanding and required work 6 days a week and up to 16-17 hours a day of study, planning, and assessment of students. The environment at BIS was sterile, but my co-CELTA partners helped the days go quickly by sharing work, sharing jokes, and a few beers at a mini mart, which we called the 'beer garden.' The beer garden was a small garden attached to the shop with a few tables, plants, and a "water feature" that probably provided running water for family that resided behind the shop. Either way, it became the place to escape, vent, laugh, and of course drink beer. Overall the CELTA experience was great and I really enjoyed teaching the Thai people. It gave me a peak at their culture and it also gave the students a chance to share their culture with us.
After ceremony for the students and CELTA grads, we had a brief celebration that was held at the beer garden. The next day we were sent on our way with most returning to their countries and some staying abroad.
I spent a few days in Phuket Town while I tried to sort out where I would go next, after all I had 6 months to fill at that time. I thought Phuket Town was charming, authentic (as being a small working city of the Thai), and it has an interesting history, which is evident by the various colonial and Asian architecture in Phuket Town. There is an interesting colonial style clock tower that was built during WWI but the clock face never made it because the boat that it was shipped on had sunk. Phuket Town finally received its clock face in 1976.
Phuket Town does not have the hard-sell atmosphere because it's not a tourist destination. Most people are passing through and stay one night before departing on the portion of their journey. Taxi drivers and motorbike taxi drivers (think scooters with a driver) are a hard-sell. My friend and I were approached every few minutes with "where you go?" and "50 baht take you anywhere." But to return will run you 200-300 baht (30 baht is about $1 USD).
We attempted to walk to a market and after spending about 45 minutes lost we finally asked for help at a beauty shop (one with a/c). The ladies were kind and went to get someone who spoke English. We left the shop and made a heat and humidity induced attempt to follow her directions, which by the way is not the Thais' strong suit. We ended going back to the shop for better directions (and a dip in the a/c) and she insisted on driving us to the market, which she did. The market ended being one of those tourist filled markets with junk products and knock-offs produced from what smells like petroleum and who knows what else. After about 10 minutes we had had enough. To far to walk back so we opted for a tourist-price gouging taxi. Hearing 200-300 baht sounds expensive especially when you're used hearing $10 or $20 dollars even though it's significantly less. We then opted to hop on a motorbike taxi. All three of us squeezed onto the scooter and rode off for the fine price of 50 baht. My friend said to me that you know there is something wrong with you when you'll bargain over $1.00 and put your life in the hands of scooter taxi. It's all part of the adventure right?
Next up: island hopping in Thailand.