By Fareeha Qayoom
hailand is one of the most visited countries in Asia, 11 million visitors annually, because of its accessibility and extensive tourism infrastructure. In Thailand, you’ll find fabulous architecture, beautiful beaches and islands, inexpensive shopping, fantastic food, exotic ancient ruins — and all the amenities as well. The balance between comfort and excitement is near perfect. Unfortunately, the tsunamis that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004 dealt a serious blow to Thailand’s tourism infrastructure: The widespread damage to coastal areas in southern Thailand took the lives of more tourists than Thais. The hardest-hit regions were Phang-Nga, Phuket and Krabi provinces, including popular resort areas in Phuket and Phi Phi Island. In addition, many small fishing villages were completely destroyed.
Sadia had a great time in Phuket, luckily before the disaster struck. Speaking about her holiday brings a reminiscent smile to her face. “The first thing that hits you over the plane is the beautiful blue ocean. And the next thing that you see is the extreme cleanliness. It’s all very proper and very organized.”
“There is no direct flight to Phuket. There is three to four hours layover at the Bangkok airport. You need to change terminals and pick up your flight for Phuket from the Bangkok airport. The plane journey is about four to five hours give or take. I don’t recommend shopping at the Bangkok airport though, it’s quite expensive.”
Sadia and her husband did some forward planning right at the start of their travel. “We looked for the hotel over the internet, read up on Thailand before embarking on our journey. We also took a bunch of maps with us which proved useful. We had hired a travel agent who made all the flight arrangements for us. We stayed at the Holiday Inn. This proved to be a good choice as it’s quite central and suited our needs perfectly. We wanted to be in the middle of the city.”
“We hired a motor bike and went exploring Phuket and the neighboring islands on our own,” says Sadia. “It was fun. Hiring a motorbike proved to be another good decision as we were mobile and ended up saving a lot of money on transportation.”
Sadia and her husband spent most of their stay at Patong. “Everything’s there. Ocean, sea sports, restaurants, clubs, bars…we ended up spending most of our holiday at Patong. It was very crowded. It was also fun and relaxing. We also explored Kata beach, Krabi and Phi Phi Island. We used to take off right after breakfast and spent most of the day on the road. We took a tour of the Phi Phi Island before it was destroyed by the Tsunami. We went snorkeling. It was interesting but I was very scared. My husband had a good time. We were planning to do a bit of parasailing but the timings were a bit of a clash so we didn’t do it in the end.”
Sadia and her husband also spent their time exploring Andaman Beach on Phuket. “It was so depressing. It’s very big, very beautiful and very deserted. It looked abandoned – I didn’t see a single soul over there. All the major five start hotels are there including the Banyan tree hotel resort. The beach had white sands though.”
The highlight of Sadia’s holiday was the massage. “Their massage is out of this world. It’s very relaxing.
It was so good that I spaced out for a bit.”
Sadia loved the buffet breakfast at the Holiday Inn. “The hotel had the most amazing buffet breakfast on offer. There were so many choices.”
Sadia not only loved the food at breakfast, she was equally impressed with lunch and dinner cuisines. “We loved the food. The portions were pretty big but the food was not at all heavy. Eating all that food doesn’t make you sick. My husband tried most of the sea food dishes on offer. He had crabs, shrimps, and Sea food platter, in fact he tried everything. I had Thai curries and rice mostly. The atmosphere in most restaurants and road side food bars is good. The restaurants don’t stay open past midnight – however, there are many road side café’s and eating places. The food is equally good over there and they stay open till the early hours of the morning.”
Speaking of the nightlife at Phuket, Sadia says, “It was an eye opener for me. We explored a bit of the city at night. There are street pubs, Go Go bars, disco’s and clubs. I saw a lot of weird stuff. For example, I had never seen such a huge gathering of transvestites at a single place before! I had a photo taken with one guy who looked so like a woman that you couldn’t tell he was not. I didn’t see very young women over there despite the popular rumor. We even went to a strip club to see what the hype was all about. I was totally disgusted. I didn’t like the place at all.”
Shopping is substandard in Phuket and Bangkok according to Sadia even in the high end stores. “I only bought local crafts, carvings and typical tourist souvenirs. Shopping in Bangkok was very expensive. High-end designer labels are more expensive than Dubai, even London. Off the rack, didn’t see any nice materials. Shopping in USA and UK is more fun since you find good stuff in moderate price points too. Size limitation is one problem. Language barrier is another. I had a bit of row on the last day of my visit with one of the shop keepers. He forcibly tried to take my old bracelet from me that I was trying to match up with a necklace from his shop. I guess he thought I had stolen it or something. We had a big scene. I totally lost my cool and ended up calling him all kinds of names in Urdu at the top of my voice. My husband stepped in and saved the day.”
Sadia thinks holiday in Thailand is easy on the purse and gives you a chance to truly relax and have a great time. “How many times can you go to expensive places for a holiday? We spent four nights and five days in Phuket – it cost us only hundred and fifteen thousand for the tickets and the hotel stay. The food, transport, entertainment and shopping expenses were extra. Holiday in Thailand is economical, you get to visit a foreign place, do a bit of sightseeing, relax on one of the most beautiful white sanded beaches, laze around in your deck chair, take a stroll along the seashore, read a book. If you feel a quick energy burst, you can explore the ocean, go parasailing, or hire a boat and go fishing and snorkeling around the coast. If that sounds too energetic, you can have a pedicure or a massage under the shade of the tree, or just relax and sip your fresh coconut… what else do you need?” ■