30th December 1997 till 4th January 1998
This was a spur of the moment trip to get away from the rat race after a rather unexciting Christmas spent mostly at work. Allan Jupp (of Maclehose fame) came up from Singapore on his south-east Asian buying spree and we met up for a few days of fun in sunny Thailand.
Here's a few fishy pictures that I managed on my first couple of dives with the underwater camera gear....
The last five days have been a blur, but I had a great time. When I arrived and finally got transport to the area I was staying Allan met me and took me to the flat rented by a kiwi friend of his. This guy (Adam) and some of his friends are bell divers, they dive on oil rigs and stuff way down at over 400 feet. They live in compression chambers for 30 days at a time - quite a different lifestyle. Anway it was Adam's birthday and he was hosting a small BBQ for some friends so we met a bunch of people there and all got along really well. The steak however was unbelievable. It had come from a local market and must have been buffalo or something because it was like tanned leather - almost completely unedible. The chicken was good though.
After dinner we went out to a few of the local bars and stuff and saw some pretty amazing things. There is this one strip of bars, about 40 small establishments all along both sides of a street with people coming and going all the time. There are young people with snakes and sea eagles trying to sell photos with the tourists with a snake around them or a sea eagle on their shoulder. Then there are the go-go girls. These girls work in bars as stage dancers and can be bought out for a fee. Then there are the billy boys. These are the guys who didn't like being blokes so went and got the whole operation done. Sometimes it's really hard to tell, sometimes not. But they do this stage show in the middle of the street and wear some of the most outrages clothes I've ever seen (at least when they have them on). We got home at a reasonable 5:30am that night....
Next day Allan and I organised our diving, I rented this really really fast 250cc motorcross bike (which nearly killed me on a number of occassions), went to the beach and generally plodded around looking at touristy things. In the afternoon we went to this place called the Hideaway Sauna and Massage. This is a kosher Thai massage place and was really good. It's set in a jungle on the side of a hill, sort of built into the vegetation. They have a herbal sauna which you hang out in for a while (slipping outside for a cold beer when things get too hot) and after a while you go down to these big open deck areas for a full body massage. Very relaxing and a good way to both wrap up a hard day's tourist activities and prepare for a big night out (remeber this was New Year's eve). The whole sauna/massage/beer thing is less than A$20 so we went there three times over our holiday.
That night we went into town for dinner and stopped by one of the stalls to buy a big bunch of fireworks. They're everywhere and it's a crazy time for it as well. We got in a little open taxi thing to go to a disco place called Safari (right next to the elephant tour area) and had a great time lighting little sparkling/banging/spinning fireworks and dropping them out the back to the terror of the following traffic (mostly motorbikes) and tourists standing on the side of the road.
New Year came and went and about 2:30am we went back into Patong Beach where we found the whole place blacked out. A fireworks stand had caught fire and created all sorts of problems. The next door fireworks stand then also lit up and eventually the hotel behind caught fire as well and a couple of rooms were destroyed. The bar strip where we had been the night before was lit with candles and it was a really cool place to be. With the power off all the stereo equipment was down so you could have a beer and a chat in peace. About 3:30am the power came back on to a rousing cheer from about 3000 people and we hung around for another hour or so before crashing out.
New Year's day was spent (at least the afternoon) riding around on these motorbikes to visit a couple of beaches and a dirt road in the middle of the rainforest. After that bone shaking adrenlin rush we just had to head back to the Hideaway for another sauna and massage.... ahhh. I had an early one that night (about 2am) as we had to get up early for diving the next day.
The first day's diving was mixed. Our first dive was fairly horrible. Poor visibilty and a strong current. The next was great. It was on a big sunken ferry called the King Cruiser. The wreck is about 8 months old, and you could swim right through it. Hopefully some of my underwater pictures will come out. That night it was back to the sauna and then a few beers at the house. The other guys went out for a couple of hours but I stayed in and played cards with a couple of friends I'd met. Even so it was still 3:30am before we got to bed.
Second day's diving was easy. Most shallow water (about 15m) and I had the luxury of a lycra suit I'd bought. It was warm enough to not really need a wetsuit and the extra mobility made the dive much more enjoyable. We were a bit late getting back from the diving and missed the sauna that night (damn).
It was also our last night in Phuket, so we went to a really good buffet BBQ place and had a big feed. Then it was on to Safari for a few more drinks before heading back into Patong Beach to our "regular" called the Dollar Bar. Unfortunately things turned bad about 4am as the local mafia made an example out of some of the girls managing and working in our bar. We think the crooks wanted to sell the bar strip to a big buyer and these girls didn't want to sell. A fight started and the brutality these guys showed to the Thai girls (who in our opinion hadn't done anything to deserve it) was shocking. I know one poor girl who will be scarred for life as a result when she was hit in the head by a heavy glass ashtray from very close range. Getting involved was out of the question, and we were warned by our kiwi friends (who were with us the whole time) that it was not always a safe place. In the end we just all stuck together and waited till the sun came up. A couple of hours later Allan and I got a car to the airport and flew out, but I know the trouble will conitune for those girls and their brothers (it was run by a family) until they are eventually pushed out of the business. A real shame in an otherwise happy place.
Well, that was Phuket. A place where anything can and does happen. Our holiday was an action packed barrell of fun and laughs most of the time with just one brutal local problem putting a dampener on things at the end. On the Sunday morning we flew out of Phuket we went to Bangkok for the day and visited a huge weekend market where you could buy anything from a crossbow to a live squirrel on a string. I made it back into HK by 1am Monday morning, and now here I am at work....