Life and Death

Can you believe it there are still more weddings and funerals. Today they are back, however, and with a new sense of urgency. The contractor realizes that he has to get this phaze of the work done before everybody goes home to plant rice. The guys in the next phase of work are not farmers and lay floors all year long.

We actually met the main guy the other day when he came by to check out his next job with us. He and his wife work together and from what I have seen do very good work. Well, that kind of wraps up the work situation for today but did notice something when re-reading what I have written to-date.

I have made several very brief references to death and funerals. Actually death is a very big part of life when you live up here. Maybe it is just a peculiarity of my family but I was never exposed to death and funerals. I was of course told that my grandparents died but that was about it. Since living in Thailand and especially since getting married I have become much more familiar with death and how it fits into life.

Over the last three years my wife has lost all four grandparents, an aunt and her father. Several other relatives have been in the hospital from time to time. In particular the experience of my wife living in her father’s hospital room for his last days and caring for his needs was eye-opening and inspirational. One couldn’t exactly call him a “good” man as he had made her life very difficult over the years. Yet there she was cleaning up his messes and caring for him even when he didn’t know she was there.

In the final stages of liver cancer, doped up on morphine, he was not very aware of his surroundings, just his pain. As gruesome has the whole process seems, it does make a lot of sense. It provides ample time to adjust to the inevitable and for a sense of closure.

After caring for him and watching him suffer, he basically died in her arms around midnight and with in a couple of hours the family had taken his body home to bathe and prepare. He was kept in a chill-box for three days while all the relatives came to participate in the various rituals and ceremonies. All culminating with the cremation followed 100 days later with a merit making ceremony.

What looks like pure chaos is actually a well practiced dance. Perhaps that is due to the remarkable frequency of these events. There are so many people around and so many detailed preparations and so much noise that one has little or no time to sit around feeling sorry for oneself and it helps keep the family connections close, while easing the pain of loss.

Being around all this sparked a desire to spend more time with and gain a greater understanding of my own family. I guess I had always known what people in my family did, but didn’t know “why” they did it, so didn’t have a real understanding of who they were.

You see, understanding someone’s motivation is a major part of my knowing who someone is. Unfortunately, perhaps, I am talking about my parents, too. I don’t place a lot of value on the “resume” as it were. That just tells me what your job is or what you do for money. That is your professional life not your personal or family life. It doesn’t tell me who you are.

Don’t know for sure how much I was motivated by guilt, love or curiosity but I spent a lot of time with my parents over the last few years and still stay in daily contact over the phone. That is the best I can do from the North of Thailand. Perhaps I had some vision of sitting with them and gaining some insights into life or relationships during long meandering and philosophical discussions. You can guess how far I got with that. In the end I did get what I was looking for, just not the way I had hoped to get it.

As we age there is a thinning of the veneers that cloak what lies beneath. This allows for glimpses of those core emotions that sometimes drive us forward and sometimes hold us back. Anyway I now have a greater understanding of my family, however distant, and myself.

I have often asked myself how much of an effect living in Thailand has had on me. Am I who I am because of living here, for so long, or am I living here because of who I am? Still working on that one...

Really, not in the mood...

Haven’t been able to get interested in writing lately. The heat has been debilitating for one thing and of course nothing has been happening with the house, either.  Songkran came and went but still no workers. There were still more weddings and funerals to go to after the holiday but now things are finally up and running again.

We actually enjoyed our little break in Bangkok and it helped to put the project into perspective. Got to see friends visiting from Hawaii and spend time roaming the shopping malls, going to restaurants and working out at the health club. Except for the heat it feels good to be back in the village again, though.

There were a lot of summer storms while we were gone so the smoke is pretty much gone except for some last minute burning going on right now. It is really too wet to burn much so there is even more smoke coming off the small fires started every evening. Visibility is better however and things are greener so that is a plus. Got to look on the bright side, I guess.

While we were in Bangkok the rest of the family was all up here roaming around the construction site and I’m sure enjoyed talking about it and us. Well if it makes them happy, and we don’t have to be around to listen to it, then I guess it’s all good. We find things from time to time that aren’t quite right or don’t correspond to the blueprints and need to be corrected or changed but we expected that. After all, isn’t that why we are here supervising things to begin with? Not good to be too anal about stuff. Especially here, where the slightest show of emotion can be extremely counter-productive.

Changing the subject, we have a new puppy! The wife’s sister and boyfriend brought us a yellow lab mix all the way from Bangkok. We were a little worried about the resident dogs having him for dinner. He is a little charmer however and after a brief adjustment period has brought out the pack instinct and the parenting hormones in the other dogs.

We have two of the typical half-wild Thai dogs plus an aunt’s dog has decided he doesn’t want to go home and has adopted our family. The three of them act as living chew-toys for the puppy and are remarkably patient. It saves us a lot of work trying to were him down and burn up that excess energy that all puppies have. In fact they do such a good job that he seems to have only two speeds, full on GO and full STOP. 

At two months old he doesn’t make a mess at night and waits until morning to be let out. Most of the time he sits on command and doesn’t make much noise. Just yesterday we took him over to the site and pond. True to breed he headed straight for the water when he got hot. First drinking, then laying in it and finally swimming around, it was a joy to watch.

Since there are so many different packs of dogs around here I keep him on a leash for now when we go outside of the yard. It will be interesting to see who wins in the battle, for control of the puppy, between me, the other dogs and the rest of the family. As you know the locals don’t have much of a reputation as dog lovers so my efforts to train and care for our dogs is seen as another of those eccentric Farang traits.

I am starting to see an awareness in other people who come to our house, that our dogs are different. They look health and are friendly and unafraid of people. They seem surprised at the level of affection shown between us and our dogs. Could be wishful thinking but wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a positive influence on the relationship between humans and animals in our little village? I know it could happen, because my wife was not previously a dog person and was actually afraid because she was bitten when she was younger. Looking at her now, though, you would never guess the way she used to feel.

Kan Eang 2 Seafood

Phuket is well known for seafood. Tourists love it. Most would not be eating lobster and king prawns at home, but on holiday you can do whatever you want. There are loads of restaurants selling seafood on all the beaches. Everywhere you turn is an ice filled display of fresh fish, crab, prawns, lobster...

As is evident from this blog, we tend to avoid the main tourist beaches when we go out, We prefer to explore the island and try restaurants that are more local. There are loads of seafood places around the coast where you don't see many tourists. Some of our favourites are Bang Pae Seafood, Laem Hin Seafood - and there are many more.

Kan Eang 2 Seafood is found on Chalong Bay, just a few hundred meters from Chalong Jetty, and was right next door to Danang Seafood. Quite why we have never eaten here before is a mystery, I guess because we like Danang and were always happy to eat there. Kan Eang always looks busier and sometimes has buses full of people arriving. Is this because the food is better or because they have better marketing than their neighbour? I think the buses put us off before, since Danang is normally pretty quiet and the food has always been good there - and as I get older I become less adventurous! Note - Danang closed down in about 2009. Kan Eang 2 is still there. There is also a newer, fancier place called Kan Eang @ Pier, right next to Chalong Pier.

Kan Eang 2 Seafood

Well, we ate at Kan Eang Seafood on 14th April and couldn't have picked a much busier day, since the 14th is during the Songkran holidays! The place was full, all tables were occupied or reserved, but they found us a spare table nonetheless. Service was good, though a bit slow - can't blame them and we will try again on a quieter day. The Yam Kai Pla (fish roe salad) was very good.

Kan Eang 2 Seafood

Like most of the seafood restaurants, you sit right by the water. The view over Chalong Bay is great. We like this kind of restaurant. It's quiet, they don't play music, you can't hear any cars, the food is a decent price. If you are staying on one of the main beaches, try to get out for a nice evening meal away from the hustle and bustle. Chalong is only 10 minutes from Kata, or about 20-25 minutes from Patong.

Kan Eang 2 Seafood - view of boats in Chalong Bay

Thai funeral (wake) in our street

You'll often see funerals in Thailand. It's not like England where people hide away their grief, have a quick service, maybe a little party at someone's house after the, here a funeral is a week long wake, with half the street taken up outside the family house. There was a wake in our village last month, and my mother took a walk down the street one day while I was at work. These are her words and photos.

I am sure that each family arranges things differently in Thailand, just as we do here in England; but there are are some constants that are part of every funeral. In Thailand a funeral lasts for days and anybody who ever knew the deceased is there at some point. Sometimes you wonder how they could have known so many people! The local monks supply a long awning and tables and chairs and large cooking pots so that every guest who comes receives food and drink. On the day I walked by, this funeral had already been going on for over a week.

Of course, being English, I was a little sensitive and felt I should not intrude, but I did manage to get a picture of the monks praying and chanting.

The street outside with monks praying

You can see many of the offerings that had been left by family and friends who had been there during the week. You can see also how far down the street the awning stretches, shading the chairs and tables which are outside the gates of many neighbours' houses.

On my way back one of the family saw me with the camera and invited me to come much closer. By this time the monks had finished the morning's prayers and were seated at tables.

Family members serve food to the Monks

Family members served lunch to the monks. The monks are forbidden to talk whilst they are eating.

Monk praying at the funeral

Soon I was joined by a young woman who could speak English and she was very eager to tell me about her father who had died. I found myself sitting amongst the monks with a glass of iced tea and some water melon. I had declined to eat a meal for I explained that Jamie's wife would have food ready for me at home, but it would have been unforgiveable to refuse food and drink completely. I sat with the woman and we talked of life and death and our different approaches, finally coming to the conclusion that whatever the faith, people want the same things from life and have similar hopes for after death. She then took me to see her father.

Again, I felt I should not be poking my camera into other peoples' grief and at first stopped by the swathes of black and white ribbon and flowers which were in front of the coffin.

Outside the house

But no, I was beckoned on. She wanted me to see him and share in their occasion. The coffin was inside a downstairs room - it could be seen from the road through the open doors and curtains. It was adorned with many flowers and lights and candles.

Coffin on display inside the house

And there was a big colour photograph of the woman's father. I imagine the family had chosen a favourite photo, rather than a recent one. He was in his 80s when he died and had been gravely ill for many months.

>Photo of the deceased

This was the last day of the funeral "wake" at home. The next day was to be the burning of the coffin at the temple. That would be the 10th day of the funeral.

Jamie's wife explained to me that at funerals she had been to the coffin had been burned on a large funeral pyre. This leads to the rather gruesome sight of the body being revealed as the wood of the coffin burned and the mourners could actually see the burning of the body.

This is how it is done in Thailand, and I have a degree of envy for their ways, which contrast with our own in England these days. Death is such a difficult subject in our modern world and grieving and mourning is supposed to be a very private affair. People don't like to be seen to make a fuss. Here in Thailand, it's out in the open, a real celebration of life and death.

Songkran in Phuket - April 13th 2007

I am quite happy that the Songkran water throwing only lasts 1 day here in Phuket. Yesterday was fun, a nice day for all the family.

We first drove way up to the north of Phuket, to Mai Khao beach, an area which is still quite "traditional" although there is the JW Marriott Resort somewhere along the beach. There is a turtle project at Mai Khao (see here), and a yearly turtle release ceremony held on April 13th. The mayor gave a speech, all the local gentry attended, and then the lucky few who had known to book their turtles in advance (doh!) got a turtle to release into the sea.

Baby turtle waiting for freedom

Turtle being given for release

All the local people turn out for the Songkran ceremony

Blessing the Buddha image

Turtle ready for release on Mai Khao Beach (Photo by James Hembrow)

From Mai Khao (via a lunch break) we drove to Patong (the main tourist beach), only 10km from home, but as I had guessed the traffic was heavy and it took 45 minutes to reach Patong. The world and his brother were heading there for some watery fun. What struck me most was the sense of happiness all around. The water rituals used to be limited to sprinkling Buddha images (like in Mai Khao, see photo above) or splashing a little water on friends or family as a way of ritually cleansing the body and making way for a new year free from any past worries. It has gone a bit mad, with drinking, water fights and way too many road accidents due in part to alcohol, and in part to the dangerous way people throw water at moving vehicles. We did take a walk around Patong and the kids loved it, carrying their water pistols and being splashed and being able to shoot back! I really must get a waterproof housing for the camera...

Photos below taken from the safety of our car!

Splash! Happy New Year!

Great day for kids! (of all ages)

Fighting in the streets of Patong

Happy faces all around. Songkran is a very happy day

Splash! If you don't enjoy it, you better stay at home...

• Hope to see you next year for Songkran 2008!

Updated - in 2009 we "did" Songkran at Patong Beach, driving round in our truck and throwing water. Sanook!

More Photos - see Songkran Photos by Jamie

Darn...I forgot all about Songkran!

The work was continuing along at a good pace and with hardly a break. That is about to end though.

There was a day off last week for the workers to go to a housewarming party for one of their recently finished houses. Today they are off again to go to the funeral of the contractors mother-in-law. This week will begin the Thai New Year “break” but things look to be at a good place for a longish break of ten days or so.

My wife and I will also take this opportunity to retreat to Bangkok for a week or so. This is not my favorite time of year to be upcountry. (I see new fires started every night and they have refused to stop burning until there is nothing left to burn or it gets too wet!!) Besides the terrible smoke this year and the heat and dry conditions, this is also the season of carnage, death and destruction.

I have nothing against going around to the village elders and paying your respects with a gentle water blessing. I do draw the line at buckets thrown as hard as possible into the faces of motorcycle riders or the windscreens of cars and trucks. You are briefly blinded and unable to see the next bunch of kids stepping into the road to attack some victim on the other side of the road or the motorcycle that slipped on the wet road and is now sliding under your car or some unsuspecting bus or truck.

It is surprising that there are only thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths each year. Perhaps it is because everybody is well lubricated from drinking that they fall in a loose heap instead of breaking completely. With everybody home for the holidays and constantly drunk you won’t need to wait long for some minor disagreement or perceived slight to lead to a full contact battle with the occasional fatal result. 

Bangkok on the other hand, is nearly deserted and not a bad place to be for a change of pace. Some small shops are closed but the big places are open and you can choose whether or not you want to go to one of the water throwing war zones.

Enough of that, lets move on to something else. “What are you going to do up there?” seems to be the big question from our city friends. Granted it is nearly impossible to find anyone upcountry who can relate to our lives or experiences, so it is left up to us to find ways to relate to theirs. If you are not into the latest gossip there are lots of social events. There is something going on almost daily. There are weddings, birthdays, funerals, 100 day merit making ceremonies, good luck or get rid of bad luck ceremonies, housewarmings, religious events, school events, village meetings, seasonal events and several others that slip my mind for the moment. Oh, yes, how could I forget the open invitation to sit around getting sloppy drunk with the local “good-old-boys”?

My favorite, however, is to go off on my mountain bike with a couple of dogs and explore the endless maze of back-country farmer trails.  Of course this has earned me a few colorful nicknames with the locals who find my behavior a bit eccentric. Other than major events there is always the local market for someplace to go. Gathering of food and its preparation are allowed to consume more time in a village environment. 

Everything being at a slower pace allows one take time and enjoy doing things instead of rushing from one thing to the next. Your plants and animals are dependent on you so they also need daily attention. Now if you throw in a few of your own projects and some time on the computer for things like news, finances, travel bookings, emails and websites then you can start to see where the time goes. It is all about life and living and less to do with... well you know, all that superficial city stuff.

Thai House or Farang, 1 story or 2 ???

Am I wrong or are the only people building Thai Houses these days, Farangs? Do they know something we don’t? Thais seem to prefer the “modern” look and as beautiful as Thai houses can be, you are at the mercy of the elements, heat, wind, rain, bugs and dirt. The sun, rain and bugs are also a constant threat to the wood. On a beautiful winter day they would be great though. They are also more expensive to build and maintain since the forests have been pretty much denuded and lumber needs to be acquired from the rapidly diminishing forests of Burma.

 Most people seem to opt for two story houses as well. They do have a smaller footprint, less roofing material and provide more privacy and separation of areas. They make a lot of sense. So why didn’t my wife and I go for a two story house? (In fact my wife pushed hard for a slightly elevated one story house.)

Since it is just the two of us separation and privacy are not the issue. We prefer a large open floor-plan and an easy flow from room to room. We like to see and feel the other’s presence even when we are doing our own things. If everything is on the same level it just feels like it is bigger and that there is more usable space.

We also expect to have some friends come to visit and we want enough space to be together comfortably. Besides in a few years, who knows, maybe I won’t be able to make it up the stairs anymore. I figured with good insulation on the roof and a high lofted ceiling in the living area I could get by with only having A/C in the bedrooms. Tried to get a mix of living areas for the different kinds of weather, like indoor, indoor-outdoor and outdoor.

We get the occasional hail storm in these parts so a good strong roof is also a must. In addition to our pilings, we have a monster foundation with lots of re-bar to support the weight of the house and raise it off the ground one more meter. They just finished pouring the concrete today. The first half they did with the aid of big cement trucks but to my surprise they did the last part by hand. Just imagine near 100 degree weather, a hot wind, mixing, hauling, lifting and pouring all day long for two days.

 I discovered they were worried about having leftover cement bags during the Songkran break. Apparently the bags can go hard on you if they sit around too long. They sill have a week to pour the pillars and that should just about finish off the remaining cement bags. After the holiday they should get to pouring the floor and putting on the roof. By the time that is done, if it rains it won’t be a big deal, as they will be able to do much of their work under cover.

The speculation as to what we are up to is still rife and some of the stories are quite entertaining to hear second hand. We have decided to save our breath and just let them watch what unfolds with amazement. It gives them something new to talk about and keeps them entertained part of the time.

Some of you might be wondering how much all this is going to cost. I know the locals are very interested because they keep asking everyone involved for an answer. Well I’m not going to tell you either. It just doesn’t feel right to talk about it and I am painfully aware that almost none of my cost could ever be recover.

In a very real sense this is not an investment but an extravagance. But it is also not something I was tricked into by raging hormones or conniving relatives. I take full responsibility for this move. The way I justify it is by saying that it doesn’t cost that much more than my condo in Bangkok and I’m getting six or seven times the space, with views and lots of outdoor activities.

The condo is only a thirty-five year lease, so eventually I would loose it too, or have to re-negotiate, if I live that long. This property will at least stay in the family. If I don’t wait too long I’ll still have the option of selling the condo for a good price.

 I have seen other people move from the city to find they miss their city friends and lifestyle. (One case was a couple I know. The farang was OK with living up North but his big-city, high-so wife missed all her gay party friends with their loud, extravagant and witty repartee.) I think we have thought this out pretty well but I always have a way out and a backup plan.

In part I think that comes from all those early years when they had a half-dozen coups and kept changing the visa rules every few months. In those days I was young and unencumbered and could have easily put everything in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Anything that tied me down, back then, eventually was shown the door. Now I seem to be looking for some roots or a homestead. Guess I’m just entering another faze of my life. (Old-age?)

Preparing for the worst!!!

Regardless of where you decide to build you will need to pay careful attention to what can go wrong. Whether it is space limitations in a town or city, the gradient on a hillside, the threat of water near a water source or in a flood zone, or simple access to your land, you need to do some research. If like us you want to be an island in a sea of green during the growing season you have your work cut out for you.

In short you’ll need to buildup your land above flood levels. Find someway to secure your land, and access to it, without infringing on your neighbors land and ability to farm rice. Custom dictates you leave your land to “settle” anywhere from 3 to 5 years. Build too soon and no telling what will end up where.

In our case we just built up the land last year and added an additional foot of topsoil this year. Instead of following the local “rule of thumb” we opted for pilings. Locally nobody has used pilings before so it added to the shock factor already created by the rock wall and location. Could have gotten by with six meters but went for eight and all but a few went all the way down.

For me, I figure the prep-work is done and we are ready to build. Then the wife informs me that the locals might not be happy, if we don’t have the requisite blessings and ceremonies. Now, understand, she is very good at keeping these things to a minimum so I don’t balk all that much. She usually makes do with one solitary monk or local witch-doctor and not the typical party environment with booze and music. It still takes her mother and a relative or two a whole day to make preparations for even the most insignificant of rituals.

I was told that since we had dirt from more than one source we had to be extra careful to placate to spirits of the different sources. I’m sure there are some who will take exception to my tone on the subject of local customs but I’m the first to admit that I have never had much need for all forms of magic, gods, spirits or superstitions and the requisite rituals and ceremonies. Not that I don’t understand that they serve a social function, especially in a place like this, where people often feel helpless and at the mercy of things beyond their understanding.

My take is along the lines of, even if I could bring myself to believe in any of this superstitious mumbo jumbo, I would never be so vain as to believe that I had the power to influence any of it and make it do my bidding. My wife obviously has a slightly different take on the subject being Thai! It doesn’t seem to be an issue with us, however. Neither one of us is into validating our beliefs by trying to convince others to have the same beliefs. It is a complicated world and there is never just one side to anything and that is OK with me.

Old Phuket Town

Update 2013. This blog post was in 2007, since then I have many newer blog entries about Phuket Town events, cafes, restaurants or about walking around and exploring the town. Phuket Town is my favourite part of Phuket for sure!

Thalang Road - Heart of Old Phuket (2013)
Phuket Old Town Festival 2013
Old Phuket Town Gets a Facelift (2012)
Walking in Old Phuket Town (2011)
Phuket Street Show (December 2010)
Old Phuket Town Heritage Tour
Shrine of the Serene Light

Original blog post from April 2007

Yesterday I decided to take a walk around Phuket Town (officially called Phuket City now). Better to do this at the weekend when the streets are quieter. It's not a small town, but the urban sprall can be left alone - the average visitor will be more interested in the old center, the market and the various temples. I wandered for a couple of hours and would need another afternoon of meandering to cover everything. Unlike many provincial towns in Thailand, Phuket actually has some character, some history and some interesting old architecture. I do recommend a walkabout. It has been a while since I did this - normally the town is a place to come for business (paying tax or social security or renewing visas and work permits), but I did enjoy yesterdays stroll. The old town has a lot to see.

Old house in old Phuket Town

Shophouse on Dibuk Road, Phuket Town

(above) 2 old shophouses in the old town, one rather better looked after than the other!

Old Mansion on Dibuk Road, Phuket Town

(above) Old mansion on Dibuk Road

On On Hotel, old Phuket

(above) The old On On Hotel. I actually stayed a night here back in 1999. It has been totally renovated now and reopened in 2013.

Phuket Town Arches

(above) Arches on Dibuk Road

The first place I wanted to see was the Catholic Church. Due to it's history and location, Phuket has a variety of religious influences. Christianity is alive and well, with weekly services at this church and other assembly rooms. What I did not realise (sometimes you need a walk to take time to stop and smell the roses) is that on the same street as the church (Soi Taling Chan, on the other side of the clock tower from the Metropole Hotel) there is also a mosque (Yameay mosque) and a Chinese Shrine (Hock Guan Kong). It has always struck me that Phuket is a melting pot. I don't want to dwell on religion right now, but many visitors may not realise that the population is around 30% Muslim. A man leaving the mosque after prayers stopped to say hello. "We're all the same", he said. I wish everyone felt the same way. I suggest you take a walk down this street. Buddhism, Islam and Christianity all within 200 meters.

Catholic Church in Phuket Town

Mosque in Phuket Town

Chinese Shrine in Phuket Town

Along the same street (above) - church, mosque and shrine

Clock Tower in Phuket Town

A few hundred meters north of Soi Taling Chan you find the old town, the market, the local bus station, several cheap guesthouses and the business centre. The main streets to wander are Phang Nga Road, Thalang Road, Dibuk Road, Ranong Road, all within a few blocks of the market. Up on Dibuk Road is a fair sized Buddhist temple (Wat Phutta Mongkhon Nimit) which has some beautiful external artwork and a collection of chedis (see below)..

Wat Phutta Mongkhon Nimit

Wat Phutta Mongkhon Nimit

As I was walking later on Phang Nga road, a monk happened to pass by ...

Monk in Old Phuket Town

Just along the road from the temple entrance is the north end of Soi Romanee. This narrow street was quite captivating, that is to say I liked it. Old buildings, a view of the temple roof to the north, and I am happy to say (on this hot day) I found a small cafe there called "Natural Farm" (note: this cafe does not exist now, 2013, but there are plenty of cafes in old town), where I enjoyed a sandwich and a refreshing lemon soda. The street was very quiet. As I sat resting, maybe 2 vehicles drove up the street in half an hour. One of them, a rather fancy Mercedes, parked in the house opposite the cafe.. don't let the old houses fool you - there is old money here. Next door to the cafe was an art/handicraft shop. A couple of doors down was an interesting looking bar called Glastnost. Phuket town has lots of small, unique bars, cafes and shops hiding up narrow back streets like Soi Romanee.

Soi Romanee, Phuket Town

Soi Romanee, old Phuket Town

(above) Soi Romanee between Thalang Road and Dibuk Road

That was quite enough wandering for a hot afternoon! I did not get to the market or any of the other Chinese shrines (such as Jui Tui and Bang Niaow). If you want to see something of real Thai life, Phuket has it all over. The town/city is a good place to start if you have limited time. The local news just reported that a museum will be created in the old town in a renovated historic building. If you are traveling on a budget there are several guesthouses such as Old Town Hostel, Phuket Backpackers etc.. And there are some nicer hotels in Phuket town too. Getting to the beaches is easy - local buses run from the market (or you could splash out on a taxi). At the very least, I think a day of pottering around the streets is well worthwhile. I do it as often as I can!