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!

Walls, Walls and more Walls


Don’t know what it is but everybody in this village is building walls. The pace of building has really picked up this year. Without any recent crime surge I can only guess that it is for show and because the other guy has one. Nobody really has anything worth stealing anyway but they worry about it none the less. The last time some young novices from the local temple did rip off a local house, everything was recovered from their room at the temple.

Custom dictates that everyone build their houses right next to each-other so they can see, hear and smell everything that goes on next door. (That is actually very good for me because it leaves a lot of open land and unobstructed views.) Now, for some reason, everyone wants their privacy and security. Not that these walls provide much of either. You can still see over them and they are made of that flimsy concrete block they love to use. The only deterrent I can see is the fear of the thing falling on you if you tried to climb over it.

After elevating our little piece of heaven two meters above the rice paddy floor I was struck with an awful thought. Would I be forced to build one of those ugly little walls in a vain attempt to keep nature from reclaiming what is rightfully hers? What I wanted was some sort of angled rock embankment around the sides of the land. Something that wouldn’t block my view, would keep my dirt from running away and wouldn’t be too ugly to look at from the outside. In Hawaii lava rock walls are common and perhaps influenced my thinking. In the end what I got was a compromise and very Thai, even though nobody around here has ever seen such a thing.

Driving down the road one day we spied a back-hoe parked at a house and went to investigate. The owner put us on to a Village Headman who does roads and various construction work. This guy was modern enough in his thinking that he understood what it was I wanted. I probably would have put the concrete down first and laid the stones in the concrete so that you could see the beauty of the rock.

His way was quick and dirty but got the job done, for nearly the same price as the ugly wall. I decided not to push him out of his comfort zone by asking for something he might not be able to do easily. I’m actually quite happy with the results. I got what I paid for, though not what I first envisioned. Life is full of these little compromises that help facilitate getting things done. At least that is what I tell myself.

Jamie's Phuket Links

This is the place to find more information about Phuket. There are so many web sites, it can be hard to dig through and find accurate and useful information. Below you can find links to recommended websites. If you know of a site that should be included in this list or wish to exchange links with Jamie's Phuket, please email to jjjjmonk AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk. I'll add more anyway as I think of them...

Phuket News and Media

The Phuket News
Phuket Gazette
Phuket FM Radio
Window on Phuket

Phuket Hotels

My Recommended Phuket Hotels
Top 10 Hotels
Booking at Agoda.com
Booking at HotelsCombined.com

Travel

Phuket Airport
Bus Timetable
Airport Bus
Phuket Ferry Timetables and Booking

General Phuket Information

PhuketDelight.com – Ted’s website likes to get off the beaten track
Phuket Weather Blog – with lots of weather links
Phuketindex.com - Phuket Web Directory
Phuket.net - Phuket Travel Info

Airlines

Thai Airways
Air Asia
Nok Air
Bangkok Airways
Tiger Airways (direct flights from Singapore)
Orient Thai Airlines

Car Rental

Avis
Pure Car Rent
Braun Car Rent
Budget Rent-a-Car
Sutin Car Rent

Health and Hospitals

Bangkok Hospital Phuket - my son was born here
Phuket International Hospital
Mission Hospital
Vachira Hospital
Optician - Better Vision - I get my specs here
Rang Hill Dental Clinic - I've had dental work here
Phuket Detox

Adventure Activities

Sunrise Divers Phuket Diving
Phuket Bungy Jump
Go Kart Racing
Sea Canoe Tours

Real Estate

Siam Real Estate

Government

Phuket Immigration
Phuket Tourism

Who do you trust to build a dream?



Initially finding contractors is a chore. You can go through the list of resources like internet, phonebook, bookstores, magazines, trade shows, associations and talking with friends and acquaintances with little results. The sources you do find will tend to be middle men looking to get a commission for introducing you to the people you really want. The commission is often in the form of a percentage of the overall cost. 

Once things finally start moving, more of these commission seekers show up with more offers of introductions. At least you won’t need to go out looking anymore because they come to you. Many of the first people to show up, are of the same ilk as the black-plate taxi drivers that waylay unsuspecting tourist in front of their hotels. 

Some of the best workers are not the best talkers and may not be as good at selling themselves as the others. You will need to go around and check on their work and see if their customers are happy or not. The better ones won’t mind this and will even encourage it. No matter who you choose someone will be offended and I have even seen the loosing parties still demanding a piece of the pie from the winner. It is all very cut-throat and best avoided if at all possible.

Separating the good from the bad has as much to do with us as it does them, however. If we are lazy, gullible, our Thai weak and our partner not diligent in protecting our interests, who’s fault is that? We got lucky and managed to find our house contractor by ourselves and eliminate the additional cost of finder’s fees.

One guy we worked with on part of our land development, really was a very nice guy and a great talker. He was very helpful and the work turned out alright but not as good as we would have liked. He tried very hard to get close to us with many offers of assistance and an invitation to his homes and properties. I wasn’t surprised when he offered the “opportunity” to be his partner in the purchase of a back-hoe so that he wouldn’t have to hire other people to do that part of his jobs.

My wife saved me on that one by explaining that I’m happy with my lot in life and not a wheeler dealer always on the lookout for that next great deal. That saved me having to tell him “no” to his face. I admire people who can live on the edge like that. Always taking on new risks and managing to stay positive in the face of possible disaster. You could rightfully call me timid but I would prefer to see myself as thoughtful, thorough, cautious and skeptical.

Old Phuket Karon Beach Resort

Karon Beach is far less busy and developed than nearby Patong. There's only a few miles between them, but follow the winding road from Patong and you find that Karon is clean, neat and rather nice. Some would say dull, but you can't please everyone! Recent improvements to the beachfront include nice pavements, statues, and plenty of benches to stop for a rest in the shade. Read more here: Karon Beach.

The Old Phuket Hotel is on a quiet side road called Aroona Karon which is now closed to through traffic making it very pleasant. You're just a few minutes walk from the beach, but away from any crowds. The hotel also has something approaching style - not just another resort, it's built in the old Sino-Portuguese style which you can see remnants of in Phuket Town. Rooms and furniture match the old style, well..nearly... I guess they did not have satellite TV's in the old days! Or jacuzzis for that matter. The Private Jacuzzi room looks just great.

There are 2 restaurants, 2 bars, pool, sauna, fitness center..you know, all the usual stuff, but with style :) The views from the pool are great with the hills rising to the east of Karon beach it feels like a little oasis. The main Karon centre is about 15 minutes walk to the north, the other end of Karon about 20 minutes to the south. I think it's one of the nicest places in Karon Beach.

The Old Phuket Hotel - Booking Links and Reviews

Old Phuket Rates and Reservations at Agoda.com
Old Phuket Hotel Reviews


Old Phuket Hotel - Photos

Old Phuket Entrance

Old Phuket Pool

Old Phuket Room

Phuket Hotels - More Information - Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

Building a dream




Today we raised the main pillar of our new house as per the local custom of picking an auspicious day to begin. Not that I believe in such things but it seems to be important to the locals and to a lesser extent to my wife. Of course this all started as far back as thirty years ago when I first came to Thailand. As to why I am doing this now as opposed to some earlier date could become a very long and drawn-out story. 

The short answer is I am getting older, have been with the same woman for nearly 10 years, my parents are aging and I have started feeling the need for a homestead, so to speak. When I was single, life in the big city provided all the services I needed. Now I long for nature and a simpler outdoor life. I’m a bit spoiled, however, so I want to bring some of my city comforts and conveniences with me. Fortunately for me my wife and I have similar ideas about this house.

 We have spent much of the last seven years traveling in the United States and caring for my parents in Hawaii. That exposure to a different culture and environment no-doubt helped to mold my wife’s style and taste from that of the typical village girl.

Beginning the process
It’s hard to remember when the whole process began. We like to rent a car for a month and drive the back roads and National Parks of the Western United States, from the Pacific Coast to as far East as Colorado. We often stayed in quaint or beautiful towns and wondered what it would be like to live there.

That began a dialogue about what we would do there. Where would we live and could we afford it? In short, was it realistic and doable? That gets you started thinking about what it is that you would really want in an ideal world and then looking at how much of that you can achieve in the real world. Because of our age, gender and cultural differences our needs were never going to be identical. We usually agree on the aesthetics but she needs more of a social life than I do.  High fixed overhead leaves you with less play money for travel and other pleasures.

In the end we settled on her hometown after earlier in our relationship writing it off as a nonstarter. Over the years I have found more things to do there and more places to explore on foot and mountain bike. Some of the family obstacles that would have made life uncomfortable were removed. Now there is a good mix of things we can do together and things we can do independently without imposing on each-other.

Beginning the search
For me the real search began on the trails and in the fields. I discovered that there was something deeper, yet less tangible, than the view itself. I found certain places elicited a sense of peace and tranquility that quite simply made me feel at peace with the world. Many places were too inaccessible or difficult to provide with water and electricity. Many were not for sale or too expensive.

As a side note, after we had purchased our land, sellers came out of the woodwork so to speak. In the beginning it seemed there was nothing for sale. There was a great deal of deliberation about the pros and cons of the available properties. We finally settled on a 5 rai piece of land on the outskirts of her village with unimpeded views.

Now we had our land and had to decide what to do with. The location dictates much of what you do. If like us, you are in the middle of a rice paddy you will likely need to dig a pond and use the dirt to build up a house site and a road. Water and electricity are a major concern and you need to decide what kind of house to build. Do you go local-cheap or farang-expensive?

Our talks led to my wife making several drawing of our desired floor plan during the last six month stretch we spent in Hawaii. Finding an architect and working through that whole process of turning dreams into working drawings is a real adventure. If possible, finding the contractor is even more time consuming and scary. If you pick the wrong guy you are in for an endless nightmare.

We looked far and wide but wanted to find someone local so they could spend more time on site and we could develop a closer relationship. At our first meeting with our contractor and his wife, my wife and I knew they were the ones but forced ourselves to continue the process with the others we were talking with.

Next we had to decide when to build. To give ourselves plenty of preparation time we had planned on the end of the year, after the harvest season and the rains. Both things can affect a house project. In the end the question became “Why wait?”. We were ready so went ahead and pulled the trigger.

In the midst of all this we continually discussed how this project would be viewed by our neighbors. We had always played it very low-key before and didn’t want to make ourselves too much of a target. In the end our location and scale of the project has left us anything but low-key. That has led to an endless list of questions about what we are doing and why. The most persistent and annoying questions are about the cost of everything. We decline to answer as tactfully as possible so they go about guessing and spreading rumors anyway.

For us there was no question about being present during the construction so we had to first make our present house more livable. The prospect of going without certain things for eight months while the house was built was not acceptable. We already had air conditioning but needed to add satellite TV and broadband internet. We also did a minor upgrade to her mother’s kitchen so my wife wouldn’t mind cooking in it daily. 

The weather was nice for a bit longer this year than usual but we are now fully engulfed in the HOT season. A little rain would be welcome but we need to finish the foundation and roof before it gets too wet.

Ao Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay has to be on everyone's "must do" list when visiting Phuket. The scenery in the bay is stunning with limestone cliffs and rocks climbing from the water, mangroves and jungle toppped pinnacles. If you had your own sailing boat you could cruise around for days. Some parts are quite remote and can be reached on multi day kayak tours, but most people visit on a day trip or half day tour, and they come in their hundreds on a daily basis. However you do it, Ao Phang Nga is undeniably beautiful, just you may need to carefully frame photos to keep the people out of the picture.

If you want the place to yourself, wake up really early, drive your car up to Phang Nga and hire a longtail boat. We drove up last Sunday, me and my wife, 2 kids and my mum. A really early start was not on the cards, but we were there by 10am at the National Park Pier. Not early enough to beat the crowds but Phang Nga Bay is still a great place to visit. Note - this post was written in 2007 and we've done several Phang Nga Bay trips since...

Phang Nga Bay - More Info

(Update) We made a couple of great trips into Phang Nga bay in 2010 - hiring a longtail boat from a restaurant called Samchong Seafood, and heading to James Bond Island and Koh Panyee Village. We actually decided on an afternoon trip, had lunch at the restaurant and took a longtail out from about 2pm - 6pm. For more detailed info on those trips and places click the links below:

Phang Nga Bay Tour - doing it our way!
Samchong Seafood Restaurant
James Bond Island
Ko Panyee Village

Longtail boat in Phang Nga Bay

Longtail boat in Phang Nga Bay

(above) Longtail boats in Phang Nga Bay

Khao Ma Chu

(above) This rocky islet is supposed to look like a dog, it's called Khao Ma Chu.

Best to let the pictures do the talking, worth a thousand words and all that. We hired our own longtail for 1500 Baht (note - this was in 2007) and chugged around for about 4 hours. I think we hired Thailand's slowest longtail, but no matter, it was ours and that sure beats being on a tour. It was a hot day, and we were glad we had taken some bottles of water on the boat, though we were also able to get refreshments at Koh Panyee, the village on stilts (not floating), half of which is now tourist restaurants. If you stop at Panyee, walk through the restaurants and souvenir stalls and you can wander around the village. You will probably get lost in the maze of narrow walkways. My mum paid a kid 20 Baht to help her find the restaurant again :)

Me on longtail boat in Phang Nga

Mum on longtail boat in Phang Nga

(above) Me and Mum on the longtail boat

Koh Panyee Village

(above) View of Panyee village

Koh Panyee Island Mosque

(above) Closer to Koh Panyee - it's a Muslim island.

We also stopped at the very well known James Bond Island. Here you may need to pay a National Park fee of 200 Baht. Lots of steps up and down along a narrow path take you to a small beach with a view of Koh Tapu, the rock that sticks up in many postcards. Don't let the photos fool you, it's normallypretty crowded! Lots of stalls selling jewelry and shells and tourist tat. Look the other way and it's great.

View of Koh Tapu at James Bond Island

My kids on James Bond Island

Koh Tapu (Nail island)

(above) Views at James Bond Island

Junk stalls on James Bond Island

(above) Also James Bond Island! Loads of souvenir stalls.

The main island you land on is actually called Khao Ping Gan (spell it how you like). The name refers to a leaning rock which is quite impressive. There are also a few little caves you can climb into. The kids enjoyed the caves. The famous little island that sticks up is called Koh Tapu ("Nail Island"). Smaller than most people expect, but very picturesque nonetheless. Now, where did I put my golden gun?

Khao Phingan

(above) The leaning rock at Khao Ping Gan

On James Bond Island

View through cave at Khao Pingan

(above) Views through the caves at James Bond Island

Actually, "James Bond Island" is the only crowded place aside from the restaurants at Koh Panyee - As mentioned above, we have done the trip again and one time we got to James Bond Island around 5pm and were the only visitors! It's a beautiful area. I find Panyee very interesting once you get beyond the restaurants and stalls. Tours that are done "our way" to Phang Nga Bay can be booked via some friends of mine at Easy Day Thailand. This is certainly a must-do if you are in the Phuket area!

Naithon Beach

Naithon Beach is one of our favourite beaches in Phuket, located in the North West of the island, North of Bang Tao and a bit South of Nai Yang. It's not that easy to get to. The roads around there are narrow and winding, and it's quite a way off the main airport road. For now it stays pretty quiet, though in recent years there has been new building work going on. There are just a few hotels, such as the Naithonburi, and not a huge selection of places to eat. For the most part, there is just a single row of buildings along the beach road, and while there are beach chairs along the sand, plenty of the beach is left "au naturel".

Update 2010 - Naithon is more heavily developed now, but compared to the main beaches (Patong, Karon, Kata) it's still much quieter.

Naithon beach. Crowded as usual!

It's not a long beach, you can walk from one end to the other in about 10 minutes. The sand is slightly squeaky. We like this area of Phuket, away from the main tourist beaches. The hills are still green, and the valleys are full of rubber plantations. The roads wind up and down, the views are sometimes stunning... Naithon beach is a great place to stay if you like it quiet. We stopped there last week for a walk on the beach and a bit of lunch. In the restaurant only 2 tables were occupied, the food was decent (nothing flashy here) and despite being by the road, it was peaceful. There's not much traffic, though most of what we saw was building related, so if more construction starts, Naithon could get noisier. Time to make hay while the sun shines...

Hotels in the Naithon Beach Area

A romantic stroll on Naithon beach

Wave breaking on Naithon beach

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Kamala Temple (Wat Baan Kamala)

Unless you were living on the moon, you will know about the tsunami that happened on December 26th 2004. Certainly, the people in Kamala know what happened. Kamala beach was the worst hit of all Phuket's beaches, and was where I was sitting with family and friends on Christmas Day, one day before "it" happened.

Boats at Kamala near the temple

Longtail boat at Kamala beach

Check out this photo of Kamala temple which shows water up to the roof:

Kamala Temple, 26th December 2004 - photo is copyright Reuters I think, hard to tell on the www these days!

Much of the temple, along with the school and most of Kamala's beachfront, was destroyed on December 26th 2004. I remember visiting the temple some years ago for Songkran, as we had friends living in Kamala. This week was the first time I have been back to the temple since then. Of course, everything is clean and new. In 2005, the temple grounds were given a special makeover by an Australian TV show called Backyard Blitz. New rooms were also built for the monks. It was quite a feat - one of many charitable acts that helped Kamala back on it's feet.

Wat Baan Kamala

Decoration inside Kamala temple

The temple is at the far south end of the beach, which is a little aside from the hotels. Kamala is not as developed for tourism as some other beaches in Phuket, but the main beach road has bars, restaurants, dive shops and more. Still, Kamala retains a quiet air and is a good place to stay if people want peace and quiet, but within striking distance of the main tourist beaches.

We had a quick look around the temple and grounds. It's not grand, it's not huge. It is the local temple for Kamala beach.

Reflection of Kamala temple Memorial stone in the garden

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