I had initially wanted Seoul to be the first travel piece in this blog, but I just couldn’t wrap my thoughts around 8 full days in the city at the moment. Instead, here’s something to whet your appetite – Phuket, Thailand. I spent a weekend there towards the end of last year, and although this wasn’t my first time to this island, my second time here proved to be an unforgettable experience.
Not gonna go too much into the details about the resort I stayed in, which was ‘The Sarojin’, to find out more about the hotel, click here. Not to say the place wasn’t amazing, it was. It was also the main purpose of my trip, but I’m not here to do a resort review am I? Heh.
I’ve been to Phuket before, about 7 years ago to be exact, post-Tsunami when the island was still picking up the pieces and getting back on its legs. Back then, we stayed at the mainland and did all sorts of Touristy things. I wasn’t even big on Phi Phi Island which we woke up at the wee hours of the morning to travel by boat to. To me, it was a strip of wasteland littered with rubbish – it was kinda sad considering how beautiful it was especially in that scene of The Beach. That’s what over-commercialisation and disrespectful tourists will do to you.
So 7 years later, I’m back in Thailand, ready for some major R&R. I had just returned from Shanghai the week before and was desperate to get reacquainted with Mother Nature. The Sarojin is located at Khao Lak, the quieter less-touristy part of Phuket – also commonly referred to as the true gem of the island. It’s about an hour drive away from the airport and throughout we only encountered one set of traffic lights (big deal for city slickers like us). Before arriving at The Sarojin, I had done some research (occupational hazard) about the resort, only 5-star reviews. Definitely had high hopes.
After the obligatory meet-and-greet, I was led to my room, make that an effin’ villa that I’d have all to myself for the weekend. If I could do cartwheels, I’d have. I also have a ritual, I like dancing naked in my hotel room, so that’s what I did – peeled off my sweaty travel-wrinkled clothes and shimmied all the way into the bathroom (also huge). I took a quick shower under the rainshower and hurriedly got ready to meet the rest to get the night started.
We met under this beautiful 200-year-old tree and although I’d gone off alcohol for awhile, I couldn’t resist a mojito (I am after all on an island retreat, it’d be a sin not to). Cocktails aside, I could hardly believe I was in Phuket – the crowded commercialised island or so I thought. As we were schooled on Khao Lak and taken around the resort for a tour, it was peace and tranquility throughout. We ended up by the beach and watched the sun set as the staff prepped the beach for a seafood BBQ. This is where the Tsunami hit the hardest, and it’s impossible not to sigh at the beauty and wrath of nature. Dinner for the group of us was in the restaurant, can’t complain as it was another amazing experience as helped ourselves to bread freshly baked daily in the resort’s own kitchen (I so do love my carbs); a degustation menu paired with the finest of wines all specially prepared by the resort’s own imagineer (yes, they have a person with such a job!).
After dinner, we went by the poolside and lit up our own paper lanterns to set off. This is a Thai tradition, and people usually write their wishes onto the lanterns before setting it off. Mine kinda defied the laws of gravity for a bit, but when it finally floated off into the night, I stared into the black night dotted with tiny lights and felt a sense of nostalgia gnawing away at me. This isn’t my first time setting off lanterns but the activity always brings back such lovely memories of my 18-year-old self lying on a lawn in Melbourne, watching the stars and sharing my dreams with my then partner-in-crime. I digress… Before long, we were shooed off to bed, early wake up call! I was excited ‘cos I never knew there was so much to do at Khao Lak, mostly community-driven, as part of the effort to rebuild those whose lives were affected by the Tsunami.
Day 2: I had breakfast in my room, something I always do due to several reasons: #1 – I’m not a morning person; #2 – I need ‘personal’ wakeup calls cos I’m a snoozer; and #3 – Why trudge out to get food when you can enjoy brekkier in the luxury of a king size bed?! There, I said it. Breakfast finito, I quickly got dressed, met the rest of my travel party and we were enroute to discover Khao Lak!
First stop, cashew nut factory. We saw how crazy the process was, many many steps and super tedious. Too bad I’m allergic to nuts, but everyone went ape-shit buying them in bulk. Easy people… Singaporeans just love to buy food huh? Heh.
Next, we drove down to Takuapa River and got into these pretty little pleat boats. We then had our own little guide to row us through Little Amazon for the next 45 minutes. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Sometimes my guide would stop the boat so we’d just be sailing through and he’d point out one or two snakes sleeping in the trees hanging above my head (scary but fascinating; think he thought it was funny I kept cringing cos I do hate snakes). Otherwise, he’d be pointing to the different Banyan trees and their ginormous roots asking me if I knew what they were. There were so many different sounds from the insects and birds, it became an orchestra performance courtesy of Mother Nature. I also came across a sign that said those who felt homesick or lost just had to listen to the sounds within the forest to feel at ease again – super love!
Was a little upset when the Amazon ride came to an end but I can always count of my trust guide to kick things up a notch. The moment we hit open water, he turned into a F1 driver, putting the boat into full gear and speeding through the river to our next destination. Thrilling stuff! Am not usually so adventurous, but the wind in my hair, his cackly laughter and drops of water sprinkling my face made me laugh along with him and go ‘weeeeeeeeeeeee’.
Back on dry land again, we were taken to a wet market – just like old times when I used to tag along with my mom to her marketing trips. Fascinating to see all the variety of fruits, meat and seafood on display. You’ll realise how spoilt rotten we are shopping only at supermarkets and wrinkling our noses when we have to peel off chicken skin – this is real life! Reality check aside, I was super taken by this one guy grinding coconut milk the old school way. Not sure if anyone knows but the fibre can also be used to make cakes and cookiers – nom nom nom!
So the wet market trip was a lead up to our next activity – cooking in a jungle. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to grill my own meat, but well I did do all the prep work on my own dishes. We made som tam (papaya salad), lemongrass chicken, and Thai green curry chicken – had a ball of a time. I’ve always loved to cook, and what’s even better, I didn’t have to clean up. We enjoyed lunch by the rainforest and I was so happy that the bug bites stopped bothering me.
By the time we got back to The Sarojin, it had started to pour, so we couldn’t take a ride out on the chartered yacht to see the islands around us. Kinda frustrating (seriously? Do I bring the rain everywhere I go?) but I was grateful for some me time, and decided to take a soak in the stone bathtub and a quick nap. Dinner followed and it was another affair to remember. We were worried we couldn’t head out to the location cos of the rain, but somehow or rather the good people at The Sarojin pulled off a miracle (again) and made the impossible possible.
This picture taken doesn’t even do the place justice, but we had dinner by the waterfall and the whole place was lit up with more than 500 candles. Super romantic, but was also beautiful and glad to be sharing it with my peers. The food were all prepped and cooked on the spot too, so there was plenty of love to go around as we shared personal stories over a glorious meal and wine.
By the time we got back to the resort, it was past midnight and there was a sense of dread as we all retired back to our rooms. Yes, we were leaving The Sarojin and Khao Lak in a matter of hours – how is that possible? We’d just gotten here, we hadn’t gone out on the yacht, I didn’t even have a chance yet to visit the local orphanage, and the list of ‘I didn’t get to’ goes on…
Can’t say I didn’t have a good night’s sleep though, I was out in a matter of seconds once my head hit the pillow. This time, I forced myself to have breakfast with everyone else the next morning, I owed it to the experience we’ve shared to not be a grumpy fool. Stuffed my face and went back to the beach for a walk, the weather didn’t look too good and the waters choppy, so there goes the yacht ride for real. Everyone else proceeded to cycle out to the caves to take in more nature and from what I heard some even were drinking and riding – naughty! But one glass of sparkly is in the name of good fun yeah?
I chose instead to lie on one of the deck chairs by the beach and read a book. I don’t even remember what I was reading, I think I was more or less zoning out. After that I went for a massage at the spa, had lunch by the pool, chit chat with another journo there before we went back to our rooms to pack up and get ready to leave. Packing was easy since I was only there for the weekend, but it was most difficult to say goodbye to everything and everyone. Now I know why everyone said they cried when they had to leave The Sarojin. A+++ hospitality and people. I almost begged for a job so I could stay on.
Before long, farewells done, we were back on the road and headed for the airport. Albeit a short trip, I did leave a part of me at Phuket, and I was so glad for the opportunity to discover this other side of the island. Forget overpriced seafood, lady boys who will grope at anything, and tourist-ridden island tours; Khao Lak is where you should be if your ultimate goal is to rest and relax. If the opportunity arises again, I’ll definitely be heading back to make good on my word to visit the orphanage, get on that yacht and maybe (just maybe) learn how to cycle so I can ride out to the caves with a sparkly in hand.