Posted by: Sam Olsen | November 30, 2011

Pooped in Phuket

What a nice few days on Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, and a chance to regain our brains from the knackeredness of Lawrence’s night time shenanigans. Situated off the west coast, it is the size of Singapore and lies just south of the Burmese border. A tropical climate bathes the half million people who live there, surrounded by perfect beaches, old tin mines and thick tree plantations.

We were there to meet up with Cathryn, Aggie’s sister, and Jez her boyfriend, who had swapped autumnal Wiltshire for warm sun and cheap beer. Our hotel, the Laguna Beach hotel (not to be confused with the Laguna Park hotel in Tenerife, the scene of a serious school holiday back in 1994) is next to the sea, and was very nice indeed. The rooms, all large and well furnished with native woods (but strangely with new-looking cathode ray tube TVs – I didn’t even realise they made them anymore), were spread out along a lagoon and with an exotic pool lined with stone carvings of ancient Thai warriors.

Old Phuket Town: what's the angle here?

There were though some things about the hotel I didn’t get. Like the one piece of corridor that had muzak speakers installed. Why? Only in this one spot in the whole complex? Who made that decision? Furthermore, every square inch of land near the pool was taken up by cheap ‘portrait artists’ who specialised in making you look like Kevin Costner or Richard Gere – even the women. Yet the pool had one side open to private bars and shops which undercut the hotel equivalents by a good 50%. Strange business decision that.

One excellent addition was the baby elephant, Meena. She strolled around the hotel accompanied by her mahout, a jolly chap in a purple cap, gorging on the spare fruit generated by the numerous restaurants. As she wandered through the pool-side loungers she twice stuck her trunk in Jez’s ear, both times whilst he was asleep and both times making him jump like a surprised flea. Larry even had a sit on her back.

Most days we spent the morning by the pool, swimming with Lawrence and surveying the scene of fat Russian women and their bald husbands smoking Marlboro reds at 8am. (You could tell their nationality as they had RUSSIA printed on the back of their luminous tracksuits.)

In the afternoons we went out and about, walking the Portuguese-style streets of Phuket Town, or visiting a waterfall next to a gibbon sanctuary. A rather large Buddha statue was called upon too. All rather idyllic.

Then, on the last day, the triathlon happened. 2000 athletes from round Asia, and by the sound of it mainly Australia, descended on the lagoon to spend 5 hours biking, swimming and running in the heat. Many of them had brought their families, some of whom had fey messages on their t-shirts like ‘Keep going Dad!’ (well great, thanks for that tip).

Does exactly what it says on the tin

At 5am on Sunday the commentary started as the men and women jumped into the sea to begin the race. Most of them would have been aware that the water of Phuket is renowned for its large number of drownings, with the rip tides and strong currents claiming many a victim. What they probably wouldn’t have known was what we had seen on Saturday night, namely a group of men plucking numerous dead fish out of the lagoon where the swim part finished. Pollution? What pollution? All probably died of natural causes.

Then it was time to come home. Aggie was chuffed to see her first ladyboy, on the flight and weirdly holding hands with someone quite clearly not a lady or a boy, but a respectable Chinese businessman. Perhaps the Asians aren’t as intolerant of these things as one might have believed. Well, they do allow triathlons in their most relaxing of hotels, after all.

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