‘Freebie’ is the sweetest word in the English dictionary. Well, it’s not actually in the dictionary but if Webster would just give it the go ahead, it would rank up there with with the best of them. My manager called me into a meeting nearly three weeks back, saying she wanted to have a word with me. I figured that either I’d done something I wasn’t supposed to or I hadn’t done something that I was supposed to. Turns out that she was pleased with my recent performance so, as a reward/incentive, she gave me three nights at Twin Palms Resort on Surin Beach in Phuket including airfares. The timing was perfect. My girlfriend has been working really hard over the last three months and was in dire need of a break. Needless to say, I scored enough brownie points to last me quite a while. Better still, when my manager tried to book it, the only available room was a penthouse.
I grudgingly accepted.
Twin Palms Resort is on Surin Beach in Phuket. About twenty minutes from Patong’s red-light madness, Twin Palms is beautiful and only a one minute walk from the beach. Surin is a gorgeous stretch of white sand with only a few bars, clubs and shops sprinkled along it. A few high-end resorts and some mansions up on the hill have baited some high-end eateries into staking claims in what is otherwise just a nice little village on a beautiful stretch of Thai beach. It certainly isn’t a party place like Patong or Pattaya and that suited us well. We just wanted to unwind for a few days. Besides, Patong’s only really any good if you’re single, with the boys and not scared of VDs.
My girlfriend and I are easy to please. We get happy over simple things like not having any dirty clothes in the laundry basket or finding out that they’re showing The Karate Kid on TV on a Saturday night (the original, of course) so a lavish penthouse a few metres from a spectacular Thai beach was enough to make us feel like temporary millionaires. Two stories, open-plan, luxuriously appointed, an in-room bar that has surely been responsible for many horrible hangovers and a private rooftop pool. What more could someone who can’t afford any of that ask for?
We made the most of it all. Poolside cocktails, daily massages, a fancy yoghurt-coffee-sea salt-some-other-condiment scrub for my woman, swims in Surin’s beautiful turquoise waters, luscious lunches on the beach and in-room dinners were the norm for three and a half glorious days. The hotel’s club on the beach, the trendy Catch Beach Club, even served Leffe Blond which is, at the moment, my favourite beer (my favourite beers change quicker than the US government’s understanding of the fourth amendment).
On the third day we took a day trip on a lovely Chinese-style junk through Phang Nga Bay. June Bahtra Cruises run a great operation. They pick you up from your hotel in a nice mini-van, drop you off at the marina then it’s straight onto the boat. We motored out of the marina and cruised through Phang Nga’s green waters at a leisurely pace. As you head out, mangroves and tall green hills border the bay, providing a stunning backdrop to its emerald waters.
Once into Phang Nga bay, small but tall islands covered in greenery rise starkly from the water. After a couple of hours we traded the junk for a colourful long boat and motored onto our first stop, Kho Phing Kan. It is imaginatively called James Bond Island after a few scenes for The Man With The Golden Gun were shot there in 1974. Like most of Thailand’s famous (and gorgeous) islands, it was as crowded as an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. Long boats pull up, dump their passengers and back out so that other long boats can squeeze into the same tiny speck of beach to do the same. The place, though, is absolutely stunning.
There are a few stalls there that sell exactly the same things: shells, bracelets and typically gaudy souvenirs. Then it was onto our next stop. Koh Panyee is a small fishing village built on stilts over the water. The local population of one thousand are descendants of Indonesian fisherman who arrived two hundred years ago. They now speak Thai but have hung on to their Muslim roots. They rely largely on tourism dollars to survive, hence my reluctance to haggle with one of them over the price of a sarong that I bought as a birthday present for my sister (sis, if you’re reading this and I haven’t sent it to you yet, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!). I paid her more than she asked for. Good deed for the day: done.
A huge mosque was being built. It’s the only building in the village built on solid ground. The rest of the village is on stilts over water. Even the small soccer field used by the two hundred local school kids rests on a bed of floating drums. Unfortunately, our camera’s battery called it quits as we toured the village but we managed to snap off a few photos first.
On the return trip, the junk anchored and we were offered the opportunity to take a dip. Everyone seemed to procrastinate. As they stood around wondering what to do, I was mid-air, diving off the bow doing my best impersonation of Greg Louganis (sans cranial claret-leak). Before you know it, everyone was jumping off behind me, doing their best impersonation of Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School (sans The Triple Lindy). A few glorious minutes later and we were drying off and heading back to the marina.
That night was, sadly, our last. We returned to Singapore the next day but after three nights on Surin Beach, I finally understood why everyone loves Phuket. Up until then, Patong had been the only place I’d visited there. Its seedy atmosphere and endless opportunities to test your morals leave an acidic, hangover-ish taste in your mouth. Surin Beach, on the other hand, is a world away. It’s closer to the tropical paradise you see on Thai postcards and it’s free of… well, hordes of hookers, drunken revellers and chances to do things you’ll regret.
Surin Beach: what a place.
And ‘freebie’: what a word…