We spent our time in southern Thailand at a few different places. First, we arrived in Phuket, which is a very long island. Arriving there after our stay in the north was a bit of a shock, since Phuket is kind of the Venice beach/Jersey shore of Thailand. Lots of tourists, people trying to sell you cheap trinkets on the street, and anglicized food. This kind of feel works for some people, and a lot of people love Phuket; a whole lot of people, as was evidenced by how incredibly crowded it was. And I will say that the beaches there were beautiful, but the pandering touristy vibe just wasn’t really our thing. Luckily we’d only allotted one night there, after the night in Phuket we headed up north the next morning on a trip to Kao Sok national park. We went with Phuket Trekking Club and they picked us up at the hotel and took us on a small road trip (about 3 hours of driving) up into the jungle.
Our first stop was at a small elephant park, where we got to go on a little ride on a very lovely elephant who I nicknamed Becky. Becky was quite a sweetheart, and let me pet her trunk a little and at the end of the ride I got to feed her a pineapple, which was pretty much the highlight of my trip. It was cut into pieces, but she was reaching for them with her trunk so fast the entire thing was gone in well under 30 seconds. Riding her was a little scary to me, since I was sitting on her neck and she was so wobbly I felt like I was going to fall off the whole time. It was pretty high up, but once I leaned forward and rested my hands on her head for extra grounding I felt much less terrified. Once we were on solid ground, I would have liked nothing more than to feed her pineapples all day long, though, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way I did.
After that we stopped at a rubber tree and date palm plantation, where the white sap from rubber trees is used to make actual rubber (this completely blew my mind). While we didn’t get to eat any dates, it was still really interesting to get to see them growing in big bunches on palm trees like a bushel of bananas. From there it was back in the car and onwards to our main destination, Kao Sok national park.
Kao Sok is an incredible place, it has rivers and a lake and very unusual rock formations that tend to get wider as they get higher and have plants and trees growing from every which way on the rock face. If you’ve ever seen the movie Avatar (I don’t recommend it), the floating islands are basically a rip-off of this place. We went on a canoe ride down the river and saw some of the most beautiful birds of the trip, along with a snake hanging out in a tree. There was also a spot that had a giant school of fish swimming around, and the tour guide gave us some fish food to toss in the water which brought them to a flurry of activity. The natural surroundings and the wildlife made it one of the most incredible parks I’ve ever been to, and my biggest regret of the trip was not having a couple extra days to spend there. Unlike national parks in the United States, in Thailand they have little cabins and raft houses you can stay in within the actual park. We’re planning to stay in one of the cabins for a few days the next time we go and just rent a canoe to take out on the lake and cruise around the rivers. If you go this route, just make sure to pack a lot of mosquito repellent.
The next day we hopped back on a plane and flew a bit further east to the island of Ko Samui. The two days we spent here were the most relaxing part of our journey. We stayed at Sandalwood Samui, an amazing resort at the top of a hill with stunning views of the island and surrounding sea. We spent a lot of our time hanging out by the pool, soaking up the sunshine and taking in the incredible surroundings. Sandalwood has a huge library of books and dvds (literally hundreds), so I was able to take in some good ol’ Michael Crighton literature while lounging around outside. They also have a shuttle that takes guests down to the more private local beach, or to the larger commercial beach at the island’s town center, which we ended up taking to both.
After checking out both beaches, we much preferred the smaller more private one that was just down the street from the hotel. Jeremy convinced me to swim a bit in the ocean there, which was quite a feat because I’m slightly (incredibly) phobic of putting my face underwater. I hadn’t been in the ocean that deep since I was 11 years old, but once I went under the first time all the fears I had were swept away by how buoyant I felt in the water and how warm and relaxing it all was. There was a little bar and restaurant right on the seashore, so we ate our dinner there while the sun went down, enjoying some fresh seafood with noodles and a chicken stir fry while the restaurant’s dog kept us company.
We went down to the commercial area of the island that day and walked around the markets, buying a few things to take home and stopping at a pub for a nice cold beer (nothing tastes quite as good as a perfectly chilled hefeweizen on a hot and humid day, and the humidity in Thailand is unique in its intensity). After the beer we stopped at a massage parlor, where I got the most inexpensive pedicure of my life. It was $3! And Jeremy’s Thai massage was $6!! For an HOUR. So that pretty much cemented our decision to retire to Ko Samui when we get old.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. It worked out that we were able to upgrade to the Jasmine room the second night we were there, and while the view from the first room was awe-inspiring, the view from the second room left me entirely speechless. I’d never been anywhere tropical before, so seeing the ocean so bright and blue with so much greenery everywhere made me park myself out on the balcony for a good few hours just taking it all in. I eventually motivated myself to leave the balcony to go the breakfast serving, where we had some Thai iced tea and the best curry of my life. I’m usually more of a red curry fan, but their yellow curry was absolutely incredible. It had just the right combination of sweet, savory, spicy and the richness that can only come from coconut milk.
Our minds at ease, we headed over to Hansar Samui for dinner. Hansar Samui is a stunning modern resort right on the seashore of the island. Their chef, Stephen Jean Dion, puts together an 8-course course dinner service every night, and we were lucky enough to be able to spend a night dining there on their terrace that backs up right onto the beach. My favorites were the seared scallop with morel sauce and the veal loin with potato puree, leek, baby turnip, and micro carrots, but every course was delicious in its own way (as is evidenced by the regularly cleaned plates at the end of each one). They also have an expansive organic garden on the resort’s grounds and offer a cooking class that takes guests on a tour of the garden to learn about the various Thai produce, and ends in the kitchen with them preparing some traditional Thai dishes. The hotel was also a short walk along the beach from Fisherman’s Village, a popular night market where you can find all sorts of Thai trinkets and, of course, some tasty Thai street food, with a special emphasis on seafood. We wandered around the market after dinner, taking it all in, and regretted not having an extra night to come back to the Fisherman’s market for some fresh caught and grilled seafood, but three’s always next time.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and headed straight to bed since we had a very early flight back to Bangkok the next morning. We got up at 4 am with our bags packed, went to the wonderfully open and tropical Ko Samui airport, and upon seeing free juice, water, and pastries everywhere I promptly decided that it was my favorite airport of all (the deal for this was sealed when a little airport kitty came by meowing for pets). So we hopped on the plane and went back to the center of Thailand, and all the wonderful street food it had in store for us. Till next time….