Phuket, more exactly Patong beach, is the oldest and therefore most developed beach resort in Thailand. That means, where another beach community like Ko Samui's Chaweng would have 10 blocks' worth of restaurants, souvenier shops, bars and tour operators, Patong has a 20-by-5-block area of all the same, plus a variety of girly bars, "entertainment centers" and pay-by-the-hour hotels. We cannot report on the latter categories because, to our shame, we went to bed by 10 o'clock at latest every night and completely missed out on the much-touted nightlife of Patong beach.
As for daytime activities -- well... there's the beach. It seems that Phuket attracts mostly the type of vacationers who want to sun themselves under a beach umbrella all day long, with short infrequent breaks for a splash in the sea (they can't swim) and more frequent outings to a snack stall. The unbelievably long strip of Patong beach is covered with hundreds of beach chairs and umbrellas and dozens of food vendors to accomodate the lazy customers. Oh, did I actually say "lazy"? Of course I meant "enjoying the relaxation they fully deserve". We enjoyed it too, for the first half-day, thanks to the engaging books we were reading at the time. The water sports on Patong beach are represented by banana rides (where you sit astride a banana-shaped inflatable boat, pulled by a speedboat, and fall into the water on each turn with much happy screaming), water jet scooters for rent (too pricey for your average backpacker at $1 per waterborn minute), and parachute rides (you hang from a parachute which is, as you may have guessed, pulled behind a speedboat, and pay more per minute than for the jet). No kayaking (due to strong winds, or perhaps lack of demand), no snorkelling (due to the absence of coral reefs or anything else to see in the somewhat murky waters). Our rescue from utter boredom came in disguise of a piece of styrofoam sized 2 by 4 feet, known as "wakeboard".
The wakeboard makes it possible to ride the waves in the surf, only without the challenge of standing up on the crest of the wave like real surfers do. Instead you lie down on the board with your upper body, as if preparing to swim on your tummy, then catch a good wave, and get propelled by it all the way into the surf, until the board scrapes on the sand. This is as much fun as the long-gone memories from my Russian childhood of sledding downhill on ice tracks, or jumping the giant (to my 2-year-old brain) sea waves in the arms of my parents. Wakeboarding soon reduces you to giggly happiness and such exchanges with your significant other as "Did you see me ride that big one?" -- "Not bad, but you should've seen me catch one five minutes ago, that was really something!". Wakeboarding is supercool and also safe, unlike true surfing, and can be done with waves of smaller caliber and in shallow waters. It's so easy and safe, indeed, that you can do it even without knowing how to swim! Perfect entertainment for a day on the beach, granted you've got some surf coming your way.
So what do people do in Phuket once they are bored of
the repetitive beach scene? Why, they go elsewhere!
Phuket's tour operators are outnumbered only
by its bars, and day trips are offered to all
sorts of exotic locations... like Ko Phi Phi
from where we had just arrived. We chose to take
a tour to Similan Islands which are supposed
to be the snorkeller's heaven: coral reefs unharmed
by boats' anchors, underwater life of incredible
variety, visibility up to 10 meters down. All
this sounded attractive enough to motivate us
to get up at 5:30 in the morning and take a 2-hour
van ride and then another 2 hours by boat (and
don't forget the corresponding 4 hours to get
back to the hotel at the end of the day) to see
the amazing Similans. Reality was, unfortunately,
quite disappointing. Maybe there are those magical
snorkelling locations around Similans, but we
certainly did not visit them. The places we saw
had some coral reefs, and some fish around them,
but nothing better, or even as nice, as what
we saw at Monkey Beach on Ko Phi Phi. Granted,
I had the good luck of seeing a 5-feet-long sea
turtle twice, and we happened upon a "monitor"
(a huge lizard like the commodore dragon) on
the beach, but the rest of our snorkelling experience
did not justify the effort, or the cost, of this
day trip. Similans did not choose to reveal their
beauty to us...
Above: views of Patong beach. Below: wakeboard provides us with much-needed entertainment on the beach.
Below: the highlights of our trip to Similan Islands -- sorry, no sea turtle pictures. No Puneet pictures either, he was not in a photogenic mood.