MESSAGE: Thailand – Phuket

Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand — approximately the size of Singapore. It’s surrounded by the Andaman Sea and lies on major sea-faring trading routes. The island used to be known for tin and rubber industry, but now Phuket is a mecca for tourists.

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – On the Beach, Cape Panwa. This bar / restaurant is literally “on the beach” – as the name indicates. Its rickety wooden tables are perched on the wet sand, so that the ocean waves lap at your feet while eating dinner.

Best bets are the grilled lobster and giant prawns, alongside a cold beer. Nightly music is supplied by passing cruisers / sailors who row in at night to entertain everyone with their guitars and rock ballads. On a moonlit night, it’s hard to beat!

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Massaman Curry. My mom Sam introduced me to one of her favorite Thai dishes. Massaman curry is a southern Thai dish, with Muslim origins, and can be made with beef or chicken.

The curry has a coconut milk base and potatoes, with roasted peanuts or cashews mixed in. And it has a whole lot of spices to give it flavor: cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, chili, palm sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind sauce. A couple of bay leaves are added for good measure.

Hungry for Massaman curry? You know you are! Here’s a recipe:

SEE (Must-see Sights) – Phi Phi Islands. The islands off of Phuket are well known – they were made immortal in an iconic James Bond movie and with the filming of cult flick The Beach.

I actually visited Phi Phi islands in my early 20s, so I was loath to go back and ruin the great memories I have of a pristine paradise. But I braved a dive trip out to the smaller Phi Phi islands and still found white sand beaches and clear water without a soul in sight. Paradise preserved!

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Beachwear. What better place to buy beachwear than on the beach? Take your pick of flip flops, swim shorts, bikinis, sarongs – all for under $10. The assortment is enormous and you don’t even need to leave your beach chaise to shop – the sundresses come to you = Dangerous!

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Diving! The Andaman Sea has a reputation for being among the top 10 dives spots in the world with crystal clear water, well preserved reefs, and an abundance of marine life.

And averaging about $40 a dive, Phuket is also totally economical place to dive. And to top it all off, I had a great dive master: Ugur from Turkey! Here’re a few dive spots to check out:

  • Koh Bida Nok – A super popular dive site, we saw loads of lobster and some blue spotted sting rays. Also some nice corals and reams of reef fish.
  • Koh Racha Noi – Did this drift dive twice and saw a giant moray eel, barracuda, stone fish, and black-fin tuna. Was also treated with a beautiful little beach during the surface intervals.
  • King Cruiser Wreck – I’m a big fan of wreck diving and this one, with multiple decks and spacious open areas, provides lots of space for all kinds of fish – especially poisonous lion fish. Don’t touch!

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Ending Prostitution. Unfortunately, Thailand is also known for widespread prostitution. One of its current Ministers of Parliament Chuvit Kamolvisit (a former massage parlor industry tycoon), says that prostitution rakes in more than 200 billion baht (US$6.5 billion) a year, nearly 10% of Thailand’s national budget.

He also says that up to 1 million Thai women are involved in the flesh trade and at least 100,000 of those are under age 18. Sobering statistics if he’s right. And as someone who was a major player in the industry, he probably is.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Thai Tourism. The beaches of Phuket are a pretty fabulous place to people watch – especially the new Russian tourists. I saw a couple buy 2 “Rolex” watches on the beach next to me. They drove a pretty hard bargain, paying only $40 for them.

More than 14 million tourists visit Thailand each year, staying an average of 9 days and spending nearly $15 billion. While Japanese and Malaysians top the list of tourists, Russians are gaining pace. Between 2009 and 2010, the number of Russian tourists increased 77%.

And they’re spending more. Russian tourists spend on average $122 a day, compared with UK tourists (the next biggest spenders), who spend $108. That type of spending will buy a whole lot of Rolexes with their rubles!

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 and is filed under Asia Pacific, Messages by Country.

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