Nothing like a downpour to get you some free Starbucks

After a very long journey, including two ferries and one van ride, we arrived in Phuket Town at 6:00pm on Thursday. The SeaTran van operators offered us a transfer to our hotel in Patong Beach on the other side of the island for “only” 150 baht ($5) each. Thinking that this was a little expensive, we turned them down, knowing that the local songthaw fare was only 50 baht. They told us, in seemingly typical tourist-industry fashion, that we wouldn’t find any songthaws at this hour, but since we were sure they were just trying to make a fast baht, we continued with our plan, backpacks on our backs. It took us about 10 minutes and one 7 Eleven attendant to realize that they were indeed telling the truth, and that 150 baht each was the best deal around, as the public options stop running at 5:30pm. Ridiculous. Having missed the bus – literally – we walked around town in search of a taxi, tuktuk, songthaw or anyone really, who would take us to Patong for under 500 baht. Finally, after many attempts and half an hour of wandering the streets, we found a songthaw willing to make the trip for only 350 baht ($11.66). Thirty bumpy minutes later we were dropped off at the corner near our hotel. Although it cost us an extra 50 baht and half an hour, Felix felt better that he could end his day confident that he wasn’t ripped off. Jordan was just happy to put her backpack down.

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We had arrived at the Holiday Inn Express, a splurge at $73/night, but we were finally on a resort beach and wanted to feel like it. After a special Platinum Cardholder greeting (Felix has status), we went up to our top-floor pool-view room and settled in. Craving meat, we made our way to Chabad, 10 minutes down the street, for a burger and schnitzel sandwich ($11), which were delicious and well worth it. We had a nice chat with the Rabbi and his wife, and exhausted, headed back to our room.

Happy to have caught up on our sleep, we made it down to the breakfast buffet which was included with the room (best hotel breakfast since Dreams, back in Dalat, Vietnam) 15 minutes before it closed at 10:30. So excited by the variety of food we could actually eat (eggs, baked goods, yogurt, fruit, cereal, coffee, juice, salad and more), this quickly became brunch, and we stuffed ourselves to the gills. Next, we wanted to explore a little, plus we needed some to pick up a few things at the supermarket, and we had a voucher for a free Starbucks beverage which we received in Chiang Mai and needed to use in Thailand. After a strolling around Patong, we wound up at the large mall and parked ourselves at Starbucks, where we shared a tall Mocha Cookie Crumble Frapaccino (free!). Felix noticed a sign by the service station: “Frapaccino Party at 15:30”, only 20 minutes from then. Suddenly, a downpour began, and a number of strange things happened: all the people in the Starbucks ran out quickly to escape before the rain, all the people who got caught in the rain ran into the Starbucks for lack of a better option, all the mall employees began sweeping the massive puddles around and blocking off the spots where the overhangs channeled waterfalls into the courtyard, and we decided that since we were trapped in Starbucks, it was a perfect time for a Frapaccino Party.

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We eagerly watched as they brought out samples of Mocha Cookie Crumble Frapaccino followed by Green Tea Red Bean Frapaccino (remember the green tea frap with mushy kidney beans on top?) and some samples of baked goods. Felix remembered that the sign also advertised a game and he noticed a board game style wheel. He spun the wheel (we were the only ones playing), and a was given a choice of any item in the bakery case. We chose a spinach quiche (FREE!) which was delicious and the price was right. Having eaten our way through Starbucks, we dashed/waded through the monsoon and into the mall where we picked up some essentials and Jordan bought a pair of turtle earrings ($6). The rain was not letting up and we needed to get back to prepare for Shabbat, we sucked it up and paid for a tuktuk ($6.66) back to our hotel. By the time we were ready to walk over to Chabad the monsoon had finally scaled back to a manageable drizzle.

Chabad of Phuket is a small rundown building in a row of shops set back from the street. We got the feeling that they operate on a low budget, and the food was the least impressive spread of any of the Chabad houses we’ve been to yet. The company was pleasant, though, and we made friends with Maayan and Shlomo, an Israeli uncle-niece duo on vacation in Thailand. It’s a good thing our hotel included an awesome breakfast, because Shabbat lunch was a little sparse. On our way down to the pool that afternoon we stopped to have a chat with the hotel GM. We had a few small things to complain about, mostly our room not having been cleaned yet at 3:00pm, and wound up in a full hour conversation with Dominic, who turned out to be a really friendly guy with an interesting life story. He comped us a pair of beers and some cashews, which we enjoyed while we chatted, and by the time we made it to the pool we were feeling great – so great that it didn’t bother us that there was a steady drizzle of rain.

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Once Shabbat was over, we ventured out for a walk. Saturday night is the best time to see Patong at its worst. Girlie bars, “ping-pong” shows, and all manner of strange and edgy things abounded. We wound up back at the mall, where Jordan had her eye on a micro-brewery that sounded good, had good online reviews, and for which we had a coupon. It did not disappoint, and we enjoyed our Greek Salad and Pesto Spaghetti with a house beer ($12) while a local musician sang acoustic covers of popular western songs. It was yummy and pleasant and far from the sketchy street scene. We walked back, stopping at the store for a Taro popsicle ($2) to finish off the evening with a sweet treat.

On Sunday morning, we started the day with a big load of laundry (self-service machines off the lobby, $6.66) which washed while we ate breakfast and dried while we went for a dip in the pool. After showering and packing up, Felix went around the corner to the main drag to pick up a tuktuk for the 20 minute ride down to Karon (the next town south of Patong), which saved us a few baht compared to the price of a regular taxi ($10 instead of $16.66). It was just beginning to rain again as we got into the plastic walled vehicle. Google maps, which Felix was using to direct the tuktuk, almost got it right…and then, wound up taking us up a steep hill to a dead end. A little annoyed, the tuktuk driver doubled back, bashed the bottom of the tuktuk a few times on the downhill, and took the next turn toward the hotel. Around the first bend, we were surprised to find an insane incline prefaced by a large speed bump. The driver threw his hands up, and like a good Jewish mother let out a loud “oy yoy yoy!”, but then, like a champ, he floored it and somehow made it up the hill. By the time we made it to CC’s Hideaway, the driver was emotionally exhausted and got out to asses his damaged ride and we felt so bad we gave a him an extra 50 baht and a thousand apologies. Relieved to have made it there, we went inside.

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CC’s Hideaway ($35/night) was the last stop on our Thailand itinerary, and we definitely ended on a high note. Nestled up on the side of the mountain and surrounded by jungle, the view of the ocean from our room was magnificent. We were greeted with a delicious welcome drink of lemongrass-infused water, and on our bed were towel swans and orchids. The room was cool and comfortable and the courtyard pool was inviting. The hotel provided a free shuttle service to and from the beach every few hours (in a powerful SUV, no more tuktuks up that crazy steep hill!), which was very convenient, and to top it off, the amazing breakfast included a waffle station. Oh, and its gay-friendly, which we realized when we noticed that as a straight couple, we were in the minority.

The sun came out that afternoon and we headed down the hill at 6pm to wander around. We walked up and down the beach road in Karon, and it didn’t take long to realize who the main demographic here was: Russians. Almost all the signs and menus were in Russian and everywhere we went on Karon Beach, the people were Russian. The offerings were a little pricier than we were used to, and also not so appealing, so we wound up at a little night market stall for dinner where we had some pad Thai and what passed for salad ($6.66 with drinks). Felix had a shake made of mango and red dragon fruit (a cross between a classic dragon fruit and a sugar beet), which looked really impressive. After spending way too much time and not doing much in Karon, we sat by the minimart and snacked on some ice cream pops ($1.33) until our ride arrived at 10pm, and we headed back to CC’s for some sleep.

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After gorging ourselves on breakfast, we headed down the hill in our bathing suits to Kata beach, where the waves were out of control and the beach chairs were overpriced. We hung our dry-bag and towels on a tree and played in the water. Felix enjoyed challenging the waves and the undertow while Jordan snapped some photos. We then wandered around the bazaar shops, where Jordan bought a fun new bathing suit for $5 (she was very proud of this purchase) and we booked our ride to the airport for the next morning (a competitive 800 baht /$26), before our ride came to take us back to our favorite hideaway. We lounged by the pool and sipped a piña colada and a mai tai ($13.33) with a snack of nuts as the day wound down. Dinner began as we watched the sun set over the water, and we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant – for the veggie green curry and fresh spring rolls ($13). We tried to order ice cream for dessert, but the restaurant was out of ice cream (!), so we convinced Luis, the Costa Rican Guest Relations Manager to run us down to the minimart, which he happily did, and we got our Cornetto cones ($2) to make the night complete. On Tuesday morning we had a early breakfast, and our ride came promptly at 7:30am to drive us to the airport, a 75 minute drive to the northern tip of the island.

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It’s easy to see why Thailand is a draw for so many young travelers. Beautiful beaches, jungle adventures, up close with wildlife (and wild life), and all at affordable prices make it an ideal destination for all types of travelers. Our experience straddled both vacationing and roughing it; backpacking and resorting – and we’re so glad we experienced both. Thailand is a place we would be happy to revisit…maybe someday you’ll join us? Next destination: We’ll give you a hint – it’s small, expensive and really, really clean!

Click here to view the photo journal.

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