I’ve always loved being a tourist in my own town. I’ll never tire of visiting Citadel Hill in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I grew up and spent the first 26 years of my life. It’s a step back in the past, where you can get lost amongst the ramparts of the old fort and walk amidst period-costumed people and really get a feel of what it was like in the ‘olden days’. I have probably had this ‘one-of-a-kind’ experience about a hundred times. Then there was the Jungle Queen in Fort Lauderdale, an old-style paddleboat that took a lazy cruise down the Intracoastal Waterway to a real-life Seminole Indian camp with alligator wrestling! In Dubai, it was camel rides in the desert and a hair-raising elevator ride to the 124th floor of the tallest building in the world to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.It’s no different in Thailand. I’ve easily fallen into my old MO (modus operandi) of acting like a tourist wherever I hang my hat. I think it makes for a more enjoyable life. I visited Thailand several times before we moved here so have happily swum with the elephants in Koh Chang, and visited the famous Doi Suthep temple in Chang Mai.
Having settled in Phuket, I’d like to share my top five ‘tourist traps’ that you can’t help but get caught in… more than once!
Number 1 – Songkran
We’ve experienced it twice now and I’m already counting the days to next year. This is Thai New Year, which is celebrated from April 12-15 every year. It’s known as the biggest water fight in the world and everyone is armed to the teeth with super soakers, buckets of water, back pack blasters and a pasty soap concoction to smear on your face for good measure. Like Christmas, there is a religious origin to it, but the fun of soaking your neighbour and even complete strangers, does slightly overshadow the real meaning of Songkran, which is a time to pay your respect to your elders and to Buddha (by washing the elders’ hands in rose water and the shoulder of a statue of Buddha in the temple, hence the water’s role in the celebrations). It is also a time for renewal as it’s the beginning of spring.
Number 2 – The Cabaret Show at Nok & Joe’s
This one is a well-hidden trap unless you find yourself in Bang Tao Village (which is where we’re living). Then you can’t miss this block-long, driftwood adorned, Canadian flag flying eatery. Nok & Joe’s is a wonderful bar/restaurant with a lot of character, mostly because of Joe who is from Calgary, Alberta (Canada) who built the building as well as all the gnarly bar stools and other whimsical furniture. He greets his customers wearing his cowboy hat, cowboy boots and wrangler jeans no matter how hot it gets! Every Sunday night there’s a huge buffet BBQ and a cabaret show featuring some of the top lady/boy performers from Patong (#3 on the list). Of course, Nok’s culinary skill is greatly appreciated too. It’s true authentic Thai food… after all, she is a local.
Number 3 – Patong (the hole darn town)
This trap has big teeth and is not for the feint of heart. I have to really be in the mood for crowds and partying to head to Patong but it is a must see and will probably be seen many times while we’re living close by (about a 30 minute ride on the motorbike). On a busy night, the main street, Soi Bangla, is wall-to-wall people. The street is closed to traffic so picture a street party, a la Mardi Gras, every single night with loud music, dancing in the streets and more than a little inebriated behaviour. So, gird your loins before you go and keep your hands to yourself… the wild life may bite.
Number 4 – The Big Buddha
On the more serene side of the coin a visit to the Phuket Big Buddha is breath taking because of both the sheer size of it and the spectacular panoramic view of the island that you can behold (Chalong Bay on one side and the Andaman Sea on the other). The Buddha is funded totally by donations (there will be a marble tile with my name on it built into the base – I couldn’t help but make a contribution). The imposing statue is 45 metres high and 25 metres across at the base. Inside, you can visit and pray with the monks who make their home in the temple underneath the statue. It’s still under construction but the majority of it is complete and open to visitors. I’ll be back!
Number 5 – Phuket Fantasy
Admittedly, I haven’t yet experienced this particular tourist trap but I see the buses go by every day loaded with eager spectators. I have a friend who works at a resort who says she has tickets for me so it’s definitely on the list. According to the website it’s “The ultimate cultural theme park.” As I understand it, there’s an elephant show, traditional Thai dancing and music, theatrical performances, several restaurants, fire works and street performers. Sounds right up my alley so I can’t wait to try it out.
There’s a whole lot more to explore on our little island paradise and I’ll look forward to discovering more and sharing it with you here.
A published author and freelance writer, Anne O’Connell, has been an expat since 1993 when she and her husband escaped the cold of Toronto, Canada and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They enjoyed the sun and sand for 14 years, while she worked in the PR field, and then decided it was time for a new adventure. Heading for even more sun and sand, they moved to Dubai in late 2007 and then on to Thailand in 2011.
Anne has been working as a freelance copywriter and communications consultant since 2007, specializing in marketing, corporate communications, public relations, social media and website content. She and her husband have a passion for travel and that adventurous spirit has taken them all over the world. Anne grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has a bachelor of public relations from Mount St. Vincent University. You can visit her website at www.anne-oconnell.com or her blog at www.anne-writingjustbecause.blogspot.com.