Friday 30th November 2001, Phuket Thailand.
It was pouring with rain when we left the hotel. Any hopes of getting some photos of the multitude of oil tankers anchored off the coast, were dashed. Our taxi driver chatted cheerfully all the way to the airport – we couldn’t understand a word he said, but we made appreciative noises and nodded approvingly from time to time.
Despite its short duration, the flight to Phuket was not our best – certainly from Brigid’s point of view. The ageing A-300 Airbus trundled from apron to runway, bumping over every minor imperfection in the surface.
The take off was smooth enough, but to Brigid’s all too evident distress, the seat belt sign remained on for the first 20 minutes of the flight. Brigid’s blood pressure climbed with the plane through successive layers of cloud. The seat belt sign was at last switched off as the plane (and Brigid’s blood pressure, no doubt) levelled off at 31,000 feet. Still the plane was completely enveloped in grey cloud, no hint of blue sky in sight. Eventually, seeing the cabin crew going about their business, Brigid released John’s hand, allowing the blood to flow back into his fingers!
One hour and twenty minutes after leaving Singapore, we touched down safely in Phuket, Thailand.
Unfortunately, the arrival of our plane coincided with the arrival of at least two charter flights. The Arrivals Hall was packed. We stood patiently in line for Immigration for about an hour before we were able to retrieve our luggage. We had a choice of transport to our hotel. We could either pay Baht 360 (£6) for a private taxi, or live dangerously and take the shared minibus for Baht 80 (£1.30). The minibus seemed much more fun!
We arrived at the Sinthavee Hotel in Phuket Town at about 1.30pm. It might not have been the plushest hotel in town, but at Baht 1130 (£18) per night we weren’t complaining.
After a snack in the On On Café nearby, we made our first foray into the local market. Brigid snapped up some 2m lengths of pretty batiked cotton. A little further on, we found ourselves outside one of those very cheap tailors shops for which Thailand is so well known. With Christmas nearly upon us, and no formal clothes to speak of (most of our clothes are in storage), we seized the opportunity to smarten ourselves up a bit. The first fitting was to be at 8.30pm the following day, and having made a down-payment of Baht 10,000, we strolled happily into the sunshine to finish our Christmas shopping.
All in all, John’s two bespoke suits (one a dinner suit) both in cashmere and silk, two handmade shirts in Egyptian cotton, and a silk two-piece outfit for Brigid, came to a grand total of Baht 16,700 (a little less than £280).
Even in the short time we have been here, Phuket is a wonderful city. The principal form of transport is a 100cc scooter. Everyone rides them! It is quite common to see three adults perched on the seat, and not at all uncommon to see three adults and one or two small children squeezed on to one bike! The streets are lined with stalls selling delicious-smelling food, sizzling appetizingly. Everywhere there are craft shops and fabric shops, and friendly faces. We walked for miles.
We had hoped to dine in the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, but it was being refurbished. Instead, we found a popular street side café. It was presumably only open in the evenings … it was sited on the forecourt of a shuttered motorcycle dealership.