Friday, May 18, 2012

Thaisland Part II, Phuket (You Give Me Fever)

floating fishing village on the way to Phuket
The next stop on our island tour was Phuket, which is the largest of the Thai islands and accessible by bridge from the mainland. A peek out the window this morning revealed that the sky was still overcast and a bit threatening, so we decided to push on to Phuket Town today.  When we pulled out, we were happy to see that the sky had begun to clear. Today's ride was very much like yesterday's, scenery wise, with jungle covered hills and the occasional exposed limestone face. The bad news is that my clutch is slipping more frequently. Come on, oil change. 

A very happy Colin w/ his fired grums and crispy pork
As we passed Phang-Nga, the sky grew rapidly darker, the humidity increased, and inevitably, it began to rain. The rain quickly gathered strength to become a pretty steady downpour. The rain continued on and off, all the way to the bridge to the island of Phuket. Once we crossed the bridge, the sky became a mixture of dark clouds and patches of blue. We made our way down the island, following the signs and the GPS to Phuket Town and found the Nanachart Mansion (which is not in the GPS or on our map) after only a minor wrong turn. We stayed here the last time, and the price is still the same, the woman behind the desk is the same, and they still don't want you to bring durian into the Nanachart according to the signs on the walls (durian is a much-beloved fruit in southeast Asia which smells more like rotting onions and farts to me. We've tried it, didn't care for it, but have pledged to try it again to be fair. Just not in the Nanachart). The hotel is nothing fancy, but they have secure parking, they've added wifi, and it has the big advantage of being just two blocks from the hole in the wall restaurant serving the best “fired grums and crispy pork” (sauteed morning glory greens and delicious fried pork is how it translates) in this world. That we really came all the way to Phuket just to eat the grums and pork is a telling (sad, but telling) statement to their taste. We pulled the bikes into the parking area and carried our bags upstairs to settle in for a couple of days. That done, we headed out to grab a quick bowl of noodle soup for lunch (followed by a Blizzard- yay- Thailand is also DQ country), and then returned to the room to make use of the wifi for a while, having been without internet for a week. When dinnertime rolled around, and basically, we were counting the minutes until it did, guess what we had? Fired grums and crispy pork, tofu with minced pork, and rice. Ooooh, it was as good as we remembered.

Phuket coast from a scenic overlook
There really isn't a whole lot to do in Phuket Town itself – it's the original city on the island and does have many charming old shophouses similar to the ones we love in Georgetown, but it has good availability of services and is a convenient base from which to explore more of the island. When we were in Thailand two years ago, we spent just a couple of days in Phuket to visit our friend, Bernie, whom we met in Georgetown, Penang. The most popular of its beaches (and the ickiest) is Patong, a showcase of everything that could possibly be wrong in an island paradise. Endless rows of fast food chains, bars, lounges, discos, clubs, t-shirt stands, massage parlors, hotels, condos, you name it, you have at least 183 choices in each category. Seemingly millions of tourists, all lined up on their beach chaises, with mere inches between them. And the majority of them are leathery, old Europeans, wearing what we've learned are called, “budgie smugglers,” (aka Speedos), or thongs and bare breasts so tanned (in texture as well as color), that Colin describes them as looking like two Coach bags laid out on the women's torsos. This is definitely not what we were looking for. We did want to try to cross paths with Bernie, and he hangs out near Patong, so we figured we'd end up there briefly this time. The island of Phuket is huge, however, and from what we read, has many much more beautiful and less populated beaches. On our first full day there, we decided to ride around the island and find some of them.

Small island off Phuket
When we left the Nanachart, the sky was a mixed bag of bright blue and rainclouds, depending on the direction we looked. Since we are getting awfully close to the start of the rainy season, it's not surprising, and being optimists, we decided to head out, toward the blue. We followed the road along the southeast of the island, stopping to look at the large port area, before riding around the southern tip and up the west coast. We rode past many pretty beaches, through some fairly scenic green, very hilly areas (Colin and his clutch did not enjoy the steep inclines. He still hopes that an oil change will help), and pulling off at several places to mark them in the GPS so we could find them again. As we continued north, the sky just got darker. We had reached ugly Patong Beach and looked in the area we knew Bernie to prefer, but didn't find him. Bernie is a creature of habit, and his habit has been to be at a certain spot in the water after lunch. We didn't get a reply to our email, so we decided to try to catch him by chance. When we got back to the bikes, the first drops began to fall, so instead of following our original plan to ride even farther north, we decided to cross the island back to Phuket Town. About five minutes after we started riding, the rain gods switched from their sprinklers to their buckets. It rained, and rained until we arrived at the Nanachart. 

After changing out of our drenched clothes, I took our grubby laundry to a real, mechanical laundromat (a row of six washing machines under a large awning on the backside of a building). It was worth 20 baht (66 cents) to let a machine scrub it for a change. As a side note, it is possible to have laundry done for you anywhere in the world, and many places, it's pretty cheap (usually between 1 and 2 USD per kg).  In a lot of the laundries, someone washes everything by hand, in a bucket, in a river, lake, swale, wherever there is fresh-ish water. If it's going to get hand washed, I'll do it myself in the sink, or in a bucket if there's one around, and hang it on the clothesline we brought with us. I left our things sloshing in the machine for 45 minutes and returned to the room, not feeling very well. I napped until it was time to pick up the laundry and felt a little better after sleeping, but still was achy.

That night, I hardly slept. Every part of me hurt, from my bones to my skin, my joints felt as though the cartilage had been ground off to leave the bone rubbing on bone, and no matter how I tried to roll, I couldn't find a comfortable position.

When I got up in the morning, I threw on my clothes and walked down the street to the 7Eleven for cereal and yogurt and a big bottle of water, still feeling really achy, but otherwise okay. But as I stood at the counter, waiting to pay, I suddenly felt clammy, and unable to keep my eyes open. Standing there, waiting for change, I just needed to rest my head for a moment. The next thing I knew, one of the cashiers was rubbing my shoulder, and I had my arms around the water bottle with my head propped on top of it. I had passed out on the counter at the 7Eleven. Nice. Recognizing this as a symptom of being “not well,” I walked back to the room, dropped the bag, and more or less, collapsed back into bed while relating what just happened to Colin. Since I felt faint, clammy, warm, and achy, he suspected I had a fever and offered to get the thermometer from our first aid kit. I declined, and went to sleep, spending the rest of the day in bed with Colin playing nursemaid and running out to find paracetamol and drinks for me. Later in the afternoon, since I still felt like hell, he got the thermometer, and sure enough, I had a fever of about 102. He did an online search of my symptoms and the most likely diagnosis was some sort of flu or generalized viral infection. Further down the list of possibilities were cat scratch fever and dengue fever. No matter what it was, I hurt and didn't feel up to leaving the room, so Colin continued in his role of errand boy and brought me a chicken sandwich for dinner. That night, I slept poorly again because of the pain, but my fever did seem to drop overnight. I felt much improved the following morning, and after eating the roti with chicken curry that Colin brought back for breakfast, I felt good enough to get out of the room. I suggested riding to one of the other, nicer beaches, since sitting in the sand with a book in hand sounded far more appealing than spending another day in bed. After convincing him that yes, I really did feel better, and promising to let him know immediately if my status changed, we geared up and hit the road. We decided to go to Banana Beach, which appeared positively idyllic in the online pics. Unfortunately, the photos were not representative of what we found when we got there. The beach was strewn with trash, including a multitude of fluorescent tubes covered in barnacles that had washed up, and the surface of the water was also littered with debris. We didn't stick around. Disappointed, we decided to try for one of the beaches we saw on our “beach scoping” ride, but about halfway there, I began to feel poorly again. So we turned around instead to go back to the hotel. The sky had turned a dark gray, at this point, and seemed much lower than on our outbound trip. We almost made it back before the rain started falling in earnest and rode the last mile in the pouring rain. After changing into dry clothes, we walked round the corner to get a bowl of noodle soup for lunch (since it had stopped raining already). I then slept the rest of the afternoon away. My fever was back, but only about two degrees higher than normal. I woke up in time for dinner, and we returned for some more fired grums and crispy pork and a bowl of tom yam soup with prawns. Then I went back to sleep.

What the hell was this?!? I couldn't sleep again overnight because of the deep aches, which popping paracetamol in the middle of the night barely touched. My temperature was still around 100, and now my elbows itched. I became acquainted with the heartbreak of psoriasis, only at the elbows, in the year before we left on this trip. It hasn't flared up in several months (I think a good dose of sunshine really does help), but I now had the familiar, urgent and insane need to scratch my itchy elbows, but nowhere else, and with no other symptoms. In any case, my level of itching and aching wasn't enough to keep me in bed (I make a really bad patient) and we had things to do.

We needed to do some bike maintenance, so after breakfast, we changed the oil in both engines, put in new sparkplugs, and adjusted Colin's clutch, hopefully, solving its issues before our next ride. We had wanted to leave today for Surat Thani, but between my wavering healthiness and the rain that starting pouring from the sky shortly after we finished working on the bikes, staying put for one more day made better sense. After cleaning up, we walked around the corner to a different local restaurant that always seems to be full when we pass by. And we found out why. Phuket was also a stop along the old trade route plied by ships between China and points westward, and so there was, and still is, a Chinese presence on the island. In addition to the architecture and culture, they also brought (more importantly to us) food. What this restaurant served was a version of the Hainanese chicken and rice and pork and rice that we enjoy so much in Malaysia. We ordered the combination plate that included chicken, roast pork, and crispy pork on rice, with their local versions of the dipping sauces. While different from what we've had before, they were a delicious variation on some of our favorite foods. While whatever Re has hasn't seemed to dampen her appetite much, it has dampened her spirits. She is certainly frustrated with feeling this badly, and reluctantly returned to the room since she wasn't feeling well enough to do anything else today. She is still popping paracetamol and has begun to get progressively itchier. We spent the afternoon working on some more writing and reading and planning our escape to the islands in the Gulf. We were both getting a little stir-crazy by dinnertime, so we walked out for dinner around 7:00 pm. I offered to pick up dinner and bring it back to the room, but Re is really tired of the same four walls. Neither of us had a strong opinion about where to go for dinner, so we ended up at McDonald's. There are plenty of other food options in Phuket Town, but I think a taste of home (no matter how greasy) was attractive to us both, and the fact that the Dairy Queen was next door didn't hurt either. After another Blizzard, we went back to the room for the night.


  1. I hope you feel better soon. Don't they have doctors in that part of the world?

  2. Thanks! I'm behind in my blogging duties, so I am fine now. There are plenty of doctors in southeast Asia (even some very good ones), and we have health insurance to cover us while we're traveling to boot. But I'm much too stubborn (or stupid)to see a doctor, and Colin's advice was to "just walk it off."

  3. Glad you're feeling better!!! Next time, but I hope there's not a next time, don't be stubborn and see a doctor!! :)