The guidebooks said nothing about techno tuk-tuks. Our driver zipped us through the busy roads of Phuket’s main city, away from the airport, and headed to the west coast of the island. This tuk-tuk, dubbed “Tiger Kingdom”, was operated by a man who regarded booming bass and heavy synths as essential to transit and he made me a believer. We flew past families on scooters, trucks, and other tuk-tuks with staring passengers, our soundtrack a blaring beat-riddled “Mr. Sandman” (if you can possibly imagine).
Phuket struck me as crowded and a bit dirty, but people rave about the raves, and the beach resorts. My boyfriend and I weren’t up for its iconic full-moon parties, but this Andaman Island was on our way to the Thai jungle, further north, and we were ready for some some nice cocktails and good food. I figured Phuket must have earned its reputation with more than pills and parties. I was half-right.
After the hot tuk-tuk journey we dragged our bags down a main beachside road that featured expensive hotels and zero character. It took us close to an hour to find a cool restaurant to sit down in and recharge, coming up short in the search for a room for the night. The beach hut we left behind in Ko Lanta was seeming more and more like a dream. We eventually only slumped into the restaurant to avoid heatstroke and reconsider our options. I used the free wifi to find a decently priced hotel up the road, and after some icy drinks we hopped into an oddly silent tuk-tuk and rode up to the Kata Garden Resort.
The grounds were lush with tropical flowers, a big, beautiful swimming pool and curving wooden stairs that climbed far up a hillside to our room. After a rest we set out on a short walk down to Kata Yai Beach. The journey was lined with cheap touristy shops and sidewalks crowded with Westerners. The beach-goers were beginning to thin out when we arrived and the sun began to set. We bought beers from a stand and settled onto plastic loungers to pay tribute. What followed ended up being the most incredible sunset I have ever witnessed. Just to our left were about a hundred people packing up their towels and throwing out their trash, and here was the Sun, easing its way down between the coast and a small island, beyond long-tail boats that had docked for the night.
At dusk we walked south, all the way to the end of the beach, and ate lobster at a restaurant perched on a seaside cliff. It was a perfect, tranquil evening in a place that seemed otherwise hectic, touristy and overpriced. Upon returning to our hotel, a live band was playing in the restaurant. We lingered to listen, dangling our feet in a small pool off the lobby, savoring the warm night.
The next morning we ordered a tuk-tuk and headed for the bus station, bound for the jungle. Our bus followed the coastline north for about an hour before veering inland, up heavily forested mountain roads. It was a fast and comfortable way to travel, and we slowed only to allow some passengers off and to make way for an elephant and his leader.
The Khao Sok National Park area is pretty vast, and it’s not even necessary to enter the park proper to enjoy this beautiful region. We had pre-booked accommodations, but our shuttle from the bus stop outside the park passed several good options. Ours was a treehouse at My Jungle House, a wood shack built into a tree beside a quiet river with hanging rope swings.
I was looking forward to the canoe tour we booked, as well as evenings in the open-air treehouse bar and meals below on the veranda, but I won’t lie: my primary interest was monkeys. I’d never seen one outside a zoo, and my research told me this jungle was filled with gibbons and spectacled langurs. I was green with envy overhearing some guests talking about monkeys breaking into their treehouse while they were out, stealing food and vandalising their belongings. “What’s mine is yours, comrades,” I thought. “Just show yourselves.”
A crudely drawn map led us on a nature trail around the resort’s property. Faint wooden markers were nailed to trees to guide us, and the map pointed out semi-obvious landmarks like “giant banana tree”. Just when we suspected we were lost, and no monkeys in sight, the boyfriend walked into an enormous spider web. Gasping, he broke free by lunging backward as the occupant scuttered up the web and froze, awaiting our next move. Mine was towards the camera. Richard’s was to dance around in horror, brushing imaginary web filaments off him and yelling. We ended up having to dash underneath the web, as it stretched entirely over our path, and the spider seemed nonplussed. Back at the resort, they told us it was a golden orb web spider; large, but harmless to humans as its hooked appendages can’t penetrate human skin.
The next morning I got what I was waiting for. I heard a noise at dawn and crept out to our deck to watch a band of marauding monkeys descend on our neighbors’ deck. They loped and swung in from various angles, checking the locked door and sniffing around before moving on through the treetops, looking for another target to hit. I was thrilled, and was rewarded again later, when we went swimming down the river and walked home down a dirt road canopied by trees and swinging monkeys.
Thailand let me live out an adventurous fantasy in Khao Sok, after days of living out a peaceful beach fantasy. Not since Hawaii have I been in a place so like paradise. Only on this side of the world, paradise is dirt cheap and decidedly un-American.
- Pre-booking accommodations seems a good idea on Phuket
- Long pants and sleeves are best for jungle walks, to avoid bugs and plants
- Take a flashlight if you’re staying in the jungle
- Beautiful accommodations are not dirt cheap in Phuket; you can pay quite a bit if you’re not careful