Hello. I am the newest (and youngest) travel consultant at Gold Travel and when I was given the opportunity to experience a trip to Thailand to attend a workshop and educational with pepXpress, a global PEP, interline and travel agent, I was super-excited – but, as a first-time traveller, somewhat apprehensive.
Following Thailand’s devastating tsunami in 2004, a massive reconstruction and recovery effort was mounted, and today it is almost reminiscent of what it was before the tsunami ever struck. Beach days and nightlife are in full swing, hotel rates are down, shopping is up, Thailand is welcoming visitors and tourists again, and I was very happy to be one of them – what an adventure!
Excitement ran high on March 25 for Carla and I as we headed off to Cape Town International airport – thoughts rushed through my head – had I packed enough or too little? …. Sunblock, check, bikini, check, insect repellent, slip slops…aaaah, but what I didn’t have I could always buy there….
We flew with Cathay Pacific – a great airline and affordable – first stop Hong Kong Airport and on the bus to the next terminal before flying in to the new Phuket International Airport – shoo, that was a long haul (not in the air, mind you) – over and above the flight, it took us an hour to get through passport control and another 2-hour bus ride to Bangsak – but excitement reigned so we weren’t too fazed, and our vacation had officially begun as we pulled into the 5-star Bangsak Merlin Resort.
Bangsak Merlin Resort
The hotel is a new build after the tsunami and they employ only the local people, who are most helpful and accommodating. The resort is a beachfront hotel in Khao Lak, situated amidst lush tropical gardens and offering 275 simple, elegant and luxurious units. There is much to do at the hotel – two restaurants, a beach bar, fitness room, kids’ area and spa facilities, and if you eventually venture out of your gorgeous room or get off your beach towel, the area is teeming with much to do.
Hire a tuk tuk to get around – they are affordable (200 Baht) and you see so much – including elephants walking about in the streets, for real! A quick note: the cars and bikes don’t stop when you cross the road so you need to be alert at all times!
Places of interest in the area
Bang Niang night market and Khao Lak market – where you can sample unique food (the deep-fried chicken balls and jasmine rice are out of this world.) A word to the wise – it is cheaper to eat at one of the local restaurants where you also get a full meal. There are also many souvenir stalls to barter and buy from.
Located at Panyi Island, this lovely little village gives you a glimpse into the daily lives of the locals – be sure to stop for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.
Hong Island Tour – we boarded a Thai longtail boat, guided by Otte, from Eco Khaolak Adventure who was so knowledgeable about all of the islands and places of interest. We visited Skull Island – hard hats and head lamps at the ready – apparently, their night trips are amazing – you can see glowing algae; and ‘James Bond Island’ where they filmed The Man with the Golden Gun. We got to do a canoe ride and enjoy the view of the islands and the many caves they took us through – my favourite was called Lovers’ Lagoon – an open space with so many trees growing inside. The bat cave was a bit scarey but a ride through the Mangrove Forest, a water-based forest in the middle of nowhere, was extremely relaxing and a fitting end to an interesting tour.
Before you leave Hong Island, a great idea is to hike to the top of the mountain and take in the exceptional views – see if you can spot the islands shaped in a shoe or a snail!
The Monkey Temple
Thousands of monkeys scurry about so be sure to pack away your sunglasses and zip up your bags else you could be relieved of some of your possessions. The temple itself is very pretty with many a golden Buddha, but you have to be properly dressed and cover your shoulders and knees if you want to see the entire temple.
Snorkelling at Phi Phi Island
This tour is also hosted by Eco Khaolak Adventures. A snorkel and mask are provided but you need to rent fins – personally I would take my own as the hired ones didn’t fit right and it felt as if I was viewing the world through a fish bowl. Loh Samah Bay and Pi Leh Lagoon have an abundance of colourful, tropical fish and other spectacular marine life.
It wasn’t all play – we had to do some work – the workshop took place at the beautiful forest-themed resort Khao lak Merlin where we got to meet representatives of the various hotels in the area that cater for everyone from families, to honeymooners, party people, sport fundis or those who just want peace and quiet….
- Karbi Holiday Inn resort
- Coconut Village
- Paradise Oh Yao
- Santhiya Resort and Spas
And, all too quickly it was time to leave the beautiful Bangsak Merlin Resort and head off for a site inspection to Patong Merlin Resort, another gorgeous 4-star resort in the heart of Paton beach, nestled amongst acres of coconut palms and flowering gardens. There wasn’t much time to explore but we did get to Karon View Point, the Big Buddha, Wat Chalong Temple and the Tiger Kingdom. We walked through Bangla Street and Paradise Market and bought a few more goodies to take home.
And just like that our two-day stay in Patong was over and it was time to head back home, knowing for sure we had not seen nearly enough of all that this beautiful island has to offer. She has certainly weathered the storm and is a wonderful, friendly, affordable paradise to visit.
Thank you to pepXpress who did a wonderful job of arranging everything.
By the way, I picked up some great tips for travelling in Phuket from Phuket101 – worth a look-see – https://www.phuket101.net/phuket-travel-tips/