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  • Writer's pictureAlta's Oyster

One Week in Phuket: The Thrill of Adrenaline

In January, I spent two weeks in Thailand with one of my best friends to celebrate my birthday. To keep the itinerary fresh, we spent week one in Bangkok and week two in Phuket (pronounced Pooket). We had a time in Bangkok, and you can read all about it here.


Phuket immediately felt different from Bangkok. As the driver left Phuket International Airport and took us further in, I saw coconut palm trees, which reminded me of South Florida where I grew up. There were also more White foreigners in Phuket than in Bangkok, and they were pretty much all dressed beach chic.


Phuket was a nice change of pace from the concrete jungle that was Bangkok. Not better, just a nice change, which is what you want when you're spending two weeks in a country. Likely due to being surrounded by water, Phuket felt slightly less hot than Bangkok. The island doesn't have a railway system, so we got around by walking, Grab (Uber's Thai cousin), and pick up by our excursions. We did not take Tuk Tuks as that option was more expensive than Grab.


As is appropriate when staying in a beach town, we took it easy. We stayed in an Airbnb in Karon that was a twelve-minute walk from Karon Beach. Proximity to the beach and airport transfer were the only good things about that Airbnb. In short, if you're browsing Airbnbs in Phuket, and you come across one that says it's situated on top of a hill, swipe left. Fast! We were game to handle the hill, which is why we booked it despite the reviews that mention it, but the apartment itself was sparse, so sparse that we immediately had to ask the owner to send us things like extra toilet paper (there were two rolls), a broom, paper towel, and more, and it took about two for the items to be delivered. So, the hill turned from minor inconvenience to insult on top of injury. Especially since a lot of the drivers we booked via Grab and our tours did not want to drive up the hill to pick us up or drop us off, because, in their words, "The car won't make it."


Imagine having to climb a hill at the end of a long day of activity! Avoid at all costs.


Anyways, the first real item on the itinerary was a day at Karon Beach!



Karon isn't the most beautiful beach I've ever visited (that distinction belongs to Playa Delfines in Cancun, Mexico), but I'm pretty sure it's the most buoyant beach I've ever visited. Despite the high salt content, Karon was the kindest to my eyes, which is another factor that puts it in a league of its own in my book.


I'm used to my eyes stinging if ocean water gets in them, yet I opened my eyes under the water at Karon Beach and looked around, and when I popped back up, my eyes were barely bothered. The water was cold-ish, but I quickly got used to it. Arms and legs splayed, I floated on my back and closed my eyes to relish the feeling of the Andaman Sea rocking me.


The beach had a calm vibe despite neighboring some resorts. It wasn't crowded, so we were able to settle in a nice spot to enjoy the weather. There are business folks selling experiences and refreshing drinks (including coconuts filled with coconut water), but they strike a nice balance of pushing their product and moving on when turned down. Our Airbnb was also near Kata Beach, but the driver who picked us up from the airport said it's far more crowded than Karon. Patong Beach is another popular (crowded) option that might strike your fancy.


After taking in some rays (while wearing sunscreen!), we decided to try one of the experiences. At first, we bought the parasailing experience, because Rebecca has never done it before, but then homeboy told us that we'd have to run to take off, because there wasn't enough wind, and the wind wouldn't pick up until about 3:00pm. We could run, or we could wait for 3:00. If I remember correctly, that was two hours away.


At first, we decided to wait, but my eyes kept drifting to another of their offers: the sofa boat ride. I saw a group giving their lungs a robust workout on the ride prior to us inquiring about the parasail, and it sounded like they were having fun! So, I suggested to Rebecca that we do that ride instead of waiting.


If I tell you I had no idea what I was signing us up for, will you be surprised?


See, the name said sofa boat, so I expected to sit in a chair-like structure. Scroll back up and look at the picture on the right. It's facing backwards, so if you're unfamiliar like I was, you might be thinking that's a comfortable seat where your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, feet planted flat on the ground, sitting comfortably. That ain't what it is.


It's a tube with a raised back, but you're not leaning that comfortably against it, because you need to focus on holding on to the little black straps beside your thighs for dear life. Your legs have to stick out in front of you.


When I saw what it really was, my nerves told me to change my mind, but I kept my mouth shut. After we paid 120 baht ($3.50) total, the staff fitted us with life jackets and positioned us on the inflatable right away. They were probably worried we'd change our mind all-together, and they'd lose out on business. I say that because they had one boat doing both the parasailing and pulling the sofa boat, and the boat had just left to take someone parasailing.


Rebecca has done a sofa boat ride before. And before we awkwardly climbed on that boat, she said to novice swimmer me, "There's probably a one hundred percent chance we'll fall off."


I---


Why tell me that?! It wasn't helpful! My stomach dropped to my feet and burrowed under the sand. And now there I was, sitting on the sofa, literally looking at my life and this choice I'd made. Fall in the ocean?! The deep? Oh, the life jacket meant absolutely nothing to me. I could not get my mind to accept that some flotation device would be enough to save me if I fell in. I wouldn't be able to hold myself up if I fell in. I had no independence, and that freaked me out. I was extremely vulnerable.


Like I said prior, the real boat had just left the shore for a parasailing ride, so I had a good (fraught) five minutes or more to imagine just how badly I would panic if I fell in the damn ocean. The life-altering trauma! If I fell in, I would never step foot on a beach again.


And then I said no. No, Alta. We are not falling in. That is NOT an option. These damn straps right here? We go together. Real bad. I will not let go!


My brain kept telling my mouth to open and back out. Brain also told me: you know what? By tonight, you'll be safe in bed.


And then the boat was back. And it was time.


Whew!


I was screaming as soon as we took off, because it was fun! It felt like I was on a water ride. Like, a safe one inside of a water park. Adrenaline sizzled its way across my chest. I was really doing this!


Then we started bouncing on the waves, really bouncing. The relationship between my hands and the straps was put through a rigorous test. We were whipped to the left, whipped to the right, spun, and dragged. My ass flew off that seat, but what God has joined together, let no wake or boat separate! I did not let go! I flew up, but the vice grip I had on those straps slammed me back down.


At one point, my leg fell off to the side of the sofa boat, and I wondered how much longer we had until the ride was over.


The ride was exhilarating, and I felt so alive! I was nervous, but I was even more happy. I.was.doing it! And during the lulls when we were being pulled directly behind the boat, and those moments were few, I took in where the hell I was: in the middle of the Andaman Sea, far from shore, and look there's a giant rock formation, and look there goes another, and look at how the water goes on and on, disappearing at the horizon. How extraordinary. How special.


I recommend doing a sofa boat ride wherever you can find one. Don't wait to go to Phuket. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Will I do it again? Uh, after I get comfortable swimming in the deep in. I didn't fall in this time, but I don't want to push it.


When the ride was over, my fingers were stiff from holding on so tight, and it hurt to uncurl them. Rebecca revealed that she almost fell off the ride, and the only thing that kept her on was the certainty that if she fell, then the boat would capsize, and I would fall, and she knew that I would freak.the hell.out. So she held on. Thank you, friend!


There are copious restaurants across the road from Karon Beach. There are seafood restaurants, of course, Thai, and plenty of Italian. After proving ourselves champions of the ocean, we chilled on the beach for a bit and then sat down at an Indian restaurant, where I had mango sticky rice and gulab jamun for the first time. Now I'm a major fan.


The next day, we visited Phuket Old Town, a historical area of Phuket noted in part for its Sino-Portuguese buildings. It's a beautiful and busy connection of streets. The first order of business was to get our second Thai massage of the trip. Then we got down to the serious task of shopping. There are clothing, jewelry, and fabric stores, as well as stores selling random odds and ends.


Phuket Old Town proved to be nice for a leisurely walk. Rebecca and I were competing for most steps taken in a day, which was another fun element of the trip. What wasn't fun was an encounter I had with an old Asian woman on the street and the steady stream of racial micro aggressions I experienced in both Bangkok and Phuket.


Let's talk about my Black experience in Thailand.


A Black woman posing in front of a mirror in Phuket Old Town. She's facing the camera and smiling.
Alta at Phuket Old Town

I've watched and read Black travelers' experiences with being made into an attraction during their visit to some Asian countries. Being made into an attraction looks like being videoed or photographed without your permission. Suddenly, you're the souvenir they want to take home. Some might generously call that curiosity. I call that entitlement.


I had other Black travelers' experiences in the back of my head as I journeyed to Thailand, and I always wondered how I'd react if some Asian person pulled out their phone to take my picture. Would I ruin the picture by blocking my face? Ask for compensation? Turns out, I'd say no and walk away!


This incident happened right before I took the picture above. While Rebecca and I waited to take a picture in front of that beautiful mirror, an old Asian woman (don't know what ethnicity or nationality she was) called out to me, "Madame," and pleadingly handed me her phone. She was by herself, so I thought she wanted me to take a picture of her in front of said mirror.


The camera had been facing her, so I turned it to face outward, thinking she didn't know how to work the camera. I started holding the phone up to gesture for her to get in position in front of the mirror, and it must've looked like I was holding it up for a pic, because that's when she put her hand around my shoulder and leaned into me for an usie or group pic.


I didn't wonder or question. I said, "Oh, no," handed her the phone, and walked away. I always already baking in the Thai sun. I was in no mood to entertain that. She could've at least offered to pay for my picture. But why pay for something you feel entitled to? The audacity. She didn't care about the White woman I was with. She wanted my picture.


If your spirit's getting ready to say, "Well, they don't see many Black people in Asia" as I often see when Black people share this specific experience, please save it. It truly doesn't matter to me. There are other, more respectful ways to interact with people you've never seen. How about just saying hi? Smile? Wave (or do a wai)?


On the BTS Skytrain in Bangkok, I sat next to an old woman. She said something to the two friends next to her, and they all shifted down one seat, creating an empty seat between me and the woman. As I was asking myself, "Was that...?" I kid you not, at the very next stop, a White woman boarded the train and took that empty seat, and the old lady and her friends didn't move.


The rest of the negative experiences consisted of some of the vendors tripping over themselves to serve my White friend first. Half of the vendors didn't care one way or another. Our money was the same. The other half? Trying to take her order first, trying to serve her first (without asking if that particular food was what she ordered. It wasn't. It was mine). At the ziplining activity in Phuket, the staff was dressing us in the harness. I was second to last in line, Rebecca standing behind me. When it was my turn, the man called Rebecca forward so he could put the harness on her, securing me last.


I used the word "trying" above, because Rebecca reversed some of the attempts to elevate her, because she saw it for what it was, which made the interactions less burdensome. Imagine going through that with a White person with their head in the clouds about global White Supremacy, White privilege, colonization, and anti-Blackness. When asked for her order, she would tell the server that I'm ordering first. If they set a glass of water in front of her first, she slid it to me.


But it was still a mindfuck. Hmm, was this thing intentional or (un)conscious worship of Whiteness manifesting? I think it was more of a mindfuck because I was traveling with a White person. Imagine the same encounters, but I was traveling with Black friends. We all would've gotten it and been in the same boat. Imagine the same encounters, but I was traveling solo, then I would've been treated secondary to whatever White tourist was in those people's immediate vicinity. The unfavorable comparison wouldn't have been so close.


There was also a pathetic edge to the pandering. I looked at those people like...they still don't like you, though. I'm guessing you don't get that? You can trip over yourself to prioritize this particular White woman or that White person to make them comfortable, and the same immortal White supremacist, Anti-Black propaganda that has you doing that also ensures that you will never sit next to them. Not for real. Because the same propaganda already has a role locked in for you: you're a tool. Promoting White supremacy through word or deed is you carrying out your role as its tool.


Moving on.


The next day, we did an eight and a half hour island-hopping tour with the Phuket-Phi Phi, Maya & Khai Islands Full Day Speedboat Tour from Airbnb Experiences. It started rocky. Their driver was almost forty-minutes late picking us up. I was ready to give up and started looking forward to going back to bed. We had to reach out to find out if we were still being picked up, and the response was slow to come.


Despite the iffy start, the overall experience could've been great. We went to the Phi Phi Islands (do you know it's pronounced Pee Pee, not Fee Fee?), Maya Beach, Pileh Lagoon, Viking Cave, Monkey Beach, Phi Phi Don, and we were forced to go to the last island, Koh Kai.



That water is the stuff of movies, right? The geo tag on my video puts us in Ao Pi Le, a bay in Krabi Province. An island-hopping tour, aside from being a must when visiting Phuket, was kind of a do-over for me. I did a sunset cruise during last year's birthday trip to Kaua'i, and I was seasick for the majority of it and threw up maybe twenty minutes before we docked.


However, this tour handed out seasickness pills before we boarded. I took theirs, even though I brought my own this time around, and it worked. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the gift of riding on the ocean even with the bouncing of the speedboat. This tour had two stops that allowed folks to snorkel. There was also an opportunity at one of the snorkel spots to pay extra, hop on a long-tail boat, and coast on the water.


I never jumped in the water (novice swimmer here), but I enjoyed myself, nevertheless. My goal is very much to jump into the ocean on one of these excursions one day. While I wouldn't call myself a fish, as some people tend to do, thinking back on it now, I do love being on the water.


A Black woman stands on Maya Beach in Thailand. She's half turned toward the camera.
Alta at Maya Beach

The ocean is so enchanting that it elevates any tour. Which is why I recommend booking a tour other than this one to see these islands. We were at least an hour behind schedule, so some of the stops felt rushed, including Maya Beach. I didn't realize there was an actual beach at Maya Beach until it was time to head back to the speedboat, because we docked at a pier and immediately encountered trees. It looked like a national park and only that. I took the picture above, and then it was time to start the seven-minute walk back to our tour guide.


Monkey Beach was another location where we didn't spend much time. We got maybe five minutes to gawk at the wild monkeys? Emphasis on wild. So you know I was over it in less than two minutes. They were too jumpy and quick for my liking, so I cautiously snapped a pic of one, got a few seconds of video of a few, and then I fell back. So when an exclamation broke out from the crowd a few minutes later, you know where I was? Mm-hmm, a safe distance away.


Two people got bit from doing too much with the monkeys. Well, one lady was a casualty. Someone else was doing too much, and the monkey went for her instead. It is not a zoo, y'all. Don't go to Monkey Beach and come back needing a rabies shot.


We spent the most time at the two locations that allowed people to snorkel, which was maybe fifteen to twenty minutes? At one point, when we were en route to the next destination, it started to rain, and I went from happy to giddy. This, too, revved up my adrenaline, as simple as it sounds. Pouring rain while riding a speedboat? How many times in my life will I experience that? It was delightful!


The next destination turned out to be lunch, and there are two beautiful pictures of me and Rebecca frolicking in the pouring rain on our way to shelter.



And then things soured. After eating, and with the rain still coming down, everyone on the tour was done. It's one thing to choose to get wet; it's another to get pelted by rain, and the rain was a little chilly, especially with wind from the speedboat coming at us. Imagine our surprise when the tour guide said we still had one more island to visit. Everyone said no, that we were good with turning back. We didn't know what more the weather would bring.


The tour guide barely responded to the grousing. In fact, it was a foreigner local to Thailand who's taken this tour before who told us all that it wasn't up to our guide to stop, that she had to continue the tour. Well, that sounded sketchy.


So that's how we were forced to visit Koh Kai, after enduring a thirty-five-or-so-minute ride. And once we got there, I understood why we "couldn't go back." Koh Kai is the cash grab stop. There are maybe three beachside restaurants and a bar. You want to sit at one of them to wait things out? You have to buy food or a drink, so Rebecca and I bought (even though we ate at the last stop). You want to sit on one of the beach chairs? That'll cost you, so we chose to spend the rest of the wait standing in the water. Oh, we also bought rain ponchos, because this and some knickknacks are also sold at this stop.


And then we could go back. Again, being picked up late was one thing. Some of the stops were rushed, but what sent it over for me was the mandatory fun imposed on us at the end. The willingness to ignore what literally all of the customers requested was off-putting. And the advertisement for this tour on Airbnb Experiences is a lil phony. I don't know if they changed the main advertisement, but the host's bio still promises a stop at her family's private beach.


Private beach where? This trip cost about $51.98 per person at the time, and you can explore other island-hopping tours for that much.


On our last official day in Phuket, we went ziplining at Hanuman World. Ten out of ten, would recommend again, and again, and again! Hanuman World is the biggest rainforest zipline park in Thailand and is the best activity we did during the two-week trip.



We bought the Extreme for Beginner package for 2,200 baht ($63.90 at today's exchange rate), which included nine ziplines, the longest being 300 meters long, or 984 feet. We also added the Roller and the Skywalk. I'd never ziplined before, so I was most anxious about this activity. Suspended umpteen feet in the air, flying at how many miles per hour, secured with nothing but a piece of rope? The thought wasn't reassuring.


And then I took an impromptu sofa boat ride on the ocean, secured with nothing but a life jacket and my hands. That knocked the zipline anxiety right out of me, so when they asked for a volunteer? My hand shot up. Yes, me! I went first for about 95% of the course. After I was locked in, and he said, "Go," a flutter of nervousness whirred through me, but it passed quickly.


In Phuket's lavish rainforest, I soared. This trip was a beautiful start to another year around the sun. Head over to my Tiktok (@Innameonly) to see a video recap of my time in Phuket!


If you've been to Phuket, what did you get up to? What's the craziest ocean ride you've done?


If you liked this recap, share to spread the goodness!







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