Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Phuket Old Town

Phuket Town is referred as "Phuket" on the road signs, located at the eastern side of Phuket Island. Impressed by the tourism leaflets describing the historical and cultural richness of the place, we were decided to visit the old town within the boundary of Dibuk Road, Krabi Road - Thalang Road, Phang-Nga Road, Rasada Road, Yaowarat Road, and Rommanee Road.

We used the bus service from Patong to Phuket Town. The bus station at Patong was located at the southern end of Thawewong Road by the beach. We were lucky to catch the bus by just walking half way down the road (from our hotel). The bus was blue in colour with "Phuket-Patong" written on it. We waved to the driver, the bus stopped, and we hopped in. Seats were plenty at 10:30 am. We reached Phuket Town at 11:30 am. Our return trip from Phuket Town to Patong was much faster, in around 35 minutes.

 We were in a "conventional" bus on our trip to Phuket Town (upper left), but we returned using "extra-large" version of tuk-tuk bus (upper right and lower row). Can you imagine the 30 minutes journey uphill and downhill on that "bus"? Anyway, we survived, and the experience, unforgettable.

We went to Tourism Authority Centre of Thailand at the eastern side of Chalong Road to look for more information about the attractions around the town. Then, we walked through Rommanee Road into Dibuk Road, and headed to Phuket Restaurant & Cooking School after our lunch at Dibuk Road. The cooking school is the biggest colonial mansion in Phuket. It has another name- Blue Elephant Governor's Mansion. It was the residence for the Governor of Phuket. There were another two mansions nearby, which were owned by Chinese tycoons- one was abandoned and in bad condition, while another required entrance fee. Blue Elephant Mansion is big, but far from magnificent. The renovation killed all the nostalgic feel of that building. In fact, we could find many mansions with similar designs scattered across old towns in Malaysia.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand was air-conditioned, serving free coffee and drinking water (upper left). There is a park with golden dragon statue beside it (upper right). The old buildings can be seen around the area (lower left). The walkway in front of the shoplots, or "ngoh-kaa-kee" is identified as something unique among Phuket's architecture, but the walkway is very common design in Malaysia. Almost all shoplots in Malaysia are built with "ngoh-kaa-kee".

We couldn't find much information from the tourism information center in the old town. In the center, we found a few booklets on racks, photos with description hanging on the walls (upper left), a resting area with a well which contained water inside (upper right), a few model of the old buildings (lower left), a display of Chinese food, and of course, several other items, including a conference room (not shown in the photos).

 Rommanee Road was marked by this bright pinkish shop.

Rommanee Road was quiet during our visit.

This is the typical design of Chinese residence in Phuket Old Town- face of a dragon, with the windows resemble the eyes, upper windows resemble the eyebrows, while the door resemble the nose and the mouth.

Blue Elephant banners hung by the road (upper left) marking the location of the big mansion (upper right). Well, the "blue" actually described the inside rather than the outside (lower right). The cooking class was conducted by local chefs.

We bought three different seasoning pastes from the cooking school.

From Blue Elephant Mansion, we went to Phang-Nga Road through Krabi Road. We found that On On Hotel at Phang-Nga Road was quite attractive with  strong "old-Shanghai" design. That was the filming site for the movie "The Beach". We didn't watch the movie anyway. Along Phang-Nga, we took photo of the old clock tower (a landmark showed on many leaflets). Then, we reached The Trickeye Museum at the end of the road. The museum was an highlight in a few tourism leaflets. However, we turned back without entering the museum as the entrance was over-priced- 500 Bahts per person for the so-called 3D-drawings that we could see on internet? No way. On our way back to the bus station at Ranong Road, we took a rest at Kanda Bakery Restaurant along Rasada Road and enjoyed tom yam and chicken and corn soups (the cheapest in our Phuket trip).

On On Hotel.

Old vehicles around the old town.

Phuket Trickeye with eye catching sign painted on the wall. It looked outstanding among the old and dull buildings.

Bank of Ayudhaya was a prominent landmark in the old town.

The whole old town made us felt like a modern version of Ipoh Old Town, or a tiny version of George Town in Penang. Unlike some of the heritage old towns in Malaysia, Phuket Old Town was relatively quiet. Many shops were not operational anymore. Many of the buildings were either too heavily renovated, or too old to stand still. Tourism information was shallow, without much information on cultural and living heritage (or maybe we didn't search hard enough). A bit disappointed, but it was still a fruitful trip. At least, we had seen the connection between Phuket and Penang Island in our country.

More about our sharing on Phuket:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Attractions in Phuket

Phuket Island has many attractions. Our second day on the island, we rented a taxi for a half day's island tour. Our first stop, the Tiger Kingdom. Tiger Kingdom is located in Kathu, some 10 minutes away by taxi from Patong. The normal taxi fee was 400 Bahts for a return trip. Luckily, we found a taxi driver who was willing to bring us with 250 Bahts for a return trip (almost 40% cheaper). Later we decided to let him brought us for a half day tour with 1200 Bahts. For your information, we didn't hoop into any tuk-tuk in Phuket as the fare always start jumping from 100 Bahts, even for a very short distance. Not worth it at all.

Tiger Kingdom could only be entered with a handsome fee. Tigers are categorized into four- very small (2 - 4 months) with 1000 Bahts per person per entry, small (5 - 10 months) with 900 Bahts, medium (11 - 15 months) with 800 Bahts, and big (16 - 36 months) with 800 Bahts. We took a package of medium + big with 1400 Bahts per person. Expensive, but close contact with tame tigers motivated us to pay for the tickets. The place offered once in our lifetime experience- petting, touching, grabbing the tail and hind-leg of tigers. Well, the tigers were behaved just like our pet cat. However, we were limited to stay in each enclosure only for 10 minutes.

The experience with small tigers was great. Tiger keepers in that enclosure continuously tried to keep the young tigers active and joke a lot. "Tiger, tiger, don't sleep, wake up, look here, smile to the camera..." the keeper who was responsible to bring us around keep talking to the tiger while busy taking photos for us. Can you ever imagine the situation where sleepy tiger tried its best to find a position for a good afternoon nap while we tried our best to keep it awaken?

However, the experience with the big tigers was not that pleasant. The keeper was relatively quiet. Most of the big tigers were sleeping, and the keeper failed to awaken these big cats, we couldn't do much except petting the sleeping tigers. Quite boring. After taking us to see three tigers (two was asleep while one looked very sleepy), he hurried us out of the enclosure. Then, we went to the very small tiger enclosure, and enjoyed our time watching smallest tigers playing with the keepers and the visitors (watching was free of charge).

Tiger Kingdom can be seen from the main road in between Patong and Phuket Town (upper left). The entrance to the ticketing counter (upper right) with prices list together with the sample photos (lower left). The insurance coverage was included in the entrance fee, well, at least some compensation would be given to those who couldn't come out in one piece.

The park was clean and tidy (upper left). One keeper taught us how to "take care" of the small tiger (upper right), while another dealt with a "play-dead" tiger (lower right). The smallest tigers were just like our cat, cute and full with curiosity.

Our photo with a small tiger, taken by a tiger keeper. By the way, a small tiger was much bigger than a big dog.

Tail grabbing.

Big tiger is huge! Best estimation, 200 - 300 kg. The big cat looked tame, but still quite scary. Luckily, these tigers enjoyed our petting very much.

The Tiger Kingdom is not big, with approximately 5 - 6 enclosures for tigers. During our visit, the place was clean, tidy, and free from the awful smell. The staff were friendly too. The visitor was covered by insurance with no extra charge. By the way, the tiger keepers were good photographers. They helped us a lot in taking great photos with tigers, without extra charge. So, it is unnecessary to hire extra photographer with 500 Bahts at the entrance of the park. We spent around one hour in the Tiger Kingdom.

Our next stop, Wat Chalong. Built in 1837, the temple was formerly named as Wat Chaiyathararam.  Wat Chalong is the most important and the biggest temple in Phuket. In 1876, the serving abbot Luang Phor Cham led the locals to defeat the rebelling Chinese miners, and then awarded by the King.

In our 40 minutes' stay, we found that the temple was heavily renovated. Everything looked new with vivid colours. A statue of Luang Phor Cham was found to sit together with the statues of Buddha. If we put the story of the brave abbot and the building stands for 150 years aside, nothing else was interesting there. We found that the food and drinks sold beside the temple were terribly over-priced (a can of Coke for 400 Bahts, and a cup of fruit juice for 700 Bahts). Our next stop, Big Buddha Temple.

 The main building of Wat Chalong.

Other temple complex surrounding Wat Chalong. The big temple at the middle lures many Chinese visitors. We were suprised by the number of Chinese visitors who came to pray there. Isn't it a temple of Chinese suppressing abbot?

 Luang Phor Cham beside Buddha statues.

The 45 meters tall Buddha statue sits at the top of the Nakkerd Hill between Kata and Chalong, and it can be seen far away from Wat Chalong. The 6 km hill road was steep and windy. We took around 30 minutes to reach the hill top from Wat Chalong. For us, the statue itself was not very attractive, but the 360 view on the top of the hill was breathtaking! We could see Phuket Town, Chalong Town and Kata Beach from there.

Statues at the entrance of the temple (upper left). The stairs lead to the higher level of the temple (upper right), with bells tied to the rails of sunshade (lower left). The "secret passage" to the viewing platform, which can be found at the higher level of the temple.

Ladies are required to wear sarung before entering the temple. Sarung is given in lending basis, with no fee required.

The big white statue can be seen from Wat Chalong (upper). A clear and nice photo can be taken from the lower level of the temple.

The site is divided into two levels. The lower level allows visitors to take photo with the statue. While the higher level which can be reached after we had beaten the stairs, offers far better view. There is a seclusive pathway to access to the great view of Kata Beach. Remember the lead- turn left at the end of the climbing stairs. During our visit, the construction was still ongoing and it was noisy. The food stalls at the lower level offered food and drinks at reasonable price.We stayed for 30 minutes to enjoy the view and the cooling breeze before we continued our journey to Rawai Beach for lunch. Then, we headed to Phromthep Cape.

Eastern view from the temple of Big Buddha, with Phuket Town and Wat Chalong can be seen far left. Please click on this photo to see larger panoramic view.

Southern view from the temple of Big Buddha, with Kata Beach can be seen on the right. Please click on this photo to see larger panoramic view.

 We took our lunch beside this beautiful beach.

Phromthep Cape is located at the southernmost tip of Phuket Island. From there, we can see endless Andaman Sea dotted with a few small islands. The cape is just 5 minutes away from Rawai Beach. We reached at the viewpoint around 2:45 pm. It was sunny and hot. The strong wind comforted us a little bit, but we didn't stay long over there, as the area was very much exposed. There is a lighthouse on the highest level of the viewpoint. Although some online sources noted that it was open to public, the entrance to the lighthouse was locked during our visit. 

 The square beside the viewing platform.

The lighthouse stands proudly at the highest level of the viewing platform. The statue beside the lighthouse is Prince Jumborn- the father of navy for Thailand. One of his successes was bringing a warship from Europe back to Thailand.

The southernmost tip of Phuket Island. We can see a couple taking their wedding photo at lower right. Please click on this photo to see larger panoramic view.

We reached our next station- Kata viewpoint around 3:30 pm. Kata Noi, Kata, and Karon can be seen from that viewpoint. The observatory tower at the viewpoint provides shelter to the visitors, and makes it more visitor friendly compared to Phromthep Cape viewpoint. The view, great, although a few overgrown trees blocked the mountain view. The second level of the viewpoint could be reached through the staircase.

 Road to Kata Viewpoint is windy.

Great view from Kata Viewpoint. Kata Noi beach (nearest), Kata beach, and Karon beach can be clearly seen from the point.

We reached our hotel in Patong around 4:15 pm. Rested and refueled with Japanese buffet dinner, we departed to Phuket Town (or some referred the place as Phuket Old Town) by bus the next morning. Follow us to Phuket Town now.

More about our experience in Phuket in:

[Phuket Free and Easy] [Phuket Attractions] [Phuket Old Town]

Phuket Free and Easy

Phuket is the modern name for Jung Ceylon and Thalang. It is the biggest island in Thailand, located southwest of the country in the Andaman Sea. Interestingly, a western source referred Jung Ceylon as badly pronounced "Tanjung Salang" in Malay, showing the close relation between the island and Peninsular of Malaysia, where Malay Language was widely spoken.

Phuket was a name in our list, but never a priority. We heard a lot about about the island- the beautiful beach, the nightlife, and of course, the disastrous tsunami. This time, we spent 5 days 4 nights on that island, and for the first time, we didn't set any particular itinerary before our departure- to make our trip as free and as easy as it could be.

First day, we reached Phuket International Airport around 5:30 pm local time. As commented by many travellers, the immigration was slow. It's true. We stuck at the counter for more than 30 minutes, with only around 5 - 6 persons in front of the queue. Lucky, the excellent service by phuketshuttle.com eased our travel from the airport to our hotel in Patong. We booked a limousine service through the website 4 hours prior to our arrival, and found a sweet lady carrying a big tag with "WONG LS" awaiting for us at the exit of the arrival hall. The company prepared a receipt of our payment and an envelop filled with travel information and tourist map for us too. We were in a new comfortable Toyota Altis in less than 5 minutes later. The driver was fast and furious, but still, he took around 1 hour to bring us to Baan Paradise Hotel. With 750 Baht, the service worth the price.

The taxi and minibus stands are located just outside of the arrival hall (left). We were glad that the staff were very helpful. One of them told us to walk around and look for the tag showing our name. Well, we found it in next minute.

The first surprise we saw was the sexy-boy parade outside the hotel. It was 15 minutes after we reached the hotel. The guys wearing sexy lady-like costumes were parading around the street, advertising some sort of product and services provided at the sexy-boy street (which we found out it was just two blocks away from our hotel later). The next was the open pole dancing bars with dancing sexy ladies. We described it as "open" because the dance could be seen by anyone by Bangla Road. How about lady-boy? Well, we seen some of them at Bangla Road as well.

Sexy-boy parade on the street (upper left), lady-boys with exposed clothes at Bangla Road (upper right), the ladies prepare for the dance of the night (lower right), and the entrance of Bangla Road from the beach. Bangla Road was busy only at night.

The pole dancers in Tiger Live Band. The dance could be seen from the street.

First night, we visited Jung Ceylon Shopping Mall, Promenade Mall, Bangla Road, and took a night stroll along Patong Beach. The second day, we decided to have a day tour around the island. Since we decided not to drive by our own and tuk-tuk was not suitable for long journey, renting a car with driver was the only option that we had. After a few survey, we got a good offer from a taxi driver with 1200 Bahts for 5 hours' trip. The driver was polite and could speak in simple English.

Our first stop of the day, Tiger Kingdom. It was a place that we will never forget. The tigers there, ranged from the smallest, small, medium, and big, were tame. We could pet, scratch, and even hold their tails in special designed cages. All of this privileges came with a price- 1400 Bahts for 20 minutes (for our package). Then, we went to Chalong Wat, the Big Buddha Temple at the top of the hill, and Rawai Beach for nice Tomyam Kung lunch, before we continued our trip to Phromthep Cape, the viewpoint at Mueang District, and headed back to our hotel. The whole day trip took us around 6 hours, but the driver didn't demand for more (we gave him 100 Bahts tips after the trip). At night, we had our dinner at Shabu Shi, Jung Ceylon. Then, we strolled along Thawewong Road before we went back to our hotel.

 Tiger petting in Tiger Kingdom Phuket.

Jung Ceylon is a huge modern shopping complex in Patong (upper left). Patong Promenade Mall is new but quite vacant during our visit (upper right). Patong street are filled with tattoo service, pharmacies, currency exchange boothes (lower left), hotels, and eateries. The streets was safe during our visit.

Thawewong Road was busy at night, second to Bangla Road.

Third day, we spent the whole day at Phuket Town (or Phuket Old Town). We went there by bus. The journey took us around 1 hour (30 minutes on our way back), and with only 30 Bahts per person per trip. The old town was far less attractive as described in the tourism leaflets. It was more or less a down-scaled George Town in Penang. The street was quiet compared to Patong. Many shops were closed during our visit, but the food and souvenirs over there were expensive. We went back to Patong at 5:30 pm, exhausted and a bit disappointed. We delighted ourselves with the sunset at Patong Beach. At night, we took our dinner at the night market in front of Banzaan Fresh Market, where we found the best tom yam there.

 Old clock tower at Phuket Town.

Patong Beach around 5:30 pm. Many people were around with their cameras, awaiting the best moment of sunset.

Fourth day, trapped by heavy down pour, we spent a whole morning in Jung Ceylon. In fact, by putting ATV adventure, elephant ride, shooting game aside, our choices were limited. Well, we just strolled around the shopping mall, watched a movie, and took our lunch at Banzaan Fresh Market. The food at Banzaan Fresh Mart was not excellent but acceptable. The fresh market was not attractive for us, as we had seen much bigger fresh markets before. Dinner time, not willing to travel far, we decided to try the Japanese food beside our hotel. Well, the food was over-priced with disappointing quality.

 Banzaan Fresh Mart was located behind Jung Ceylon.

The last day at Phuket, we went to the airport early to catch Air Asia flight back to Malaysia. We didn't actually like Phuket very much. For us, the whole island was a big tourist trap. Can you imagine a simple tom yam kung meal by the road side of Patong (without air condition) can easily cost up to 150 Bahts? That price is almost the same with a nice meal in Bangkok. We came back from Phuket almost empty handed, except a few fridge magnets and local made snacks. It was far different from our Bangkok tour last year, where we bought many clothes and even a travel bag with irresistible price. However, the experience in Tiger Kingdom was unforgettable, and at least, we have seen the places.

Next, we would share with you the attractions in Phuket.

More about our experience in Phuket in:

[Phuket Free and Easy] [Phuket Attractions] [Phuket Old Town]

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Farewell Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal (KL LCCT)

It was a place full with our memories. We lost our counting on how many time that we had actually visited KL LCCT. We can't even remember when was our first visit to the terminal. But for sure, we had used the terminal for our trips to Sibu and Kota Kinabalu for quite a number of times. Other places, Kuching, Bintulu, Penang, Kuala Terengganu, Bangkok, Bali, Siem Reap, Singapore, Phnom Penh, Hanoi, Yangoon, and many more. In fact, Some Story about Us is so closely knitted with this small terminal in the middle of South East Asia. 

Since the opening in 2006, the terminal had served as the "Air Asia terminal". Once Air Asia moves to new terminal at KLIA 2 on 9 May 2014, that's the time for air travellers like us to say bye-bye to the old terminal. We would like to share some photos that we took in KL LCCT with all of you. Phuket was the last destination for us from the terminal. Then, Sibu will be the first for us from KLIA 2.

The wall of the terminal was built mostly by metal. The entrance to the domestic flights was busy all the time.

The information counters. The check-in counters can be seen far at the middle of this photo, behind the information counter.

This is the waiting area for domestic arrival, stuffy and always filled with the smell of the smokes from vehicles.

The narrow walkway connecting the domestic arrival hall with other parts of the terminal. This walkway was always jammed with many people. We used to buy newspaper from the bookshop and read it in McDonald's while waiting for our flight.

The entrance to reach the international departure check-in counters was located on the left side of McDonald's restaurant.

The international departure hall (upper row). These photos were taken just before our flight to Phuket, Thailand. We took the photos of international arrival exits on our way back (lower row).
Hot & Roll was our favourite stall in the international departure hall. The food was tasty and cheap, good for breakfast and snack. This photo was taken in 2013.

Taste of Asia was famous with the exquisite and expensive local dishes (upper left), while Coffee Bean and Dunkin' Donuts served western food. Well, the eatery that we visited frequently- Chocolate. We visited Chocolate for the last time on our way to Phuket and took our change to bid farewell to the staff.

The budget taxi bay just outside of the arrival hall.

Well, our last trip from LCCT to ERL station. Interestingly, the bus company referred LCCT as Air Asia. Anyway, starting on our next trip, we don't have to use the bus service anymore. We can go to Putrajaya Central directly using the ERL service.


Want to read more about other attractions in Kuala Lumpur? Please visit: