Next stop was Patong Beach, which is also in Phuket, and is known for its appeal to Westerners, especially on the infamous Bangla Road. Picture the Red Light District meets Bourbon Street meets Miami Beach – heaps of American (and Aussie) men toting young Asian girls around with them, too many go-go clubs to count, and street performers with animals, magic tricks and way to many “Ping-Pong show” flyers (more on that).
Trying our best to ignore the enormous rats that scurried around everywhere, we grabbed a couple of beers, which was sure to cure the blossoming cold I was suffering since Phi Phi island (no wonder I haven’t recovered, despite Max’s hereditary need to force Alka Seltzers down my throat every day). After so many backpackers raved about the Ping-Pong shows – we won’t go into detail, but let’s just say it involves not only the balls but also several other inanimate and living objects being put in places the sun don’t shine – we had to see what the fuss was about. After the waitress asked for $40 for each person to have one beer, I grabbed Max and bee lined for the door. The waitress grabbed us and dropped the price by about 80% so we grabbed a quick beer and watched the disturbing show alongside our American counterparts that lined every corner of the bar.
Following that escapade we saw a very entertaining Thai band sing some classical hits and a talented young Thai girl belt out Adele songs effortlessly. We called it a night and prepared for our canoe trip early the next morning.
American Captain John Grey is said to have discovered what the Thai people call “hongs,” which are basically secret and secluded coves accessible only by traveling through very narrow caves at the bottom of the remote island mountains in the Andaman Sea. We headed to Phang Na, where we headed off on a large boat to start our hong tour.
We had a delicious lunch of Thai food and the extremely friendly staff introduced us to the history of the hongs and explained our day to us. Our first stop was the Bat Cave, where we broke into pairs and loaded onto canoes as one staff paddled us out to the caves. Navigating through the pitch-black cave full of fruit bats, our guide Tom explained everything we were going to see. A family of monkeys greeted us as we entered the hong, and after snapping a bunch of shots we headed back to the main boat. We had similar tours of about three more hongs, which were beautiful and lush, teeming with wildlife and several rare species of birds. We were given free time to canoe around on our own and then headed back to the boat for a fresh dinner of local Thai cuisine, Massaman curry and several different barbecued meats, spicy Thai soups and a variety of fresh teas.
After dinner we had a very intriguing encounter with a historical Thai practice. Traditionally done each November, the Thai people celebrate the Floating Crown festival by creating unique “krathongs” from natural materials, like banana leaves and flowers and bamboo. Each krathong is created with a person’s unique creativity, and we were able to make our own. As Tom explained with passion the activity he had done each year since he was a little boy, I was so excited to be able to witness the activity first-hand. He taught us how to fold the leaves and pin the flowers to the banana stalk and cut orchids into birds. Once the krathong was complete, we added three incense sticks, symbolic of three Buddhist beliefs, and several candles to light the kratong in the water. Tom canoed us out to the coves and we lit our krathong under the full moon and let it go, symbolic of letting go of all of the bad energy of the past year and welcoming into 2013 good luck and health. Though I’m sure Max was overwhelmed with the cheesy aspects, I was enamored and thrilled at the experience – Thai culture at its finest.