Aussie Joy’s Tour and Guesthouse, Karon Beach, Phuket

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I made the decision to stay at Joy’s guesthouse, principally based on her Trip Advisor reviews.

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The guesthouse is situated on a busy tourist-driven street, just off the main Patak Road. It is only a two minute walk to the beach and there are bars, restaurants and street vendors everywhere; you are never far from food and entertainment. The downside of this is you may have to listen to popular songs of the last 30-40 years played by the band at the Two Chefs Bar as you try to get to sleep; they do a good Bon Jovi cover!

Joy’s rooms are clean, spacious, air conditioned and basic with coffee and water provided. There is a safety deposit box.

In high season Joy runs a bar downstairs but this was closed this when I arrived.

Joy is a great host and will make you feel at home before you know it.

Joy charged me 600THB per night, low season. I suspect this to have been a little high and I think a better rate could have been negotiated (always a challenge). As it was it included all the Dow Egbert’s coffee I could drink and a Thai cooking lesson on my second night, which I don’t think comes as standard.

Contact Joy through her Facebook page – Aussie Joy Tours and Guesthouse. Sorry, I am unable to provide a link for this due to technical problems.

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The Two Faces of Travel and Tourism: Phuket

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There’s a difference between being a traveller and a tourist. Instinctively, I knew that before I started my trip to Thailand, only I couldn’t have explained WHAT that difference was. This is the story of Joy who (without intention) showed me.

With a damaged ankle (the residue of four months snowboarding, in all likelihood) I was forced to change my plans for the start of my trip. I needed to rest and how better to do that than sit on a beach: enter international beach holiday resort, Phuket.

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Aaaaaahhhhh (the satisfied sigh of beach tourist type)

Tourism 101

Now, an intermission, for the briefest of discussions on the debated differences between tourism and travelling. There are a wealth of views and opinions on the Internet, so many, I don’t have time to discuss them here, not yet. But Bryan Grey put it succinctly on Traveller’s Point: ‘The true traveller [is] soaking it up like a sponge,’ they will go anywhere and do anything. And The Colorful Wolf adds a little more detail:


The difference between a tourist and a traveller is that the traveller goes to a place without any preconceptions, whereas the tourist has already decided on how he’s going to experience it. The traveller has an open mind and lets the place happen to him. The tourist brings with him his own environment and expectations, thereby diluting (polluting?) the experience.

So, it’s the attitude, as much as anything. Safely ensconced in my ’boutique guesthouse’and making my pilgrimages to the beach, there was not a huge amount of absorption going on.

Enter Aussie Joy of Karon Beach, who I decided to stay with for the remainder of my time on Phuket – check out her Trip Advisor (my way of guaranteeing or sanitising my travel experience – ever the tourist) reviews.

Joy met me and hugged me with enthusiasm; people meet each other for a reason, she told me. Yes, perhaps it would be my chance to meet people and broaden my experience, I thought. In many ways, Joy did not disappoint.

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This is Joy

Over coffee, Dow Egberts (having first negotiated a sea of chaos, for, as Joy went on to tell me, she was actually closed for the low season and the place was mid-clean), Joy told me about the principles of Buddhism, the lost Euros and her faecal analogy on unhappiness and how to discharge it (unhappiness that is, but you can probably see where that one’s going). She then suggested that the following day we ‘go for a drive.’ I agreed to this, yet not really sure what ‘going for a drive’ would entail.

In fact, on successive days we went for two drives.

Drive #1

An hour later than planned we sat in Joy’s pea-green Mazda as she negotiated the chaotic Phuket traffic; and I still had no idea where we were going. Turns out to Joy’s home; two bungalows in the fishing village of Kokaenod, which looks put over the Chalong bay.

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Looking in on Guan Im

In the Chinese Temple, in which resides female god Guan Im, we paid our respects with incense. I felt a delicate privilege to be part of the ritual. Later, reclining on a crumbling jetty, interrupted only by the laughter of the water, Joy told me that the place was her sanctuary.

As the day wore on Joy insisted I relax on her decking while she tidied her garden. At odd times she stopped to offer me a cold bottle of Coca Cola or whisper of the old catfish, lurking in the depths of the pond. She knows she is safe when I am here, she told me.

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Aquatic Gardening

That afternoon I was invigorated, relaxed and sometimes scared, haunted by thoughts of Cathy Bates in Stephen King’s Misery.

But eventually we did leave the bungalow, heading for the Big Buddha – immense effigy and phenomenal view point between Kata and Chalong – only stopping at street vendors for Green Fanta and finger bananas on the way.

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I found the Buddha himself caused me to question that space between tourism and travel (or pilgrimage, on a more spiritual slant). The road leading to the great monument-in-the-making is lined with tourist rouses; elephant trekking, monkey shows, bird shows. Creatures shackled and bound to perform in the name of profit. At the site it is not possible to move more than a few metres without a request for a donation (the site itself is free to enter). The huge tiled Buddha, the golden effigies, the intricate wooden carvings all (to me) smacked of iconoclasm or at least something that Buddhism is not. And hence I questioned the place; tourist attraction or holy site?

Joy would say, what does it matter how people came to see the Buddha? However they arrive, they leave with just a little more understanding, a reminder of the principles of Buddhism. I remained unsure.

As the sun was setting we drove south down the coast, through Rawai for delicious street food (sweet nutty sago and coconut dessert), to Promthep Cape (a view point with a huge draw for tourists at sunset), then to the quieter Windmill view point, just beyond. Here we picnicked. Then on to Nai Harn beach and homeward bound, where the task of Thai cooking and people watching awaited.

At 23:00 I stumbled to bed, full and intoxicated.

Drive #2

Again, an hour late. First stop on the mystery tour, Methee Cashew Nut Factory. Tourists are bought here by tour guides and this is more of a shop than a factory:

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Virgin cashews.

In fact, they had a young employee with a basket follow each tourist around the shop as they were invited to taste each product (sumptuous, I won’t deny it – cashews with sour cream, cashews with garlic, chilli, honey, chocolate, cashews in cookies, in brittle, juiced even!). The implication; you will not leave empty handed. So, I left with my bag of cashews and hey, I got this for free:

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Yes, a large cashew growing out if my head!

The cashews were good, but I was left with a bitter taste that I tried my best to swallow (not unlike that that lychee stone incident). From the factory, we skirted the coast, heading to Cape Panwa, mounting view points, only long enough to take photographs.

Everywhere, Joy would point something out; the Muslim communities, their speakers for the five-times-daily prayers, the sea shacks of the Chao Leh (sea gypsies), until we arrived at our destination; Phuket Aquarium

I looked tried to look genuinely interested, but I was fighting disappointment; this was a family tourist destination, not an experience.

After lunch at the delicious Uptown Restaurant, Phuket Town – 240THB two meals and drinks – we headed to Khao Rang (Rang Hill), another view point, this one looking out over the city.

By the end of the day I was choked on tourism. Rightly or wrongly I felt I had become Joy’s pet and she had fed me. All I had done was capture images, which, without proper understanding or feeling would ultimately be meaningless.

Later, seated on Joy’s porch, preparing to go for a run, I watched an Australian man arguing vehemently with the tout for Fashion World, the tailors (who only that morning had kindly shared their Thai and Nepalese curries with me) across the street. The tout had clearly offended in his attempts to coerce, flatter or seduce the Australian into the shop. I wondered what the Australian expected; didn’t he realise that Fashion World was there because he was there? Neither of them were indigenous to Thailand, neither had more right than the other.

Along the sea front, it was dark. The bathers long gone, the litter pickers left at dusk. All that was left were the sweet smelling people who strolled the strip. They ignored the painfully thin man who picked through the litter after the pickers had picked it, preserving what he could, and the rats, curling and darting between the bags, raiding the leftovers, making a show of hiding; but equally sure that this was their time.

Later, I paid Joy for her fuel for that day and fought against feelings of having been cheated.

At Phuket bus station,the next day, I had plenty of time to mull it over. Yes, I could continue to feel cheated or I could recognise what I had learnt. I wanted to experience, not just to see and tick from a list, safe and comfortable in the sterile bubble of a tour car, minivan or from behind glass. I wanted the slight, tremulous fear I had on Drive #1, irrationally wondering if Joy would hold me captive in her bungalow, the humble gratitude before Guan Im and the delicate, grateful relaxation of being invited into Joy’s sanctuary. I wanted experience in all its unexpected forms.

Please leave your thoughts on travel versus tourism below, this is likely a subject I’ll visit again…

Elcidium Boutique Guesthouse, Kata Beach, Phuket

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So, according to Wikipedia the term ’boutique hotel’ was harnessed, initially, by USA and UK to describe intimate, luxurious or quirky hotels. Typically, these places are fashioned in a themed, stylish ‘and/or aspirational’ style.

So, I chose Elcidium (still no idea of what this word means) because of the Trip Advisor reviews and because it was within my budget, at £14 per night/low season.

Leo, the man who looks after the four bedroom property (intimate, yes, a tick on the ’boutique’ front), lives up to the positive comments that these reviews hold about him. He was quick to get me a towel when soaked by the rain, a lantern when village electricity died, a mat for the beach and he literally got me out of a hole.

The rooms are spacious, with large double bed, desk, coffee table and chairs, balcony (with table and chairs) and a private bathroom. Perhaps the drapes, red and gold finishes and dark wood are aspirational; I don’t know. But the air con works well, there is a fridge, fresh drinking water daily and a flat screen TV. WiFi is free and reasonable. So, the rooms look like this:

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And here are the downsides, sorry, here have to be some.

1) With no real communal area (reception does have seating but with no bar or cafe people do not congregate there) this is not a place for a lone traveller looking to hook up with other travellers.

2) Sorry, but I have to be honest, Leo’s cleaning could have been a little better (dust on electric sockets, toothpaste on the mirror), but there is no doubt his intentions are good, his personsl touch largely makes this place and hey, he is a guy!

Situated on Khoktanord Road, the guesthouse is away from the main beach strip but you have everything you need nearby and there are some good (and cheap) restaurants all within a two minute walk of the front door.

So, just to be clear, a whole-hearted recommendation.

Idiot Abroad: Phuk Ups

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I couldn’t resist. Really, Phuket is pronounced without the ‘h’ sound, so it’s not even right, not strictly funny: even so, I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, the title says it all. I would only add that these incidents are listed in order of occurrence, not severity.

    1) Always read the packet.

Stifled by the heat, I thought to myself how nice it would be to buy some herbal tea to enjoy in my room. And furthermore, what lovely aromatic choices there would be on offer, being so close to source and all…

So, at the nearest ‘Family Mart’ I selected a tea in a jolly red packet. ‘Senna’ it said on the back, this sounded nice.

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Looks nice too.

So, back at the ranch I set the kettle to boil, pouring in bottled water just to be on the safe side. Settling into the dark lacquered chair beside the coffee table I picked up my pack of tea bags to have a read, all the while mildly smug that I was putting something good in my body and washing out something bad.

But what? What was I washing out? Poo, that’s what. I had purchased laxative tea. That is what Senna does, I learned, it acts as a laxative. And if anybody is interested, it’s long term use is not advised. Phew, what a relief (‘scuse the pun). Again, for anybody who is interested (numbers dwindling all the time, I’m sure), the packet has since remained untouched.

    2) Do experiment with exotic fruits. But don’t defy your natural instincts while doing so.

The small fruit shop was clean and white; this meant it was safe. From across the road I had already identified the item I wanted. What looked like strawberries in a polystyrene tray from 5 metres away was something different close up. Instead of the moist, pipped red flesh, this fruit wore a pink spiky jacket. Still, when I read the word ‘lychees’ I picked up the tray and took it into the cool shop. I had had lycées before, at the Chinese restaurant where I worked my first job. Except there, they had come in tins.

‘Sa wat dee krap,’ the man in the shop greeted me, friendly. So friendly in fact that I felt confident in asking about how to remove the jackets these lychees were wearing.

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The innocent, jacketed lychee

Helpfully, he drew a single fruit from the fridge and holding it out to show me, he began to peel it. Who would have thought? Once peeled, he held out the fruit for me to try.

The moist, fibrous flesh was sweet, and I nodded in response to the shop owners question, ‘sweet, yes?’

He watched me, smiling.

Now it did occur to me to wonder about a stone. But then there’s the language gap and the lychee already an obstruction in my mouth. And strawberries don’t have stones, nor do kiwi fruit, so why –

‘But bitter, also?’ The man surprised me. I did not remember lychees being particularly bitter, but sure enough, there was a bitter taste, yes, and the fruit had become particularly hard, chewy. In fact, it was sapping all the moisture from my mouth, there were morsels everywhere, bits in my teeth and I could not speak, because I knew if I opened my mouth, my mouth would reject all this stuff.

I smiled a closed-slightly-full-mouthed-smile before leaving. Inwardly hoping that my lychees weren’t all bad like the one I had just tasted.

It was hours later that it struck me. I had chewed right through the stone. The huge, bitter, hazelnut sized stone.

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‘Don’t eat me, I taste like shit!’

    3) Down the drain.

The day hadn’t gone well really. The jazz restaurant I had sought out was closed for ‘restoration’, it had rained persistently and I had run out of things to do that didn’t cost money. I was feeling a bit lonely too, so by the time I headed out to get street food for dinner, I had pretty much written the day off.

Climbing into soggy sandals I took to the street to get what I needed. I was probably distracted, feeling sorry for myself. Perhaps that is why I failed to pick my feet up, or perhaps I really did trip over something. All I know is that, at once, I was falling forwards, my other non-tripping foot coming out to save the day, hands flailing. And then where my non-tripping foot should have slapped the concrete, it hit air, just air. My hands did grab something, but not strongly enough to stop my whole body falling down, down, down.

So, when I hit the bottom, hands still gripping, both feet luckily planted, I was inside a drain, up to my shoulders, the road running on regardless in front of my stunned face.

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This drain.

Thankfully, I was rescued, heaved out by two skinny men, to the sounds of their grunts and my new denim shirt and blue dress ripping.

Shortly after I had left, I returned to my hotel room, this time to lick my wounds (hard seeing how most of them are on the back of my right thigh…now, if only I’d attended that yoga class earlier in the week…) and see off a shitty day with Tiger Beer and meat on a stick! Because meat on a stick knows no bounds.

Now, if anyone who reads this can contribute their own idiot abroad stories, I’d be very grateful. For me, I suspect this is only the beginning…

Kata Beach Phuket: A Low Season Portrait

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Billed as one of Phuket’s more dignified beaches – as opposed to hedonistic, anything-goes Patong – whatever it is, it’s my first introduction to Thailand that’s not Hat Yai.

Off the main 4028 from Phuket Town, a left turn onto Khoktanod Road (or Coconut Road, as I mis-heard my taxi-driver say) you are heading towards the beaches – Hat Kata Noi (small) and Hat Kata Yai (main). Down an alley of eateries, laundries, travel agents, guesthouses, tattooists and 7-11s this is a small but essential artery rushing with mopeds, minivans and taxis that keeps Kata Beach pumping. In the daytime (when the rain isn’t falling) the street is lined with (some) tourist-tired Thais and parked up ‘peds. At night the place belongs to the dogs that trot unfettered, sometimes in packs; down alleyways, in bins or pacing concrete, on guard.

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Do a right, hit the main drag and the main beach, Hat Kata Yai, is only a left hand turn away. The strip itself is what you would expect; shops selling beach-wear, knock-off sunglasses (Ray Bons anyone? It is only a matter if time before I succumb), eateries, coffee shops, travel agencies… And they all want you, like you or loath you; tourists are in short supply. This is low season.

The one thing it is good for, the low season, is surfing. I tell myself I would have tried it were it not for the ankle. In my absence there were a few guys (yep, mostly guys – disappointing in some ways) riding the frothy stuff. So other than tourists on the streets there is the odd surf dude too. If you do fancy a go, Phuket Surf and Phuket Surfing both pitch up on Hat Kata Yai. Otherwise, there’s the Surf Bar where you can watch people having a go on the fake waves – shameless voyeurism and indulgence in a worldwide love of watching people fall over. Shameless.

This is a novelty, but Phuket is an international holiday resort, it is to be expected. It has been tidied up, sanitised, polished and shrink wrapped for the international tourist.

But, this is low season. These places, shiny and turned out, sit ghostly-empty, the maitre d keen to drag you from the street and far from welcoming it is as though the restaurant wants to eat you up.

There are people at the beach; enough to stave off the desert island feeling, few enough that you can get a spot to yourself. And, while the sun shines wiry Thai men ride flopping tourists like Aladdin on the magic carpet, the silken canopy of a parachute floating above them, glutted on the gusty winds. Up Kata Hai Yai, down Kata Yai, the speed boat drags them, slapping against the surf. And when they come to land, the little men shin the ropes of the parachute, Sinbad-style – swinging from the rigging of a pirate galleon – tugging and waving, depositing the tourist on the beach.

From the beach, you can see the rains coming; a column of grey on the horizon. If you’re wondering if it will pass you don’t need to be a meteorologist; the cue comes from the men who work there, staffing the beach bars, renting out the sun loungers (100 baht). Once they begin folding or stowing the lounger mats, wedging the little tables to guard against the winds, you know the rain is coming. You can feel it, the warm wind now licks desperately at your beach mat, it whips your sarong as you try to fold it. The rain is coming, it teases.

You’re lucky if you get packed. You’re lucky if you can use your umbrella, because the storm is quick and it is vicious. Did you know that a rain drop can travel at a maximum speed of 18 mph? It is governed by its own density. Dense enough to try and travel faster, it splits and becomes two drops, never exceeding 18 mph. But fat fingers of rain drench you quickly. Then, the final insult, as the wind whips at it, stealing a fine mist that it drags sideways, drenching any part of you that you have managed to shelter.

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Drenched tourists draped in towels run for cover, warm rain hammers down and bounces up. Palm trees shake. Cat’s cradles of electricity wires smoke and fuse, exploding into orange and green balls, cracking in the roar of the rain, adding sparks to silver the downpour. Waitresses and bystanders,sheltering in the ghostly cafes, gasp.

But it will pass. It always does; unlike the meek but persistent English rain. Several hours later (after the electricity has been reinstated), dry, but feet pressed into still-wet-shoes, you kick through warm puddles on the hunt for food. Street vendors offer meat on sticks or there’s the main strip where you will be looked after like every other tourist and made to listen to bad English music. Instead, you might take a chance, stay on Coconut Road, chose a corrugated iron canopy, under which the staff and the customers are smiling and let the bull frogs serenade you as you eat good, cheap Thai food.

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Thai Season, where animal sounds are the perfect accompaniment to your evening meal

Note: stay cost £14/night (650 THB) at Elcidium Boutique Guesthouse
Evening meal cost 200 – 400 THB.