Phuket

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Simon Cabaret 1Last stop on our Asian adventure of 2008-09 was Phuket, Thailand’s most populous island and amongst its most popular with foreign tourists. I didn’t really warm to Phuket, and in a bizarre way I was grateful for that: it made it easier in the end to go home.

That said, it wasn’t all bad. We stayed at Kata Lucky Villa, which I’d happily recommend (the photos on the website don’t do it justice), and Kata beach was nicer than I’d expected. The sand was clean and soft, the water calm and clear, and the banana lounges only two-deep. We spent most mornings there, surrounded by Russians and Northern Europeans who, as Roo pointed out, must think it’s Paradise. There’s also a decent place to eat at the southern end of the beach called Kata Seafood, right next door to a bar built beneath a sacred tree.

Phuket municipal bldg 3We visited old Phuket town a couple of times. Established by Chinese traders and tin miners, and there are some well preserved shophouses and other buildings from the 1900s up to the 1960s, especially on and around Thalang Road. We had a great curry lunch at Aroon Restaurant at 124 Thalang Rd; and the shophouse at the China Inn Cafe (also selling textiles and antiques) at 20 Thalang Rd was particularly beautifully restored. We also visited the Phuket Provincial Hall, the setting for the US Embassy in the film The Killing Fields. There’s a terrific walking tour guide available here.

Phuket’s other prime attraction (at least in my opinion) is its drag shows, the most famous and polished of which is Simon Cabaret. The intrigue starts with a line on the brochure, “She is more of a man than you will ever be and even more of a woman”, and I’m willing to bet there are audience members who leave without realising all the performers began life as men.

Simon Cabaret 3Simon Cabaret is energetic and great fun, with over-the-top sets ranging from Ancient Egypt to Imperial China, Brazilian Carnivale to a faux rainforest. Numbers are sung in Chinese, Japanese and English — Dreamgirls providing rich material — though surprisingly little in Thai, apart from a traditional Issarn song that starts out as a slapstick by a large, mannish, middle-aged kratoey but ends as a rather poignant performance of ‘I Will Survive’. That performer danced among the audience and planted a sparkly kiss on Roo’s cheek, and for once Tash was not the main attraction in our family.

For her part, Tash was rivetted by the show and all the ‘princesses’. “That was really fun!” she said, as we piled into the minibus to go back to our hotel.

Tickets were 750 baht including door-to-door transport and we felt we got our money’s worth. The showgirls are happy to pose for photos outside after the show, but be aware you have to pay a 100 baht tip per performer in the photo. The most popular performers pull the lesser stars in so they can get tips, too, and it’s wise to be gracious about this. They’re only looking out for each other.

Phuket Zoo 8On our last night in Phuket, we watched a captivating sunset over the sea — a novelty for us who live on the southeast coast of Australia — then chanced upon the swanky Kata Beach Resort and Spa offering a buffet dinner in a garden overlooking the beach. This in itself was lovely, especially with Tash on her best behaviour. But we really hit the jackpot when the keyboard player/songstress duo pumping out the slow rock classics gave way to a group of performers I could only describe as ‘Simon Caberet rejects’.

The open-air show was cheesy beyond belief, with performers out of step and wardrobe malfunctions all over the place. But we all loved it! Tash alternated between emulating the dance moves of the ‘fairies’ — there was an excess of feathered wings, headdresses and tail pieces — and sitting at the foot of the stage, absolutely captivated.

It was the perfect last night.

Phuket 47 Tash doorwayTash got to choose the destination for our last morning in Phuket, and we spent it at Phuket Zoo. It was pretty ordinary as far as zoos go, but four months later Tash still remembers the dodgy show we saw there and the man putting his head in the crocodile’s mouth.

I wonder how much else she remembers.

We flew home from Phuket via Sydney to Melbourne, arriving home just in time for a heatwave, followed a week or so later by terrible bushfires. Both Roo and I started new jobs within weeks, fortunate to find work and to find employers flexible enough to let us work four days per week, giving us both a day each at home with Tash.

It was never going to be easy settling back in at home. Our year in Cambodia saw the work/life balance tipped very much in favour of life. Back in Melbourne, the scales seem tipped to the other extreme.

But we are trying to keep alive the spirit of The Great Balancing Act by making the most of our days off with Tash and doing our best to get out on the weekends, too.

And so we’ll keep this blog going, with a shift in emphasis from Asia to Australia.

At least for now…

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2 Responses to “Phuket”

  1. Michael Says:

    Glad you enjoyed Kata beach. That bar at the end of the beach is called Ska Bar, it is a great place to watch the sunset from the upper deck below the tree. Order some dinner from the restaurant next door and just enjoy the view, it’s a rather peaceful way to end your day.

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