On November 22 we flew from Siem Reap in Cambodia to the island of Phuket on Thailand's Andaman coast. We had two one hour-long flights, a 4 hour layover in Bangkok, and had to change airlines, but the travel day was a pleasure after the many, many hours of crappy buses on our journeys through Vietnam and Cambodia. We went to Phuket because there are many cheap flights there and it is the main gateway to Southern Thailand. It is Thailand's biggest island, and a very beautiful one, but all the good real estate is occupied by the hundreds of classy resorts that cater to European tourists. Obviously, not for us. But we did enjoy it for what it was worth. We were in culture shock when we arrived. The airport parking lot was full of new SUVs and luxury sedans, and the highway was of great quality and had lanes! Lanes that drivers actually stayed in! We spent three nights at the very fancy Best Western Premier Bangtao Beach, and in addition to the beach, two pools, and sauna complex, we were treated to many fat, old Europeans in speedos. It was relaxing, but hardly interesting, and it didn't even feel like Thailand, so it wasn't too hard to leave. It's worth mentioning that the whole place felt very new and it was really strange to be there and think about the tragedy that unfolded there last year.
We got a free taxi ride into Phuket town (part of the Best Western package) and told the driver we wanted to spend no more than $10 on a room. He must've thought we were nuts! It was pouring rain, so luckily the first place he took us to was fine. We did go hunting for slightly better digs the next day, as the first place did not have hot water. The hot water heater in our 'upgrade' did not work. We stayed in Phuket town for three nights, which we would not have done if we weren't waiting until for a weekday to visit the immigration office to extend our visas. (As it turned out, the immigration office had hours on Saturday...) It wasn't all bad though. It is relatively untouristy (at least compared to the Best Western), we found a couple of great bookshops, bought peanut butter and breakfast cereal at the supermarket (look, that is a VERY big deal these days), and met two nice British couples also on round-the-world trips. We also saw Harry Potter at a very nice theater for about $4.50 for both of us. That turned out to be an interesting cultural experience in itself. Before the start of the movie a video clip paying homage to the King was played (we found out later we were supposed to stand, oops, lucky we didn't get deported for that), and at the end the film was turned off before the credits were close to finished. We figure if the reel is probably stolen anyway, why bother giving the filmmakers credit?
Extending our visas turned out to be an amazingly efficient procedure, and on Monday November 28 we took the ferry to the small island of Ko Phi Phi.