Moving experience of sun, sand and bioluminescence
Thailand is one of the few destinations in which South Africans still have spending power
Feel the fear but do it anyway: This is the best advice for claustrophobes who’d rather endure torture than be in tight spaces. When the emotional rewards and bragging rights are so great, just do it.
The Hong Caves near Thailand’s Phuket Island offers an opportunity to see limestone edifices rising from the ocean. This is reward enough, but travelling deep into the caves in one of John Gray’s inflatable sea kayaks is a growth experience therapy can’t deliver.
Visitors have to lie back in the kayaks with their tummies sucked in as experienced guides manoeuvre them into the Phang-Nga Bay cave that becomes sealed by water during high tide. It makes an MRI tunnel seem roomy.
In darkest areas at the back of the caves, the inky blackness and the heat feel like a wet towel around the head. Agitate the warm sea with your hands and see the bioluminescent plankton sparkle to light in the water.
After the trip into the caves, there is an opportunity to see rare birds and monkeys. On the boat that brings tourists to the cave excellent Thai food is included in the ticket price and staff demonstrate how to make Loi Kratong floral offerings. These candles and incense floral offerings are lit during the November Loi Kratong festival and set afloat on the dark Andaman sea. The karst islands have become the poster image for Phuket and "James Bond" Islands.
Frangipani and jasmine scents form a heady tincture at the base of the occipital lobe. That and the balmy early evening light creates a different way of seeing: the often scoffed at rose-tinted hue.
Phuket is sufficiently small to allow for watching the sun set from the same place as watching it rise. Now with an international airport, it is easier to reach.
Phuket’s Patong Beach area is so famous for its party-hard lifestyle — filled with teenagers-finding-themselves groups and drink-all-you-can holiday makers.
The quiet, gentle clear waters teeming with colourful fish and no crowds can be found at Pavilions — the "couples" resort. It is a collection of private villas with a hill-top bar — a great place for sun rises and sunsets and an all-day grazing restaurant.
Because of the steep incline on the property, guests get around in golf buggies or use a funicular that glides from the base to the peak at such a gentle pace you can drink your Mai Tai without spilling it.
In its walled villas, privacy is guaranteed and encouraged. Each villa has its own pool and spa suite for treatments. There’s a double bed in an outside thatched sala for sleeping in tropical air.
The villas each have a butler’s kitchen and a selection of drinks and snacks at street prices. Resident manager Simona Chimenti explains why: "We want our guests to spend as much as they’d like to here and not feel like they have to escape the resort because of punitive mini bar prices."
Layan Beach is just a few clicks down the drag and the Pavilion has a free shuttle to take and collect guests. A highlight of any Thai beach experience, aside from the bath-warm temperature, is a massage on the beach.
We had a massage on the beach each day (about R300/hour) and then a fine lunch for nothing money right on the shore. Thailand is one of the few destinations in which South Africans still have spending power.
Breakfast might include freshly juiced watermelon, lychee and mint, a Bibimbap — a Korean rice dish with beef, sesame, chilli paste and a fried egg — or a western bacon and egg fry-up.
Bar tapas includes the popular chicken satay, Panko encrusted prawns, deep-fried soft-shell crab, seared tuna with black sesame and minced prawn wrapped in spinach leaves.
In June 2016, The Pavilions added 43 suites, all with sweeping views of the hillside’s tropical greenery, to provide more accommodation options, especially for families.