Before Phuket we had been very lucky to avoid scams, hecklers and people selling things. Phuket made us realize how lucky we had been for the whole trip. After disembarking the ferry, we were bombarded with ten or more taxi drivers asking us if we wanted a ride. We looked up our hostel, Bloo (the saving grace of our short time in Phuket) and it was about two kilometers from the ferry so we decided to walk (another money saving tactic) and had to dodge another ten taxi drivers and mini vans along the way to our hostel. The cars would slow down, try to make eye contact and then honk if you still avoided their advances.
Making the most of our time in Phuket, we wanted to fit as much as we could into the day as possible so we decided explore one of the biggest and tallest Buddhas in all of Thailand, again aptly named The Big Buddha. Since it looked like a 50 minute ride via car we decided that a bus or a cab might be the best way to make it to the Big Buddha. We asked the hostel and they thought the best route was to talk to a taxi driver. We walked over to the bus stop and asked a taxi driver and he said that it would be 1,000 BHT (almost $30 USD – yes, three months ago, we would spend $30 on one Uber from the airport, but here this was outrageous).
Since Ross had mastered “the ancient art of the scooter”, we decided that it would be cheaper to rent a scooter. We rented a scooter for the equivalent of roughly $4 USD. Every scooter we rented in Asia so far had come with an empty tank of gas and until now, we hadn’t thought anything of it. In addition, every scooter also came with something broken – from speedometers, odometers and inconsistent brakes. After renting a scooter, the person renting it would direct you to the nearest gas station as the first stop. This scooter was no different but this time it was empty with gas and the speedometer was broken (not like we could ever drive as fast as the Thai if we tried).
The ride started off easy enough, we headed towards the Big Buddha via the main roads (following street signs in Thai). We had no idea what the speed limit was in Phuket but it looked like we were keeping up. Nat played the role of navigator while Ross drove. We were making good time until we both looked up and realized that we were headed straight under a giant sign with a clear photo of a scooter with a giant X over it… and then we entered a tunnel as traffic sped up. Out of the tunnel there was no place to make a U-Turn. After a solid minute of panicking, we found an exit. Crisis averted.
We continued towards the Buddha and came to a dirt road that turned into a giant hill. Another couple passed us on their journey up the hill as our “little scooter that couldn’t” tried to putter up the hill. The further up the hill we got, the loader the scooter began and the slower it went. Soon we could have walked faster than the scooter was going to take us. With over two miles of an uphill street to go, we decided the best plan of action was to take some of the weight off the scooter. Nat hopped off in an effort to make the scooter lighter, instead of springing to life, the scooter started to billow smoke from the back tire. After letting it rest, we tried again. After about the 4th try and smelling the smoke coming from the engine, we sadly decided to cut our loses and hopped back on the bike and headed back down the hill, or more like we glided down the hill in case the engine had actually died. When we got back to the scooter rental place, we found out why all of the motorbikes had empty tanks of gas. The man running the scooter rental shop was siphoning petrol from one bike to the other. When we explained to the scooter place that our bike just stopped working, she was confused. She couldn’t understand why our scooter didn’t make it, We tried to tell her (in our best pantomiming) that it was probably that we were fat Americans, she was not buying it. But she did allow us to try again the next morning. The little scooter won this time but in the morning we would rent a better scooter, hopefully!
We decided to minimize our risk of the scooter breaking again and walked to Phuket’s night market. Lines of fresh fish vendors filled the streets accompanied by lines of plastic stools and chairs, which had now been our favorite way to eat in any Southeast Asian city. After browsing most of the stalls offerings, we decided on a noodle stall run by an older lady and what looked like her son. The stall was propped up on her motorbike so that she could cook the noodles from the comfort of her bike. It gave a completely new meaning to fast food. Our meal with two beers, was less than $6 USD. Natalie noticed that a large line was forming in front of a particular stall with one young vendor with a giant mound of rice on one side and another pile of mangos on the other side. Little did we know that the second we purchase the magical dish known as simply, “mango rice” was now Natalie’s new obsession. Who new that the heavenly combination of mangos, sticky rice and a bit of condensed milk, could be so tasty. We had a new mission in Southeast Asia, to eat as many mango rice dishes as possible, or at least this was Nat’s mission.
The next morning we decided that it might be too much to try and concur the Big Buddha again, and not to mention too sad if our scooter didn’t make the 45 minute journey again. Instead we had brunch in old Phuket town, a quaint little town with colorful shop houses. We also found out that there are hipsters and hipster cafes anywhere you go in the world. We ate waffles and drank affogatos (so healthy) in a cafe that played Empire of the Sun and Monsters of Men. A fancy send off to our time in Southern Thailand. The next stop was to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, via plane – yes we were fancy indeed!