Early morning ride in Phuket
Phuket has a few potentially enjoyable roads and a number of interesting places to visit, all on an island about 50 km long and 20 km wide. However, particularly in the southern half of the island, roads are congested with ill disciplined traffic. They are poorly designed, and poorly maintained compared to roads in other provinces (for various administrative and political reasons). For the most part getting around is a battle, not a joy.
Early morning, however, provides an opportunity to enjoy a ride in cool fresh air, with little traffic. Sometimes I like to do just that. This is a trip that I started before dawn recently. Covering a loop of less than 50 km (30 miles) in three or four hours, it included a variety of roads, and some interesting sights.
To illustrate this report I have mostly used pictures taken at the time, but the first few of the Patong Hill Road were taken at another time, during the day.
The first part of the trip, was just a couple of km through town, and then several of dual carriageway. Boring stuff, but by day you always have to keep your wits about you in the traffic.
The road over Patong Hill, one of Phuket’s busiest roads, is more interesting. In about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) it rises from about 15 metres (50 feet) to I guess 100 metres (330 feet), then falls to about sea level. It has a number of tricky corners; add in some heavy traffic with crazy drivers, and you get over a thousand accidents a year, or about 3 per day.
When it rains after a dry spell, on some of the steep sections it is hilarious. Impatient drivers in overpowered cars often lose traction and land up spinning their wheels, going nowhere.
It starts with moderate slope increasing to a steep pitch around a 140º bend
From there it is a gentle slope on a short straight and for the first part of a 160º bend. Toward the end of the bend it gets into a fairly steep incline. Large vehicles often break down here; buses with inexperienced drivers stall, and trucks shed insecure loads. Concrete mixers frequently spill some of their contents, so it is quite bumpy in parts.
Leaving that section, the road goes around a sharply rising 80º bend, which is quite challenging.
There is a Chinese Temple at the highest point. The deity that it houses likes drivers to toot three times as they pass by, so it is a noisy place. He also likes movies and brawn. If prayers are answered supplicants pay for a movie to be shown by the roadside in the evening, or make an offering of a pig’s head.
From the top the road falls away sharply over a blind brow, and into a tricky blind 70º bend, a bit like The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca .
The road continues down steeply through a series of gentle bends, into a sort of a big dipper, where sink holes occasionally open up after heavy rain!
Soi San Sabai in Patong, is a busy thoroughfare on privately owned land. In the early hours of the morning it would have been chocker with motorcycles parked 2 deep, each paying 20 baht to be there. At about 5.15 there were just a few left and night owls were making their way back to their digs before dawn broke.
Party central at dawn
Bangla Road is a walking street from 6.00 PM to 6.00 AM, so the next part of my jaunt was on foot. About 250 metres long, it is Phuket’s Party Central from dusk to dawn. Within a 500 metre radius you can find everything from international class nightclubs where the Beautiful People hang out, to humble bars where beauty is often in the eyes of the beer-holder. Of an evening main drag is a mass of humanity, from honeymooners through party people to honey-hunters from all over.
Depending on the mood of the constabulary, bars close at 2.00 AM, but clubs and discos are usually allowed to open until about 4.30. By 5.30 it is just the stragglers left, but they are still being catered for by moto mounted kitchens.
Pad Thai (stir-fried noodles) for sale.
BBQ chicken an other morsels such as dried squid (yummy with a beer).
Beer on ice in a polystyrene box attracts post club honey. The girl leaning forward wanted her photo taken. I thought she had an interesting face, so I obliged, without realising I also caught rather unflattering view of her bosom until I downloaded the pictures.
I bought a beer for those who didn’t have one, and joined with them for a few minutes to be entertained by a Thai ladyboy having an argument with a drunken Westerner across the road.
At the seaside end of the road there were some “tuk tuks” (the local version of a taxi) waiting for fares. They use Japanese “kei” class utes, which are usually pimped out with fancy light and sound systems. The drivers are the bane of life for tourists and locals alike. Rude and expensive, they charge 3 - 400 baht ($US 10 - 13) for just a short trip. For half that you can rent a 110cc scoot for a whole day.
There are those like to end their night at the beach, before heading off to bed at dawn. I didn’t realise quite how many until I used iPhoto to enhance my photos.
When I returned to my motorcycle Kung played up to the camera. She stopped and we chatted for a few minutes. She had left her kid with her mother (common here) and come down from Bangkok to check out Patong a month ago. She looked at bargirl life, but reckoned it wasn’t for her, so took a job as a cleaner in a small hotel. She was heading to the beach before going to work.
An hour or so after my previous Soi San Sabai shot, it was now daylight, and I resumed my journey on two wheels.
Moving on to Karon and Kata beaches, then Ao Chalong.
I continued south to Karon. Phuket’s West Coast Road winds up down and around the hills from the airport to Cape Promthep, the southernmost point. It offers a variety of scenery, along with some challenging slopes and bends.
However spirited riding is not advisable; around any corner the road can spring many a surprise…. Wet patches, sand, gravel, broken seal and so on, before even considering Phuket drivers.
A few years back I helped a young fellow out of the ditch near here. He had been on a motorcycle that had been rented in someone else’s name, because he was unlicenced. Four hours into his Phuket holiday he had a suspected broken arm, and no travel insurance.
His mates turned up a few minutes later, drunk and useless. I paid a tuk tuk driver well over the odds to take him to Patong hospital, and left the others to sort out the motorcycle, which would have been uninsured (small rentals never are in Thailand). Having checked that he made it to the hospital, I cleared out.
Karon Beach is a long stretch of soft golden sand, that squeaks when you walk on it. From November to April it is gently sloping and lapped by benign little waves, the kind of thing tropical holidays are made (but a little boring from my point of view). The lifeguards’ base pay is about 10,000 baht a month ($US 320). Here they top that up a bit by renting out sun loungers.
Come the monsoon, like many of Phuket’s beaches, it turns evil. The waves are not big, but the beach becomes steep as rips and undertow take sand away. It takes a few unwary swimmers each year too. Unlike many other beaches, often Karon does not even return a body. It is best to stay out of the water at Karon Beach from May to November
Kata Yai is my favourite of Phuket’s main beaches. Snorkelling around the rocks there is a variety of environments, with a range of corals and anemone beds full of colourful fish. There is a reef that runs parallel to the beach from the point on the right of the picture, beyond which it falls away quite sharply, which can be interesting to explore in scuba gear. I took some divers there when I was doing PADI Divemaster. I also played the victim for Rescue Diver trainees…… Stopped in one spot for a while, someone would come along and “save” me just as I was getting entranced by the antics of small creatures.
During the monsoon Kata can be a bit dangerous with rips and undertow too, but it is not as bad as Karon. There is often some OK surf, though there has not been much to get excited about this so far year since a week or so back in May. The best months are yet to come.
Storms over the past couple of months have taken away a metre or so of sand. Come the end of the monsoon it will be returned
Getting hungry, I started to make my way home for breakfast, going over the main range of hills again on my way to Chalong.
I didn’t stop to take many pictures as the battery in the camera was getting flat. The roads were starting to get busy, and there is not so much to catch my interest back on the eastern side of Phuket. However I did swing on down the road to Chalong Pier. It is the main departure point for diving, sightseeing and transfers to various islands nearby. The bay is very shallow, so the pier is about 1 km long.
Speedboats depart directly from the beach. Here is one with 1125 Honda horses on the transom
Choke Dee Khrap
amazing shots, really captures the mood of the place.
Thanks for the comments.
I just had to add this Phuket News story...... a great picture of an incident at the bottom of Patong Hill, where I took the second picture in the first post.
A one off......? Nope. Several times I have seen trucks stopped there having lost their load. It is just a normal sort of day on Phuket roads.
And a good reason for riding a motorcycle here; to cut through traffic backed up after accidents.
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