At about 11 AM I wanted to pronounce Phuket with the “Ph” as in Philosophy and the accent on the first syllable. It has not been a good morning.
Myron, one of the ship’s lecturers told us that if they ran a shuttle bus from the port to the city the cab drivers union would blockade the port with burning tires and no one would get away from the ship. Barbara in her lecture skipped the burning tire part but said that they would, indeed, blockade the port.
Even though we are traveling around the world at the leisurely speed of 19 miles an hour, it can still be exhausting, especially after the very intense ports, Manila, Hong Kong, Saigon and Singapore. And after all the walking my sore Achilles tendon was acting up. So I asked Barbara, our “Location Guide” for some suggestions for an easy day where we could both see something and enjoy some relaxing beach time. She suggested we negotiate a cab and have him take us on an hour’s drive through Phuket Town and then on to Karon Beach, which is not as crowded as some of the more popular beaches.
So out we went to bargain for a cab. I don’t like bargaining. I decide what something is worth to me and settle for that rather than pushing. Barbara said we should end up around $50. I decided I was willing to go $70. I put that much, and only that much in my money clip (I had spare dollars in a “waterproof” swimming container, more on THAT later) and set out. The first offer from a cabbie was $170. I started bargaining and we got it down to $100 but no lower. The drivers showed solidarity with each other and would not undercut their “brothers” (although one of the ringleaders in solidarity was a “sister.”) I said, “Too much” and we walked back to the ship. There was shouting.
When I got back on and decided Phuket, with an “F.” But of course I can’t stay on the ship when there’s stuff to see and do. So a half hour later we went out again. The drivers had changed and we had a very pleasant negotiation and got to $70. On the drive through Phuket the most striking feature is, I think, its crazy overhead wiring.
The car was air conditioned, the driver very nice but he didn’t seem to understand that we wanted to go to the uncrowded part of Karon Beach, not the part with jet skis, long boats and para sailing. Finally he got it, we got out, and had a pleasant swim in very gentle waves with the Buddha sitting on a hill, his back to us. It was only us and a few Russian tourists.
I have one of those “water proof swimming boxes” that I wear around my neck so I don’t leave money and credit cards on the beach. I put my $70 into the box with the rest of my money. It seemed to get heavier around my neck. The gasket had become unglued (It was brand new. I had just taken it out of the box.) By the time we were done swimming all my money was soaked and my spare camera battery for my waterproof camera had green corroded terminals. I know some people want to accept only pristine US currency notes so I found a secluded spot and rolled seven 10 dollar bills in my towel and set them out to dry.
At this point, I wished that the US had plastic bills, like New Zealand, the Philippines and Viet Nam. But American paper money seems to launder well and the bills, while not crisp, were not soggy, and the driver accepted them. I have actually know people who ironed hundred dollar bills (I suppose you need to be careful of the temperature) so people would accept them.
By the time we got back to the ship several of us were in the pool comparing notes about our cab negotiations. One guy actually got them down to $50. One group spent $90 and one $100. The cabbies have a good union. I felt for $70 we did ok, especially with the driving tour of Phuket Town thrown in. So how do I pronounce Phuket? Not with an “F” after all.
In the morning we backed several miles into our berth because the Captain knew we would be leaving on low tide and there would be no maneuvering room in the shallow channel. So at sail out we pulled straight forward, kicking up mud and sand in our wake until we off loaded the pilot and set our course for Sri Lanka. Tonight we change clocks, and will be in our 13th time zone, more than half way in miles, days elapsed and time zones.