By JIM HILDEBRAND
PHUKET THAILAND - Jane and I finally arrived at our apartment in Phuket Thailand and are easily adjusting to a life of leisure in this exotic paradise. The flights were long and tiring but being here is ample reward for the minor discomfort of the travel.
As I sit here typing this article I am serenaded by brilliantly coloured birds, chirping, warbling and bursting out in song. Below our balcony a fish slaps the water probably in search of some insect hovering just a bit to close to the surface of the pond. The gardens are lush, with massive palms and trees with fanning fronds. Intermingled in the greenness are explosions of colour, the orangey red of the flowering birds of paradise, the pinks of mammoth bougainvilleas, or the whites of blossoms on the trees. To think this much serenity is derived without even moving from the apartment.
We are slowly exploring our local area. Layan Beach is a short 15 to 20 minute walk from here. For a person who enjoys escaping the crowds this is the ideal sandy escape as it hasn't been highly developed or commercialized as many of the other beaches on the island. It has three of four restaurants along its length, some little more than what appear to be rundown little shanties. The view of the exterior would probably make a health inspector shudder, however on entry you are greeted with the friendliest of service, clean and tasteful ambience and delicacies that are difficult to describe.
From our limited experience we have found the dishes very light, the cooking sauces liquidy compared to the corn starch thickened oriental sauces that I am more familiar with. (You the reader may have had much more experience with Thai cuisine since both Jane and I are relishing it for the first time.)
We were certainly timid when first ordering, but on successive visits to different eating establishments we find ourselves getting more and more adventurous. Be warned, if you have no tolerance for the heat of spicy food you had better emphatically ensure that your waiter understand because your taste buds will be assaulted by flavours that could only have been developed in the bowels of a volcano. Even when you request a dish "not spicy, not hot" there are times when a little blast of subdued fire sneaks through. This does not mean that it is not enjoyable; I tried a green curry soup that had beads of sweat forming on my forehead, which normally I would find severely unpleasant and yet in that spicy bowl were a mixture of flavours and textures that tantalized and bade me to try another spoonful.
Jane, whose tolerance for the heat of spice normally will not surpass black pepper, has been scouring the Internet trying to enroll me in one of the Thai cooking classes that are offered on the beaches. She has been totally captivated by the enchanting essences of the food and dare I say that if we can find ingredients in Twillingate and she has her way, there will be this type of fare adorning our dinner table.
Beyond the food though is the feeling that the staff provides to you as a customer. For example, I made a reservation in the morning and when we arrived our waiter beckoned us to the best table to view the sunset while eating our meal. It is very hard to put into the words the feeling that the staff provides, they are not overbearing but very attentive. I find the only way to describe it is joyous. They just seem to be so pleased that you are there, the same as you feel when you sit down to a special meal with your friends at home, luxuriating in their company. You are enveloped in the warmth of their hospitality.
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about the price. We begin with cocktails, a Mai Tai and Singapore Sling, appetizers consisting of spring rolls, the likes that I have never tasted before, and chicken satay with a heavenly peanut sauce. The main dishes comprise of stir fried chicken with red sweet peppers and cashews, stir fried broccoli and prawns, stir fried morning glory in oyster sauce, Tai noodles and prawns and rice. Throw in a brace of amber elixir (Leo and Chang beer are excellent), coffee, and a final complimentary fresh pineapple to cleanse the palate and the bill comes to.....about $32.
I will add that when I made the reservation they also asked if we would care to be picked up and returned to the apartments at no extra charge. The evening could not have been better if I had planned it and it all started out with just looking for a place to have supper.
The island of Phuket is one of the most highly sought vacation venues in Asia. It was also one of the areas that was stuck by the Dec. 26, 2004 tsunami, but in the area where Jane and I are staying the economy seems to have bounced back. I do not want to make a blanket statement to gloss over any destruction and ruin because certainly I am not aware of what it was like in this particular area pre-tsunami and I do not want to minimize any loss or suffering that the people of this area not only felt, but still grieve for to this day. In this tourist area though there are as before the "must see" tourist attractions. Our first major excursion was a day trip to Phang Nga Bay.