Thailand: the first time, and the first time for a second time

Thailand remains a popular destination for South Africans. No visa requirement, various airlines regularly flying to the region, safety, beautiful beaches, excellent food, an exchange rate and purchasing power that is relatively affordable – all contribute to hundreds of thousands of us visiting the Land of Smiles each year. In this guest blog post by Carel Nolte and Kurt Solomon, they unpack visiting Thailand for the first time, and the first time for a second time.

 

By Carel Nolte

Having previously visited the Thai island of Phuket and staying at a lovely resort in the Panwa part of the island, I wondered if it would be worthwhile to go back and stay at Club Med Phuket – after all, having been, I know the lay of the land; where to get the best bargains and which tourists traps to avoid. Travelling with my business partner Kurt Solomon who was going to Thailand for the first time, I wondered if he would miss out on any local wonders by staying in a Club Med resort where there is so much on offer.

Here’s what we found:

Carel’s first time, a second time

One of the challenges I had at my “all-inclusive” resort in Panwa was getting wine; not even decent wine, just any wine and not having to pay R500 or more for it. After a long day on the beach, a massage (you can get an excellent Thai massage at numerous places for around 300 Bhat – roughly R120) and a shower, sitting down for dinner with an ice cold bottle of white wine is my idea of a holiday.

And so on this trip I was delighted to again be reminded why the Club Med “all-inclusive” deal is such a great one. I paid for this holiday in October and had no worries about an exchange rate change – nor of getting my wine. Like all Club Med resorts, there is all-inclusive beer, wine and other beverages throughout.

Staying at the Club Med Phuket resort, which is near the Karon beach, also has other advantages for the returning visitor. You never have to leave the resort if you don’t want to – with a large family pool and a quiet; adults-only zen-pool area; sporting activities ranging from squash to yoga to Zumba (all with qualified instructors who exhibit the trademark Club Med joi-de-vivre) and nightly events and shows – one is spoilt for choice. However, the resort is so well situated that less than five minutes from the entrance, you can enjoy market shopping, local massages or grab a tuk-tuk and head to Patong or explore other parts of the island. For a returning visitor it was great to have a base that felt like home – with family and friends always on hand to welcome you back – and yet have really easy access to the rest of the island. Another way of putting this is that Club Med offers all the benefits of being in a foreign place, with all the comforts, safety and benefits of being “at home.” It truly is remarkable how at home the Club Med G.Os make you feel – and with about a dozen travelers from South Africa (and around another 90 from more than 20 countries) the multicultural night is one to look out for.

If you fly Singapore Airlines the flight is about 10 hours from Johannesburg, a stop-over of around 2 hours and then another 2 hours flying time, arriving in Phuket at around 9am. The friendly Club Med representative welcomes you as you exit the airport (immigration and customs is super efficient and friendly) and you are transferred to the resort (about a 45 minute ride).

A handy tip is to note that you basically score an extra day as you arrive so early – so pack your swimwear and casual shoes on top of your suitcase. If your room is not yet ready, a superb way to get into the mood is to use the shower facilities by reception, put on your costume and head to the pool. Lunch, a drink and a snooze by the pool will help you get into the Phuket rhythm straight away!

Club Med Phuket offers excellent value for South Africans and is well worth considering as an additional sun option beyond our South African favourites of Mauritius and Bali. And if you want to experience more of Thailand, ask Club Med to arrange a stop-over in Bangkok – as the lyrics of that famous song go, “one night in Bangkok …”!

Kurt’s first time

By Kurt Solomon

The infamous paradise Thailand. Where do I even begin?

As I write this I have just returned from Racha Island, one of the many excursion trips which Club Med can arrange for you.

I had heard about Thailand from many mates that have travelled and fallen in love with the place – so Thailand was definitely a bucket list destination for me. It is a no-brainer that we decided to do Club Med Phuket. I say no-brainer because I am lucky enough to have visited Club Med Val Thorens Sensations in the French Alps. Despite swopping snowboarding for sun this time around, I had an unbelievable time with the G.O’s!

It is my 3rd day in this beautiful place and I am overwhelmed by it all. I felt right back at home as soon as we arrived, being greeted by the friendly and so willing to assist G.O’s – your mates during and after your Club Med stay.

As one does when you are on holiday, we decided to get straight into it – beers by the Zen pool which is 18+. Time to recharge from the flight and be ready for the evening’s entertainment – and open bar.

Club Med Phuket has two main pools – one is the massive family pool, the other is a Zen pool which is the “quiet” pool for those 18 years and older. I preferred the Zen pool as it was not as busy, the bar is close by, and you can easily have a nap on the comfortable day beds.  So whether you are here with the family, your partner or mates, Club Med has you sorted.

Also, there is the a la carte Chuda restaurant right there, so you can pop in for fresh grilled tuna, Thai soup or fresh papaya salad – with lunch being served until 5pm!

One of the many excursions to choose from is Racha Island, about a 20 minute drive from Club Med Phuket and a 35 minute boat ride out to the island. I hadn’t planned an excursion as there really is so much to do at the resort but Carel had pre-booked for us (easily done via Club Med South Africa), so off I went.

It was definitely a taste of something different. The island has two awesome beaches with intensely blue turquoise water, and is beautifully undeveloped – with strolling cows, a “police box” (basically a 3x6m bricked box and a large cell which people can see from the road). I got to do some swimming, tanning and snorkelling. It was only a half day trip which I enjoyed, as it meant that I could come back and devour the Club Med buffet lunch, do some work and get ready for my Thai boxing class.

With Thai boxing, learning to trapeze, Zumba, yoga, golf, tennis, and the many other day-activities and evening entertainment, you literally cannot get bored in this place. If you want to explore a bit, Club Med Phuket is so central there are three awesome beaches within walking distance, surfing lessons, parasailing, jet skis, and many places for a fantastic Thai massage! If you fancy a day or night at the popular Bangla road in Patong, it is a quick Tuk –Tuk ride (about 8km). Or if you, like me, want to get a tailored suit, there is a place about 2km from the resort – James Fashion House where Santos will sort you out – don’t forget to bargain a bit and say you stay at Club Med!

You would think I have been here two weeks already with the amount of food I have consumed and the activities and things I have done, but lucky for me I still have four more days left. Off to Thai boxing to counter the calories I have consumed, then a sunset swim in the sea, my suit fitting with Santos, followed by dinner at Chuda restaurant and evening show at 9pm.

Laéw-jer-gan (see you later)!