We went to the NATAS Travel Fair in August to purchase travel insurance for the Northern Vietnam trip for our family in December and at the same time looked out for good deals but found none suitable. So we decided to do some research on DIY free and easy short trips for the last quarter of the year. To our surprise, from Skyscanner’s search engine, we found Malaysian Airlines had unbelievable airfares to many destinations. As we had already planned a long 8 Days 7 Nights trip to Vietnam for December, we were looking for shorter breaks preferably over the weekend. Our search for Phuket came up to be $65 for a pair of return tickets, less than half of what we could get flying on a budget airline. We were redirected to the Tripsta site which we had never used before and so were naturally quite skeptical about the deal. Anyway we gave it a try and booked our flight to Phuket since all we could lose for the two of us was only S$130. Hence flight details as follows: Singapore to Kuala Lumpur: 11.05 am to 12.05 pm Kuala Lumpur to Phuket: 1.05 pm to 1.20 pm Phuket to Kuala Lumpur: 2.05 pm to 4.35 pm Kuala Lumpur to Singapore: 7.25 pm to 8.25 pm So the only inconvenience was to transit at KLIA which would make it longer to fly to Phuket. But for that kind of price for a pair of air tickets, we felt the little inconvenience was acceptable. Moreover, the flights came with 30 kg check in baggage. I supposed MAS was reeling from their tragic loss of two planes with the disappearance of MH 370 and the downing of MH 17 over Ukraine during the year, and the airline desperately needed to win back passengers. Since this was just a short flight in the region and safety might not be that much of a factor of concern, we went ahead to book our flights to Phuket for October. The Tripsta’s site was very efficient and we received our flights booking confirmation and E-tickets very quickly via email. Since the deal was so good we decided to book a trip to Bangkok for November for about the same price as well. As for hotel, we booked a 5 star boutique hotel at Patong Beach; The B Lay Tong Phuket – MGallery Collection under the Accor group of hotels, during a stay 3 pay 2 promotion. Cost for hotel stay for 3 nights was just under 8900 THB, around S$370 inclusive of breakfast. We also did some search on day tours for Phuket as well as airport transfer to our hotel in Patong Beach. Phuket is notorious for its mafia taxi operators. Taxi fares are ridiculously expensive in Phuket but not so in their Thai capital in Bangkok. These operators are hard to regulate and taking a cab to Patong Beach can easily set you back 800 THB for that under an hour journey. So we found Mr.Chai from Phuket SRC Travel and communicated with him in English via whatsapp. His tour company provides day tours around Phuket as well as airport transfer for only 600 THB to Patong Beach. So far, his airport transfer was the most reasonable in cost and his response to enquiry impressive. As we were travelling in October, which was towards the end of the raining season where hotel rates were still low, we took up his airport transfer service and would decide whether to take any day tours when we arrived in Phuket. With all ground work done, all we had to do was to pack and go when that day arrived.
As our flight out to KLIA for the first leg was 11.05 am, we reached Changi Airport after 8 am, dropped our check in luggage and went for breakfast at the McDonalds. We had a full meal as we didn’t expect MAS to really feed us during such short flights. Moreover, we would not have enough time for lunch at KLIA during the one hour transit to catch the next flight out to Phuket. Soon we were on our way to KLIA after some delay due to heavy ground traffic at Changi Airport. We were a bit worried about our connecting flight to Phuket. When we arrived KLIA, we had to rush to catch our flight to Phuket and good thing the flight out was also at the same terminal. We were also not alone in this little rush as we found some other passengers from the same flight with us were also running to the departure gate for the same flight to Phuket. Once on board the plane, we switched to holiday mood looking forward to our short trip to unwind in Phuket. MAS served us sandwich snacks during the flight to Phuket which was nothing to shout about, but was enough to fill our stomach temporarily. After we touched down in Phuket Airport, it took us quite sometime to clear immigration. Once out of arrival hall, we found our driver holding my name on a card among the many meet-and-greet staff waiting for their guests. It was good to have someone waiting to pick us up instead of wasting time figuring out the transport arrangement to our hotel. The vehicle was a clean, big and nice van, in fact, quite luxurious with air-conditioning working very well. We were impressed. For 600 THB, this was indeed worth it; otherwise, we could be sitting in a small salon cab paying over 800 THB after much haggling with the driver for the transfer to our hotel. In less than an hour, we arrived at our hotel. This driver, Mr. Bird, strange name but good guy, knew of short cuts through the traffic and as such, it did not take us too much time on the road. So we paid him 600 THB and made our way to check in to our hotel. Imagine! Phuket SRC Travel did not even make me pay a deposit for the airport transfer and simply operated on trust. Should we fail to turn up, they would have wasted their time. So I would continue to do business with them.
The hotel has a very arty-farty feel and staff dressed in casual resort style tee-shirts uniforms. Hotel lobby was bright, airy and welcoming. Check in was fast and very efficient. So with some excitement, we went to see what kind of room we were given. Our room was big and bright, clean-cut minimalist design. King size bed was clean, firm and comfortable. There was also another good size daybed at the end by the windows. Bathroom with only rain shower cubicle and wash basin the modern design type came complete with toiletries. Unfortunately, there were signs of wear and tear where the blinds to block the glass wall shower from the room were a little damaged and the shower door could not be properly closed. The bathroom floor was also a little slippery when wet. Other than those issues, all was well. Comparing the standard of this hotel with other 5 star hotels under the Accor group like Sofitel and Pullman, we would prefer not to choose this hotel the next time. As we needed nothing else we rested in our room and watched TV for awhile.
It was supposed to be nearing the end of the raining season but it was surprisingly bright and hot when we arrived so it was a good time to hit the swimming pool. The pool is those infinity type where you could see the beach and watch sunset in the late afternoon. A part of the wall of the swimming pool is made of thick glass so others could see you swim a floor below near the lobby; it would be like swimming in an aquarium for public display and entertainment. Some may not like the idea while others may like this novelty where they can take pictures of their friends and family members swimming in the pool from the lobby glass wall. We had a good relaxing swim and enjoyed the view of Patong Beach across the road. It was so peaceful that day and we were thankful it did not rain but smokers smoking at the pool spoilt our otherwise perfect first piece of activity in Patong. We understood it had been pouring the past few days before we arrived and were expecting a little dampener for our trip. But so far so good. So after the swim, I contacted Mr. Chai via whatsapp to check with him regarding the weather for the next day. He assured me the weather should be fine and should the tour operator cancel the tour due to bad weather, there would be a 100% refund of fees. As such, we went ahead to book a day tour to James Bond Island with him for the next day. As this was a last minute decision, we did not sign any documentation with him and did not pay for the tour upfront which cost 1100 THB per person. It was done over the phone based on trust. He sent me the booking details over to my phone and that was all. Notwithstanding, I don’t think Mr. Chai would entertain everyone this way, especially during peak seasons. Anyone who wish to use his service would have to negotiate with him and see if he could accommodate last minute bookings but preferably book tours with him in advance.
As we did not really have lunch that day, we went for an early dinner at the hotel’s artistic Beehive Gallery Barestaurant and at the same time have our welcome drinks. This hotel offers welcome cocktail drinks everyday for guests staying with them. The restaurant is like an art gallery and with all walls and ceiling painted with artworks of all sorts. Perhaps, those with an eye for arts could comment more on the artistic deco in a more meaningful way.
While having dinner at the restaurant by the road, we watched the glorious sunset moment and feasted on all its splendour of the picturesque skies on the far horizon of Patong Beach. Enjoying our meal including our refreshing cocktail drinks with such magnificent scenery was utmost satisfying to say the least.
After dinner, we went out for a stroll on the road along Patong Beach, enjoying the gentle breeze and observing whatever activities that were left of the day. We didn’t go very far and before reaching the famous or rather infamous Bangla Road, we turned back and returned to our hotel to enjoy our “artistic” hotel and room. One good point about B Lay Tong Hotel is its location right on Patong Beach but further away from the crazy night life near Bangla Road. If the objective of a vacation is to relax and unwind, staying further away from the main actions in town merits serious consideration. Just on the right of the hotel is a 7-11 mini mart where we could stock up on water and other stuff.
It was a long day since we left home for the long flight due to transit at KLIA, so it was good to rest early to prepare for the full day trip out at sea the next day. It was also a good time to catch up with the children back home via whatsapp with the efficient wifi provided by the hotel. Finally, watching TV which had just sufficient international channels, and some light reading brought our first day to a close.
Continue to Day 2 ...