Walking past reception in the morning we stumble upon a ceremony happening out in the sun. A big table of fresh food is laid out as offering, with gold leaf and incense attached to it. Our curiosity prompts an invitation and before we know we are praying in a Buddhist ritual with the full hotel staff watching. It is the anniversary of the hotel and they gather annually to pray for the continued success and wellbeing of all the staff. We are ushered into a bus and taken down the hill where the equivalent Muslim ceremony is carried out. It’s sweltering outside but I am overcome by the locals’ willingness to share their traditions. They set off some extremely loud fireworks, and then try to find lottery numbers in the scraps that remain. This brings us back to reality and we pick up our bags.
My superstar taxi driver Eed picks us up and drives us to Karon Beach on the west coast of Phuket. I'm travelling with one of the guys from the course and we quickly discover that our first choice of cheap guest house is no good. On a whim we follow another Tripadvisor lead and end up at the magical Grand Sunset Hotel. Eager to accept the 1400 baht price quoted for a room to share, we are immediately upgraded to a super deluxe apartment by the amazing staff. Two ultra modern and spotless double bedrooms, a living room, balcony and three flat screens later we are flabbergasted at the surreal value for money still available in Thailand. We pay £14 each per night, the breakfast is beautiful, Wi-Fi is reliable and everywhere, the staff incredibly helpful and friendly, and the lobby becomes my living room for the next few days.
I go to the beach for the first time this holiday and have long awaited Skype calls with dad and sister in the chic lobby.
In the evening we venture to the weekend night market where we buy far too many Thai trousers, skirts and T-shirts. In one stall, I suddenly stop and realise that the girl who looks after it is 10 years old. I buy a scarf, how can I not? She poses for a picture and looks so sweet I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Further along, in the food area, a woman is sat down in the middle of the narrow lane, with two small children in her lap. She breast feeds and begs at the same time. I give her some money and walk away with a big lump in my throat. The tourists keep milling past.
Later we meet up with the sailing crew for one last dinner. A market eatery offers freshly made Pad Thai and we talk about our upcoming plans. Eed then drives us home, with the sounds and smells of a typical Asian market permeating our senses.