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Travels with Couri: What’s Doing in Phuket?

Monday, January 23, 2017
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Tiger Kingdom

You have two choices at Tiger Kingdom, suspend good judgment and enter a caged area with a large group of playful tigers or stay behind the bars. Naturally, we went in. For 2,500 baht ($90) these keepers allow you to pose and pet three sizes of Indochinese Tigers, small, medium and large, and when I say large, I mean 400 pounds. The keepers ease you into a tightly fenced area through double gated cages. That’s when I should have turned around, but I pressed on. The experience with the baby cubs was cute, the teens were thrilling but the parents were scary especially when a gang of six monster sized cats started fighting in one corner of the pen while we were sitting 20 feet away stroking their grandfather. The two “trainers" carried slim sticks and that was it between us and them. We escaped quickly but not before we took a stream of selfies holding the tiger’s tale. On the way out I jokingly asked if any one had ever been killed or mauled, the owner said “No, but a man did get bit in the leg last October and is coming back to face his fears this year. Great news! It was exciting but I’m not sure I’d have risked it if I’d heard that story first. These tigers are definitely not drugged; they were wide-awake and hungry. We went at 5 p.m. and stuck around to watch them tear through huge slabs of raw meat at 6 for dinner. I would suggest going right after breakfast when, hopefully, they're feeling less frisky.  tigerkingdom.com

James Bond Island

We rented an Amanpuri yacht, which boasts a crew of six, to explore the James Bond Island in the Adaman Sea. This rock of an isle is shaped like a nail head and was featured in the 007 film The Man with the Golden Gun starring Roger Moore. There is always a crowd on this tiny island that the Bond villain Francisco Scaramanga called home but there is really nothing to do here except visit the souvenir shop so I suggest you cruise on by. Our chef served up a delicious lunch featuring skewers of chicken and beef, grilled shrimp, Greek salads, pasta and pink and tender sliced tuna. I had the captain crank up the music and we danced on the deck as the scenery slipped by, drinking from fresh coconuts and sipping champagne that fueled the merriment. Although the boat gracefully holds 12, the two of us enjoyed the privacy of our adventure on the sea. We jumped off the upper decks into the pristine water and swam off a secret sandy beach; the only sign of man was the occasional plastic bottle that washed up reminding us of humanity’s bad habits. It was hard to envision the tsunami that blew near here 17 years ago. Thankfully there are only a few traces left of the devastation that it wrought.

Zip Lining at Hanuman

I decided to go on an eco-adventure and headed to Phuket’s ultimate jungle experience, zip lining at Hanuman. I put on my harness, strapped on my helmet and climbed 30 minutes up steep, rocky terrain to a ladder that led to a platform on a tree. Before I could say wait or stop I was hooked onto cable and pushed off a landing from the tallest tree I’ve ever seen. I was too petrified to scream. Then presto, I landed effortlessly on another platform wrapped around another gargantuan tree. In the end, it was easy, fun and exhilarating. We continued to zip around the jungle and trek over shaking wooden bridges. When we had to zoom straight down, I felt a lump in my throat but in truth anyone from 13 to 80 could enjoy an experience that makes you feel like Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. flyinghanuman.com

Lady Boys at Simon’s

You pass through Phuket without being solicited to see a “sexy show.” The problem is there’s nothing sexy or fun about these ping pong shenanigans in the grungy, sad clubs that line Bargate Street, the town's infamous red light district where they sell “sex” at a discount. In truth, The Box in NYC does it better. What is fun is the notorious Lady Boy show at Simons Cabaret. Over 80 transgender performers dress up like Ziegfeld show girls and clump through campy routines in a fast paced hour-long show. Six of these Lady Boys are real stars, who look and move like a cross between delicate geishas and leggy Vegas show girls. The costumes are as elaborate as anything Josephine Baker ever wore and they change clothes for every number with alarming speed. The Chinese Fan Dance was particularly convincing but the serious fun is in the side alley where 80 ladies and a dozen chorus boys line up for selfies. For 200 baht ($5.76) you get to pose with the “lady “of your choice. Once on the street, these “ladies “get very aggressive and their voices and manner are anything but feminine. This is where they make their tips and they will do anything to get your attention. A few of them are “real beauties “as Andy Warhol used to say.  phuket-simoncabaret.com

Bangla Boxing Stadium

On the other side of the coin is the Banga Tai Boxing Stadium. The evenings bill showcases multiple generations of fighters starting with 10-year-old, 70 pound combatants. They quickly worked their way up to 15 and 17 years olds and finally to 26-year-old 150 pound professionals. Two women also ducked it out. This is a brutal sport and inevitably someone ends up bloodied and being carried form the ring. Although I thought this was "local culture," the fighters also came from England, Australia, and Mexico. banglaboxingstadiumpatong.com

Aman Tailor

If you want custom clothes, go see Mr. Ram at Aman Tailors, which is a short stroll from the Amanpuri. They can copy anything you bring in for a fraction of what you originally paid. Their fame as an expert suit and shirt maker is sung by the super rich who own the expensive villas at the resort. In less than 8 hours, 22 people had created a dozen linen shirts and were ready for my suits first fittings. I had the shirts copied from my favorite Ralph Laurens and the suits from Kilgour, my Bond street tailors in London. My 800 dollar shirts were 50 dollars and the suits were equally well priced. I bought an extra trunk to take everything home. amantailor.com
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