Category: Co-Living

The Phuket Write-Up

I landed in Phuket on June 24 and would be there for 30 days. Why not maximize the allowance of my tourist visa?

 

While I had visited Thailand before in 2015, I had never visited Phuket. When I was planning my journey earlier this year, I knew I wanted to pass through Thailand, but I wanted to hit a new location. Why not Phuket? I did have some misgivings due to the utter reliance on mass tourism, but a few tourists wouldn’t kill me when out-and-about.  Also, I don’t mind a bit of divertissement if the mood strikes me.

 

I did decide on an out-of-the-way (for a tourist) locale on the eastern side of the island. It’s a town/area called Ko Kaeo, probably best known as the location of the Royal Phuket Marina – a.k.a. “boat lagoon.” There were restaurants, grocers, convenience stores, and such in the area, so I knew I wouldn’t be without life’s necessities.

 

Perhaps a more accurate description of my decision process would be that my decision to stay at Phuket Stash determined my location. Phuket Stash is a co-working spot, and hopefully I’ll get around to producing a write up. It proved a quirky but quiet place to set up shop for the month. In hindsight, I could have found myself a cheaper place (15k baht for the month @ Stash), but that’s not exactly a burdensome sum for a month’s accommodation.

 

Phuket felt larger than I initially envisioned.  The perception of size is magnified by road and traffic conditions, which were prone to substantial slowdowns and bottlenecks even during the nadir of the low season (bars, restaurants, beaches, and resorts were deserted relative to their potential capacity).

 

Public transit is spotty and not immensely convenient (shuts down at 6 pm). You’re  required to change in Phuket town, as the bus/songthaew routes make up a hub-and-spoke system.

 

Taxi pricing is mafia-fixed and extortionate by Thai standards. Even a quick 10 minute 7km/4.5mile drive from Stash to Phuket town was 360 baht ($11) on Grab. A local taxi stand would have wanted 500.

 

When a scooter can be hired for 200 baht (US$6) per day, the incentive is obvious and strong.  For various reasons (lack of need to travel, preference to get work/stuff done versus daily sightseeing, zero experience with scooters/motobikes, Thai driving), I opted against it.  Why invalidate my overseas medical coverage?

 

Food prices are elevated by Thai standards, though it’s really not going to break the bank. Yes, you can get a rice or noodle dish for 30-35 baht in Chiang Mai.  Yes, it costs 50 baht here (60% more!!!). That said, the marginal cost of 50-65 cents is not worth sweating over – for me.  This sentiment was by no means universal, I should add.  

image of mango sticky rice in thailand

See a sample price list below (your mileage may vary):

Item Location & Price (in Baht)
Retail Local eatery Air con/mall Beach/restaurant Tourist drag
Fried Rice 50 90 120-200 150-250
Pad thai 50 90 120-200 150-250
Meat dish 50-60 90-110 140-220 150+
Seafood dish 70 120 180+ 200+
Local beer (sm) 40-55 (s) 60-70 80 80-100 100-200
Cocktail 150+ 150+
Mango rice 50 100-120 150-200 200+
Mango 50/kg
Pineapple 10 (each)
Latte 55 – 110 80+ 110
Water (500ml) 6-9 8-10 10-20 20 20+
Fuel (per liter) 29.7-31

 

Overall, I found it affordable as someone earning and spending USD. Your perceptions naturally will vary.  To borrow a Dutch proverb passed on by a friend, one “cannot look into someone else’s wallet” (i.e. judge how much a dollar/etc is worth to any given person).

 

To describe the categories a bit, “local eateries” are defined as small restaurants where you sit on a plastic chair outside, albeit shielded by an awning.

 

 “Air con/mall” refers to the next tier up, which describes restaurants in air-conditioned buildings or in shopping malls. Newbies to Asia tend to like these places, as it blends “locals eat here” (i.e. more adventurous than eating at the hotel) and “within my comfort zone” for familiarity. I find that you’re primarily paying for the air conditioning and a marginally higher level of English (or other major tourist foreign language).

 

“Beach/restaurant” refers to higher end restaurants catering to expat as well as eateries that are beach-front. Pricing = location, location, location.

 

“Tourist drag” in this sense refers to central Patong.  I would argue that you’re enduring the worst combination of high prices and dismal scenery, but Patong isn’t my cup of tea.

 

Every beach/area has its own particular vibe. Ko Kaeo is primarily local, but a small, convivial, and tight-knit community of expat yachters set up there for the Boat Lagoon.

 

Rawai in the south would be my first choice were I to return.  It’s quite proximate to a couple of beaches and landmarks, is relatively inexpensive for “near the water” in Phuket, and is home to the location independent/digital nomad scene.  There are numerous bars, restaurants, gyms, shops, etc to make life easy.

 

Phuket Town is the business hub of the island, home to the best hospitals, a shopping hub, and where you’ll find the relevant consulate if you run into some trouble. It’s also the transport hub of the island. The weekend night market is worth a visit.

 

Patong is the tourism/party/red light hub of the island.  It struck me as overbuilt, dirty, and sleazy (people on drugs, ping pong show offers, and so on).

 

Kata was the preferred surfing beach of the other nomads I met. I didn’t get to spend much time there, but the surfers love it.

 

Surin at this time of year was the picture-perfect white, sandy beach popular with what few tourists were present as well as Thai families. The same goes for Bangtao just a little to the north.

Surin Beach
Surin Beach

Mai Khao would probably win the award for the quietest major beach, as it’s at the northern end of the island near the airport and Phuket’s luxury resorts.

 

Would I return to Phuket? Sure.  Is it my favorite beach destination? Nope, though I’ve been to much worse.  It does have many advantages.  Thai prices (barring taxis), ease of travel to Thailand, food & lifestyle, and a sizeable & helpful expat community all contribute to my overall good impression.

 

We’ll meet again, Phuket.

Of Geese and Apples – Touring Phuket

 

One of the fixtures of my lodgings during my first 10 days in Phuket was Alex, a shaggy Russian from Novo Sibersk with an aversion to wearing shirts unless absolutely necessary.  As he is shredded like a the crucified Christ, I am not particularly bothered by this. Despite his limited English and my profoundly non-existent knowledge of Russian, we managed to communicate exceptionally well. The dividends paid were extraordinary

A blurry picture of this tale’s hero

Day 1

 

One day, he offered a beach trip. I am down.

 

“How are we getting there,” I ask? 

‘Scooter!

 

My eyes widen, as I don’t know how to do 2 wheels, Thai driving are what you’d expect for a society that widely believes in reincarnation, and “farang road kill” is a terribly trite way to die.

 

That’s OK, as I can ride as his passenger.  For some reason, I acquiesce to this.  I just can’t refuse shredded foreigners offering a ride. I figure that a Russian hippie semi-resident in Thailand absent bandages is probably capable of handing the roads.

 

I still downloaded my insurance docs onto my phone in case I ended up at a local hospital.

 

After a quick google search of how to be a decent passenger, I grabbed onto a helmet and tried to make my peace with mortality.  Off we went.

 

“This isn’t so bad.”

 

My curiosity got the better of me soon enough, and moving my head to look at everything we passed earned a gentle reproof “no move, only sit.”  I focused on the printed pineapples on the back of Alex’s shirt.

 

In abut 35 minutes on the scenic route, we ended up at Nai Harn beach, at the southern tip of Phuket island. As soon as we hopped off the bike, rain began. We also were low on fuel.  As my brain hemispheres and subsidiary lobes were still contained in their original packaging, this trip still qualified as a success.

 

We retreated to shelter for beer while we waited out the showers. When the weather improved about an hour later, we went a-hunting for fuel.  We stumbled on small self-service pump.  I handed him B40, and we were good to go for a bit longer.

 

Alexey needed a bite, and you don’t need to ask me twice to enjoy some Thai grub, so he took me to Tony’s Restaurant just outside of Phuket town.  He was fond of it for the cheap Pad Thai and beers at 10 baht over the 7/11 price.  Pineapple fried rice for me and a Singha, and life was looking good, until another downpour befell us.

 

Realizing that it wouldn’t let  up, we donned plastic ponchos and slowly made our way back.  Heavy rush hour traffic, a downpour, and flooded roads – what could go wrong?!  Miraculously, very little.  As we rode through inches-deep water, I joked that I hoped Alex was up to date with his shots (putting his foot down in the filthy flooded water when stopped for a light.)

 

By some unknown grace, we made it home only moderately soaked.

 

Pros: We survived, had food and beverages. Cons: Soaked like bilge rats; no beach time.

 

Day 2

 

Given his imminent departure from Thailand, Alexey decided that more beach time was needed.  I didn’t need to be asked twice.

 

After pulling on trousers and a long-sleeved shirt (sun protection, slightly more protection in an accident versus shorts/t-shirt/tank), we were off again.

 

Today’s destination was Surin beach, and there was barely a cloud in the sky. After a ride across the island and over the mountain, we arrived at Surin, one of the cleanest beaches I have seen in Asia. The lack of plastic garbage was refreshing.  I can’t overstate how marvellous the water was – cool enough to refresh, warm enough to frolic in for hours.

Surin Beach

At around 4pm, I managed to communicate to Alex that it would be a perfect time for a beer.  In emphatic agreement, we were soon on our way to a 7/11.  An old hand at Thailand has already discerned the problem with this plan.  Thailand’s sports its own version of a blue law that prohibits the sale of alcohol between 2-5 pm.  I cursed myself for making a rookie oversight before retiring to the beach to wait out the hour.

 

There are far worse purgatories!

 

In time, we had a pair of Singhas in hand. Those who drink with me will attest that this is the point where the “respectability quotient” of the banter heads south faster than a retiree sensing the arrival of winter.

My sexiest shot
Comfortable

We were discussing food. I relayed a story of my grandmother stuffing a chicken who alternated between muttering something about “impure thoughts” and singing/humming the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind.”  His first reaction was asking via a mix of google translate and google images if we in the West stuff geese with apples.  I stared, blinked, and communicated that, regardless of Siberian custom, we do not sodomize geese with apples in the Anglophone West. And so was born the joke of the month.

 

I’ll leave it to your imagination where the conversation went from there.

The sunset was spectacular
The sunset was spectacular!

In time, it was time to return.  Stash had received a new guest who was keen to hire a scooter for an evening run into town, so Alex had to dash back to facilitate the transaction.

 

If nothing else, the beer made me somewhat more relaxed about the safety of zipping around on a scooter.

 

Day 4

 

After a Day 3 that looked much like Day 2 (hence its absence), Alex decided to bring me along again for his last day in Thailand, for the foreseeable future.  I strapped on my old familiar helmet, hoped for good luck on the road, and we were off again.

 

Our first destination included a visit to Big Buddha, probably the most famous cultural attraction on the island. “Uncle Sid” (as one friend calls him) commands a magnificent view of the island.  Fortunately, we had a clear, sunny day and low season tourist levels, so the visit was quite pleasant. Note: Women do have to dress relatively modestly, though men don’t appear to (e.g. a man can wear a sleeveless shirt, a woman cannot).

View from the Buddha
View from the Buddha

Souvenirs and snacks are available, if you wish to indulge.

Pet the temple kitties

After the Big Buddha, we made our way on the scenic route, and we blew out our rear tire just as we arrived at the beach on Promthep Cape.  Alex went off to have it fixed, as this exact setback befell him at this same beach a few months ago. I decamped for lunch (I hadn’t yet eaten that day).  He returned in need of 40 baht.  The front tire blew on the way to the shop, but it could be patched.  Lucky us!

Around Promthep Cape
People bring their cats to this beach. I saw three with their owners.

My custom was to buy the beers for us, as 50-60 baht for his libations seemed worth all the fun. I begged him to get a second for his troubles. After the tire fiasco, I didn’t have to try too hard.  After all, that tire was the apple in his goose.

 

All good things must come to an appointed end, and so did this arrangement.  I found myself missing my Russian driver, my late-afternoon beer, and the inevitable goose-apple banter that followed. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide of the island. Such is the traveller’s life – these sort of brief, happy encounters are a defining feature of the lifestyle.

 

I’ve also realized that I haven’t eaten an apple in almost a month.

 

Co-living Review: Chapter 2 Hostel, Tokyo

31 May – 17 June; Rate: ¥3,100 per night (2 week+ stay)

In a classic case of cart-before-horse planning travel planning that I so love, I let flight prices substantially dictate my destination. I couldn’t refuse a fare I found on Swiss to Tokyo. As you might expect, that led to the consequential issue of where I’d say in Tokyo. There wasn’t much of a question of staying there (versus traveling around). I wanted some locational stability, and my friends are in Tokyo. The latter consideration has grown more important to me in recent years.

 

On the surface, Tokyo isn’t a cheap city for accommodation. Hotels are quite expensive for the space you get. The Airbnb properties I looked at were quite peripheral to anywhere I wanted to be. That worked out, given the booking chaos that came to pass during my visit.

 

At some point, my digital nomad research took me to coliving.com. Naturally, I had a look at the offerings in Tokyo. One option was Roam, which was quite expensive (US$2,600/mo). The other was Chapter Two, which was remarkably inexpensive (US$30-ish/nt). As always, I had a look at their website to check the rate of booking direct. As it turned out, I saved a few yen with a direct booking. Yay!

 

Chapter Two’s vibe is part-guesthouse, part-hostel, part-coworking. The pictures on the website exhibited some ingenious design features to maximize space. I decided to gamble on “pod” life (a less sterile take on capsules, which I was curious about trying if only for their quintessential Japanese-ness). The owners, Hiro and Erika, had just opened Chapter Two in March, so I was eager to try a relatively new business.

 

In a fit of flippancy, I did little research into the immediate area. Chapter Two was right above a train station, fairly central, and near numerous food options. Check, check, check.

 

When I arrived at the front door circa noon on May 31, we handled the essential check-in formalities. I had pre-paid via Paypal, but I had to shorten my booking. I was delighted to get a full refund for those five days, which Erika paid in cash. Hiro also surprised me by knowing all the details of my booking. I am so accustomed to Generic Hotel Front Desk that this personal touch had a disarmingly sentimental quality to it.

 

My pod wouldn’t be available until 4 pm, which is fine by me. I just wanted to unburden myself of my baggage and stretch my legs with a stroll around the neighborhood. The 24 hour itinerary from Miami to Tokyo via Zurich gave me a week’s worth of sitting down.

 

After a wee wander around the Sensoji temple, the surrounding area, and a restorative coffee, it was time to settle in. The pod was very private and more spacious than I expected. With a bit of imagination, I was able to unpack my backpack and small roll-aboard with the clothing and personal effects needed for my time in Tokyo. My large bag was stowed in a garage next to the front door.

 

Hiro and Erika have extensive experience in hospitality via Chapter Two’s predecessor and time spent working at a location of the Khaosan hostel chain (where they first met). I found Chapter Two interesting, as the vibe was extremely sedate. This is not a party place (evidenced by the lack of drunk/hungover Australians usually found at hostels). Noise levels at night were zero (yay for sleep).

 

In a conversation in the living room, Hiro told me that he wanted to build a community. I can believe it.  During dinner hours, Hiro and Erika frequently had guests and friends from all over.  The most memorable during my visit was Masa-san, who was the “founder of the feast” on one glorious night, and then on another plied me with fermented sardines. The taste was interesting, but the smell was horrific. That said, I won’t forget it! Any guest is welcome to join them for chat and (frequently) treats.

Hiro displaying a bottle of Chapter 2 sake
Hiro-san and the Chapter 2 sake

The master at work!

 

Various salient info:

The Pod is difficult to describe, so I hope my video + the pictures on their site do it justice. There was a power outlet + usb outlet & a lock box.

 

The cleanliness throughout was stereotypically Japanese – spotless. You would not find a cleaner bathroom at a Conrad or Waldorf (speaking from experience here). The kitchen and common area was also kept similarly perfect.  I noted to Hiro and Erika that coasters would be a great idea, as cold beverages would leave a ring (which I fastidiously tried to wipe up when I had a drink). In 48 hours, coasters materialized. In my observation, this cleanliness is a collective effort.

 

The travelers coming through are really interesting. Masa-san is heavily involved in Ted-X Japan, a Finnish couple were long term travelers – the guy was a walking info-bank of SE Asia travel tips, a Malay-Australian engineer who helped fill in the gaps concerning my knowledge of the Mahathir-Razak relationship, a Tata employee who furnished a bottle of (delicious) Indian chenin blanc, and a blockchain entrepreneur.

 

Coffee & tea are free; a light breakfast (boiled egg, toast, jam) is available in the morning; other beverages are available for purchase (water for ¥100, soda for ¥200, beer for ¥300)

 

Laundry is available onsite. ¥200 to wash; ¥100 per 10 min of drying

 

Wifi is excellent.

 

Hiro and Erika live onsite, and the care they invest in running the place is what you’d expect for someone’s home. This is reflected in the thoughtfulness and quality – recycling wood from the building’s prior business (a party hostel) into the new hostel’s table, quality of kitchen supplies, furniture comfort, etc. I’ve stayed in enough lodging to know what “cheapest stuff from Home Depot” turns out to be, and they opted for the good stuff.

Picture of the chapter 2 living room
Note the alcoves on the right. There is space to sit and work there.

Runners will appreciate the riverside location, as there is a promenade along the river popular with runners and walkers. I found it a great way to start the day. Say hi to the local cats and shiba inu dogs. 😀

picture of a white cat

Any questions about Tokyo life, including the train system, food, bars, interesting places, culture etc will be answered thoroughly and patiently by Hiro and Erika.

 

Asakusa isn’t a famous Tokyo location in the West, but there is a lot to appreciate. You’re within walking distance to awesome cultural sites, great food, and museums. The train connections are solid.

 

Summary: This exceeded my expectations on all fronts. I would not be shocked if this hostel becomes famous to some degree in a short time. You’re getting ryokan-level care for hostel prices in a great location.