Unusual for the Said family, we had not yet chosen a holiday spot for the New Year - Our home base Australia falls over December /January. Over brunch one day in September 2007 discussing “travel talk’, close friends were curious about what kooky, niche, unknown corner I was taking my family to !
“Have not decided yet” was my response.
They immediately perked up and suggested we meet them at their old standby, LE MERIDIEN Phuket in Thailand.
On the one hand, my ‘Jonathan Said-intrepid-traveler alarm bells went off. Asia has not been on my priority greatest hits list (although most Australians holiday more here than anywhere else). We are just so drawn to the culture of Europe, the diversity of North America and the pulse and heart of Africa.
Normally a hotel that is so big and old, like the Meridien, is not what I look for in a property. You never hear me using the phrase “600 rooms” in a sentence. I am also less interested in over touristed areas where the local texture has been stamped out in the pursuit of the almighty foreign dollar; I just could not see myself staying there.
I knew that the small beach town, Patong would offer our kids a lively outdoor nightlife. (It can get a little too lively if you have a teenage son on the loose!) Me being me, I came up with a more glamorous list of compromise top properties that still offer direct access to the beach and are close to Patong (there are no shortage of those). Looking for the aesthetic hit we crave, I selected
Six Senses Hideaway Yao Nioi
Each one is gorgeous in its own unique way - who wouldn’t want to stay there? But what tipped the scales back towards accepting our friends’ kind offer to join them was the kids. They had been awesome about traveling the globe with us since they were tiny, fitting in with the chic or unusual, going where we wanted to go. It was time to cave in and let them run the show. All three had friends on the spot at the Meridien - why deny them the fun of being with their friends 24/7?
We committed to the whole week, setting aside another 10 days for us to do our thing and experience high-end, luxury Thailand later.
Only Jetstar (Australian budget holiday carrier) offers direct flights from Sydney to Phuket. Their Starclass - which we had already flown long haul to Hawaii - offers pre-paid basics like food and in-flight entertainment (reaching for your wallet in the air is the ultimate buzz kill). It’s really a glorified Premium Economy class and I sure would prefer to fly bona fide Business Class with Qantas, Singapore or Thai - but the exorbitant prices could keep the King of Thailand in orchids for decades, plus they all flew through Bangkok or Singapore.
At least the 9-hour Jetstar JQ27 flight also leaves Sydney at a civilized 1.20pm. Alas, the steam was coming out of my ears after a not so civilized 5-hour delay, almost the length of the flight! It left us in no mood for the crappy, worn out personal entertainment system to keep us occupied during the flight. NEXT TIME... with so much choice and air traffic going through Asia, I’ll try harder and earlier to get a good deal on a proper business class carrier.
We arrived at the hotel in the heat of the wee hours, exhausted. The lobby is massive, with a pointy, cathedral height ceiling. After an unexpected 45 min drive from the airport (who knew Phuket was that big?) my family’s jaw dropped when I, as always, asked politely for the Room Manager so I could do full-tilt, Jonathan Said reconnaissance on our room before we committed. A hotel room is so core to the overall experience that it is worth a little diplomacy, even when everyone is so tired that they are ready to drop into a broom cupboard.