As beautiful as Ayara Hilltops was, we didn’t spend the four days cooped up in our rooms. I’d handled the travel, flight and resort arrangements with Tradewinds, while Ling was going to plan the itinerary for our stay.
We’d already spent the last vacation stoning on Rawa beach (stunning as it also was), so I privately wasn’t so keen this time to do the same. Fortunately, Ling had done her usual Google and Tripadvisor searches, and with the aid of Ayara Hilltops found two separate day trips for the second and third day of our stay.
The first of the two trips took spanned an afternoon, and involved several items: an Elephant trek through the forest, a visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (a small site dedicated to rehabilitate gibbons back to their natural habitat), Bang Pae waterfall, and a buffalo-cart ride.
The first trip was a mixed bag of sorts. Despite that the visit to the Project and waterfall was in the mid-afternoon, the thick canopy of trees in the rainforest where both places were sited in made the entire place shrouded in low light. The waterfall was really smack in the rainforest, and while there was a stone pathway, the area didn’t look like it was terrifically tourist friendly, what with the absence of vantage viewpoints to see the waterfall clearly.
The elephant ride however was a different matter: it was in equal parts hilarious, scary, and fun. Hilarious because of how the elephant would disregard our guide’s instructions, or stop every now and then for a snack of leaves from overhead trees. Check out the first-person whoops elephant cam point of view. Scary because the fellow had to steeply climb up (and down) at several parts of the trek. Nothing quite beats the feeling of gripping to your seat tightly fearing if the elephant is going to fall on his arse with you still sitting on his back!
The second trip was with the apparently number one-rated day Phuket day trip organizer on Tripadvisors, Simba Sea Trips. The company is family run and the trip hosted by its two owners, Geoff and Jenny Smith. Their site proudly states that they do not run “Cattle Market Tours”. We traveled on a fast speedboat with just 12 guests onboard, made our way through the islands, limestone rocks, and fishing communities around the Andaman sea.
This day trip, for want of a better descriptor, was simply fantastic. Both hosts were knowledgable, very personable, and hospitable with an excess of specially prepared sandwiches, fruits, cakes, drinks, refreshment towels. Both clearly knew the areas very well, and whether by luck or through sheer skill in timing, several of the island and limestone rock spots we visited had no other visitors except for us.
E.g. the last photo below is a 160 degree panoramic shot of the island we stopped at (larger picture here), and it’s incredible we were all alone there for the good part of a few hours before a substantially larger boat stopped by to offload several dozen other visitors to enjoy the beach too.
The day was perfect in other words, though towards the end Ling felt a little unwell, and we decided to find a hospital for her to do a check-up. Both Geoff and Jenny helped us make arrangements for our limousine driver to not only bring us to Phuket International Hospital, but also instruct the driver to wait there until Ling had seen the doctor. I think Ling will mention more of her hospital visit in her eventual post to come, but clearly the great hospitality we received is not limited merely to Thais.
In all, it was a great stay, and I imagine we’ll be back again in Phuket to check out the other areas we skipped this time, for instance Phi Phi. Ling took about 55 minutes of video, and myself about 16 GB of photographs. Fortunately, I’d carted along my NEC notebook for the trip – which outside bringing along several memory cards would have made it hard to take that many pictures.:)