After the grandeur of Krabi Beach and Phulay Bay, well, shall we say it was good to have a little palate cleanser. So in that regard, our night of roughing it at Summer Hotel in Phuket Town was exactly what we needed … as we prepared for what would prove to be a highlight of the entire trip to Thailand … Starwood’s Naka Island Resort.
In a word … opulent!
To begin with, the Naka team met us at the Phuket airport with a sleek black BMW sedan, which whisked (and I mean whisked) us away through the backroads and hillsides to the mainland pier and all its yachts. At that point some gentlemen grabbed our bags and loaded us on a speedboat for a five minute cruise to the island.
Who don’t love a little pomp and circumstance? We certainly do and Naka was there for us … meeting us at their pier and leading us to the gates for a ceremonial gong bash. The Naka tradition is to bang the gong twice on arrival and then a final time upon departure. Very cool.
And it got better. Inside the plastered walls of the compound is a labyrinth of sidewalks, bungles, gardens, shops, villas and bike trails up and down a hill overlooking the Andaman Sea.
The PingWi-Fi team grabbed up a couple of the Sunrise Pool Villas. In addition to the sea, and the big resort pool, there was an additional swimming pool within the gates of our little section, shared with 3-4 other villas … and then yes … each villa had it’s own little backyard garden pool. Imagine the smile on my face, considering my swimming pool-deprived upbringing in the dusty Texas Panhandle.
It got better.
Each villa also was equipped with a huge soaking tub, a steam & shower room and a huge bathroom, all outside, enclosed for total freedom and privacy behind a very secure wall. I felt a bit free if not tribal and/or primal.
Inside the very well air-conditioned villa was a huge, sinfully soft bed, shrouded in a luxurious canopy. And one of my favorite touches — the floor level work desk, with a sunken opening in the floor for one to stretch their legs as they work.
The villa was equipped with a near-perfect Wi-Fi hotspot which dominated the main living area and the day-bed area, just outside the front windows. However, my computer seemed to lose the signal in the backyard as I tried to set up shop with my computer near the huge tub … cordless and at a safe distance from the water, I might add. This was basically just a test. I mean who takes their laptop to the bathtub area? Just wondering …
Lastly, the room was equipped with one of those cool Bose iPod systems, and the hosts had loaded an iPod with lots and lots of exotic, world beat and relaxing music. I left it running and it was so cool to come home after a day of kayaking and be greeted by tabla drums, wooden flutes, and other soothing tones … like my own personal spa.
Outside, we tooled around on vintage cruiser and/or mountain bikes, up and down the hills to the scenic lookout of the Z Bar. The meals at Tonsai and My Grill were diverse and excellent — some of the best steaks we found anywhere in Thailand … great lobster, with a special lobster night … wonderful deserts (and I think we tried them all) … pretty much perfection and in true Thai form … the nicest, most hospitable and caring staff. OH … and the blended fruit drinks — crazy fresh and delicious.
And yes, there were excellent Wi-Fi hotspots in each of the dining areas …
So what about the atmosphere?
Well … you may be picking up on the vibe from the descriptions that this is a pretty romantic little getaway. Yes, there are diversions on Naka Island — kayaking, sailing, cycling, swimming — but it is so secluded. It is absolutely perfect for a little romantic getaway. Or at least I am assuming that … Ha … since I was stuck with Steve, my buddy and camera man … or perhaps more accurately, he was stuck with me.
That part of the visit may have been a little awkward, but we chose to ignore it and just enjoyed being pampered in luxury, after our long stay in the more bustling parts of Thailand.
I know it looked unusual to others, these two mis-matched American hanging out each night for dinner, or soaking up sun at the pool. In fact, on our second day, we met a charming couple at the pool — a woman from Australia and her companion, a gentleman from England. After we talked for a bit, they admitted they had been trying to figure out what was up with us — the two obviously straight guys hanging out at such a getaway. Ha … we took it in stride … and just enjoyed … and of course worked. (I speculate they could tell we are straight by our lack of fashion sense … not that there’s anything wrong with that …)
I mentioned the kayaking above … My first experience ever with the strange little boat that looks the same coming and going in the water, just as its name does on the page … kayak. I have canoed plenty of times, but have to admit the kayak took me a bit to master. Right off the bat … or maybe paddle … I decided to experiment and find out just how easy the craft would flip. Ha … quite easy. And before Steve and I circled Naka Island, I dumped one more time. But we made it and I now derive some pride from knowing that my first kayaking was sea kayaking. Pretty cool. But hot at the same time … Steve and I got some of the most sever sunburns ever … during the trip around the island … probably 4-5 miles.
So … on a scale of 1-7 pings, as is our custom here at PingWi-Fi Island … just how did Naka Island measure up? See video for full details:
So, the first kayaking experience was all the seafaring we needed, without any aloe vera balm in sight … we passed on the Hobie Cat sailing …
And it wasn’t until our last morning at Naka Island that we ventured out again on the Andaman Sea. This time, we kept our delicate flesh covered and let someone else provide the “horsepower.” We rented one of the long, wooden, Thai water taxis and headed for one of the most famous of Thailand landmarks — other than the hundreds of Buddha shrines and temples … James Bond Island — the place featured in “The Man With The Golden Gun” film.
It was on the way to James Bond Island that I learned that the excellent air conditioning at my villa had created technical problems. Yes, for sure, I had the A/C cranked. So, when we left our little cottages and got into the near tropic sun … there was quite a temperature/moisture difference. That is when I learned the Canon digital video camera has a “condensation” meter and warning. Oh … the little Canon was not happy and started spitting out tape cartridges and all acting up. It refused to work at all … so we switched to the contingency and shot video with the Nikon still camera … not bad.
James Bond Island is mixed in a cluster of limestone rock formations, jutting out of Phang Nga Bay, within reach by a 30-minute voyage from Naka Island. But first, there is some spelunking in the excursion. Our taxi boat captain — a young man in is early 20s — anchored our boat near one of the rock formations and lowered an inflatable dingy or what-have-you for us all to pile in. Then he paddled us under a low, low hanging opening in the rock wall. We had to lay flat on our backs to make it in … First we saw a bat-covered ceiling, and then as we got further in the passage, it was total dark. Rats! Our guide’s flashlight was dead. The light strapped around his forehead as he paddled, was useless. He inched along, dodging walls and stalactites or stalagmites …. some sort of stalags … in the dark.
I tried to pitch in and light the place with the flash on my Nikon D7000, but the place was so dark the camera wasn’t getting a reading and wouldn’t fire. Wow. And I was scared to monkey with it too much, for fear of getting it wet.
It was a little scary at first, but we soon realized he could have navigated through the passage blindfolded … although who would wear a blindfold in the dark? … After a minute or two, we passed into the inner part of the rock formation … a small body of water surrounded with sheer rock walls, jungle vegetation and wild monkeys bearing their teeth … a little too close to our boat for comfort. And of course there were a dozen or so other tour guides paddling tourists when we reached the open area. Very cool.
I few minutes later our captain shot the big boat inside another opening in another rock formation, with the wooden cabin of the boat barely clearing the entrance. When we passed through, this opening was not much bigger than the boat. The pilot did some fancy maneuvering, combining a few full stops, reverses and boat tricks to do a 360, and then we headed back out to the open sea.
Then quickly we sped over to James Bond Island itself. We passed on the very small touristy facility there … due to time constraints, we didn’t land. But, the beauty of all the formations … probably a hundred or so from what I saw were everywhere … each one beautiful. And of course we shot photos and video from the boat … and being such techie/social media nerds … yes … we “checked in” on Facebook no thanks to Wi-Fi. The ever-present TRUE cellular network had us covered.
After James Bond Island, we packed, checked out and headed for the Naka Island pier for our speedboat back to the mainland … but first, the ceremonial one bang on the gong to leave the island.
Know what I sayin?