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Save it for a rainy day
TIME: 11:04AM Tuesday December 14,2010
FROM:Yahoo Travel   

What do you do on rainy days in Phuket, when the May-October wet season is supposed to be over?

Forget about Patong Beach, inter-island boat trips, elephant-back and quadbike treks until the clouds clear - you'll find lots of other attractions, many of them indoors and away from the elements.

For entertainment, with a strong Thai flavour, visitors should not miss FantaSea, a brilliant stage show drawing on the country's history and culture.

It's presented nightly except Thursdays at the 3,000-seat Palace of the Elephants in what's described as the world's only Thai theme park, spread over a 57-hectare site at Kamala Bay just north of Patong.

In popular packages, visitors are picked up from their hotels, dine in a 4,000-seat buffet restaurant then watch a show starring a cast of hundreds of humans and animals with up 16 elephants on stage together in the finale.

The 75-minute nonstop Fantasy of a Kingdom is based on Thailand's "myths, mysteries and magic," enhanced by awesome special effects.

There are officially nine themes: Thai culture, magical illusion, four-dimensional effects, aerial displays sometimes over the audience's heads, acrobats, pyrotechnics, sword and gun play and more special effects.

They provide slices of drama, action, song, dance and comedy all done up in a breathtaking and multi-award-winning bundle.

Before and after the 9pm spectacular, guests can wander around the park from 5.30pm enjoying a musical stage show and all the fun of the fair.

There are carnival games and parades, a "jungle walk" with tigers and other animals, elephant rides, and shopping for jewellery and souvenirs.

The short elephant rides are on a loop in the forecourt of the Palace of the Elephants while other guests start to take their seats in the theatre after temporarily handing over their cameras and phones to avoid flashes and calls during the show.

Also outside the palace are no fewer that 999 elephant statues -after all, the animal IS Thailand's national symbol.

Bookings and details: in Thailand call (076) 385-111 or visit

For non-beach days, booths all along Patong's beach road and on side streets offer half-day and full-day bus tours around the island, and you can haggle over prices just like you can in shops when buying anything from jewellery to T-shirts and DVDs.

If you prefer touring by taxi or cheaper tuk-tuk (open-sided van), bargain with the driver first until he reduces his original offer to a reasonable price, probably down about 40 per cent.

Among popular tour stops are shows featuring snakes and monkeys.

In the snake arena, trainers play with and tease deadly cobras and pythons.

They come face to face with up to three fierce-looking cobras at a range of around 15cm then dodge the reptiles' hissing lunges - although one trainer had a bandaid over his lower lip, and we were told later he had suffered a minor bite.

At another enclosure nearby, well-trained monkeys perform a variety of tricks from shooting basketball hoops to riding bikes (with training wheels) and playing numbers games - similar shows outdoor have them climbing palm trees to gather coconuts.

Some spectators say it's cruel on the monkeys who are controlled through tight straps around their necks, but they seem to enjoy what they do, and at least they don't have to forage for food or a place to live.

Inevitably, spectators at both shows have the chance to pose for photographs together with the monkeys and snakes.

Many tours around Phuket pass by the Two Heroines monument at a major road intersection, whereby hangs a fascinating story.

In 1785, Phuket was under siege by the invading Burmese Army and looked like falling, but was saved by the initiative of two sisters, Thao Thep Kasattri and Thao Sis Unthon.

They dressed up hundreds of other local women in male army uniforms and marched them through the streets as if they were reinforcements newly arrived from Bangkok, the Siamese capital.

The ruse worked, the Burmese withdrew and the two women were hailed as heroines and later immortalised with the statue.

Another interesting stop on many Phuket tours is The Cashew Nut Factory and showroom on the outskirts of Phuket Town where visitors can sample (and buy) nuts and a juice made from cashew apples on which they grow.

Cashews are farmed in Australia but the world's major suppliers are Brazil, India, the African nations of Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria.

Cashew trees grow up to 10m in height; fragrant red, yellow and pink flowers bloom annually before the coloured bulbous cashew apples appear; with one nut growing on the tip of each.

Visitors are told how in processing, the kidney-shaped nuts are suspended in toxic oil, burning the skin, after which these toxins are initially reduced by boiling the intact shells.

Carefully opening the shells, workers wrap plastic around their fingertips to prevent the black oil from burning their skin - all poison is expelled during the next stage when the nuts are baked over a low temperature for 12 hours.

The speckled skins are then peeled off, before the nuts are graded and separated into groups of whole nuts, half nuts and pieces.

Another refuge for a rainy day can be a traditional Thai massage - but make sure the spa you choose is reputable.

Try a visit to a fish spa where you sit down with your lower legs dangling in a water tank filled with swarms of small "garra rufa" fish from Turkey which nibble at loose skin, which tingles and is said to encourage skin regeneration.

At the Fisho Spa on Patong's Beach Road, customers have the option of lying full-length in a long water tank along with several hundred of the fish.

These spas have proliferated in Asia in recent years - but not in Australia, where regulations bar the importation of anything animal for therapeutic purposes.

Finally - and gents, we deliberately left this one until last - shopping!

Many Australians arrive in Phuket with half-empty suitcases which they intend to fill while bargain-hunting at stalls, shops, department stores and showrooms here.

They soon find themselves constantly under pressure from vendors operating on all the shopping streets - and on Patong Beach.

Relaxing there on a deck-chair, snoozing sunbathers are interrupted every few minutes by bearers of T-shirts, hammocks and snacks crying "Wanna buy?"

But we're writing about shopping inside not outside, and tourists have a choice of large shopping centres and palatial jewellery stores.

Haggling is the expected thing here, from tailors (new suits in three days) to jewellery emporia such as the vast and elegant Gems Gallery and Wang Talang near Phuket Town.

"Is that your best price?" is a most common question by shoppers - from budget-conscious buyers of T-shirts and DVDs to those with thicker wallets; who like beating down the price (say) of a sapphire necklace by the equivalent of $A250 to $A190.

When dealing with what seem to be mostly pirated DVDs, ask the salesman to run your chosen discs on his TV set, just make to sure that it's in English as you're led to believe!

You may find some movies where the dialogue is in English but also have English subtitles, some of them wildly and hilariously inaccurate and written by a local person with no great command of the language.

Tourists travelling by taxi are often urged to visit a big store by their drivers who then can have a card stamped by the management which later rewards them for supplying customers.

Some resorts offer free minibus trips to popular shopping centres which include the Central Festival Shopping Mall in Phuket Town and Jungceylon, at Patong but away from the beach.

If you take a taxi or a tuk-tuk - small open-sided vans have taken over from the old three-wheel rattlers - be sure and agree first on the price to your destination.

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