Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Phuket, Thailand ~ And that Magical Mansion by the Sea

We can’t tell you what we ate at the Cape Panwa House on a beach in Phuket, Thailand, more than two decades ago, but we can tell you it was the dining experience that still ranks Number One in all of our years of travel. A doting waiter, clad in Thai silk, served the many courses of our meal and hovered over us as we dined in the stately colonial mansion. As cliché as it sounds, a full moon and swaying palms, as though from a movie set, provided the perfect tropical backdrop.

We dined there more than once during that brief stay so long ago. Nothing since, has compared to our experiences there.

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Cape Panwa House - Phuket, Thailand, 1988
Thailand was one of our first travel destinations. The mountainous Phuket Island in the southern part of Thailand had won our hearts. . .it was everything an exotic tropical island should be for those starry-eyed young travelers just setting out to explore the world.

We’ve often pondered returning; wondering if the place would seem as magical now. . .

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'The Scout' jogging the beach at Cape Panwa, Phuket, Thailand, 1988

The Panwa House was then part of the Sheraton Cape Panwa Hotel where we stayed during our time on this island in the Andaman Sea.  Most visitors to Phuket, the largest of Thailand’s islands, come for its beaches. We went for the same reason and looking back at old photos of our time at Cape Panwa we remember that wonderful beach. 

The Sheraton long ago sold the hotel and we’ve always wondered what happened to that magical mansion by the sea. We chose not to research it on the internet as we didn’t want to risk shattering those memories. . .

Fast Forward:  Phuket Island, our Second Port of Call

Our 34-day cruise from Bangkok, Thailand to Istanbul, Turkey aboard Oceania’s Nautica (aka our Magic Carpet) included many new places that we’d been wanting to visit, but another selling point of its itinerary had been getting to revisit favorite places from long-ago travels. Spending a day in Phuket was a plus. We’d not been here since 1988.

Phuket was the only port of call along our routing where we ‘tendered’ into the shore on smaller boats while our ship stayed anchored in deeper water.  If you’ve ever anchored at sea you know the ship turns with the current – like a slow moving kaleidoscope of scenery.  It was fun watching our arrival and trying to figure out where on the island we might be landing. . .

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Oceania's Nautica anchored in the Andaman Sea
And then. . . (you know what’s coming, don’t you?) . . .yes, there it was!

I start smiling when I think of the joy in realizing we were just off shore from the Cape Panwa House -- once the home of a coconut plantation owner and now nearly 100 years old – still on the beach right where we’d last seen it!

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Cape Panwa House, Phuket, Thailand, 2015
It is still a restaurant, we learned, operated by the Cape Panwa Hotel, and only open for dinner so we didn’t get to try it. Our ship sailed at 6 p.m.  (The reviews I’ve read since returning home, lead me to believe its magic is still wowing diners much as it did  when we were there.) Somehow, we were happy just knowing it was there.

Phuket ~ The Same, Yet Different

Phuket, whose wealth comes in part from tourism, got its start back in the 1500’s with tin production, an industry that continues today. While the Panwa House looked the same, tourism has made its mark on the island. The contrasting beach scenes, my 1988 and current photos, are examples of the growth that has taken place:

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Cape Panwa Phuket Thailand - Then and Now (1988 left, 2015 right)
Cape Panwa is about 25 minutes from Phuket Town by taxi. bus,or tuk-tuk, those tri-wheeled carts that still give riders a thrill as they whisk you in and out of tight traffic spaces.  The town, still an interesting mix of smells and sights but the shops, food vendors and the bustle of activity they generated didn’t hold quite the charms our first visit to the island.

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Phuket Town, Thailand, 1988 left, 2015 right

We passed up visiting the tourist sites as we wanted to see the town again. It was interesting strolling the streets - squeezing past parked motorcycles when the sidewalk disappeared and dodging buses, taxis and people.

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We'd ridden a similar bus to town from Cape Panwa in 1988; this was a 2015 version
Strolling however wasn’t one of the most pleasant pastimes because it was hot, incredibly hot, the temperatures were in the low 90’s and the humidity was in a similar range. That may have contributed to our reaction to the little town that had once charmed us. This food vendor below had the right idea – we could have used a fan as well!

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Food vendor Phuket Town Thailand
The town is well worth a visit and should be included on a trip to the island. There are also any number of tourist attractions including: the Sri Bhurap Orchid Cashew Nut Factory, the Phuket Seashell Museum, and the Phang Nga Bay National Marine Park. Also new, since our last visit, were two retail shopping malls.



Phuket was to be the last ‘familiar’ stop until we reached Rhodes, Greece. From this point on, our Magic Carpet Ride, was headed into new territory.

We’d have another day at sea and then wake up to find ourselves in Myanmar (Burma, as it once was known) where we left the ship for a two-night stay in Yangon – a place we are so eager to show you!

To our regulars here: For a short time, I’ll be posting twice a week; one post will continue the Magic Carpet ride through the Middle East and the other will be the return of Washington Weekend, featuring Pacific Northwest getaways.

For those of you social media enthusiasts, we’ve just joined the Google+ world, where you can find links to the posts under my name, Jackie Smith. (We finally link up and I read that Google is reducing the program features – timing is everything, isn’t it?)

As always, thanks for your time. Safe travels to you. Hope to see you again soon~

Linking this week with:

Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox 
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Mersad's Through My Lens

55 comments:

  1. I will never get my husband on a cruise ship (hates crowds) and probably never back to Asia so thanks for the vicarious visit.

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    1. This was a small ship; less than 500 passengers and so crowds certainly weren't the operative on this one. . .glad you are 'sailing' with us via the blogosphere!

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  2. Wow, what a wonderful post. I enjoyed reading about both of your past and present visits to Phuket. It looks like a paradise. Thanks for sharing your trip! Enjoy your week!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the before and after of Phuket, Eileen. Thanks much for the comment~ Happy week ahead. Jackie

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  3. Our Thai island was Koh Samui, because we had been told Phuket was a bit on the rowdy side. The hotel we stayed in will probably always remain our favorite, but someone bought it and improved the charm out of it some time since we were there. Picture an open-air office serving individual 2-story beach huts, all teak, with a big canopied bed and a balcony facing the ocean. (It's traditional architecture. the 2nd story is supported by stilts--you are not sharing with anyone.) The huts are widely spaced, so you never are bothered by your neighbors. At the foot of the outdoor stairs going up to the room and balcony there's a large wooden tub of water with water lilies floating in it. That's to dip your bare feet in so you won't track sand into your room. In the afternoon, a white-uniformed waiter floats up the stairs and quietly leaves an enormous tray of fruit on the table on the balcony. And to top it off, it was way under $100 when other beachside resorts were going for $150 and up for a room. Ahhhh, Thailand.

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    1. Oh, that sounds like our trip to Koh Phi Phi, the smaller island that was made famous in recent years with the filming of a movie there. Back when we stayed, the only way to get around the island was to walk on a narrow trail with a guide who recognized rocks along the way as directional signals or to take a long boat back to our resort. The resort provided those same type of huts on stilts that you describe and I thought at the time we were at the end of the earth in a tropical paradise. (And the banana pancakes they served for breakfast have never been matched.) I share your sentiment, "Ahhh, Thailand."

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  4. Thanks again for wonderful article and allowing us to be part of your happy memories x

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    1. We love sharing our memories and glad you enjoyed them, Sue! (Look forward to talking with you soon, I hope!)

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  5. It's a few years since I've been to Thailand, too, so your tale 'took me back'. Since cashews are a favourite with me, I certainly remember the Cashew Nut Factory! Thanks for bringing back such great memories.

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    1. Oh Ursula, it is funny you mention the cashews because that was the one place this nut-fanatic would have loved to have visited. Guess we'll just have to go back!

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    2. Dare I say... it would be nuts not to return? ��

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  6. I am happy to hear Cape Panwa House was still there. I could sense you were a little apprehensive returning. Your trip in 1988 sounded perfect and one must tread softly to retain these memories.

    I am looking forward to reading about Burma.

    Helen x

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    1. Oh Helen how nice to hear from you! I've been wondering how you are doing and hoping for reports from that new home of yours! Will check your blog soon to see what I have missed. Hugs, Jackie

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  7. I'm looking forward to our first visit to Thailand this fall, so it was nice reading about your experience then and now. If we go I would love to visit the Cape Panwa House.

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    1. Shelley, if you do go to the Cape Panwa House, I hope you'll report back and let us know what your experience was there. Enjoy Thailand - look forward to your reports!

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  8. I enjoyed reading about your trips to Phuket. Glad Cape Panwa house was still there in all its beauty! :)

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    1. Thanks Beth! It was fun looking back and comparing the two - glad I waited to do it until after we got back though. Have a great week!

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  9. You guys are sure having a great cruise!!
    Fun reading all about it too!!

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    1. Glad you are 'sailing' with us on this cruise. Look forward to seeing more comments from you, especially when we get to India!

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  10. Great trip! Sounds so good. :)
    I haven't been to Phuket yet, may be hopefully soon some day.

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    1. Hope you get there soon Indrania, you'd be in photographer's heaven! Thanks for the visit!

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  11. I've so often been disappointed when revisiting somewhere I really liked. Phuket has obviously changed a lot since you last saw it but I'm glad it didn't let you down.

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    1. It is scary to revisit places that were once so magical. Sometimes they've retained the magic and other times not; we were lucky to find a bit of magic still surrounding the Cape Panwa House.

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  12. I haven't been to Thailand yet and I've always assumed that Phuket would not be on my itinerary since it's got a reputation as a backpacker party haven. Is that not true? Should I plan it in or would you recommend one of these other places people have mentioned above -- for that tropical paradise feeling, I mean.

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    1. There are beautiful tropical beaches on Phuket - the kind that make for movies. Back packers and luxury travelers go there but perhaps you should try it for a few nights and then another island to see which you like best.

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  13. I so enjoyed your post on Phuket; such great memories you have of Cape Panwa House and your time on the island. So fortuitous you could return!

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    1. It was fun to go back and a day was plenty. We have many new places to explore and new places to return to before our travel bags get stored for good. Thanks for the visit, Marilyn!

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  14. It's always an interesting experience to return to a place you've loved at a different phase of your life. Your cruise sound so wonderful~

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    1. This cruise itinerary and the fellow passengers and crew made this a memorable -- in the wonder sense - cruise. I've said several times I could do the same routing again next year! Thanks for commenting, Irene.

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  15. I, too, am fascinated with the idea of returning to a place I visited just once long ago. So far, the opportunities to do that have been few and far between. I think we expect that time might stand still, but know in our hearts that it doesn't. That's why a legendary place still making the memories is such a delightful thing to see.

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    1. Good point, Betsy, about time not standing still and neither does development in popular tourist places. It was fun to relive the memories at least for a day!

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  16. I've always had Phuket on my bucket list, Thanks for showing the now and then - progress sometimes is heartbreaking, but it's nice that your mansion was still going strong!

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    1. Keep it on your bucket list, Amy. It is a beautiful area of the world!! Thanks for stopping by!

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  17. I can relate to your revisiting Phuket. We were in Bali before it became popular. I would go back in a heartbeat but my husband wants to remember it how it was. I like the look of Phuket.

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    1. It is a game of chance returning to a place that holds such special memories. Bangkok didn't charm us like it had 'back when' but I suspect the Cape Panwa House still could cast a magic spell about us. Hope you get back to Bali one day, Jan!

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  18. Loved hearing your recount of the lovely dinner you enjoyed with your husband on the beach. I love those type of memories and like you are afraid to try to recreate them by going back especially years later. Phuket sounds magical but a 34 day cruise, wow that's really long.

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    1. Oh Sue those 34 days went faster than any other 34 we've ever experienced. The routing was superb, the fellow passengers so well traveled and interesting and the crew top-notch. . .I was in tears having to say goodbye. thanks much for your visit!!

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  19. Some places stand out in our memories don't they. Our visit to Africa was like that. It is great to look back at old photos and rememebr those trips. Happy travels, have a great weekend, and thank you for stopping by my blog this week.

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    1. Jill, you are so correct about those travel memories. I killed a few hours while looking for old Phuket photos, just traveling back in time to our early travels and remembering the good times we had. Happy weekend back at you, my friend!

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  20. Like to see how the island has changed over time. Happy to know the hotel / restaurant is still there. You guys have to return some time to eat there again.

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    1. You are correct Ruth - we really must go back and eat there sometime. I hadn't thought we'd ever get back and yet we did, so who knows what the future might bring - a return again, perhaps! Thanks for the visit~ happy travels to you!

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  21. I have been to Phuket 3 times (as has half of Australia!) and each time I enjoy it. If you get away from the seediness of Patong Beach it is a beautiful island.

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    1. Oh Kathy we envy you your proximity to Asia - would be nice not to travel for days to get there! I agree that it is a beautiful island - picture perfect tropical paradise! Thanks much for your visit~

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  22. ummmm...your writing is so wonderful Ever think of writing a book about your travels...or have you already done so ? WHAT ???...WAIT...your blog IS a book.
    I enjoy your posts so much.

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    1. Oh BJ you are so kind. Thank you for such a compliment! I've toyed with the idea of a book about our Stone House on the Hill in Greece but may just keep you all informed of our progress there through the blog. . .or maybe it is time I start a blog about two old part-time ex pats in Greece! Thanks for the visit~see you soon!

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  23. Hi Jackie. Going back to a place that holds pleasant memories is always a bit of a gamble. Nice to see that your beautiful restaurant is still there, and still wowing diners. Believe it or not, all of the years that I have been going to Thailand (not as long as you and Joel, mind you) I have never been to Phuket. I'll have to change that one of these days. :)

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    1. You should check out Phuket, Nancie. It is a most interesting place; I wouldn't mind a week or so lazing on those incredible beaches again myself! Thanks for visiting TnW!

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  24. I'm glad to see that the Cape Panwa House still exists. Perhaps it's the best compromise to know that others are still enjoying its magic but not trying to recapture it yourselves. We really enjoyed our time in Phuket overall. I was trying to save money and booked in low season. It turns out that it's low season because the monsoon makes the beaches full of red flag warnings, so we couldn't hit the water as much as I'd hoped. Too rough! Other than that, it was a really family friendly place if you pick the right hotel.

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    1. Phuket is a picture-perfect tropical destination with just enough 'seediness' in town to keep it interesting. I could go back and explore more - would be nice to have it a bit cooler however! Thanks for the visit today, Michele~

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  25. Thanks for sharing this beautiful trip with us.

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    1. Thank you Margaret for taking time to read the post and comment - hope you'll be a regular in the comment section! Have a great week~

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  26. Oh, I would love to be there right now!

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    1. And I wouldn't mind being back there right now either! Thanks for stopping by today!

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  27. Great city life photos and the beach scenes are such a great contrast.

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  28. we can no longer deny each blog provide useful news and useful for all who visit. jaket kulit pria visit back LOL

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