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It's approaching six in the evening on New Year's Eve here in LOS (Land Of Smiles), as the expatriates call Thailand. Although I've had several invitations to join parties in some of the nearby resort hotels (including one on the 26th floor of the Royal Paradise), I think I'll just go to Patong around ten o'clock and check out the scene along Bangla Road and the various sois, maybe view the fireworks at midnight on the beach.

The past couple of days have again been full of activities - mainly shopping yesterday and a tour of virtually the entire island of Phuket today. I also (finally) saw my first Thai elephants a short while ago, just walking down the road.

After breakfast Friday morning, Lek's nephew took me down to Kamala on his motorbike (my first ride on one for a few days as I've been wary since my burns). I spent a couple of hours at an Internet cafe, getting caught up on news in the real world - the most significant of which was the fact that Marillion have set the dates for the next fan weekend (February 2-5, 2007, in Center Parcs, Holland). That will be my next major trip, I believe, combined with visits to friends in Norway, the Czech Republic, and probably Italy. Of course, there will also be a return visit to Thailand somewhere in the future as well (only Phuket Island next time).

I then took a tuk-tuk to Patong where the first order of business was to get some lunch. I'd had my eye on a bakery & restaurant on Bangla Road called The Green Turtle so this is where I ended up. I had a large sirloin steak in an awesome gravy, served with a green salad and soup, along with french fries and native vegetables, a pineapple shake (more of a blended smoothie than anything resembling a milkshake), and a Singha beer - all for the princely sum of 665 baht (approx. $16.20), by far the most extravagent meal I've had yet in Thailand.

It was also nice just sitting on the restaurant patio watching the many different kinds of people walk by. After some time, I began walking again myself but with a purpose - I wanted to find a Hard Rock Cafe hat. That goal was soon satisfied, along with a generic Phuket cap, and I also bought another Harley Davidson shirt and one that said "I don't need a massage, suit or tuk-tuk, Thank you very much" in both Thai and English.

Speaking of which, it seems like after you've walked by the same tout a couple of times they start to recognize you and you don't get bothered nearly as much. Or, maybe I'm starting to look more like a native. I don't miss the Armani suit guys (almost exclusively from India) trying to shake my hand with their usual catchphrase, "Very happy to meet you, boss. Where you from?" I do, however, miss the beautiful women stroking my arm as I walk past - "Massage, sir?" in that sing-song accent of theirs which invariably makes the word "massage" seem like it has three syllables. It's a very seductive sound, one I've been trying to capture on film for days to no avail.

Of course, to hear more massage girls beckoning me all I have to do is walk down a street or soi where I'm not yet recognized. I have yet to partake in a Thai massage; perhaps I'll save that for one of the last days in Bangkok. That way, I can be fully refreshed for the long flights home.

My last stop before returning to Kamala was a mini-mart where I purchased a few bottles of water and some Thai snacks (some very strange candy and a bag which I thought was potato chips but which turned out to be some sort of prawn-flavored cracker). Oh, yes. I did buy a stack of postcards and stamps. I spent a couple hours last night writing out the postcard messages and carted them all over the place today without finding a box to mail them in.

Today was the last day Lek and Silvio had their rental car (a ramshackle Suzuki hatchback) and they planned to drive to Phuket Town to buy a new car. They asked if I wanted to go with them and I jumped at the chance. What followed was a full-day circuit of mosth of the island with many stops along the way including Surin Beach, the Laguna Phuket Resort at Le Phang Bay, several car dealerships in Phuket Town (most were closed for the holiday), a journey to the end of Phuket Road with photo ops of the harbor and on a bridge over Khlong Bang Yai, a visit to the temple complex of Wat Chalong (my favorite stop), the fish and other sea creature stalls at Rawai Beach, and high lookouts over Laem Prom Thep (the southernmost tip of Phuket) and Kata Noi Bay. It was a wonderful day - all for the price of the benzine the car used (500 baht, $12.15). I shot some interesting video out of the windows of the car (might be interesting with a Thai music soundtrack) and took some of the be!
st photos of my trip so far at the temple.

Lek wanted to arrange a sea canoe trip for me tomorrow, but I didn't want to spend my last day on Phuket on a full-day tour. I do need to save some activities for my next visit! I do get a bit tired of all the different beaches - they are ALL extremely scenic - and it becomes a challenge to come up with creative ways to photograph each new one. But every once in a while, I take a photo that I think is good enough to make a print or a poster to sell. And I never get tired of traveling on the local roads watching all the shops and homes go by with the endless variety of people and vehicles.

I've become a fan of Thai television commercials. Thai women are among the most beautiful in the world and the commercials feature the cream of this already bountiful crop. Most of the time, I have no idea what product they are trying to sell me but it doesn't matter because a beautiful woman is trying to sell it to me. I wish I could record some to show at home - might make a good addition to the DVD I plan to produce of this trip.

As far as television is concerned, I've watched a bit the past couple of evenings. The hotel receives nine stations via satellite - three Thai channels (all of which seem to have more soap operas than any other type of programs except, possibly, news shows), a couple in Italian, one from Afghanistan (!) called Kurd Sat which has an entertaining New Year's program on right now, a French station which always shows odd game and variety shows, a German network which has a half-hour of news in English each evening, and an english-language religious channel.

It's a quarter after seven now. I think I'll take a nap for a couple hours before going back into Patong to celebrate New Year's Eve. That will also allow enough time to recharge my camera batteries.

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