This morning, I traveled to Ao Makham in order to tour the world’s largest library ship, the Valetta-registered MV Logos Hope on her last day moored in Phuket’s Deep Sea Port. This was more of a photography expedition than a book-buying one (why do these types of events always happen when I’m on a severe budget?) and I had a great time.
The first “task” was just getting to the port, reliant as I am on the local transportation system. It was actually very easy to catch a songthaew from Ranong Road. The one to take is labeled “Cape Panwa” and departs from in front of the 7-Eleven just to the west of the fresh market. It’s essentially a small pickup truck, painted a royal blue, with a roof over the bed and benches lining either side of the bed.
My only real complaint with the majority of the local songthaews is that the roof is so low it’s difficult to keep track of your route! By the time mine was ready to leave, it’s was full of passengers and a large supply of “cargo” (mostly cases of beer, 20-kilo bags of rice, and a few flats of eggs). I was scrunched way up against the cab but had a nice conversation along the way with a couple of German tourists who were visiting Phuket from Kao Lak.
It had been a number of years since I’d come down to Phuket’s southeastern cape and was trying to spot the sign for the port. I finally spied an official-looking piece of signage and hit the buzzer to indicate that the driver should stop. I paid my thirty-baht fare and took a look around. I was slightly in the wrong place. But I wasn’t too far off… I spied the oil terminal a short distance from the fish office and knew it wouldn’t be a long walk from there.
The sky was fairly overcast as I walked along but it was hot. Still, I enjoyed the fifteen-minute or so walk and stopped for frequent photo opportunities. I came across a Muslim cemetery, some interesting local shops, a few good views of the bay (complete with a few long-tail boats bobbing in the water), an unexpected but well-maintained park, and a post box to add to my photographic collection.
But the best part of this walk was that EVERYBODY I encountered along the way – fishermen and oil workers, restaurant owners, locals walking alongside the road carrying bags of produce greeted me with big smiles and pleasant greetings. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced that in Thailand (but was fairly common when I was in Siem Reap last April).
Well, this must be the place!
One of the first things I noticed upon approaching the quay (apart from the 434-foot-long Logos Hope towering over the pier) was the fleet of Kajonkietsuksa mini-vans in the parking area. Hey, ho! This was my old school. Running into their fieldtrip was a pleasant surprise!
There weren’t as many food vendors set up quayside as the last time I was out here – during an August 2007 visit by the previous library ship, MV Doulos, which is the world’s oldest passenger ship having been constructed in 1914. I purchased my 20-baht ticket from the booth and climbed the gangway. A short descent once aboard led into an area of the ship that used to house cars during days as a Scandinavian-based ferry. Much of this particular desk is occupied by the extremely nice bookstore. It seemed that there was a much better selection than the Doulos had carried. The prices were extremely reasonable as well. Too bad I didn’t take much cash with me!
The shop on this particular day was filled with students and teachers from Kajonkietsuksa and a local kindergarten. I kept running into former colleagues, most notably Barney and Maan (I’m always surprised when people remember my name after so many years!). I also bumped into Phuket’s best-known blogger, Jamie Monk, and had a nice conversation with him about the upcoming Por Tor Festival amongst other worthwhile topics.
I naturally bought a couple of postcards as my el-cheapo souvenirs. And, naturally, I inquired whether I could have them mailed from the ship (hopefully acquiring a Paquebot postmark in the process). Unfortunately, I was informed that this was not possible.
After braving the checkout line (three cash registers with some five hundred students all trying to spend their lunch-money) and making my way through more book-buying opportunities both before and after a café selling snacks and drinks, I found the main information desk where I asked whether it would be possible to have a tour of the other desks topside. Yes, I was told, but none of the staff would be available to do so until after lunch.
I was prepared to wait as the lady on the desk was so pleasant so I exited the ship in order to take a few photos from the quay. As usual, I took way too many (have always been a fan of the big ships) and even caught the attention of a security guard on a bicycle when I began gravitating towards a large Singaporean cargo ship moored to the aft of Logos Hope. It’s a good thing he didn’t spy me taking pictures of the U.S. Navy cargo containers just to the east of the pier!
By that time, I was hot and thirsty and decided to hike back up to the main highway towards town. I assumed that I would have to walk some distance before I found a songthaew or, heaven forbid, a motorbike taxi that would take me back to Phuket Town. As I passed the post box once again, I contemplated mailing one of the post cards to myself from there but just then I heard a honk from the road. It turned out to be the same little songthaew I’d written south on and the same German couple from the previous trip were my fellow passengers once again. How lucky is that?
All in all, a nice day off. Now that I know I can easily get to Ao Makham perhaps I’ll come down to see some of the U.S. Navy ships and other cruise liners that visit Phuket from time to time. Next time, I’ll try out one of the local restaurants as well.
Enjoy the photo album…