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Saturday, February 3, 2024

Phuket Revisited

This story began last year, when Eday said let's celebrate the work he did for the past few years. Since I helped ghostwriting the books, he thought it'd be great for the two old friends to hangout together again, just like what happened in Tokyo. The flights and hotel were on him, so it was a free trip for me!

The potential destinations included Ipoh and Phnom Penh. I was reluctant to go back to Phuket, especially because that's where I spent my honeymoon. Going with a dude, even though it was 13 years after my first and only visit with my wife, didn't feel right. I was worried that it would tarnish our memories there, haha.

But it was decided that it'd be Phuket. The craziest part had to be the departure date that happened to be two weeks after my trip to Chiang Mai. This was the first time I ever went to Thailand twice within the same month! That's a lot of Thailand for the first 25 days of the year. Too much, too soon!

Quick lunch at Blossom, Terminal 4. 

So off we went, not knowing what to expect. Jetstar made it even more memorable by delaying both legs of the flights at the same time, causing me to think that we still had so much time since our departure time was 10.45pm. We already planned to watch the Goldfinger by Andy Lau. Luckily we crosschecked with the ground staff and he pointed out to that it was the return flight that was delayed until close to midnight.

We arrived late in the afternoon. The Phuket Airport is much more modern looking than the one in Chiang Mai, but the location is about 50 minutes ride away from the city. When we checked in to Dara Hotel, it was already time for dinner, so we went to Sabainang Cafe which was located next door. Apparently it served only halal food. Still good, though. First time trying tempe omelette.

Tempe omelette. 

After a scoop ice cream, we bagan exploring the town of Phuket. We passed by Chinatown and the traditional market, then we reached the drinking places. Prior to that, we bumped into a foreigner with a bleeding head. I was lucky that I didn't wear glasses. According to Eday, he had quite a gash, therefore the blood kept dripping!

Anyway, onto a happier part of the story, we entered Churchills, a cigar and wine store. It immediately reminded me of Titanic, though the rich folks drank brandy in the movie. Eday bought one cigar and started puffing. A bottle of wine was shared between us. 

At Churchills.

Now this is where it got interesting. We had a glimpse of such an experience when we drank sake in Asakusa, but it was here that we have enough time for Eday to tell his story. He's a complex man shaped by his upbringing and hardened by his experiences. Our characters couldn't be more different, but yet we are best friends since 1996. I admired him, but never envied him. For the love of God, one had to go through what he did to be like him and I certainly didn't need that. The cross he had to bear! 

From Churchills, we went to the Library. It looked like Harry Potter's Hogwarts. Nice ambience, good drinks, happening place! As the alcohol kicked in and the world was literally on fire when the bartender poured oil on the table and burnt it, the glimmering world looked beautiful. While wearing my beer goggles, we moved on to next bar, Sippin, as we were attracted by Don't Look Back in Anger played by the live band.

While waiting for best burger in town.

I can't remember how much we drank, but by the time we were done, I just couldn't stop smiling. Eday said he was hungry, so we walked around and stopped at the first roadside stall we found: a bald man selling burgers. Man, it was good to sit down for a while. And of course we must take a picture or two to preserve this moment of our lives! 

We woke up the next day, surprisingly without any hangover feeling. Eday hit the gym and I dipped into the swimming pool. Once done, we had our lunch at Phuket Central. Eday went for a hair cut, so I took a nap. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner again. Based on Google recommendation, we went to Baan 109. The eatery was like a house in Pontianak back in the 80s and the Thai food felt homey.

Tomfunk Collins.

The second night of bar-hopping started right after that. We went to this place called Zimplex Mixology. What the bartender did here is quite interesting. After taking our orders, they laid the liquid down layer by layer into a tiny glass of shooter right in front of us. Mine was bubbly and this caused the colourful drops swimming up and down. 

The night was still young and we didn't want to ruin it with too much hard liquor, so we walked back to town after one shot. As we still had time, we return to Churchills for cigar and wine. After a bottle of wine, we explored Briq, a cocktail bar. It was all right for a glass of Mai Tai, then we switched to the Column, a bar packed by locals thanks to its loud Thai band on stage. We stayed there until we finished a small bottle of Chang, then we went to the next one. 

Enjoying a song called Hero at Bebop.

The Jazz club was called Bebop. The band played mostly oldies, music that I understood or could relate with. As a matter of fact, I spontaneously joined the band when they played Wonderful Tonight. It's good to be back on stage again! I remember as we were finishing our bottle of wine, the band played My Way. It was brilliant!

We hit our sixth bar for the night by returning to the Library. After saying hello to our Dubai acquaintance, Eday called for one round of shooters as we enjoyed the night. They were sweet, as if they were harmless, but when we relocated to Sippin, we were barely able to touch our Budweiser anymore. Seven bars a night was the limit, apparently!

The shooters that killed the night.

The next day, or I should say the next afternoon, we made our way to Patong. This part of town was crowded and chaotic. After lunch, we walked a bit, but we couldn't stand the heat, so we went to Let's Relax Spa for Thai massage. It was a time well-spent. Not only we could rest and recuperate from the night before, but the weather was also chill and the sun had set when we emerged again from the spa. 

Eday was craving for snacks, so we had a plate of künefe at Mangal, a Jordanian restaurant on Soi Sansabai. After a short break, we continued walking to Hard Rock Cafe and went to the beach. As we weren't much of beach people, we had seafood for dinner instead. Not exactly good, but it did tick off an item on our to-do list.

What's for dinner?

Next on our itinerary was the ping pong show at the Wake Up Club. Let's just say it was... as advertised. Once the show started over, we decided that we had seen enough and made our exit. We headed to this night club called Illuzion. But DJ music wasn't our scene, so we left after we finished a bottle of Corona and headed back to the beloved Bebop Jazz Club. Much to my delight, the local Thai band played Come Together!

And the night ended when we drank our last bottle of white wine for this trip. We passed by the Library and bade farewell to our Dubai acquaintance who stood on the pavement for a smoke. We walked towards the burger stall and smiled as the veggie vendor recognized and pointed at us. Then we sat on the roadside and had our last burgers, just like what we did on the first night.

Last night in Phuket.

And as we sat there, I remember a scene from Get Back vividly, when Paul said, "and then there were two." Out of so many friends, only two of us were there. If life was an adventure, then the short time in Phuket would be moments I treasured the most. No, it didn't ruin my honeymoon. If anything, Phuket now gave something else to remember: friendship. I seem to recall Eday saying this that night, "years ago, our younger selves would have never thought we'd be hanging out in Phuket like this..."

He was right, of course.

The last day in Phuket could be described like this: laundry day, breakfast, check out, lunch, snack time, sending postcard, foot massage, green curry chicken rice bowl from KFC for dinner, airport lounge and the talk about next trip to Mongolia, the chaotic gate change and, finally, the flight back to Singapore.

Checking out.

Kembali ke Phuket

Cerita ini bermula dari sejak tahun lalu, waktu Eday mengajak saya untuk merayakan buku-buku karyanya dalam beberapa tahun terakhir ini. Karena saya terlibat dalam penulisan buku, dia merasa akan seru kiranya bila dua sahabat berkumpul lagi seperti apa yang terjadi di Tokyo tahun lalu. Tiket dan hotel ditanggung, jadi liburan ini gratis bagi saya! 

Destinasi yang sempat diperbincangkan mencakup Ipoh dan Phnom Penh. Saya enggan kembali ke Phuket, sebab saya pernah berbulan madu di sana. Pergi bersama teman pria, meski sudah 13 tahun lamanya sejak kunjungan yang pertama dan sekali-kalinya bersama istri, rasanya tidak baik. Saya khawatir kenangan indah itu akan ternoda, haha. 

Akan tetapi keputusan finalnya adalah Phuket. Yang lebih dahsyat lagi adalah hari keberangkatan yang hanya berkisar dua minggu setelah liburan ke Chiang Mai. Ini adalah pertama kalinya saya bolak-balik ke Thailand dalam tempo sebulan. Rasanya terlalu banyak nuansa Thai dalam 25 hari pertama di tahun yang baru ini. Terlalu dekat jedahnya! 

Makan siang di Blossom, Terminal 4. 

Namun berangkatlah kita tanpa bayangan yang jelas tentang liburan kali ini. Jetstar membuat perjalanan kali ini lebih berkesan lagi dengan penundaan jadwal pesawat pergi dan pulang, sampai-sampai saya salah lihat dan menyangka bahwa jam keberangkatan kita ditunda hingga jam 10.45 malam. Kita bahkan sempat berencana untuk menonton Goldfinger-nya Andy Lau di Jewel. Untung saja kita bertanya pada petugas bandara dan dia mengabarkan bahwa yang ditunda hingga hampir tengah malam itu adalah pesawat dari Phuket ke Singapura.

Kita tiba di Thailand saat hari sudah menjelang senja. Bandara Phuket lebih modern dari Chiang Mai, tapi lokasinya lebih jauh pula, sekitar 50 menit dari kota. Saat kita sampai di Dara Hotel, sudah tiba waktunya untuk makan malam, jadi kita mampir ke Sabainang Cafe yang berada di sebelah hotel. Makanannya halal, tapi tetap lezat. Yang unik adalah telur dadar tempe. 

Telur dadar tempe. 

Setelah menikmati es krim, kita mulai menjelajahi kota Phuket. Kita melewati Pecinan dan pasar tradisional, lalu tiba di kawasan minum. Sebelum itu, kita juga sempat berpapasan dengan orang bule yang kepalanya berlumuran darah. Saya merasa beruntung karena tidak memakai kacamata. Menurut Eday, kepalanya bocor, makanya terus mengucurkan darah. 

Kembali ke kawasan minum, kita memasuki Churchills, kedai cerutu dan anggur. Saya jadi ingat dengan Titanic, walau orang-orang kaya yang menghisap cerutu itu menenggak brandy di film. Eday membeli cerutu dan mulai mengepul. Sebotol anggur putih pun kita bagi berdua. 

Di Churchills.

Dalam suasana santai ini kita bertukar cerita. Pengalaman serupa ini pertama kali terjadi saat kita menikmati sake di Asakusa, namun kali ini kita punya banyak waktu bagi Eday untuk bercerita. Dia ini cukup rumit orangnya dan kepribadiannya terbentuk dari masa kecil yang keras dan kemudian ditempa lagi oleh pengalaman hidupnya. Secara karakter, kita jelas bertolak-belakang, jadi fakta bahwa kita bisa berteman akrab sejak 1996 memanglah menarik. Saya mengaguminya, tapi tidak iri dengan apa yang dicapainya. Demi Tuhan, jalan yang dilaluinya sungguh berliku. Pengorbanan dan beban yang ditanggungnya tidaklah ringan pula. Tidak heran dia bisa menjadi seorang Eday yang kita kenal hari ini. 

Dari Churchills, kita beranjak ke Library yang mirip seperti perpustakaan Hogwarts, sekolah Harry Potter. Bagus tempatnya, sedap untuk minum dan riuh suasananya. Ketika alkohol mulai bekerja dan meja bar menyala saat disirami minyak dan disulut dengan api, dunia tampak berkilau indah dalam cahaya. Setelah itu, kita pindah ke Sippin, bar di sebelah, karena terpanggil oleh lagu Don't Look Back in Anger yang sedang dimainkan di panggung. 

Menanti burger terlezat di Phuket.

Entah berapa banyak minuman yang sudah kita tenggak, tapi di saat kita berhenti, saya senantiasa tersenyum. Eday merasa lapar, jadi kita berjalan sampai ke kedai burger di kaki lima. Saya lantas duduk, lebih condong ke posisi bersandar, dan tentu saja kita harus mengabadikan momen bersejarah ini! 

Ketika kita bangun di keesokan harinya, tidak ada rasa sakit kepala karena kebanyakan minum. Eday ke gym sedangkan saya menceburkan diri ke kolam renang. Lantas kita makan siang di Phuket Central. Saat Eday memutuskan untuk potong rambut, saya main Nintendo dan tidur siang di hotel. Saat malam tiba, kita pun pergi ke Baan 109 yang bagus rekomendasinya di Google. Tempat makannya seperti ruko Pontianak di tahun 80an dan makanannya seperti masakan Thai rumahan. 

Tomfunk Collins.

Malam kedua pun mulai setelah santap malam. Pertama-tama kita ke bar bernama Zimplex Mixology. Apa yang dilakukan bartender di tempat ini sangat unik. Minuman kita diracik selapis demi selapis, entah itu dituangkan atau ditetes ke dalam gelas mungil. Pesanan saya memiliki banyak gelembung gas, sehingga tetesan warna-warni terlihat seperti berenang naik-turun. 

Malam masih panjang dan kita tidak ingin merusaknya dengan terlalu banyak minuman keras, jadi kita kembali ke pusat kota setelah satu gelas. Karena masih ada banyak waktu, kita mampir lagi ke Churchills untuk cerutu dan anggur putih. Setelah kelar sebotol, kita menjajal Briq, bar cocktail. Satu gelas Mai Tai kemudian, kita pindah ke Column, bar yang dipenuhi oleh kalangan lokal karena hingar-bingar musik Thai. Kita menyeruput sebotol bir Chang di sana sebelum hijrah ke sebelah.

Menikmati lagu Hero di Bebop.

Yang kita singgahi berikutnya adalah Bebop, sebuah klub Jazz. Grup musik di sini memainkan banyak tembang lawas yang lebih saya mengerti. Ketika Wonderful Tonight dilantunkan, saya tergerak untuk tampil dan menyanyi. Grup tersebut bahkan membawakan lagu My Way selagi kita meneguk anggur putih. Memang sedap! 

Bar ke-6 pada malam itu adalah Library. Kita menyapa orang Dubai yang duduk di sebelah kita di malam pertama, lalu berjalan ke meja kosong dan Eday pun memesan sepaket shooters. Minuman ini manis dan hanya sekali teguk sehingga tampaknya enteng tapi dampaknya terasa saat kita lanjut ke Sippin. Saat Budweiser datang, kita tak lagi sanggup menyentuhnya. Ternyata limit kita adalah tujuh bar per malam. 

Shooters yang membuat kita pulang tidur.

Keesokan harinya, atau seharusnya saya katakan keesokan siangnya, kita menuju Patong. Bagian kota ini ramai dan hiruk-pikuk. Sesudah makan siang, kita berjalan-jalan sejenak, tapi panasnya sinar matahari di daerah pantai membuat kita berteduh di Let's Relax Spa. Waktu santai ini bermanfaat dan tepat guna. Bukan saja kita bisa beristirahat sambil menikmati pijatan ala Thai, tapi matahari pun sudah mulai terbenam saat kita selesai. Cocok untuk jalan-jalan lagi. 

Eday ingin jajan sebelum makan malam, jadi kita menyantap künefe di Mangal, sebuah restoran Yordania. Setelah icip-icip, kita berjalan ke arah Hard Rock Cafe, lalu belok ke pantai. Karena kita dasarnya memang bukan anak pantai, kita akhirnya makan udang galah dan cumi-cumi. Tidak terlalu enak, tapi minimal kita sudah mencentang makan seafood dari daftar keinginan. 

Makan seafood di Patong.

Tempat tujuan berikutnya adalah ping pong show di Wake Up Club. Pertunjukan ini... persis seperti yang diiklankan. Ketika pertunjukan kembali lagi ke acara pertama, kita pun keluar karena sudah menyaksikan semua rangkaian acara. Kita menyusuri keramaian dan menuju Illuzion, klub malam di Patong. Akan tetapi musik DJ tidaklah cocok, maka kita memutuskan untuk kembali ke Bebop setelah menuntaskan sebotol bir Corona. Memang keputusan yang bijak, sebab malam itu ada lagu Come Together dari the Beatles! 

Dan sebotol anggur putih menutup malam tersebut sekaligus menjadi minuman alkohol terakhir di trip ini. Kita berjalan melewati Library dan pamit dengan orang Dubai yang sedang berdiri dan merokok di luar. Kita lanjut lagi ke kedai burger dan tersenyum saat tukang sayur di jalan mengenali kita. Untuk kali terakhirnya kita duduk di trotoar dan menyantap burger, persis seperti yang kita lakukan di malam pertama di Phuket. 

Malam terakhir di Phuket.

Sewaktu duduk di sana, saya teringat dengan adegan di film Get Back, saat Paul berkata, "dan pada akhirnya hanya tersisa dua orang." Dari begitu banyak teman, hanya kita berdua yang ada di sana pada malam itu. Jika hidup adalah sebuah petualangan, maka waktu singkat di Phuket ini akan menjadi kenangan abadi bagi saya. Tidak, kenangan bulan madu saya tidak ternoda. Justru Phuket kembali menawarkan suatu kenangan yang baru: persahabatan. Dan saya ingat Eday sepertinya berkata, "berpuluh-puluh tahun silam, mana pernah kita berpikir akan nongkrong bersama di Phuket seperti ini..." 

Dan tentu saja dia benar.

Hari terakhir di Phuket bisa dideskripsikan seperti ini: cuci baju, sarapan, keluar hotel, makan siang, jajan donat, mengirim kartu pos, pijat kaki, KFC ayam kari hijau, menanti pesawat di lounge sambil membicarakan liburan ke Mongolia, perpindahan gerbang keberangkatan yang semrawut dan, akhirnya, kembali ke Singapura... 

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