Life Stories Thailand

Freaking Out in Phuket

Thai Lemon Iced Tea in Phuket

My first few hours in Phuket were unexpectedly filled with a lot of adventure. My taxi driver had no clue where my AirBNB was, so I guided him street-by-street with my GPS. I don’t blame him though; I have yet to see one street with a clearly marked street name. Then again, it’s all in Thai, so maybe my Western-language mind hasn’t even recognized what a street sign might look like.

He drops me off, reluctantly at a crossroads of what looks like a few streets all leading to absolutely nowhere. I only packed two bags for this trip to Thailand, but even so, these two bags were h-e-a-v-y. Especially after carrying them for the next 25 minutes as I get lost going from one dirt road to the next. I end up lapping the same house with three Thai men sitting outside with their dog, and I finally give up and blurt out, “I need your help!”

I show them a video on how to arrive at my AirBNB. Hey, that’s what the host sent me. They look clueless (as do I, since all the streets looked similar), until the very last ten seconds when they excitedly say, “That way! 100 meters!” I thanked them, and did a victory walk in the direction while yelling back at them, “Thank you!” to which they yelled back in their thick accents, “Nice day!”

It’s humid AF outside; the feeling when the sky is unsure if it wants to downpour or sunshine. I find the keys to my AirBNB, not hidden under the mat, or on top of the door, or inside the first plant, but blatantly right in front of the door. Ok, I guess Thailand is pretty safe place for the keys to this 2 bedroom house to be out for anyone to walk on in (which, even that, I feel like Thai people wouldn’t get terribly upset about). Once inside, I rip off my sopping shirt, drop off my bags, and look for any source of water. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a man walking up the stairs.

I greet the man – it’s our AirBNB host. How did he know I literally arrived five minutes ago? He comes inside and tells me about the property, and then tries to show me his map of  Top 100 Things to Do in Phuket. I find out he’s Ukrainian, but has lived here for three years to manage properties like this one. After multiple attempts to switch the map from Russian to English, he says he’ll just come back in a few hours and we’ll go get dinner. Fine by me.

I wake up from my nap, and walk to the Bang Tao Beach strip of Thai restaurants, where he greets me on his motorbike. He tells me to hop on, which I’m fine with, since all I saw there were floral-shirted families from the West. We go here:

Thai Take Out Food on the side of the street in Phuket

A strip with nothing but Thai street food. Yes, now this is what I wanted my Thailand experience to be. He orders chicken with rice for $1, and when I ask them what I could eat as a vegetarian, they tell me the rice is cooked with chicken, so they put something in a box from the refrigerator and hand it to me. Oooh, the element of surprise. They also hand me a lemon iced tea that I didn’t order, but sure!

My AirBNB host drives us from dim-lit alleyway to dim-lit alleyway – each filled with Thai families dining and kids running around in the streets. The families start getting further away and I notice we’re making our way into what looks like a jungle on a mountain. Uhhh, where are we going?

I think about every kidnapping movie and what my next step is. Wait, are people up there waiting for me? Hold up, was this all just a set-up? Did we just go through the nice neighborhood to psyche me out? Either I’m being kidnapped or we’re about to hit a really cool spot. It’s always that way.

We go further up the mountain, where there are definitely more animals than humans, so you know we’re getting deep into the unknown. We arrive at someone’s house at the top of the hill – one of those tiny cottages that are in the middle of nowhere – no lights, barely a road. Who’s house is this? What are we doing here? What’s going to happen…to me? I’ve watched way too many Lifetime movies in my mom’s kitchen; I know what could happen here. He says, “c’mon” and I follow – cuz the only other option would be to run off into the middle of the jungle with 14% of my phone battery for the flashlight – and that probably would have been scarier. He sits at the table, opens up his chicken and rice, and…ok, wait, that’s it? Am I a horrible person for thinking all of this?

Oh wow, oh wowwwww…

First for this view over Phuket’s Bang Tao Beach, and second for…my “vegetarian” meal?

Phuket Bangtao Beach Night Lights Blur

Sadly, no vegetarian street food options, so they just gave me lettuce

Mmm, my vegetarian salad. I literally got plain leaves of lettuce.

We spend the next hour chatting about our life stores – me, from Indiana, New York, LA – and him, from Ukraine and Thailand. He speaks with his strong Ukrainian-Russian accent, cutely emphasizing the wrong syllables in words like comfortable. Not comfortable, but comfortable. He tells me about winter Vinter in Ukraine, and winter Vinter in Thailand. He’d ask me alarming questions like, “Health insurance, you have?” I’d say “no, do I need it?” And he’d respond, “Yes, well, here, cobras.” And I’d quickly shuffle my feet.

There were moments of silence due to the language barrier, but it gave me time to appreciate the view of Phuket from this hidden viewpoint that I’m sure not many tourists get the opportunity to see. I’m lucky to have him as my AirBNB host in Phuket. I mean, I just got off the airplane a few hours ago – what more could I ask for?

AirBNB Host in Phuket


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  • I think it’s quite understandable to freak out when a stranger takes you into the jungle on a motorbike in a foreign country! Glad to hear it ended well though. And I’m coeliac so I feel your pain with the bizarre non-meals. Very often I’ve ended up with plain salad or fruit because that’s all anyone can manage!

  • Guinevere Wightman

    Haha the suspense with the title!! This reminds me of this summer when randomly, without telling anyone else in the family, my Italian host grandmother told me to get into the car. I had no idea where we were going, but it turned out that she was taking me to a little Italian bar for some granita con panna (aww), and then we also went driving through the country to get to one of the aunts’ house, where she picked me some roses (AWW). Even though everyone else in my host family was freaking out, it all turned out okay! Then one other day, we had been on a day trip to some island, and it was getting late, so we needed to stop somewhere for dinner. My host family picked McDonald’s. I’m a vegetarian (plus I don’t like McDonald’s in the first place), so I wasn’t super please with their choice, but they told me that McDonald’s had salads. They ordered for me a plain lettuce salad with like two cherry tomatoes and two shreds of parmesean. Let’s just say I was still starving after that. Oh, and my host sisters could never pronounce “comfortable” like we Americans do. We must have spent a good few hours throughout my stay with my host family trying to get that word right haha. Glad you ended up having fun!!!

    • 1) We LIVE for the moments like you had with your Italian host grandmother. 2) I know exactly which salad you’re talking about because I was in the same situation will my friends here in Barcelona two days ago. Keep on Shuttin’ Up and Goin’ Guinevere (coolest name btw).

  • And he’s cute too. Also! English is my second language but everyone tells me that I speak it very well. I’m better at it than what’s supposed to be my first language (Malay). But now you mentioned the emphasis on syllables, I realised I might not be that good at it at all. Especially when I keep on mixing up British English and American.

    • English is all about the emphasis! Your written English is perfect at least! 🙂

  • Tasya warda nabila

    Damon & Jo a few weeks ago i found your youtube channel on an ordinary day trying to learn french for real this time, not knowing that i’m going to not only fell in love with the both of you, but also with the idea of traveling, seeing the world! Now i dream of speaking another language in someone else’s country with my backpack sipping on some local coffee/tea that i’ve never taste before! I realized how much i want to be that person so much, thanks to you guys. Now i’m still 17 & still in school but i make myself a promise to see the world the way you guys did. Thank you & love you!! (Sorry for my horrible english, i’m indonesian btw)