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Wan's Column - Laguna Phuket International Marathon – the Paradise Run

I think I must be having a good time this year with my holidays and social life. I have learned to take things easier and enjoy my weekend events to the fullest. This year, April to June period is dotted with highlights, starting from my trip to Guilin, China in early April 2008. I won’t dwelt with my China trip much as it is not a vacation run trip but more of a home going trip to China to meet up with my relatives, my auntie and my cousins. I may write about this later as a diversion from running related stories. I will go back to China again in April 2009 to visit my village during Cheng Beng (which is a public holiday in China starting this year). I committed to the Phuket Run during the Matta Fair in March 2008 with fellow PACM member, Peter Lim and his wife Leena. We agreed to make this trip together and felt that 2 couples will be ideal for the trip in terms of meals and transportation.

I have never been to Phuket and the same goes for Peter. Basically I am not a beach or island loving guy, I dislike the tropical sun, full stop. Therefore, it is not difficult to explain why I do not like running after 8.30am in the morning. Most of my runs, practices or competitions are done before 8.30am. Once I knew I need to run till 9.00am for those 21km that starts at 7.00am, I need my trusty white cap that I am still keeping since 2004.  This probably explains why I have not been to Phuket.   

Nik Raiha Meriam Kossai, a new PACM member with Peter Lim and Wan at the Phuket Airport.

The Air Asia flight to Phuket is quite short; about 1hr 15 minutes; I could hardly have time to finish my cocoa drink I ordered. The first impression of Phuket is pleasant, quite a large airport and not too crowded. I was told June is a slow month for tourism due to the rainy season and the peak is during November and December. We have pre-booked our hotel through Mayflower and will be staying 3 nights at Club Andaman Beach Resort at Patong Beach, the happening place of Phuket. As our ground service includes a half day trip with airport/hotel transfer, we were met by the tour guide to show us around before checking into the hotel. We were taken to a typical tourist program; snacks, honey, jade, apparel shops. These shops while trying to pitch for sales, they were less aggressive than those in China. I enjoyed the snacks shop very much, they have many varieties of snacks for us to sample and my favorite was the crispy pork crackers. I bought back two large packets, along with cashew nuts and honey. The Thais are so serviced oriented and they assign a sales assistant to carry our shopping basket while we shop!  My shopping principle is quite simple these days; I only buy stuff that can be eaten.    

Sight Seeing in Phuket - Peter Lim, Leena, Wan & Clara

Our hotel is a pretty comfortable place, very clean and with very attentive staff. It is a short distance from the main Patong Beach area where the place lights up in the evenings till late nights and possibly mornings. The street was dotted with Thai traditional massage shops, eateries and shops selling apparels. I discovered a new art form in figurines made from motor spare parts like motor cycle chains. These figurines resemble predators from the movie “Predator” You got to see the pictures I took to visualize what I mean. The whole Patong Beach area is very clean and I feel very safe walking along the streets. The first night we ate at a couple of stalls to sample their rice and noodle dishes that the local eat. It tasted pretty good; it is always good to try food that the local eat and not just eating at the café catering for the tourists (many such café at Patong Beach)

Patong entertainer by night

Our next pleasant experience is dealing with the local taxi drivers. I always believe this is always a benchmark about how serious is a country about tourism; if the taxi drivers are good, this country rank high on tourism as taxi drivers are key contacts points tourists have during their stay. We check out the rates going from Club Andaman to Laguna Phuket Resort from the hotel as we need to go there to collect our competition packs. The hotel charges TB700 for the approximately 20km journey and that gave us the benchmark. We went out to talk to the taxi drivers located outside the hotel and the charges was TB500. Given the market price of fuel in Thailand, we thought it is reasonable and took the trip. On the way there we talked to the driver to ask if they are prepared to take us there next morning at 4.45am. This is where I am impressed with the willingness to serve, the answer was yes and his friend will take us there, TB500 with no extra early morning charges. Later in the day we were introduced to his friend who will take us there using his Honda City. To finish the story on the taxi drivers, in the morning of the run, he was very punctual and during the trip to Laguna, we ask if he would wait for us to send us back at 9.30am. Again, he is happy to do it and the price is the same TB500. We were so happy with his service that we decided to give him a tip at the end of the trip. I can’t help comparing the experience we have in Phuket with those we hear in Malaysia. Thailand is taking a long term approach with tourists, to give tourist a good standard of service. Those in the tourist industry do not try to rip off the tourists, I for one will be happy to go back to Phuket with this pleasant experience. I am also sharing this experience with friends and readers of my column.  

Laguna Beach Resort is one of the several pieces of up market properties at Bang Tao Beach area. The other properties are Banyan Tree Phuket, Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket, Allamanda Laguna Phuket and a few others. There are holiday homes complete with golf courses, very well designed, blending the lagoons with the properties and well maintained. We went into one of the spas and it was so pretty and relaxing. These properties justify the term “paradise”.

Wan & Clara at the sea side, no swimming as the red flags were up for 2 days.

Wan at Laguna Beach Resort

View taken from the spa at Laguna Beach Resort

The relaxing spa at Laguna Beach Resort.

I met a few Malaysians at the collection centre, one of whom is Tan Ai Beng, a keen marathoner. Judging from the list of runners posted on the notice board, it is not such a large event, less than 500 in the full marathon and another 700 in the 21km. The total entries were less than 3,000, including the 10km and fun run. The run is priced at international rates, between USD30 to 65, depending on the category and timing of your registration. I paid USD40 for 21km and Clara paid USD35 for 10km, these are early bird rates! At such rates, the locals can’t afford to take part, especially those living in Phuket itself. The Thais that are in the event are those coming in from Bangkok, they wore their running clubs’ vests. This is where a tough call on the event owner; should there be a different rate for locals? In the Angkor Watt Half Marathon this coming December, foreigners pay USD50 while locals pay USD2! 

Steph Cox, the owner of Asia Runner with Wan at the Laguna Collection Centre.

We also met Steph Cox of Asia Runner and I took a picture with her for the website (see left). She was there to promote her magazine. At Laguna we were met with a pair of obedient elephants, mother and child. They were very friendly and when the tourist gave money to the baby elephant, he actually uses his trunk to put the money into the pocket of his handler. The mother elephant also plays the harmonica with her trunk. I should have brought my harmonica along to play a song with her!

Our second evening at Phuket allowed us a longer walk at Patong Beach area. We had our dinner at the street near our hotel with lots of local choices.

We selected a fish and some prawns for some local style of cooking, about TB1000 for 4 persons, slightly cheaper than Kuala Lumpur. The prices are reasonable considering that Phuket, in particular Patong Beach area is a tourist place. After our dinner we met YK Wong’s group at a nearby food centre having similar food as us. The group of about 10 was in Phuket since Wednesday and we were told that they were in Phuket earlier to “acclimatize”, what a wonderful idea. We decided not to stay out too late on the eve of the run as we need to get up by 4.00am.

The great thing about a smaller run is that it is very relaxing at the start, we arrived at 5.30am and the 42km runners just went off, we have a good half hour to enjoy the moment before the run. The venue is not large, an open space near to Laguna Beach Resort. The typical Thai hospitality about the event is that free Thai traditional massage is offered to all runners before and after the event. As I am not a fan of massage, I took a rest at a corner while Clara went to loosen her shoulder before the run. Leena who was not running also took advantage of the free massage services. By now you would notice I did not write much about the run itself, I believe like any holidays, it is always getting there is more fun. This is a holiday run for me, I did not train hard for it, the last hard run I did was the New Balance Pacesetters 15km that I clocked 1hr 28 minutes. After that I went for another holiday, taking part in the Kiwanis Treasure Hunt to Lumut. I initially got the impression the route is hilly as the journey from Patong Beach to Laguna is very hilly. The Laguna area is actually relatively flat except for a short stretch, very mild as compared to the Double Hill standard most PACM members are familiar with. I decided on a just below 6 minutes per km pace and look out to enjoy the view since it is my first trip to Phuket. Outside the Laguna area, it is considered outskirt of the Island and the venue is far from Phuket town or the popular Patong Beach area. We run pass some small hills that resemble limestone hills with some local settlements here and there. As the Thai names do not ring any bells in my mind, I only notice the Thalang junction as we ran past a local market. At most of the journey, I was pacing myself enjoying the tranquility until 2 veteran Caucasian ladies chatting away noisily  right behind me. After a few more kms, I decided to slow down to let them passed such that I could enjoy the peaceful run by myself. Based on this you would probably recognized that the number of runners fell short substantially of the registered number. (Finishers - 301 for 42km, 428 for 21km and 494 for 10.5km) Along the way nearer to the Laguna area after 15km when the sun was out and I was fast tiring, the rural landscape changed to some partial development here and there. I stopped for a piece of juicy watermelon and that was really refreshing. I think Phuket is working hard to market the Island as a retirement home for foreigners. I believe they can be successful here given the relaxing atmosphere of the island with most services well within reached. The tsunami may have taken a knock on their plans but I believe the island will prosper over time.

Tired but still admiring the luxurious properties towards the Laguna area, I paced a local runner from one of the Thai running clubs, probably from Bangkok. We finished almost together, nodded to one another before going off to get our drinks. I clocked 2hr 8 minutes 38 seconds, within my 2008 target of 2 hr 8 minutes for a 21km event.

Clara finished earlier in a time of 1hr 2minutes 12 seconds, 9th placing in her category and the first Malaysian women finisher in her category (by the way she was the only Malaysian entry in her category), talk about deceiving the readers! Peter Lim clocked 2hr 23 minutes 57 seconds. We have some porridge and bananas (complimentary), followed by a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee (not complimentary TB50).

The event is overall well organized, km markers all the way and adequate refreshments every 2km and with Gatorade intermittently as specified. The runners’ information pack on the website is very clear and what was delivered on the ground matches what was promised. I think this is the needed professionalism in event management, while we must not compared event based on what is offered but delivers what is promised is enough for me. I learnt a thing about the km market, using a piece of brick to weigh down the plastic board folded into a triangular A shaped free standing signage. A good idea, light material and minimum storage required for future use.     

On the marketing front, the Laguna Phuket International Marathon has teamed up with the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon as sisters run, each supporting the other. Both runs are about 6 months apart but I feel Phuket will have more to gain here as the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon is already a very successful event with 40,000 registered participants last year, targeting for 48,000 this year.

I left Phuket happy with the event and my short stay in Phuket. We met another PACM member, Nik Raiha Meriam Kosai at the airport. She came with her family for a holiday cum run like us. I had the nicest Burger King fish burger at the airport, very much tastier than those I have in Kuala Lumpur. A one and half hour delay in the Air Asia flight sort of giving us a reality check on an otherwise nice holiday. Well! Let’s hope Air Asia will improve on their timeliness over time as I am dependent on them in my retirement plans.

Wan Yew Leong
15 July 2008  


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