The Hilton is a really nice, sprawling, family-friendly resort in Karon Beach, a small town about twenty minutes south of Patong, the much larger, hard-partying singles town that Phuket is known for. The photo above is shot from the beach's edge in front of the hotel while the photo to the right is the beach-front road, about a quarter mile south of the hotel. Most of the hotel's guests were European from different countries. Notice that they drive on the "wrong side" in Thailand.
To the left is a photo of the beach at Karon Beach, which stretches for what looks like more than a mile. The ocean is as warm as our Saipan lagoon and on Tuesday, there were some nice little one-to-two foot shorebreaks in which I had a real fun half-hour body-surf session.
Left and right are some more photos of the resort.
Aside from the Tuesday night welcome dinner, the convention kicked off on Wednesday with the conference and awards presentation during the first half of the day and a fairly fun and entertaining team building competition in the afternoon.
My team finished 2nd out of ten after the three hours of team competition in the steaming afternoon tropical heat. Everyone looked a few pounds lighter at dinner.
That evening the entire group, nearly two-hundred of us, were bused to the Palace of the Elephants for the renowned Phuket Fantasea cultural theme show. This is a must-see if you go to Phuket, an enchanting production held in a 3000-seat, opera-style theatre, with a "Lord of the Rings" type setting, designed to make you feel as though you are watching the story outdoors in ancient Thailand. There must have been two-hundred cast members, a herd of perhaps two dozen elephants, eight amazing trapeze artists who performed bungee-harnessed seventy-to-eight feet above the crowd and every Thai costume and illumination lamp imaginable. Unfortunately yet understandably, cameras weren't allowed inside.
Thursday was a free day where we could go golfing or take a day-trip to another island. I chose my own free-day schedule so for me it was a late breakfast, some time in the business center and then off to finish up some shopping, more time in the ocean and even an obligatory 200 baht, beach massage. That was all before lunch, which was served by the pool, followed by another swim. It was a rough work day.
Thursday night was the farewell dinner gala as it was called. It was nice, with great food and some traditional Thai musicians and dancers providing the entertainment. I really enjoy auto conventions, as I get to meet people from all over the region who work in the same industry and encounter the same issues as I do. Finding commonality for conversation is not difficult. I spent a good deal of the last two days with the four representatives from New Zealand, two from the distributor and two dealer principals (owners) from the top performing stores. They were an impressive, fairly young group. There were over twenty persons each from the Philippines and Malaysia and I met dealers or distributors from Vietnam, Singapore, Jakarta and New Caledonia as well as Nepal and Bangladesh, among many others. There were even a few dealers from Japan, which we got a chuckle out of. Talk about a hard sell right in the lion's den.
Most importantly, despite being as small a part of the Hyundai global scheme as Saipan is a dot on the world stage, we go to show our commitment to the business, which includes participating with enthusiasm in exercises such as the team-building competition. We also had some key face-to-face time with our Hyundai reps in sales and parts that can't be duplicated via e-mail and I came back with blueprints for new or updated corporate excellence and quality programs.
It was a great trip and I've returned to Saipan refreshed and motivated. Except for the cross-island drive to the airport, I really saw very little of the island so I fully plan to return to Phuket within five years and bring my family. I also vow to take my new Kiwi friends up on their invitations to visit and see their country.
To put Phuket into perspective as far as size (map here), it is only two square kilometers (less than 1%) larger than Guam. Following are some facts that I copied and edited from Phuket's Wikipedia page, which will be within quotations. "Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand, located in the Andaman Sea off southern Thailand and it is mostly mountainous with a mountain range in the west of the island from the north to the south." The beaches are coves within this coastal mountain range and therefore drives between beach towns require going up then down the edges of these ranges from each cove.
"70% of the island is covered by forest. The western coast (where the resorts are) has several sandy beaches, while on the east coast beaches are more often muddy. Most of Phuket's nightlife and its cheap shopping is located in Patong, and the area has become increasingly developed. The other resort beaches are located south of Patong. In a counterclockwise direction these include Karon Beach, Kata Beach and Kata Noi Beach. These areas are generally much less developed than Patong, and sought out by individuals, families and other groups with a preference for more relaxed and less crowded environs than Patong." Regarding the cheap shopping mentioned above, thanks to the deflated dollar, the shopping was not as cheap as I remember from my last trip to Thailand. At 30 baht per dollar, that 200 baht beach massage was no longer less than $4 but instead nearly $7 and the $2 silk shirts that I bought nearly five years ago were nowhere to be found. Even a domestic beer at 80 baht is no longer the "dollar a beer" deal that it once was.
"On December 26, 2004, Phuket and other nearby areas on Thailand's western coast suffered extensive damage when they were struck by a tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The waves destroyed several highly populated areas in the region, killing as many as 5,300 people nationwide while as many as 250 people were reported dead in Phuket, including foreign tourists. Almost all the major beaches on the west coast, especially Kamala, Patong, Karon and Kata, sustained major damage."
Many businesses have tsunami photos posted at the entrance to their shop or stand. I took up conversation with a handful of shop owners and workers along the main, beachside road and there were some interesting stories to be heard. One jewelry store employee told me that the wave surge washed two cars right into the showroom and swept the product cases right out. By the time it was safe to re-enter the area, looters were already filling bags with jewelry that they could find in the sand and rubble. However, little evidence of that day's tragedy could be seen in Phuket today.