Pa Tong beach was perfect for us. It was a time in our Big Trip when we needed an easy win. Our condo, booked through Air BnB and managed by TripToPhuket.com (Mr. Not and his lovely wife Julia), could not have been better. It had two bedrooms and a nice kitchen. The pool was very nice, complete with dolphin fountains.

The location was the best – just three blocks from the beach, one block from a wonderful mall – which had a great grocery store and cinema – and one block from a great street market where we ate most nights. Living was blissful.  We all were able to sleep well and recharge.

The mall gave us a good first night of settling in – allowing John to go to McDonald’s, do grocery shopping at a super store that had everything we could need (making our Tesco Lotus in Bangkok look small in comparison) and find SIM cards for our phones. It also had a cool cinema where later in the week we tried to see Beauty and the Beast. They only had it in 3D, which seemed like overkill so we opted to see Logan, where we opted for the lesser of the three tiers of deluxe seating options.  It was interesting to have the Thai National Anthem play at the start of the movie (and the suggestion that everyone stand, but no one did) in honor of the recently deceased king. Sadly, we didn’t realize that Logan is a pretty rough, violent film and not your average Marvel superhero story. We left after about 20 minutes.

To get to Pa Tong beach itself from our condo we walked down Bangala Road. This stretch of street is closed to vehicles each night at 6pm and it starts to rock and roll. Happy hour in most bars runs from 10am to 8pm. The street is full of tourists – American college kids on break, Russian guys with fresh tattoos who looked to be in their thirties, Chinese couples and lots and lots of white (American or Australian) looking guys in their 60’s either with a Thai woman in her 20’s or sitting in an open bar looking at Thai women in their 20’s. We heard Taylor Swift blaring from one bar, Van Morrison from another bar and lots of bands doing really bad American music cover tunes. About a quarter of the crowd in the street are touts working for each bar with signs and some pitch to get you to come into their bar t(hat looks exactly like the next bar). They get in your way and hand you flyers with information – there was something about a bucket of beers and naked ping pong we never did figure out. John and Kate were both very interested with the idea of bars open to the street with girls on bar tops, holding onto gleaming poles. It felt a little gritty and edgy but still fairly safe, sort of like historic downtown Las Vegas.

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The beach was beautiful. There are tons of tourists and a good number of people coming up to offer you one thing or another but no one was annoying or pushy. The kids talked us into letting them parasail and they had an amazing time. Kate says, “I loved it.” John says, “Oh, that was awesome.” The last day on the beach we saw a guy get stuck out in the bay as the wind picked up suddenly and rain began to dump on us as we floated in the warm water. The boat pulling him actually tipped over, which was interesting to watch.

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Daily life in Pa Tong Beach was easy.  The girls got their hair cut around the corner (on Mr. Not and Julia’s recommendation).  Each night, after a full day at the beach or pool, and some school work, we would go to the night market that opened around 6pm and ran to midnight. By day it was just a normal parking lot but at night it started to hop. We got dinner each night for the four of us, with a few drinks, all for $15 – $20. The food was great and cooked fresh in front of us – Kate had grilled fish one day and little octopus on a skewer the next. A huge plate of noodles, which were made from scratch at the table, cost all of $1.50.

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One day the girls spent the better part of the day shopping for and making the Thai menu they learned in Bangkok. John and Alan explored the mall deep enough to find good ice cream and a brew pub, which had marginal local beer and great Oregon beer by the bottle (but at least they tried – it was John, Alan, an Austrian couple and one Indian guy waiting for a friend in there). We also had the time to get a foot treatment from a host of tiny fish. Yes, tiny fish that eat dead foot skin; and the best $5 we spent that whole day.

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We also had a day when the girls could find an authentic Thai massage and the boys could find the best mini-golf ever. John spotted a mini-golf sign while we were at the beach but I had very, very low expectations for such an adventure. I feared it would be something that you might find at Seaside, Oregon (don’t me wrong, I love the Seaside mini-golf and the bumper cars – but feared the Phuket version of it). But this really was the best mini-golf ever. Hidden across three roof tops that overlook Pa Tong Beach at the Banana Walk Center is 18 holes of trick shots, water features, sand trapping mini-golf. And it comes with a free beer. Sure it cost 850 Bhat for the two of us (that is $25) but I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap but I didn’t expect it to be awesome.  It has a club house at both ends and full bar with lounge area at the 18th hole. So as the sun set we (and the one other couple up there) listened to Maroon 5 and walked from roof to roof as we played our 18 holes (but really about 40 holes – some we had to play over and over to get just right).  The course was hard enough to be fun but we each scored a hole-in-one.

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If paradise is a place where everything is just exactly what you want, Pa Tong Beach was that for us. Sadly, we left at 3am for a 6:20 flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia but we will always love this place. For us, for what the Harpers needed at this point in the Big Trip, it was paradise.

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