The back of my neck stings in Phuket’s harsh midday sun. A bungee instructor is strapping me up for a 50-metre-high jump from a giant crane next to a lake. Though I’d spent the morning imagining how cool I’d look and feel doing it, a giant lump of anxiety is slowly making its presence felt in my throat.
As the slow ascent to the top begins, I realise that my 15-year-long dream of bungee jumping will be fulfilled in just a few seconds. I am more anxious than excited. This is not how I had imagined I would feel. When the trolley reaches the top I’m on the brink of full-blown panic, but the view from the platform calms me a little. How can anything bad happen on this tree-lined lake? With my feet strapped, I hop towards the jumping platform. I reluctantly stand at the edge and raise my arms as instructed. I take a deep breath and lean forward. But then I do the one thing that every first-timer is asked not to—I look down. I freeze.
The plan to visit Phuket had materialised six months earlier over drinks with friends: It was the kind of discussion that never results in an actual trip. Somehow, things had fallen into place despite the fact that, as the departure date neared, all of us underwent mini crises. One friend was in career limbo, another had been through a painful break up, and I was going through a disastrous personal and professional phase that had left me with the emotional maturity of a scorned 14-year-old. We had all hoped that an adventure-filled holiday in Phuket would help us slip into temporary denial and escape the deadweight of the past six months.
“Jet skis, 500 baht for 30 minutes. Bring back one piece,” says the Thai man renting them out on Phuket’s Patong beach. Life vests on, we race our shiny 1,000-cc mean machines towards the horizon, all in different directions. The blue waters are calm and perfect to ride on.
After a few minutes of learning to tame the powerful beast, I go full throttle, take sharp turns, jump over waves, and make unsuccessful attempts at diving under. I am a gleeful child creating my own imaginary game with chase sequences, made-up obstacles, and a lot of near-falls. When exhaustion sets in, I slow down and take my first good look at the 3.5-km stretch of Patong Beach. Tourists catch the sunset, vendors are winding up their stalls, and rows of palm trees hide an endless line of resorts.
My brief moment of solitude is broken by frantic waving from the jet-ski owner. The 30 minutes are up, and I am glad that within a few hours of landing, the Phuket adventure has begun.
Two days later, we’re on a motorboat bouncing over choppy waters towards Phi Phi islands, in the Andaman sea, 55 kilometres east of Phuket. The area around the islands has over ten scuba-diving sites. Sleep-deprived and probably a little hung-over, I sip on juice and nibble a cheese sandwich until I feel my spirits lift. Stephen, our Kiwi diving instructor who has made Phuket his temporary home, tells us about his diving experiences across the world and around Phi Phi. I’m excited at the prospect of possibly spotting a tiger shark, and if we are lucky even a hawksbill sea turtle.
The occasional spray of seawater, the cool breeze, and the sunlight make the two-hour boat ride a soothing experience. We anchor near one of the smaller islands of Phi Phi that looks like a giant mountain rising out of the sea. Suited and geared up, the four of us drop into the water and spend the next half hour practicing safety instructions, doing trial runs, and swallowing a lot of seawater before we make our first dive.
Unlike the murky waters off the Goan coast where I first dived, the water here is crystal clear, the marine life an underwater riot of colour. Black and soft coral are all around, and fish of all kinds. Someone points towards a nook in the coral below and I’m thrilled to see a seahorse—mostly because this is the only marine creature I can identify without a Google search. We settle into a slow pace of descent and ascent, and the rhythmic sound of air bubbles becomes almost meditative. Few things in life are simultaneously strenuous and relaxing, and I experience a rare moment of peace that had eluded me in the preceding months.
Forty minutes later we are back on the boat exchanging notes. Sadly, none of us has managed to spot the sea turtle we’d all been looking for. The boat then takes us to an uninhabited beach for lunch, where I just lie on the sand and replay the dive in my head.
As we sail back to Phuket that evening the boat’s captain is intent on showing us a beach, which appears to be the most crowded of the area. We’re amused and puzzled by his enthusiasm until we realise that the beach he is pointing to is where Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000) was shot. The Leonardo Dicaprio-starrer might have tanked, but it turned the Phi Phi islands into a backpacker magnet.
Scuba-diving fatigue begins to take over, so we look for something relaxing to do. All such plans are abandoned as soon as we realise that the Phuket shooting range is nearby.
The open-air range has five or six narrow lanes for pistol-shooting and a small field with shotgun targets placed at different heights. I choose a 9-mm pistol and buy 10 rounds. Putting on my ear muffs, I focus on the target, a cut-out of an armed man. I take a deep breath and fire. I am unprepared for the ear-splitting volume and massive recoil from my first shot; it feels like a bomb blowing up in my hands. I wonder if I will be able to handle nine more mini explosions, but as I get to the fourth shot, I start enjoying the sensation. Suddenly I’m on an adrenaline high and somewhat understand the love for guns that many have. I later try a double-barrel shotgun and the feeling only grows stronger.
On our penultimate day in Phuket we head over to the Patong Go-Kart Speedway, but I don’t expect much excitement. The buggy track proves to be a bit of a disappointment as the main track is closed for maintenance. But the go-karting track is a different matter. Surrounded by a reserved forest and small water bodies, it is easy to miss from the highway and the sound of the karts is barely audible near the entrance. The venue however has the kind of karts that Formula 1 drivers Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber started their racing careers on.
We buy ourselves 20 laps and can hardly wait for our turn. The track has a pit lane, striped chicanes, and even bleachers for those interested in watching the go-karts race. It’s built to look like a mini F1 track. Drivers are competitive and slow driving is not appreciated. I fasten my seatbelt, and wait for a mechanic who pulls the start cord with a flourish. The beastly engine comes alive and I floor the accelerator. It jumps out of the pit lane and flies into the first corner. It’s almost too fast to control.
My first lap goes well, as no one overtakes me. With every turn I grow in confidence. But that confidence is soon shattered when almost half a dozen boys, half my age, overtake me. I push harder and overtake one of them, but my race ends when I push the kart too far and crash into the tyre wall. An attendant pulls me out of the mess. Undeterred, I continue to race with different drivers, leading to three more crashes. By the end of 20 laps, I walk away without a scratch from one of the most exhilarating driving experiences of my life.
My friends at the foot of the bungee crane are shouting words of encouragement as I stand on top of a 50-metre-high platform. The attendant behind me is trying to coax me into jumping, but my body (and will) remain frozen. Every second that I spend waiting, exponentially reduces my chances of jumping. My head is a jumble, but I can’t go back on a childhood dream—nor can my fragile male ego brook the barrage of insults and jokes I foresee coming my way for years.
The attendant tells me I have one last chance or he will abort the jump. Faced with an ultimatum I stand there with my arms raised, like an oversized scarecrow. I tilt my body forward, with no intention of jumping. But soon my torso tilts beyond 45° and before I know it I start to fall. I feel the weightlessness that I had dreamt about for years, floating in the air for a second or two. A few metres above the water, the cord slows my descent. My head dips into the water before I am violently yanked back up, turning into a human yo-yo. I scream in excitement, in joy, and in relief.
I spend the next few hours on my feet—excited, animated, and unable to calm down.
The jump is the perfect culmination of a trip that began on a negative note, but ended on a high. I return home bankrupt, but refreshed and ready to deal with the challenges that await me.
Appeared in the August 2014 issue as “A Shot In The Arm”.
Patong, Phuket’s busiest beach, has numerous jet-ski operators (500 baht/ ₹950 for 30 minutes) and scuba-diving companies (3,500 baht/ ₹6,500 for two dives). The Patong Go-Kart Speedway, which has an off road buggy track (1,900 baht/ ₹3,500 for 30 minutes) and karting circuit (750 baht/ ₹1,400 for 10 laps), is located in Kathu district in central Phuket. The bungee-jump site (2,100 baht/ ₹3,900) is close by. The Phuket Shooting Range (900 baht/₹1,700 for 10 rounds) is in Mueang district, on the southern end of the island.
Tushar Abhichandani is a freelance journalist, struggling stand-up comedian, and former Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. He prefers travelling to places that are devoid of hipsters.