Forever young-at-heart, 83 year-old Thong Poon painted the skies RED for the first time when he boarded his very first flight in his life. The veteran proves that adventure does not come with an expiry date!
By Wissanurak Sribandit
“All my life, I’ve ridden on almost everything – from cars to trains to giant ships, sky trains and even subways. The only thing I’ve never been on is a plane.”
This admission came from the lips of an elderly man, in his early eighties, heavily accented by his northeastern dialect, to the ears of his grandson. It tells of a deep yearning, a final dream unfulfilled, despite being poised as a whimsical account. Upon hearing this revelation, I promised myself that I would one day make my grandfather’s dream a reality.
I’ve always had the traveler’s blood in me. Growing up with my grandfather’s stories of his many journeys, though they may not have been the grandest treks by today’s standards, I knew that they were still a cherished account of a simple country man. My whole family loved travelling. Even if it’s just a short distance away, we still found joy and excitement in getting away. My father’s pickup truck with its makeshift roof shielded us from the scorching sun, and with my father at the wheel, my mother, brother and I will crowd in the front as grandfather is stretched out in the back, taking off in the wee hours of the morning and returning by nightfall. I remember being at my happiest whenever we embarked on our trips, though that was a long time ago.
My grandfather Thong Poon has a love for travel and a passion for learning. His body may show signs of his advanced age, but it has never gotten in the way of his determination. It took me many years of research to find a way to realize my grandpa’s dream, until the day I learned about AirAsia with its slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly”. Thus begins my mission to finally fulfill my grandfather’s dream.
Around May of last year, the airline with the telltale red planes unveiled its free flights promotion. I immediately called home to tell my father that I was going to be taking grandpa on a plane. When he asked how much the plane ticket would be, I told him that a return trip would only be 400 THB, but the flight would have to be in the next year (2012). My father was stunned by the price but agreed that the timing was perfect, as that would be when my parents had time off from their work at the school. With such a carefree price, I decided to purchase 7 seats to Phuket. One of these seats will be reserved for the heartbeat of the trip – my grandfather.
As soon grandpa found out, he was ecstatic! We noticed him checking the calendar ever so often and he seemed even more energetic and high spirited. Even with the year long wait, my grandfather counted the days, until the moment finally arrived when my grandfather found himself standing before the boarding gate waiting to board a plane for the very first time in his life. Flight FD3021 at 8:55 AM was here to take us to Phuket!
Though wheelchairs were provided for the elderly, grandpa promptly declined quoting that he does not like to show his weakness. His pride means that if he is able, he will do it himself. It’s a strong and extraordinary character trait. From his facial expressions, I could tell that he was experiencing a myriad of emotions, but saving his storytelling for his grandchildren when he gets home.
It was also my parents’ first flight, and throughout the enjoyable flight, my father and grandpa animatedly talked about the things they saw through their window. So excited were they that they never took their eyes off the window. My grandfather panicked when the effect of the altitude on his ears made him practically deaf, but once explained, he heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, we arrived safely in Phuket.
We checked into our simple lodgings in the housing facilities of Sirinat National Park. Perfect lodgings that were affordable and comfortable enough, with unmatched tranquility and seclusion for that much needed getaway! Since much care has to be taken especially when you travel with an elderly person, we rented a budget vehicle as well to transport the whole entourage.
After storing away our luggage, my grandfather changed into his best. Not too shabby now grandpa…
The first stop for my grandfather was the very peak of Rang Mountain, one of Phuket’s most beautiful viewpoints and a great place to relax. The view from atop Rang Mountain was really amazing, and I can see the delight on his face as he basked in the spectacular atmosphere. Having lunch at Khan Rang Breeze restaurant at the peak of Rang Mountain was quite a treat as well, as the wonderful surroundings enhanced the magical experience. Grandpa looked pretty satiated as well.
From Rang Mountain we drove to the viewpoint of Kad Mountain, but it turned out that the viewpoint was a short walk up, which meant that my grandfather had to wait this session out in the car – a real pity. At least my parents, the two ‘halfway centenarians’, were still able to brace the short hike up. This photo is for you, grandpa!
The elderly love temples. You should never plan a trip for the elderly without a visit to the temple. If you’re in Phuket, I recommend Wat Chalong. The beautiful ornate temple is a must-visit for the young and old alike, being one of the largest temples in Phuket. A great place to get a feel of the religion in Phuket, and there is something so serene about this place. Wonderful clear skies were a blessing to us on that fine day, though the sun was really beating down on us.
From Wat Chalong, we drove to Pornthep Cliff, because it is said that you never really reach Phuket until you’ve reached Pornthep Cliff. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my grandfather as the walk up to the cliff was very steep, but he assured me that he was alright with sitting and waiting at the bottom once again. He said that this trip had been about “riding in the plane” and he was already proud to have done that. I was so touched by his words so I decided to sit with him as the rest of our family climbed the rest of the way.
We drove clockwise around the island, from Pornthep Cliff to the Sam Ao Viewpoint, which luckily is only a short walk from the main road.
We’ve finally arrived at Patong Beach! Our summer holiday is about to start now! My grandfather is a religious man who spent many years as a monk and studied the teachings of Buddha, a truly pious man. Still, he couldn’t help but stare at the many beautiful westerners at the beach. He was even more intrigued by the parasailing activities on the beach, though he declined my invite for him to try it out. We spent a lovely day on the beach till the sun set upon Phuket.
After Patong, we began our evening at “Phuket FantaSea”, an attraction not be missed when traveling with the elderly. My grandfather even got to snap photos with a Phi Ta Kon character, amongst the many performances. Even being far away here in Phuket, we were happy that we got to watch traditional performances so close to home. Grandpa’s hips were giving him problems, but his will was stronger than his body and he still refused a wheelchair. The Phuket FantaSea show was very enjoyable for my entire family, who watched it for the first time.
The next morning, we headed towards Phanga National Park for our Phanga Bay Cruise. My grandfather in his pink life vest is definitely a sight. Riding on the long tail boat, grandpa was a curious caper as he was asking an endless slew of questions as we passed through Mah Ju Island, Panyee Island, Talu Island, Ping Gun Mountain and more. He was certainly very excited, especially when we went to see Ping Gun Mountain. We stopped by Tapu Island for some much needed rest and relaxation, as well as some photo taking at the beautiful island.
We headed back to our lodgings come late afternoon, and spent the rest of the day strolling along the pristine Nai Yang Beach. The shades from the swaying trees kept us cool and protected from the hot sun, as we watched the numerous activities and lively people around the area. For dinner, we ended up at the foot of Sarasin Bridge, which had been converted to a tourist attraction and is a great place to view the sunset. I took a lot of great shots there – a fitting end to our wonderful Phuket trip.
It’s time for us to return on flight FD3022 departing at 6:55 AM. My father told me that he was doing well, still going strong despite that tiring trip. It was my pride and joy to be able to bring such a memorable experience to my aging grandfather, and I’m glad that he has enjoyed his time there as well.
Grandpa regaled in his stories about his first flight, his amazing trip to Phuket and how he stood strong despite his age. The smile of my grandfather, the laughter of my father and my mother’s joyful words were part of an increasingly rare treasure that I will continue to seek for the rest of my life.
GETTING THERE: AirAsia flies 4x daily to Phuket from Kuala Lumpur and 8x daily from Bangkok. For flight information and the lowerst airfares, go to airasia.com
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