Thailand, a country, for which you will see a zillion travel deals, as did I. But like always, even for Thailand, I chose to explore the city on my own, by my own rules, and I can easily say it was one of the best vacations of my life!
While Thailand as a country has something to offer to almost everyone, with a variety of places from Chiang Mai in the north, to Bangkok, Hua Hin, Pattaya in the center and Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui in the south, each offering something very different to its visitors. Since my aim of visiting Thailand was a mix of enjoying the sea, reveling in the nature and pure air, exploring the culture of the locals and partying at night, after much research, Phuket was the choice of my destination!
Phuket v/s Krabi v/s Koh Samui
While all three of the above have immense natural beauty, there are always pros and cons of visiting one v/s the other. While all my friends who had been to Koh Samui and Krabi went on and on about the natural beauty, which is extremely important for me as well, but how long can you go on enjoying natural beauty? I mean, ok the ocean is lovely, and the views are breath-taking, and you soak in the lovely scenery around you..for half hour..one hour..and entire day…?? What next? And that is EXACTLY why I chose Phuket as my destination! 🙂 After spending 7 days in Phuket, I can easily say that I wasnt ‘BORED’ even for a single moment
Phuket has something for everyone. Most people who go to Phuket do so thinking of Patong beach and Bangla Road, which are wow!, but there is so much more to Phuket too!
Phuket Don’t Miss List
- Feeding the fish right off your hand at Khai Island
- Exploring the non- commercial parts of Phuket, like Karon Beach, Kamala Beach..seeing children play football after school right in front of this extremely quite beach
- Getting lost- just take your bike and go—to nowhere!
- The views and the sounds of the bells at Big Buddha(no fee)
- Getting sloshed at Bangla- road. Drinking from one of the economical pink vans(in one of the pictures above) wherein you get custom made cocktails, really cheap (300 Baht for a bucket!) and they will be intelligently placed right opposite the biggest, most expensive pubs- so you drink cheap, and see some really interesting pole dancing by some very talented dancers… for free 🙂
- Eating the fresh fruits and the pancakes at Phuket
- Visiting Tiger Kingdom (read below to know why)
- Visit the Chalong Temple (no fee)
Arriving at Phuket
We went from Bangkok to Phuket via Air Asia flights. The Phuket airport is a considerable distance away from Patong beach, and its best to hire one of the shared buses which charge 180 Baht per person and drop you right at your hotel. They are clean, extremely comfortable and know the way around, so you wont have to spend time looking for your hotel among the zillion hotels in Phuket. They will surely stop at one of the ‘Tourist Guide’ shops who will try to sell you tours to Ko Phi Phi and one of the many islands off Phuket. Please avoid buying any tours from them. You will find much better and cheaper tours in the main city!
Where to Stay
Definitely Patong Beach!! Phuket has plenty of hotels, many of them on the main Patong beach road, and many on the back side. We chose to stay at Patong Princess. Now it wasn’t one of the hotels bang on the main Patong beach..infact, it was a good 600mt walk from Patong/Bangla road, but I chose this hotel because of the consistently awesome reviews on Tripadvisor, to which I added mine too! 🙂
Phuket is best explored in one of the rented scooters(200 baht per day). You can plan your itinerary such that you can just walk on some days and just ride on the other days. Alternatively you can rent a taxi/cab, which are available in plenty, or one of the loud music playing auto-vans.
When to Visit
Well, for every place there is a peak season and there is an off season. For Phuket, the peak season starts in November, all the way to Feb end. We chose to go in the last week of Sep/first week of Oct, and took advantage of (a) the splendid weather (b) the manageable crowds (c) cheaper rates for almost everything
While many may be wary of the monsoon, rains in Thailand are extremely short, with the sun shining most of the times. It will rain for max 1 hours, and there’ll be the lovely sunshine for the next few hours, so don’t worry if you are planning a trip to Phuket around then.
Patong Beach and Bangla Road
When visiting Phuket, the place to stay is Patong! If not right on the beach, then anyhotel in Patong area would do, even if its a 15-20 min walk away from the beach. You anyways end up renting a scooty/bike, so the distance really doesnt matter. Else even the walk is pleasant.
We arrived at around 11:00 am, and immediately packed our beach stuff to run out to the cool waters of the beach. We went in September last week and the weather was just PERFECT. At around 10:00 pm in the night we went to Bangla street and I can easily saw it was the LIVELIEST place I have ever been to! An array of restaurants and pubs, loud music emanating from everywhere, you will hear a different song playing with every step you take! Yes, a lot of ‘Pom Pom’ shows offered, but what I liked best was that once you said no, they did not bother you again, or get too pushy with you. I saw a lot of families with their kids and grandparents, also enjoying this place 🙂 I knew then and there that every night going forward, I would end up here with my husband.. 🙂
Ko Phi Phi
Every nook and corner of Phuket will have a shop selling you tours to one of the many islands off Phuket. I had badly wanted to go to Similan, which unfortunately for me was closed until November, so we chose to go to Ko Phi Phi, and it was on of my best days at Phuket.
Now when buying tours for any of these islands, you must bargain..like crazy! I bargained a Ko Phi Phi tour all the way from 3000 baht per person to 1000 baht per person! But be aware of the tours you are going with, as many of my friends had some bad experiences. I was lucky though to have really nice operators for my Phi Phi trip as well as the Coral Island trip.
As you can see from the pamphlet above, as part of the tour, you will be picked from your hotel, dropped at the pier (around 1 hr drive away from Patong), and then taken in a speed boat (DO NOT opt for the large boat. Will surely save you some money, but will bore you to death!) The tour will promise you stops to a lot of islands, but be prepared to only ‘view’ some islands off your boat itself.. The first stop at Phi Phi Ley was for half an hour. The island has a lot of speed boats parked, guzzling diesel into the crystal clear waters, and a lot of tourists, as almost all tours work around similar timings, leaving the islands extremely crowded. But that did not stop me from enjoying the stunning cliff and natural beauty of the crystal clear waters, that wore off the rough and 1 hr long (but enjoyable) speed boat ride I had had.
What I enjoyed the most as part of this tour was:
(a) Snorkeling off the boat- The sea life was STUNNING to say the least, with some lovely corals (please do rent the fins for INR 300 baht as the corals are really high, and almost everyone without a fin (including me) had bruised their feet.
(b) The crystal green waters at Maya Bay- stand as deep as you possible can and then watch your feet through the clear water 🙂
(c) Feeding the fish at Khai Island- It was just like the one you see on the pamphlet above (bottom left). Man! those fish were better trained to tourists than most pet animals! The knew who was carrying bread, and crowded around that person..super fun!! Some almost leapt out of the water to eat bread off my hand!!
The Big Buddha
I just loved this place. The Big Buddha is completely worth a visit. Firstly the 2 km ride up the Big Buddha, surrounded by dense forests on each side. You’ll easily spot monkeys and elephants. You can even take on of the ATVs to add more fun to your ride. While you can see the Big Buddha from a lot of places in Phuket, its only when you stand right in front of it that its magnificence hits you. And the view from the top- SPECTACULAR! The views of the sea, and cool breeze, and the zillion bells ringing in the winds- magical! I made some nay videos just to capture the soothing sounds of the bells on which people had written their wishes, but the sound of the wind overpowered them on my handycam 😦 but I’ll never forget that experience. Whats more, there is a bit for the history lovers as well, as a small shop there explains a lot about Buddhism, and how the construction of Big Buddha started. Also, I saw there is a vegetarian buffet for 35 Baht that is served here. I did not have it, since I was visiting at around 4:00pm, but vegetarians can give it a try.
While you visit the Big Buddha, do also visit the mall at Chalong. I found some good packed vegetarian food there and the fresh salad bar was a welcome change form the limited options in vegetarian Thai food we were managing on.
Ok, so I LOVE animals. And cant take animal cruelty in any form (that is the reason I am a vegetarian), And while I was tempted at many times to see the numerous places in Thailand that offer petting and clicking pictures with Tigers, I chose Tiger Kingdom after much research. For 900 baht for a baby tiger and 800baht for a large tiger, I thought it was a bit pricey as compared to many other places. But once I visited, I could see why they charged so much, and I thought my money was well spent. To begin with, the tigers were healthy and well kempt. And they were definitely not drugged, like in most other places in Thailand. I know this, since despite the fact that they were sleepy, it started raining, and immediately the tigers got up and obediently went to one of the closed cages. A drugged tiger wouldn’t do that. Plus it seemed tigers were made to photograph etc only for certain durations, not all throughout the day. Reason being I could see a lot of other tigers playing cheerfully in the open garden area, which made me really happy.
And the experience of petting and getting yourself clicked with a tiger..AMAZING!
A small temple in Chalong, very close to Patong beach. Was great fun visiting. While it is mandatory to have legs covered above the knees when visiting the temple, it is alright even if you are wearing shorts/skirts since they cover you with a shawl at the entrance of the temple, for no extra fee. If lucky, you may also get to see some fireworks in the evening!
Eating in Phuket
Forget high end dining..when in Phuket, eat like the locals do. Phuket has a lot of street food to offer. From fresh fruits to freshly made pancakes(30-50 baht). Yes, a lot of sea food, but since I am a vegetarian, sea food wasn’t my interest area. Only challenge for vegetarians and people not particularly fond of sea food is that almost everything in Thailand is cooked in a certain oil, (not sure which) that smells really bad. So quite a challenge for vegetarians. But that being said, given that Phuket runs on tourism, you will not find it difficult to spot restaurants offering Indian, Irish, English, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and many other cuisines. Do try the pad-thai for sure!