Pit Stop: Phuket

 

2 grueling years, 2 indolent summers: I’ve waited that loooong before finally being lured into Phuket’s spell.

Since it has been one of the original entries in my “wanderlust therapy list” even pre-tsunami, we apprehended that now is the suitable season to hit the southwest grounds of Thailand.

It won’t be enough to have explored Bangkok to unmitigatedly embrace the Thai vibe, that I know now in my life. So, harnessed with the basics of globe-trotting, coupled with the silly thrill of nuzzling into the decoy of traveling, we packed our bags and made the rest, as the cliche goes, a whiz-bang history.

 

Snippets of what you should know. . .

Point of compass

Facing Andaman Sea and located on the west coast, Phuket is the largest island of Thailand but is geographically smaller than Singapore. It has 39 small islands, covered mainly (70%) of mountainous areas. Bangkok, which is the capital of Thailand is around 830 kilometers away, while Krabi, another Thai province that is currently gaining publicity as another major tourist spot, is merely 165 kilometers from Phuket.

Before it totally depended on tourism as its major source of income, rubber and palm oil plantations were the largest industries behind Phuket’s strong economy. Population as of 2013 has reached 600,000 excluding expatriates that have made Phuket their new home.

It was 2004 when a major tsunami caused by an Indian Ocean earthquake devastated most of the major districts in the island. It was recorded to have killed more than 5,000 people and has aggravated a lot of business establishments in the Patong, Kata and Karon areas. With extensive rehabilitation programs pursued by the government, affected resorts returned to business by 2005. Nowadays there are still minimal wreckage noticeable around the area, but all of the local businesses are once again on track.





Climate

There are two particular times of the year where the heat is at its peak, and thus making them the best times to travel Phuket to enjoy the beaches:

April – May
&
September – October

Since Phuket has tropical monsoon climate, it is pretty much warm everytime with occasional heavy rains on the last quarter of the year.



Currency

Thailand Baht (THB)
1 THB = approximately 0.031 US$
1 THB = approximately 0.038 SG$
1 THB = approximately 1.35 Php

Getting there


Phuket International Airport is a modest traveler hub that welcomes every tourist from almost all parts of the globe. As simple and as compact as it is, it still provides basic security and offers convenient access towards the famous beaches in Phuket.

 



What you NEED to GET IN


A lot of countries are covered by Visa Exemption as long as the foreigner is staying for less than 30 days in Thailand. Of course the international requirement in passport having at least 6 months validity also applies here.

Visa on arrival could be obtained for travelers from countries not included in the Visa Exemption for a fee not exceeding THB 1,000.

For a complete list of countries eligible for Visa Exemption and other particulars regarding Thailand Visa, please refer to this link:

Phuket Visa Requirements





 

Where to Stay

Exalted with an endless stretch of sandy beaches and marvelous coast line, Phuket features a lot of world class, Instagram-worthy views. There are plenty of resorts and islands where you can spend that much needed leisure. Here are the most illustrious beaches you could check out while in Phuket:


PATONG BEACH

 

It’s true when they say, Patong is where the action is. Among the areas in Phuket, it is construed as the center of shopping & night life and by far the most renowned.

 

There are water activities that tourists could revel in as offered by locals when you walk along the scurry Patong Road. Jetskis, banana boats and parasailing are just a few of the things you could try aside from sun bathing on the sandy shore and relishing the calm water.

At night, the happiest hours in Phuket happen along Bangla road (Soi Bangla) wherein bars and clubs filled with party people enjoying lively music, strong booze and loud conversations gather until sunrise. But if you happen to swing by at midday, opened bars are also jampacked with tourists. Aside from sharing some cocktails, groups are huddled together watching football games.


Along Patong area, cute bars like this built from hippie & vintage Volkswagen minivan can be found! Too fab for a bar, isn’t it? I would love to hang-out in one of those!

 

A few meters away from Bangla Road is the Bangla Stadium. Thai kickboxing fights are held a few nights in a week complete with female as well as international fighters. People are so enthusiastic on this sport that they say millions of baht are placed as bet on most famous kickboxers during big events. But we deliberately didn’t find time to see a fight, the idea of seeing blood and sweat dripping from a breathing human body is too ghastly for our standard. 

 

So being the vital center of all things Phuket, we have chosen to book a hotel that is just a stone’s throw away from Patong Beach. There will never be shortage of hotels, resorts and guest houses to stay in Patong, most of the major roads are dominated side by side by these accommodations ranging from low budget up to 5-star.

 

Me and my sunkissed-skin at the lobby of the resort in Phungmuang Road where we stayed for 5 nights.

KARON BEACH

Karon is also famous for its superb and pristine beach. They say that it is the quiet version of Patong when it comes to night life because of the more relaxed ambiance and crowd.

If you are seeking to discover local art, there’s an art community on this side of Phuket where talented and amateur painters display and sell their works. There are also a lot of handricraft stores where island souvenirs could be purchased.

KATA BEACH

This is where surfing aficionados hang-out at a special time of the year (May-October) to enjoy the seasonal high waves. Kata has a magnificent bay that captivates a lot of people. It is also a favorite among families in spending a day under the sun because of the vibrant & friendly surroundings.

Aside from these 3, other known beaches in Phuket are Kamala, Surin, Bangtao and Mai Khao. All of them offer different settings but possess similar serenity and fascination depending on your preference. Few of them are still under developed like Mai Khao, an absolutely perfect chillax spot for people who intend to experience a quiet environment. Do some research when looking for a place for your Phuket holiday, I’m pretty sure one of these will inescapably capture your taste.




Gastronomic Gratification

Let’s talk about FOOD.

Yeyy! (drop confetti, queue happy music)

Thailand cuisine, if not the best, at least is one of the most distinct in the Asian culinary world. It has strong, aromatic essence and makes use of thousands of spices and herbs in all of their cooking. Mostly, their traditional dishes were influenced by neighboring countries like China, India and Vietnam, making their meals more complex but fundamentally tasty.

Deep Fried Pork Ribs with Garlic

So this one is my favorite!  There’s nothing special to it when you’re familiar with the process of serving this dish, it’s actually just pork and simply deep-fried. I don’t know whether its the ingredients or the spicy dip on the side that convinced me and my fiance to order another serving. (Yes, see how can a couple of voracious eaters could devour that amount of food in one sitting!) But then, its an obvious proof that simplicity in any dish is above all else a powerful secret.

 

 

Grilled Seafood (15 pounds worth of ’em!)

One of our afternoon walks made us discover an eating alley tucked away from the chaos of Patong, the Malin Plaza. It is a market in the morning that transforms in to a huge eating nook in the afternoon until midnight.  

It is given that there will be an abundance of fresh seafood in any area near the ocean, but having them at ridiculously cheaper prices compared to most of the famous beaches I have been to (including Boracay, sadly), is a rarity. It was fun hunting for that particular fish or crab or prawn that excites our taste buds and then smelling them while being grilled. Writing about that experience makes me want to transport back to Phuket and eat!

 

 



Pancakes, anyone?  

They call them pancakes, but they are called CREPES in my world. Pancake, crepe or whatever, it’s a common snack that you can buy in Phuket as carts selling them are scattered in every street. They are delicious!

Freshly made right in front of you by a very friendly uncle, try one of these healthy and affordable pancakes when in Phuket. Banana nutella is LOVE.

 

 




Paaad Thaaaii

When in Thailand, eat pad thai, at least that’s what most people say and do, but I’m not most people and I didn’t eat pad thai in Phuket but it’s a signature dish there so i have to feature slash mention it for the sake of featuring besides I have eaten a lot of pad thais in my life in Singapore to even buy one. Breathe. LOL. 




Can’t Categorize 

Some of the local food I have bought, tasted and loved during my stay that I cannot categorize. Few of them not particularly interesting nor new nor uniquely found in Thailand, but still, I enjoyed every bit of them because according to my mantra: When my tummy is happy, Vacation is happy. =)

 

Bee Hoon with squid balls.

 

 

Stir fried organic veggies. Crunchy and just too yummy!

 


Freakin’ sushi and sashimi bar in the middle of the freakin’ street!

 

 

Lamb steak that I ate for 2 nights in a row because I CAN and because it was THAT GOOD, in an Indian restaurant, in Phuket.

 

 

Tropical fruits and drinks.

Spots & Activities never dare to miss. . .

Elephant Trekking

 

For THB 1,000 per person, we got to enjoy an hour of elephant ride while trekking in a small hill with the most suprising view.Nothing to worry about the safety of the trail because an experienced guide is provided for every group tour.

It is a little scary at first because we weren’t sure if the elephant could carry the weight of two persons (heavy ones for that matter), but after a while you get used to it AND wistfully, you’ll feel sorry for the uncomplaining and very gentle creature. I want to hug him for his hard work and obedience. This is why elephants are my favorite animals!

Man, he eats a lot and enjoys a good bath after every tour. This experience made me love elephants all the more.

 

Phuket City Tour

Driving around city proper was riveting. You could learn a ton about people’s past just by looking at their heritage sites, and at the same time, you will discover what present and future they have by looking at the on-going rehabilitation and government projects.

Going to the old Phuket town is like stepping into the past in modern clothes and all. The richness of their culture and history is pronounced in every corner of each restored building.

I caught myself beaming gleefully at this row of pink houses which were carefully preserved and recently refurbished.

Wat Chalong


Buddhism is the preeminent religion in Thailand so Buddhist temples can be seen (29 temples in exact) in the whole region. But what sets Wat Chalong apart from all the other temples is that it is the biggest and deemed to be the most important.


Outside, the temple looks majestic and holy. A lot of people are offering prayers here even on midday. The sweltering heat alone is a huge sacrifice for me.


It is located in the Mueang District. No entrance fee for people who are curious to take a peek at the place. The labyrinthine architectural design of this fortress captured my untrained eyes. Wow!

 

They observe proper dress code inside so for those who enter the temple wearing short shorts like me or with dresses above the knee, “sarongs” are available at the entrance that you can use to wrap around your waist and cover those exposed extra skin.

 

 

The 3-storey temple has several buddha statues inside. It was quite a flight to go up but was worth the sweat once you reach the top.

 

There are also small temples within the compound for visitors to see. The devotees offer flowers and incense and show respect to their gods. Few couples I’ve noticed brought in their children for blessing.




 

 

 

Big Buddha

At 45 meters high, the Giant Buddha located at Nakkred Hill is about 30 minutes climb from the Wat Chalong. It was erected 10 years ago and was funded entirely from donations.

 

At present, there are constructions being done to further upgrade the structures.


 

Another image that can be seen on top of the hill is an equally grandiose but smaller buddha, it is 12 meters high and is made out of pure brass.

Construction of this image alone cost about 8 million baht.

 

As a form of donation, people could purchase bells like these and you could see them hanging around the place, chiming softly. In them you could write petitions, wishes or simply a proclamation of love to somebody. Each bell costs around THB 500. 


Promthep Cape


A stunning view of the sunset is what makes the Promthep Cape popular among tourists and local people. We were lucky for the timing of our tour as we were able to witness a spectacular setting of the sun.


The most popular photo posted on social media these days was surveyed to be pictures of sunset. This one surely made it to my Instagram & Path account.


My fiance told me on our way back to the car that this was his favorite of all the places we’ve been that day. I seconded it. Promthep provides a 360 degree of picturesque view that made us more ecstatic regardless of the exhausting tour.



Amazing Shows

Simon Cabaret

While I was looking for shows to fill in our free nights in Phuket, Simon Cabaret was always on top of the Google searches I made. I was convinced by the reviews I’ve read saying it has a great potential and offers total entertainment to watchers.


 

It was 1.5 hours of colorful costumes, lively dance numbers and some comedy acts performed by the most beautiful transgenders I have seen.

 

Among the “lady-boys” who performed on the stage, he/she was my crush. She’s so skinny and pretty I want to run off and hide under a rock ‘coz of shame! Taking photos with them is however not free. They charge THB 100 for posing on a few snapshots with you. The ticket for the show is THB 800/person for the VIP area which allows better view of the stage compared to the free-seating. 3 shows are being held every night starting from 6 pm.

 

 



Phuket Fantasea

Another must-see show is the Phuket Fantasea. Though we never got the chance to see one, according to local flyers I’ve read, it is a cultural show that has special effects and hi-tech stage. Performers include animals like elephants and tigers.

Before the show, package includes a buffet dinner to a massive hall  that could house up to 3,000 guests. Ticket price for the Golden Seat is around THB 1,700 per person (show only), while the rate if you choose the Golden Seat with Seafood dinner is around THB 3,000. Do take note that they are closed every Thursday.



Island Hopping


The highlight of my Phuket adventure is the island hopping in Phang Nga Bay. You need to allocate 1 whole day for this activity because tour starts 8:30 in the morning and ends at 5 in the afternoon.

Aside from Phang Nga, Phi Phi Island hopping is another activity available for tourists. But browsing on the itinerary, Phang Nga appears more exciting and interesting so we became more keen to discover it.

 

This is Ao Po Pier where you will hop on a big boat and take you to the wonderful islands of Phang Nga. On board, there’s free-flowing soda, water and coffee plus seasoned fruits.



 

 

After about 15-20 minutes of cruising, we arrived at the first stop which is Naka Island. To get to the island, we need to canoe our way from the boat together with a friendly guide who’s in charge of expertly paddling towards the shore.



 

In Naka Island, we were given an hour to bask in the sun and swim in the clear blue water. The island is so quiet and private you’ll appreciate how beautiful nature is.


We were then sent back to the vessel and arrived before lunch time at Panak Island. There is a wonderful sea cave lagoon in Panak that is possible to explore in a kayak.


The temperature inside the cave is a bit higher from the outside and it is impossibly dark that flashlights and high-skill maneuvering are needed to get through. Feels like a sauna minus the steam and light; your sweat glands will be on hyper mode.

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Beguiling rock formations that obviously withstood the test of times make up the cave. Claustrophobia is however a huge menace while traversing the dim path, so if you fear of cramped spaces this may not be the right activity for you.

The family from Italy and Dominican Republic who became our instant bff during the tour.



Next stop is Hong Island, another hidden beauty in the midst of the bay. Again, using the canoe to explore, we embarked in an exploration that left me awe-struck for fleeting moments.


It was unbelievably beautiful inside those caves and it’s my first time to be that close to such wonders. I honestly didn’t imagine seeing them all. Holy amazeballs!

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The tide was fortunately on our side that day as we were able to circle the island without any trouble. We were even able to hop off the kayak, have a feel of the surroundings and take photos.


We feasted on some scrumptious lunch on board. With some good music and the rejuvenating summer breeze, the cruise became bewitching enough to make the simple buffet all the more delectable.

That guy with tatts? He’s a Swedish Adam Levine doppelganger.

 

Finally, the last leg of the tour started and we arrived at James Bond Island. In 1974, the blockbuster movie “The Man with the Golden Gun” featuring the fictional character Agent 007 was filmed in the island, hence calling it James Bond from then on.

This is the ever famous island rock formation that was featured in the movie. At present it is the coolest background for that obligatory tourist photo when traveling to Phuket. But nope, we didn’t take jump shots nor look-up-whatever poses. Not our thang, thanks very much.

I’m in Phuket, bitch! (or something like that)

 


Within the island, there are several shops selling trinkets and local products. It is also nice to roam around the area despite being a bit crowded.

CAPTION THIS! =)

As promised, few minutes after 4pm we started heading back to the pier. While cruising, here are some of the sights that made my eyes a very happy pair.

Lesson learned: When indicated in the itinerary to bring extra sunblock, do so.

I was so stubborn to rely on the SPF 50++ I applied before the island hopping, soon enough, I became a walking manifestation that in activities like this, there’s no such thing as enough sunscreen!




 

 

Globetrotter tips

 

 

Airport Transfers

 

Stepping out of Phuket Int’l Airport, brace yourself from being ganged up by group of men offering taxi, mini bus and all sorts of airport transfers going to your hotel. It’s a big carnival out there and if you aren’t firm enough to say NO, they will follow you until you irritatingly shoo them away.

Your safest options are just two:
The metered airport taxi that guarantees no hidden or extra charge when you hire one. There is a small booth on the far right corner when you exit the arrival area of the airport. Look for the counter (photo below) and tell the lady what area are you going and which hotel.

The metered taxi booth is open from 8am up to 11pm. Photo was taken around 1am thus the “No Taxi” sign.

The other choice is the mini bus or van that will also drop you off to your hotel. The rate per person depends on what area are you headed. We paid THB 180 per pax since our hotel is in Patong.

 

Just look for these counters manned from 8:30am to 10pm and tell which area you wish to be sent. They will issue a ticket after payment and you’re good to go. Each van could accommodate 10 persons plus a space for luggage at the back.


Of course when you opt for cheap transportation, downsides are to be expected:
1. The driver will wait for the van to be filled up before starting the long drive going to your destination.
2. Along the way, you will stop at a travel agency and their staff will offer you different tour packages. Heads up, they will quote a price that is way too high from the usual rate you could see in the net. Lucky for us, our tours were all set.
3. It will take you longer, say 1.5 – 2 hours instead of 45mins, before reaching your hotel as each passenger will be dropped off to their respective accommodations.

But if you’re not like me who thirsts for adventure and if you’re after total convenience while traveling, you could always arrange for airport transfer by hiring either a taxi from a local company or delve on the luxury of a private car. Online, these sort of things are searchable, all you need to do is choose.



Local Tours

There is a very substantial thing that I did before going on a holiday, and I am so proud of myself (jeeez, so much for narcissism) for actualizing it early. I have made some vast research on the activities we could do while in Phuket, and since my fiance and I were both not familiar on the transport system in the area, I decided to pre-book all of our tours. My initial intent at that time was just to save ourselves from being lost in translation, but later did we realize that we have also pocketed a few thousand Bahts in savings by doing so.

It’s quite tricky to do your own itinerary and it’s a formidable thing to accomplish. The outlining part when milling a travel plan is a favorite for me  because I love the inconvenience and the wrangle of discovering, familiarizing & researching about new places (hence this blog, hello?). BUT, this Phuket adventure is an exception to my old ways and style.

A lot of internet sites showcase great deals, but how to filter down legit agencies and how can you be sure they’re the cheapest?

Fact: When going to Phuket (or any place overseas in general), it is cheaper to book your tours ahead rather than jumping off to the first offer you receive when you’re already there.

In pursuit of a low-cost agency that has the tour package I need, I emailed more than a dozen sites and was eventually bombarded by tons of replies & price quotations the following day. Then came Mr. Chai of Phuket Best Tours. He was one of the first to shed light to my queries, had the most reasonable price offer and did not require any deposit nor initial payment upon booking. I got myself a deal!

 

For information on the available package for tourists offered by Phuket Best Tours, contact Mr. Chai through the following:

Hotline: 093 584 2334

Handphone: 083 182 4515

email: info@phuketbesttours.com

Website: phuketbesttours.com



Wireless NOT-Free Internet 

 


This is the biggest issue and the greatest disappointment in my entire trip. Where in the world could you find a Starbucks who charges wi-fi usage? Appalling as it is, they really do ask for THB 100 for you to be able to access the internet. It wasn’t just me who was dumbfounded upon learning this, a fellow tourist whom I think is an Aussie cursed under his breath as he walked away from the counter.

 

 

Wireless NOT-Free Internet 

 


This is the biggest issue and the greatest disappointment in my entire trip. Where in the world could you find a Starbucks who charges wi-fi usage? Appalling as it is, they really do ask for THB 100 for you to be able to access the internet. It wasn’t just me who was dumbfounded upon learning this, a fellow tourist whom I think is an Aussie cursed under his breath as he walked away from the counter.

Evidently, the best way to explore the whole of Patong is hiring one of those motorbikes that can take you anywhere off water. The busy roads are filled with these almost all the time, and it is noticeable that foreigners themselves are enjoying the ease of renting one.

 

Getting Around Patong



For a price ranging between THB 400-500, you could use a single motorcycle for 2 days. Renting out is as easy as leaving a copy of your passport, dropping the name of your hotel, paying the amount and signing a waiver indicating that damage or loss will be shouldered by you. The gas is of course on your expense. This is far better than riding a tuktuk or hailing a cab when you need to do some errands or just roaming around.

 

 

 

 

Phuket Shopping

 

Jungceylon Shopping Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest mall on this side of Thailand is the Jungceylon Shopping Centre located at the heart of Patong. Just like the usual malls you’ve been to, Jungceylon offers cinch on your i-need-to-go-shopping-again moments with heaps of dining choices when you starve from malling (local & international).





Phuket Premium Outlet

My second best Phuket moment was when we checked-out the Premium Outlet located at Bypass Road, a 20-minute drive from Patong. Although the place lacks the leading luxury brands we want, it still has a lot of other shops that bid real bargain prices. Knowing myself, I knew I like this place instantly when I spotted a shoe shop. Hmmm. Very predictable.

Contemplating on what pair to buy, but I guess the real question is how many pairs do I plan to buy?  #shoelover




Chao Fah Night Market 

When in Phuket town during the weekend, include the Chao Fah Market in your stop over. As this is open only during Saturdays and Sundays, make a reminder on your phone so you won’t waste an opportunity to ransack acres upon acres of shopping bliss.


Unlike Chatuchak in Bangkok that has been upgraded for convenience, Chao Fah is a bit chaotic. The traffic will cause you a guranteed headache so it would be best to arrive early, say 4pm, right before all the vigor starts. Buying stuff for friends and family could be slashed off your list because there is nothing in this market that you can’t find.



Thai Massage FTW

 

After all those hoopla, reward yourself with some glorious massage and spa treatments. You just have to step out of your hotel and it’s quite impossible not to find at least one. The way I look at it, Phuket is a humongous spa metropolis. Not trying is not an option when you’re here. During the Thai massage I had, i felt like my soul has gone up to heaven for 2 hours. It.was.that.good!

This is the newly opened Oasis Spa in Kamala Beach. Aren’t those beds inviting?



Globetrotter Rating

 

Albeit recent, Phuket is now my 3rd favorite of all the places I have posted in this blog. A rating of 8.5 bespeaks my utter fondness to it. 

When ablazed with the spirit of traveling, it is one of those pit stops where you want to be lodged for a long, long time. No wonder expatriates fall in love with Phuket’s promising array of paradise. 

My experience is a seamless blend of primeval beaches, epic nature adventure and remarkable people interaction that is surely one for the books. I was permeated with varying degrees of astonishment upon concluding my 6-day trip. Yayy, definitely going back soon!


 

Photo credits: +Edong Santos

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