The Final Destination: Phuket

And so we come to the final blog post (aside from a few more pictures of us, mostly of me trying to get a good infinity pool shot!). If I’d have written this sooner it would definitely be more negative (at one point it was going to be titled Is Phuket a big con?!) but it’s impossible to feel that way when you’re sitting in front of this view!

There’s no doubt that Phuket is a beautiful island. It’s very tropical and green with a multitude of beaches, bays and fabulous weather (at the right time of year). It should be paradise…but it’s just not. We, the tourists, have ruined it (with plenty of help from Thailand itself). The main touristy areas are packed full of accommodation, tacky shops, identical restaurants (they all seem to use the same unappetising stock pictures on their menus), thousands of massage parlours (I wasn’t sure whether to put massage in inverted commas!) and in some areas people selling sex shows, ladyboy shows, ping pong shows and the like. Phuket has the worst attributes of Thailand all on one island. Plenty of rubbish in the streets, sleaziness, many of the locals seem jaded and avaricious towards tourists (unlike Cambodians who were almost unanimously friendly and happy to see tourists visiting their country).

I’ve had days where I’ve found it all a bit grim and it’s a shame for an island that is so stunning to be let down by the very reason that we’re all here. I get sick of being offered massages all day long (they’ve picked the wrong person as I find Thai massage far too painful to enjoy). I wish I had counted how many times a day I’ve been offered one, it would make a great drinking game! It’s awkward because every person working in the parlour will stand outside and each of them offer a massage just in case you’ve changed your mind in the millisecond after you said no to their colleague. Or taxi/tut tut drivers who are ten a penny to the dozen, far too many for the demand so just spend the day hanging around the streets. There’s times I’ve walked around feeling sad, especially for women out here, who for many a career involves standing outside a club wearing almost nothing enticing men in until they get too old and stand outside the massage parlour instead. I’m not sure if tourism is the answer or the enemy as there’s already so much money being brought in from it and yet it doesn’t seem to be going towards cleaning the rubbish from the streets, removing the sewage smell or offering men and women a greater choice or more fulfilling employment.

So hearing all that would I recommend a visit? Yes and no. There’s plenty to do and I think you could easily spend a two week holiday here exploring the island, visiting the beautiful islands close by (e.g. Phi Phi, James Bond and many more). There’s lots of beaches on Phuket itself so opportunities for swimming, snorkelling, diving and watersports. There’s plenty of wildlife such as the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary (and currently 26 elephant trekking camps depending on how you feel about them). There’s Phuket old town for traditional and bohemian markets, the Big Buddha for beautiful views of the island, a national park and plenty of food, drink and nightlife to be had. There’s also so many different areas of the island to visit so plenty of variety. And that’s just scratching the surface of activities available. Phuket could never be accused of being boring.

But there are some things to bear in mind. To do Phuket properly you need to spend a lot of money. You won’t get traditional Thai prices here. Taxi drivers fix their prices and won’t turn on their engines for less than 200 baht (£4.50) even for the shortest of distances. And it’s a big island so getting around will cost you (unless you hire a motorbike which is a really cheap way to get around but I’d advise against it unless you’re an experienced rider already. This is not the place to learn). Food and drink are probably double the price of other parts of Thailand.

And this leads me nicely on to accommodation… it’s very expensive to get a relatively nice hotel in a good location. We’re talking £200 a night for a good hotel near Kata/Karon beaches. And these hotels aren’t anything really special, certainly not when you think of how expensive that is and what you could get elsewhere for that price. Mid range options will still feel pricey for what they are and often aren’t in a great location.

There are some amazing alternatives such as where we’re staying now (Pullman Phuket Arcadia, Naithon beach). We found a last minute special offer and we’re so happy we did as it’s a beautiful hotel next to the tranquil Naithon beach and half the price we’d pay to stay this close to the more popular Kata/Karon beaches. However, we’re pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Naithon has a small amount of restaurants and shops and for a few days it’s perfect but it’s not really the true Phuket experience and this hotel (as much as I love it) really could be anywhere. It’s almost an hour away from the nightlife and more populated areas and if you want to explore the island or do day trips off it then it will cost a fortune to do so from here. For me Phuket is an island of two halves – the quiet areas with nice hotels but very little going on or the bustling touristy parts which yes can be tacky and the beaches overly busy but it’s where you find the food, drink, nightlife and personality. It’s where you find the fun, the crazy and the sleazy. I haven’t yet found a happy medium.

So what would I suggest? Don’t spend all of your time in one place. I would recommend staying in two or three different places to experience all that Phuket can offer.. Patong if you want to see Phuket’s sleazy nightlife in all its glory, it’s ideal for single men but anyone can have a good time if you can get over the sheer busyness and lose your inhibitions over what a million people will try to sell you. In reality although it’s often what most people associate with Patong, Bangla Road is just one street and there is more to Patong
than that. There are some great restaurants, bars and craft shops which are worth visiting (for restaurants I’d recommend Le Versace where I had my birthday meal, with stunning views of Patong and amazing food on a roof terrace. For cheaper options there’s Euro Thai, Home Dining Cafe and Lounge and Rustic Eatery and Bar.)

Next would be Kata/Karon. The two beaches are close enough in proximity that most people consider it to be one area. This is supposed to be the compromise between nightlife and beaches if party Patong is too much but you still want a lively atmosphere. I had higher expectations of these two areas and expected to hate Patong but I didn’t fall whole heartedly in love with Kata or Karon either (my expectations were too high). Karon beach was lovely and my preference over Kata as it was quieter but the surrounding streets where the bars and restaurants are were ok but I wouldn’t say they were really nice. They’re hard to walk around as the pavement is often non existent, they’re very spread out and I could never really work out where the main focal point of either place was. I can’t speak for the nightlife as we stayed so far out that we didn’t make it out anywhere with nightlife (and wherever we went it was always quiet probably because the areas are spread out). However if you’re happy renting a motorbike or can find accommodation near either beach I would recommend a visit. There’s plenty of places to eat and drink (and if you like steak you should visit Eat as it’s amazing) and it’s a really good base for for sightseeing and day trips.

I do think Kata/ Karon are a good compromise and I know we’d have felt happier if we hadn’t have been so far out of town. This is definitely a place where location is important and staying even a kilometre and a half away as we were is too far (because of the difficulty of walking without a pavement and crossing the busy roads when nobody stops for you).

And finally I’d recommend a nice hotel to relax in near a quiet beach after enjoying Phuket in its touristy glory. There are plenty of options and if you leave it to the last minute you can get some really good deals. I wish we’d spent longer than three nights here but I’m also glad I experienced the other side of Phuket too because despite all the negatives
it has a certain cheeky personality and Thai charm that is hard to describe but is unforgettable. Would I come back? Maybe not for Phuket alone but in conjunction with seeing other parts of Thailand/other countries(e.g. Laos) then yes I would! I guess I’d better start saving…

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