The Pearl of the South
Time for a very well deserved relaxing days enjoying this little piece of paradise on the beautiful beaches and the resort’s pool. And i know, I know what you might tell questioning on why Phuket and no other of the many paradise islands they have in the country. Well, although obviously Phuket is the most visited of them all, it is actually one of the very best because it is the gateway to the Phi Phi islands, and that my friend, is worth it any travel. And also on a bright side, it is merely an hour away flight from Bangkok with flights every few minutes and quite inexpensive too.
What you need to consider is that most of the people who come here are on a long holiday, in all inclusive packages. That is anyway totally opposite to how I am and what sort of holidays I like. It was in fact really funny to get people asking and wondering if we were right about staying only 3 days here. Yes, absolutely; that is more than enough to see what we wanted to see and do. But yes, probably this is one of the few reasons I do not enjoy too much about this place, which is to be “trapped” in your resort and far from the nearest city.
If in the other hand you would not like to be dependent on being at a resort, then the choice gets reduced to merely 2 locations. Patong Beach or Phuket City, and believe me, that places are the ones you will not like once you get to know more, unless you are coming here on purpose for the obvious reasons.
Patong Beach is the heart of the island, where everything is; but specially night life, although should I say 24 hours party?. A huge choice of everything, to cater anyone, however this is the city where prostitution is damaging the image of the country as a whole. Do not expect any great beach here; it is small and horribly packed, smelly and not even clean. Then at the capital, Phuket City, here there are no beaches, it is the main port of the island and gateway to countless more in the bay, but pretty much a dead city after dark, not much life, and very dirty. While in the nearby there are great resorts and hotels, I would strongly recommend to stay elsewhere in what really is a piece of paradise.
So having this all in consideration, now onto the very positive comments and great experience. Basically a good point is that distances are not big, and you can travel from one place to another not taking too much time. That’s why a resort is the best option without hesitation, although you will be depending on transportation and that can be a little be tricky, yet easy once you get to know. There are so many incredible places to go, admire the lush vegetation and landscapes and such amazing beaches, once could for sure spend here many days.
A good tip you will not regret, staying anywhere along the western coast of the island, except Patong of course. The area of the Lagoons is without doubt the best, with the most spectacular resorts. Now why is that the west coast is best? Easy explanation, you are facing the sunset, hence longer hours of sun during the day. It has cleaner waters than the east coast, and who cannot say no to an incredible sunset? Yet to be aware, as it is facing the open Andaman Sea, it is more likely to be windy and as such, not the quietest sea, but that depends on the time of the day. Most of the beaches in any case are in the west coast.
As for the most fascinating place? The Phi Phi islands. This was the reason for us to come to Phuket, and we were not disappointed at all. The place is so truly beautiful, so much vegetation covering all rocks coming out of the sea, the stunning beaches. It is out of this world, no wonder why it is on every list of places to go before you die. Doing a day tour around these islands will give you a glimpse of the beauty.
Lastly, I strongly recommend you to get a SIM card for the duration of your stay in Thailand, and be at all times connected with data. You can get it on the arrivals terminal of any airport in the country, generally valid for 7 or 14 days with 4GB of data and value for making calls, and can cost as little as 290 Bath for a week.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Thailand’s currency is Baht (THB). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Phuket
- Patong Beach It’s the main party spot in the island. Everyone from everywhere in the island come here for the nightlife, food, bars, etc. It is packed with hundreds of restaurants bars and discos. The beach, although looks nice in the pictures, it’s not really the best. Any other beach elsewhere in the island is way better and less crowded for sure. Unfortunately, Patong is the place where you will see the downside of Thailand, this is, the prostitution tourism. Not only that it is very obvious, but just walking along the streets at night you will see the half naked dancers everywhere. The pubs and discos have big windows opened so the places become transparent where you can see from the street all the way inside; and this is a place where a lot of families spend their holidays, honestly, not the best sight to see.
- Laguna Beach The best in the island without hesitation, also the nearest to the airport. it is one of the longest, completely aligned by tropical vegetation and palms, and some of the grandest resorts and hotels. This is the best place to be when coming on holidays here.
- Karon Beach Continuing south along the coast, it is the next finest place to enjoy great beaches and beautiful hotels.
- Kata Beach Not far from Karon, farther south. Smaller than the other beaches, yet very beautiful, although it can get more crowded.
- Phuket City It’s the capital of the island, and main ferry terminal for moving anywhere by boat. The city itself is quite run-down unfortunately. It could be very nice, packed with Sino-Portuguese houses everywhere. But it is in much need for a plan to restore it all. Thai Hua Museum on Krabi Road is one of the best example of such architecture.
- Islands tour Without doubt, anyone coming to Phuket will do an island tour. There are many options available, but the main attraction are the Phi Phi Islands. You can either do a day tour, where the pick up from wherever your hotel in Phuket is located is included; transportation to the main ferry terminal in Phuket City, and the boat tour itself to Phi Phi Islands. Also included is the lunch and a choice of either snorkelling, scuba diving, visiting a fishing village and of course the return back to your hotel. Other tours include a longer stay with a night or more in any of the islands. We can recommend already 2 different tour operators, one being Amazing Canoeing Co. which we used in the most recent trip, and Phuket Thailand Travel which we used in 2011. These are some of the best tour operators we found at the time of our research and offering the best deals and service. But as for any day tour almost anywhere in the world, do not have high expectations with the lunch. Everything else was great and as we imagined it. You will need to book the tour in advance as depending on the season, it can get really fully booked, but there are many, many other tour operators offering just the same. You will all meet at Phuket City docks, where thousands of other tourists will arrive at the very same time. Just follow your group and instructions handed beforehand.
Phuket International Airport is the second busiest in Thailand and the amount of destinations served quite vast. While majority of people do come via Bangkok and other places within Thailand, there are several direct flights to the island from Europe, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, China or Australia. Located towards the north of the island, it is merely an hour from Phuket City at the southernmost tip. Patong Beach is around half an hour.
From the airport you have various options. The most common where majority of tourists have are the shuttle buses to the resorts. There are included as part of their package holidays, hence they are taken right away as they land, but for a tourist without a package, that’s not optional.
The Airport Bus is therefore the most widely used, also convenient considering the cheap fares of 100 Baht to the final destination, and cheaper at the intermediary stops. The thing is that this bus does not go along the west coast hotels and resorts, nor Patong Beach, but rather directly into Phuket City with convenient stops on the way. If any of these is of your benefit, then it’s your best option. You can check the official website here for the fares, route and timetable.
Now in order to reach the hotels by Bang Tao Beach (Laguna), you will need to get a shared minibus, there are plenty as you come out of the airport, only a bit annoying to figure out considering that many people coming to offer you transport and selling you tours and hotels; but it’s an easy point to start your negotiation skills. And of course the fastest, yet the most expensive way, are taxis. It will be around 900 Baht to Phuket City, but higher to Patong Beach (half way of the island) and even higher to Laguna.
And as your salvation here I come with great news. Although Uber is not in Thailand anymore, it was replaced by an even better service called Grab. Download the app and be hassle free to book your car whenever you need it, to the desire destination. Straightforward, safe and fast, while cheaper than a taxi.
Coming overland from mainland Thailand is possible via long distance buses or by car. A trip from Bangkok takes approximately 13 hours, and its cost varies but in the range of 650 to 950 Bahts. The total distance is 900 kilometres. The crossing is done at the Thao Thepkasattri Bridge which is the shortest distance between mainland and the island.
When moving around the island, from the hotel, you have three options. One is to walk to the main road where you can grab the bus or tuk tuk, second is to get a hideous taxi, and third book a Grab over the app. Unfortunately, tuk tuk drivers are forbidden to get into the resorts to pick people, so there is only the silly monopoly of super expensive taxis, which people do not even know they can get a cheap tuk tuk by simply walking to the main street, but of course, it could be the case that your hotel is more secluded and in turn, not within easy reach to a main road. The monopoly of the taxis is such that tuk tuk drivers can ONLY drop off people at the resorts, but they cannot take anybody from the hotel.
It is plentiful everywhere in the island, with a choice so vast that it results in very competitive prices too. The most you will find are huge resorts, each more beautiful and larger than the other; some so incredible that you will not want to leave the island and wished you stayed there longer. But as usual, even if competition is big, once should consider when is high and low seasons, and be careful with the monsoon months that basically go from May until October. It is during this period when prices are really low, and people tend to do the mistake in booking a holiday here. Well, it can easily be the fact that you do not even see the sun one day. Always check in advance for the weather like to avoid disappointment. And also consider to stay along the western coast of the island where the best beaches are such as Bang Tao, Surin, Kamala and Karon, trying to avoid Patong. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or TUI.
In the most recent trip we stayed pretty much next door to the one 8 years ago. The very same area, Laguna, since this is definitely one of the best places in the island, the nicest beaches and where to enjoy the sunsets hence longer day light. The largest resorts in the entire island are here located, one after another aligning the beach and around the lake at the back. Our choice was the Dusit Thani Laguna, a superb 5* very large property, aligning with the beach at the front and lakes at both side. The staff, decoration, facilities, up-to-date and very well care was great. Lot’s to do. The room was a Deluxe Ocean Front, very large with direct access to the beach only a couple of meters ahead. Extremely comfortable and quiet, and lovely to hear the sea.
Back in 2011 we stayed at the gorgeous Outrigger Laguna Resort (previously Laguna Beach Resort). A massive place with basically everything, and of course, the stunning Bang Tao beach just meters from the giant pool. The rooms were the largest I have ever been to a hotel, and the pool follows the same track. Huge, with lots to do. The high quality breakfast choice was enormous. The staff could not be any friendlier and helpful than this, with so much care and attention to detail! It was indeed a great experience to be in this place; and as a later update to this guide, worth to mentions it has been recently completely renovated and upgraded.