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Phuket, Thailand – Simply Beautiful

Posted By Jay On October 14, 2010 @ 10:00 am In International Travel Reviews | No Comments

Scuba diving some of the best walls in the world, sea kayaking into hidden caves and wandering around on Phuket’s many beaches are just some of the wonderful activities that await you in Phuket.

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Destination at a Glance

Date of Trip May 2010
Destination Good for Watersports, Partying, Food
Best Time to Go Always hot – though rainy season June-September
Currency/Conv. Rate Thai Bhat/ 1 USD = 32 THB – Very Favorable
Good Way to Get Around Rent Car: No Public: No Taxi: Yes Walking: No
Appox. Trip Cost Fairly Inexpensive
Speaks English? Many
Entry Requirements Passport
Do it
  • Scuba Dive over 20 sites
  • Sea Kayaking Tour
  • Patong Beach
  • Exquisite Massages
Skip it
  • Bring negotiating skills for Tuk Tuk Drivers
Didn’t get to do
  • Phi Phi Markets
  • Insects Night markets
Would I Recommend Yes
Overall Trip Rating Trip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip RatingTrip Rating

Trip Review (Click Thumbnails to see Full-Sized Images)

After spending half of my 6 day tour of Thailand in Bangkok, I took a flight on AirAsia to Phuket.  Phuket (pronounced “Poo-ket”) is one of the most beautiful places in Thailand – some say the world.  Movies such as James Bond’s “The Man with the Golden Gun” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach” to name a few were filmed on the beautiful islands of Phuket.  The alien rock formations lure visitors from around the globe to this tropical paradise.

The 1hr 15 minute flight from Bangkok is the most practical way to get to Phuket – as a bus ride would take 10 hours and there is no train that will get your there without also taking an additional 4-5 hour bus ride. Unlike Bangkok, as soon as I stepped out of the baggage claim area I was literally assaulted by taxi drivers yelling – “taxi”, “Hello Sir, where you go”, “My Brother, I can take you wherever you need”.  This would be a prelude for things to come as far as taxi services were concerned.

You may remember from my time in Bangkok that all of the taxis are metered and extremely cheap.  Not so in Phuket.  Not only are they not metered, few of them have permanent signs/lights indicating they are taxis (think Toyota Corollas with a piece of cardboard with “taxi” scribbled on it).  More notorious than the taxis are the Tuk-Tuks – 4-6 seat open air taxis which serve as the primary method of transportation in Phuket.  Not a single Tuk-Tuk has a meter, so the cost of your trip will depend heavily on your negotiating skills, where you’re going, whether it’s high or low season and the general mood of the driver.   That 20 minute taxi ride that costs 70 Baht in Bangkok now costs 450 Baht in Phuket.  No kidding – the Tuk-Tuk drivers are like the mob in that they all collude together to fix pricing (sorta reminds me of the Coco-coco taxis in Havana, Cuba).

Once you get over the transportation shock, you can settle into one of the hundreds of hostels/ hotels that cater to $10 to $1,000 a night budgets.  Two of Phuket’s most revered activities – water activities and nightlife await you.

Phuket Activities

There are a ton of things to do in Phuket including white water rafting, jungle tours, elephant treks and ATV/horseback riding tours.  Here are three additional activities in which I took part.

Scuba Diving

May is the start of the rainy (low) season so diving is pretty much limited to day trips – liveaboards are too dangerous due to the monsoons.  This was not a problem for me since I was only in town for 3 days.  Thailand Liveaboards charged me 3,700 Baht ($124 US) for a 3 tank dive tour with no surcharge using a credit card (most other tour resellers charge 3% surcharge).  The price included full equipment rental – others wanted an additional 700 Baht for BCD, Regulator, etc.   Regardless of which reseller you choose, the process is essentially the same – company arranges for pickup at most any hotel in Phuket, equipment and divers are loaded onto the boat and you are served a light breakfast prior to the hour or so ride to the first dive spot.  A hot Thai lunch is served in between the 2nd and 3rd dives.  Here’s a summary of each dive site I visited:

  1. Koh Doc Mai – The best dive of the group, extremely colorful reefs and coral – first time I’ve ever witnessed a giant purple clam.  This also marked my first wall dive, as well as, my first entry into an ocean born cave (Cenotes are fresh water).
  2. King Cruiser – Is an 85 meter automobile ferry that wrecked off the Phuket coast in 1997.  The ferry sits in about 20-30m of water and is filled with coral and marine life.  Like many wreak dives, visibility isn’t that great – but good enough to take decent pictures.
  3. Shark Point – Three large partially submerged rock formations which are home to the Leopard Shark (yellow had has spots like a leopard).  Unfortunately, I didn’t see any sharks on my dive and there wasn’t much by the way of reef/coral activity.

In addition to having the best price, Steven from Thailand Liveaboards really set himself apart from other resellers by offering to pick me up from the airport, bring me to his shop to complete the sale (swipe the car) and drop me off at my hotel for an extra 600 Baht.  While certainly not as cheap as local taxis in Bangkok – it was a hell of a lot better than the 1,400  Baht the Hilton tried to charge me for the return trip to the airport (I used Steven’s service on the way back as well).  Kudos to Steven and Thailand Liveaboards – I highly recommend their service.  One other note about this dive trip is it was the first time I used the Liquid Image HD320 Scuba Mask which I will be reviewing shortly.

Sea Kayaking

After a day spent underwater exploring, it was off to spend a little time topside surveying several of the many Phuket Islands via a sea kayak.  This time, the company selling the package SeaCanoe – was the actual company offering the tour.  Similar to other tours, someone picks you up from your hotel in the morning, drives to a dock and ferry you to the sea kayaking destination.

My particular adventure took place in Phang Nga Bay – a 45 minute ride from Phuket (the Bond movie mentioned above was filmed here).  The rock formations in this region are some of the strangest and yet fascinating natural creations I’ve seen on earth.  It’s pretty hard to describe, but these limestone rock formations protrude out of the ground like giant green & grey thumbs.  I swear they look like something from Mars.  Some of these formations have caves and overhangs that are exposed/hidden based on the tide.  Once in the kayak, you can travel through the exposed caves leading to several lagoons filled with wildlife.  SeaCanoe provides dry bags for your cameras, as well as a hot Thai lunch.

The Beaches – Which one? Doesn’t matter, pick any one.  Every beach in Phuket is almost just as beautiful as the next – white sand, excellent vistas of the many Phuket islands and absolutely amazing turquoise 80-85 degree water.  The most popular beaches (at least for tourists) are Patong Beach, Karon Beach and Kata Beach.

Perhaps the most famous of the Phuket islands is the Phi Phi Islands (where the movie the Beach was filmed).  I didn’t get a chance to make it to Phi Phi Islands, but hey, that’s reason enough to go back.


Patong Beach

Allegedly the ‘Red Light District’ where legends are made.  Maybe that was the case before everyone found out about this little gem – now it feels more like a giant dive bar and swap meet.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of raunchy spots, but if your Red Light district has a Starbucks and a Subway it’s pretty tame to me.  Seriously, people were walking around with their 5 yr old children and tour buses letting old folks off at the club.  What kinda red light district is this?  Could you imagine family time in Amsterdam’s Red Light district a few feet from the “Window Women” and a dude rolling a Blunt the size of our arm?   That is sooo not gangsta Gangstalicious!!

Anyway, I can sum up Patong Beach in two words – swap meet.  Yes folks, come right down – anything you need – we got.  Everything you don’t want – we got that too.  “Say Brotha – how bout a custom suit for you?”  Right, it’s hotter than Mercury out here and I was just thinking all I need right now is a new suit.  Nice.  “Yo bro, I Got watches”, “Massage, really cheap for you”, “Hey, we got the best seafood in town”, “Baby, what you need” – REPEAT.

Maybe the area is thought of as a red light district because of the lax enforcement of prostitution laws.  While prostitution isn’t legal, it’s hardly enforced – I watched a prostitute approach a guy on the street not 2ft away from a cop.  To that end, getting a prostitute can be a scary proposition simply because you can’t be sure of what you are getting.

Introducing the “Lady Boy” – or transvestite as more commonly known.  It is said that Thailand has some of the prettiest men around – fooling hundreds of drunk and completely sober men.  I decided to play a little game of “Pick the Ladyboy” to see if I could tell a Thai tranny from a natural woman. Here are a few techniques (cue elevator music) :

  1. If the chick next to you is near your height (6ft) – then ‘She’ is probably a ‘He’.  I mean seriously – this is Asia remember?  Women over 5’ 4” are not that common.  The next easiest is some men just have masculine features no amount of makeup is gonna help – like square jaw lines, plumbers hands, etc.
  2. Adams Apple – while certainly a dead giveaway, there are ways to cover it up and it’s hard to see anyway since it’s under the chin.  In addition, most all women have ‘some’ curves in their hips – even if they have a flat backside.  Straight up and down screams I’m a man.
  3. Only the Lady Boys seemed to have fake boobs – whether they are bra fillers or outright surgery.   I didn’t see a single natural woman in Thailand with fake boobs – if you see outsized breasts, then she is probably a he.

If you feel you’ve got the he/she thing figured out, then you have a few options if paid companionship is your thing.  One is to go to a Buddy Club, visit a “Men Only” massage parlor or just barter with the hundreds of street walkers.

Quest for the Bizarre

With the inability to visit any night market while in Bangkok due to the demonstrations, the plan was to hit as many street food areas in Phuket as I could.  The first stop was Patong Beach – which in addition to the few forms of debauchery I listed above, had a number of international restaurants, including Italian, Irish Pubs, Australian and of course Thai.  In fact, there was very little by the way of a street market – at least during the weekdays of my visit.  There was however a number of mobile vendors offering some local cuisine – like chicken Satay, local fruit, etc.  The mobile contraptions are a testament to ingenuity and necessity; how one can go about converting a moped into a rolling kitchen – complete with grill, cleaning/prep area and display cabinet is just amazing.

For whatever reason, the most popular road side item being sold was crepes.  Yes, crepes – banana, mango – you name it – crepes or ‘pancakes’ as they called them were all the rage.  Go figure.  So while I wasn’t able to get into a genuine ‘street market’ – I was able to eat at an a few authentic Thai restaurants (you know it’s authentic because the place is filled with locals).  Excellent Pad Thai followed by another foot massage.  Awesome.

The scenario above essentially repeated itself in my quests into Karon Beach and Phuket Town.  Search for hours in vain to find a street market, settle for a local authentic Thai restaurant and get much a needed foot massage.  At least I’m consistent.

One bright spot during my attempt for the bizarre in Phuket Town was I ran across a local vendor selling a pickup truck full of Durian.  It was time to see just how good or as awful actually is (there was a line to get to the truck).  Short version, tastes like Plum-Custard – pretty good actually, I think.  I say ‘I think’ because my nasal passages were still clogged from my earlier scuba diving adventure – so I wasn’t able to fully smell the fruit (the smell of a food impacts the way our brain interprets the way it tastes – which is why food tastes like nothing when you have a cold).  Since I couldn’t actually smell the alleged rottenness of the fruit and could only taste it with my tongue, I can’t be sure how good it was or wasn’t.  Perhaps if I try it again with a working nose it might not be such a pleasant experience.  Guess the jury is still out on this one.

In Closing

I had an excellent time in Phuket, Thailand even though I wasn’t able to find any grasshoppers, crickets, scorpions, etc. as seen on Bizarre Foods.  A victim of uncontrollable circumstances I guess, the protesting in Bangkok and the Low Season/Weekday visit in Phuket made this plan a complete failure.  Still, scuba diving some of the best walls in the world, sea kayaking into hidden caves and wandering around on Phuket’s many beaches almost made up for this loss.  As for the nightlife, Patong wasn’t as risqué as I expected but the nightlife was okay and spending an hour or so playing a game of “Pick the Lady Boy” is a decent enough way to waste time.  If you have the time, definitely visit Bangkok, Chang Mai and Phuket during your visit to Thailand – you won’t be disappointed.

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