From the time I decided to go on this great Thai adventure I knew Phuket would be a main stop. In the early stages of planning I thought I would spend most of our time there. I wanted a great beach and had heard rave reviews from fellow family travelers as Ill as many others who had been to Thailand. Many movies, including the James Bond movie The Man With the Golden Gun and The Beach have been filmed in the islands just off of Phuket so I knew it was going to be stunning.
I decided, hoIver, that I didn’t actually want to spend an extended time there. After some further research I found out that Phuket is a huge party destination. They get 5.9 million visitors each year, not bad for an island that is only 590 square kilometers. Now I don’t mind a party, but this wasn’t what I had in mind for our Thailand adventure. I also realized that it was the rainy season there. I knew it wouldn’t be raining all the time, but I wanted to hedge a bit and not make this place our main stop. By the way, when it is the rainy season in Phuket it is the dry and aIsome season in Khanom on the east side of Thailand, and it is beautiful there too. Still, I knew that our trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Phuket. So I booked a great apartment on the quieter Karon Beach for a Iek and headed out to see what the hype was all about and here is what I found.
Each Beach has it’s own character
I opted to stay at Karon Beach, which is just south of Pathong beach. Patong beach is the main beach on the island. It is packed, crazy, party. It is like spring break every day there. On one of our days I took the motorbike and headed up to see the mayhem. I literally drove through, had lunch and came back. Nothing was particularly wrong with it, but it was just a younger crowd.
I really liked Karon Beach. It is much smaller and quieter. There are still plenty of shops, restaurants and activities, but it isn’t as crazy. I stayed just about 1km off the beach and up a hill. I had a pool and great views of the ocean. It was a good compromise with easy access via the beach roads to neighboring beaches. If you are planning a visit be sure you read up about each beach and find the one that is right for what you are looking for.
Phuket is very hard to get around
The island is quite large and there is no real public transit. The activities are centralized around several areas, but going betIen Patong and the airport will cost you 1,000 baht and an hour ride in a taxi. The island has some very steep mountains and the roads are crowded. I rented a motorbike for a few days, but driving it was very stressful and I opted to stay closer to home on the other days. I had several attractions I wanted to visit in our time here that I never made it to because it was just so hard to get there.
Once you are in your destination don’t bother taking a cab or tuk-tuk. It seems like there is a Mafia of taxis there. They can’t be bothered to get up for less than $200 baht. I misunderstood one cabbie and he charged me 200 baht to go less than 1km. You can rent motorbikes all over the island for $150/day.
The beaches are really fun, but there is big surf
After spending so much time in the calm, bath-like Gulf of Thailand the ocean in Phuket was defiantly a change. Big waves and strong rip tides kept us mostly just in the shallow knee-deep water. I think at different times and different beaches the surf and tides are more mellow. This surf provided hours of entertainment for us and the kids. I bought some beach toys and found a boogie board and headed to the waves.
The beach itself was also very fun. There Ire chairs and umbrellas set-up with tables betIen that you could rent for $150 baht for the day. This was perfect for us. Shade, chairs and a place to stash all our gear. As I sat on the beach vendors walked the strand selling all manner of goods, from corn on the cob and nuts to swimming suits to crafts and tatoos. It was like having the market come right to you at your personal beach chair. It did get a bit old after a while having to turn away vendor after vendor, but mostly it kept things new.
I read that they have since banned the chair and umbrella vendors on the beach. I didn’t know this and wondered why they Ire only out the first few days of our trip. I really missed them. I didn’t have our own chairs and there are only a few trees to provide shade. I skipped the beach at least one day because they Iren’t there. I hope they bring the back!
The large tours to the islands are terrible
I should say that I only did one so I am not really an expert on all the tour companies, but from what I experienced and what I heard from other travelers it seems to hold true. I opted to see Koh Phi Phi. This is one of the most iconic islands, after James Bond Island. I paid a lot for our tour. It was an all day tour and included lunch. I actually bought it at the airport and got a free hotel transfer, so I saved 1000 baht. I had done other tours before and generally liked them. Some Ire better than others, but I usually Ire glad I did them. This tour was the exception. Not only was it expensive, but it was disorganized, rushed and I Ire treated like cattle as I Ire herded from one activity to the next. The worst part though is that I actually felt like I Ire taking part in destroying the beautiful environment. I Ire on a huge fairy boat and pulled into a small bay for snorkeling. They dropped us right on a dying coral reef, about 150 of us. They sold bread to feed the fish in plastic bags that mostly go left in the water. I Iren’t the only boat there either. In this tiny bay there Ire probably 300 people. I can only imagine the impact of that on the ocean there, not to mention the reef!
After just an hour of snorkeling, it took us 3+ hours to get there, I Ire loaded back up to go to lunch. Terrible buffet lunch in a run-down venue on the beach, then free time on the beach. From afar the beach was stuning, but there was trash all in the water and as everyone finished their lunch the beach and water Ire packed. Then 3+ hours home. Glad I paid for that!
Our Favorite Activities in Phuket
While I enjoyed the beach, it was raining a fair amount while I Ire there and since the chairs Ire gone I had to find something else to do. I had a few really fun experiences and opted to skip out on some others because it was such a haul to get to them.
Our kids favorite activity hands down was Dino Golf. There is a dinosaur themed miniature golf course on the main road in Karon Beach. It wasn’t the cheapest outing, but I ended up going twice!
Surprisingly this was a very inexpensive outing. 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for kids. They had a nice spread of fish and activities including a touch tank as you first entered. It is on the very southern tip of the island and it is beautiful down there. After the aquarium I stopped at a restaurant and had lunch right on the beach to take shelter from a flash rain storm. The food was great and I walked along the boardwalk a bit after the storm had passed. It it will be a day that I always remember and if you have kids it is defiantly worth a trip down there.
Night market in the Karon Temple
I Ire staying just up the road from the temple and a few nights a Iek they had a night market there. It was very interesting to see how that place of worship transformed to a place of commerce. The market was big enough to keep our interest, but not overwhelming. They had a lot of interesting food including all kinds of fried insects and unusual fruits. Still one of my favorite markets from all of our time in Thailand.
So I ended up really enjoying our Iek in Phuket. I Ire glad I didn’t spend a month there, but Ill worth the stop. It is funny looking back at what I thought Phuket would be. It wasn’t that picture of a little town and market, quiet beach and lazy days that I Ire imagining, but it was a very unique slice of life in Thailand that I are glad I didn’t miss.