Look up the definition of paradise and this is what you’ll get: Any place of complete bliss, delight and peace. A visit to Phuket and this definition comes alive. Situated in the Andaman Sea off the Southern tip of Thailand, the mountainous island promises an extraordinary travel experience – replete with fun, relaxation and adventure. Encapsulated below are memoirs of my sojourn to this exotic getaway.
The perfect panacea for those seeking refuge from the concrete jungle and its everyday perils of traffic, pollution, stress, and pressure, the resort island of Phuket spoils you for choice when it comes to zeroing in on one of its numerous beach destinations. Flashing neon lights, pulsating music, sizzling nightlife, exotic ladyboys, the tantalizing aroma wafting out of numerous restaurants, a cluster of resorts and villas with their white washed walls set in lush tropical gardens, and that’s Patong for you – Phuket’s most preferred and highly popular tourist beach destination. A few meters further from Patong lies Karon, the second most popular choice for those who prefer a quieter atmosphere than the congested Patong. If you’re seeking complete solitude, move further down to the beaches of Kata and Kamala where you can enjoy the sun, sand and surf, sans herds of tourists. Opting for an eclectic mix of Patong’s buzz and Kata’s isolation, it was Karon all the way for me.
Famed for being the only beach-front resort in Karon located on the sandy
Karon Beach Resort at the helm of the ocean
shores of the Karon beach, “Karon Beach Resort” was my most obvious choice. With rooms overlooking the ocean, it’s an ineffable feeling to wake up to an incredible view outside – a blue sky, an aquamarine ocean which shimmers in various shades of blue as the golden rays of the sun dance on its rippling waters while the foamy white gently laps the soft sandy shores. There are endless ways to begin your day here – a dip in
Sunset view from Karon Beach Resort
the serene pool amidst a lush landscape, a walk along the sun kissed shores as the cool water caresses your feet or a warm sun bath by stretching languorously on the sun-beds facing the endless stretch of the sapphire Andaman Sea.
While it’s tempting spend the holiday basking in the glorious sun and cooling off in the resplendent sea, it’s hard to resist the call of adventure in Phuket’s myriad offerings. An experience that is best described as novel, majestic, humbling and most importantly unforgettable is the elephant back safari. The “Kok Chang Safari” promises you a journey of a lifetime – one that will be entrenched in your memory for generations to come. Kok Chang is located in the hilly regions of Kata and houses 10 grand elephants with the kindest eyes, who are well looked after by their mahouts. You can hoist yourself up on the large saddles atop these beauties, while the mahout sits on the elephant’s neck. As the elephant treads slowly and steadily you will be led through dense jungle trails along the hills. Our 45 year old female elephant was in no hurry and plodded through the narrow, steep, winding path uphill, flapping her ears and swinging her trunk along the way. En route, amidst the bush, I came across the most beautiful and delicate butterflies as they glided past me with their fluttering gossamer wings in striking colors, only to gently rest on a leaf or a twig. A colony of giant red ants, an intricate cobweb precariously dangling in the greenery, wild mushrooms springing from the earth and latex coagulating in the coconut cups of the numerous rubber trees were the fascinating sights we encountered along the way. We also hit a viewpoint overlooking the beautiful coast and other surrounding islets, before trekking downhill – this time on the elephant’s neck and without the mahout atop. In a nutshell, the experience is no less regal when compared to the days of yore when Maharajahs in India sat on imperial howdahs atop royal elephants.
Our elephant at the Kok Chang Safari
Spinning cobwebs in the bush
wild mushrooms sprouting from the earth
The viewpoint en route the safari
Latex coagulating from rubber trees
Obscuring any distinguishing factor between the real and surreal is the one day Phi Phi Island tour, which must feature on top of your “Things to do in Phuket” list. Phi Phi is a 45 minute ride by speedboat from the Chalong Pier. The boat ride is an experience in itself, one that fills you with excitement as it speeds over the waters, leaving behind a trail of white foam on the blue expanse, the wind in your hair and the ocean spray kissing your skin. As we approached the famous Maya Bay (where the movie “Beach” was partially filmed) the scenic views of large tree covered cliffs rising majestically from the depths of the green blue ocean are truly breathtaking and leave you speechless. Maya Bay boasts of a small beach with pristine white sand that is as soft as silk and aquamarine blue waters that gently touch your feet as you walk along the shore. Maya Bay is surreal, enchanting and magical – its beauty unsurpassed and unrivalled. The next stop-over after Maya Bay is Pileh Cove where you can jump into the cool, calm, clear water and snorkel to enjoy the shoal of yellow fish darting around the Cove’s peacock blue waters. The final destination is Khai Island – a small stretch of white sand with beach chairs to relax in. Khai Island is literally an island of sand small enough to hold a few hundred people, surrounded by nothing but the ocean. It’s an ideal spot to relax, swim or just feed the tiny fish that rush to the shores. Phi Phi is a one of a kind experience that overwhelms you – a gentle reminder of the sheer beauty of nature that is so grand and majestic that it leaves you no choice but to revel in its glory.
Speeding away from Chalong Pier
Majestic cliffs at Maya Bay
Beach @ Maya Bay
Snorkeling at Pileh Cove
Phi Phi Don Island
Sunbathing in Phi Phi Don
Approaching Khai Island
Relaxing at Khai Island
The ocean at your feet – Khai Island
If you can’t seem to get enough of Phuket, there are several places you can explore on the island, like the Chalong temple and Promthep Cape for instance. While Bangkok remains unrivalled as far as temples are concerned,
The Chalong temple
the Wat Chalong (wat = temple) is worth visiting if you have time on your hands. Popular amongst the locals, it’s interesting to watch devotees at Wat Chalong – some on their knees with folded palms whispering chants and prayers, while others fervently bow and light bunches of joss sticks at the altar. A few minutes to take in the architecture and beautiful ceiling and you can continue your journey to “Promthep Cape” further down Rawai beach, famed for its sunset. Promthep Cape is the southernmost tip of Phuket and if you are looking for a peaceful moment, as the sea breeze tousles your hair then you must settle at a spot along the stone wall that overlooks the sea and coastline.
Sunset at Promthep Cape
At sundown, the sky is set ablaze and turns into a flaming red to a glowing orange to a soft purple and the ocean turns a deep blue. The sunset is a perfect way to end your spectacular day.
Boiling down to the two holiday essentials – food and shopping – Phuket hits a bulls eye. No matter which eatery you head to, you
will be assured of two cuisines – the traditional Thai cuisine with its spicy curries, pineapple fried rice and interesting seafood and the international staple of juicy steaks, crusty pizzas and tomato sauced pastas. It doesn’t matter which restaurant you head to – the Thai food served at the tiniest shack
or the plushest fine dining restaurant tastes the same – simply fantastic. Evidently, all the restaurants have the locals stirring up a fiery curry and fried rice and the food is bound to be authentic and lip-smacking – simply perfect with the cold beers and hot sun.
If it’s shopping you’re after, and “cheap bargains” at that, you’re bound to hop, skip and jump for joy at the weekend market in Old Phuket Town. Open from 4:00 pm until late in the night, on Saturdays and Sundays, the weekend market holds promise for everyone. Be it tees, colorful flip flops, smart bags, stylish accessories, appealing souvenirs or exquisite handicrafts, the weekend market has it all. The market also features Thai street food, so if you’re exhausted with your shopping you can nibble on banana fritters followed by delicious ice-cold sugarcane juice and you’re good to go. Old Phuket town has little to offer, except for some interesting sights and sounds like traditional cafes, medicinal and herbal shops with the heady aroma of herbs emanating from their cool and dark interiors, Sino-Portuguese architecture along the deserted streets, brightly colored tuk tuks parked along the street, or a hawker pedaling his motorized “stall” in the afternoon heat.
Old Phuket Town’s Sino-Portugese architecture
The oldest herbs shop in Phuket Town
Mobile food vendor in Old Phuket Town
So if it’s that dream holiday you’re after, embark on the enchanting journey of discovering the jewel of Phuket that is sure to please your senses and leave you wanting to go back for more…
Good to know:
• Phuket is accessible by air or sea depending on where your travel base is located. Once you clear immigration head straight out of the airport, bypassing the airport limousine service and other taxi touts and head straight towards the metered taxi stand. The metered taxi stand board is in bright colors and it’s big so it’s hard to miss. The metered taxis charge a flat rate (forget about the meter) to the various beaches that dot Phuket’s coast. It saves you the hassle of bargaining and doesn’t leave you wondering if you are being taken for a jolly good ride – both literally and otherwise. You can expect to pay about 400-500 THB to get from the airport to Patong, Karon, Kamla etc. En route, the taxi will stop at a “travel and tour agency” to “sign in the register and mark his attendance”, while an employee will chat up with you trying to subtly sell you hotel deals and tour packages. It’s best to politely and firmly communicate that you have made all travel plans in advance and that all bookings for hotels and sight seeing packages have already been made. (Irrespective of whether you have actually made them or not)
• The best season to travel to Phuket is during off peak season. You’re bound to get good discounts on your accommodation, sight-seeing tour packages and shopping. What’s more the weather is great and the place is not over-crowded.
• There are numerous tour operators with glossy brochures of Phi Phi, promising you an unforgettable experience. Most offer similar rates and itineraries. I personally recommend the”Phuket Sea Island Company Ltd” which scores high on service. Never book at the hotels as they charge you double the normal fare. There are plenty of tour operators outside every hotel, so not to worry. Never opt for the public ferry as it’s over crowded and doesn’t enter Maya Bay. The speed boat may be expensive in comparison but it’s worth every penny – trust me on this.
• It pays to do your research on the various beach options and accommodation available, as there are numerous resorts you can choose from – all designed to suit varied tastes and budgets.
• The Thai massage is great for rejuvenating and relaxing those tired muscles. It’s worth your money and there are numerous massage parlors that dot the island.
• There are several operators who offer you various elephant trekking packages. Most of them are group tours and the elephant trek is coupled with other activities like oxcart riding and monkey shows etc. If you want an authentic and strictly elephant trekking experience sans the monkey-ox frills opt for the “Kok Chang Safari”.
• If you’re traveling with children, it may be worth visiting the “Phuket Fantasea”
• The Simone Cabaret and Thai Boxing are heavily advertised. Having visited neither of them, I can’t comment on these shows.
• The best way to get around Phuket is to hire a bike for the day. It’s most economical and you’re independent. As there are no taxis, you will have to rely on tuk tuks who fleece you. So if you can ride a bike and hold an international license go for it!
• The best way to get to the weekend market is to flag down the local bus which runs every half an hour from the beaches to town.