Having the first full week off in... well, forever, I had to make a choice: where should I go? There are many, many places I still have yet to go in Thailand (Chaing Rai, Samui, most of Issan to name a few), but after my wonderful trip to Phuket last year, I couldn't resist going back.
Last year, I took an overnight bus to Phuket, which cost me just over 13 hours and 1,000 baht plus another 500 baht just to get from the bus station to the beach. This time, I said, "[insert explicative here] it, I'm flying." Wayyy good idea. Air Asia, even though they really anger me with all their fees (specifically, their inescapable "payment" fee... you have to pay to pay), ended up costing something like 1,500 baht from Bangkok and another 180 baht to catch a van at the airport to Patong Beach.
Why didn't I do that last year? About 2 hours total travel time (including waiting in airports) versus 13 for only a few baht more... live and learn.
Anyway, my last trip to Phuket, I completely avoided the party scene that is Patong Beach in lieu of traveling around via motorbike to a significant part of Thailand's largest island. There is no denying it in my eyes: although it obviously has its problems with dirtiness and crowding in some places just as any other beach destination, Phuket is staggeringly beautiful on the whole.
This trip, though, because I was meeting my cousin, I opted for a more stay-put holiday.
Because I visited at the tail-end of the low season (high season starts around the first of November, at which point hotel and other prices often double), I got to witness a more laid-back version of Patong Beach and those surrounding-Karon, Kata, Rawai, Kamala, and Surin, to name a few.
If you can be brave, renting a motorbike (usually 300 baht/day in Patong, a bit cheaper elsewhere) is definitely the way to go. The "tuk tuk mafia" is still in full swing, and I heard them ripping off tourists left and right. If you don't currently live in Thailand, 600 baht to go 800 meters may seem a good deal, but not to me.
Riding around Phuket is quite lovely too, especially heading south along the beach roads towards Phromthem Cape, a quite touristy but lovely viewpoint. The roads are well-maintained, and there are plenty of scenic vistas for photo opportunities. To me, putt-putting around on a motorbike and just exploring is the best part of Phuket; there are so many little beaches and vistas to discover that it's hard to get bored.
Last year's trip, I stayed in a nice little barebones bungalow not far from Kata Beach for 400 baht/night, perfect for just me (or a pair of backpackers). Kata has plenty of restaurants and whatnot, and I prefer its beach to Patong as it's more laid-back, but this year I stayed with my cousin in a 16th floor two bedroom suite overlooking the entire Patong Bay. This was in one of only two or three high rises in Patong, something I really like in comparison to other beach towns in Thailand.
In low season, this beautiful pad complete with a balcony Jacuzzi was only 125 USD per night, something that doubles as of November. That's honestly not a bad price considering the location and view; I used to be a manager with Hilton in the States, and we had tiny rooms far more than that in the middle of nowhere with no view.
Vibe-wise, Patong is probably the closest to Pattaya you're going to get on the island, with the infamous Bangla Walking Street closing off each evening to bars, bars, and more bars. That said, with the exception of amusingly insistent "ping pong show misterrrr" salesmen, Patong is probably a tenth the party craziness overall of Pattaya.
Whereas Pattaya has nightlife throughout the entire area, it is largely confined to a few areas in Patong and indeed most of Phuket.
What surprised me most is the cleanliness of Patong Beach, at least compared to other closer-to-Bangkok destinations. I won't say it was a Caribbean postcard, but considering the volume of daily visitors, and owing a lot to the recent removal of the multitudes of beach for-hire chairs (unlike my brief Patong visit last year), it's quite a lovely place to hang out.
Keep in mind this is still the low season, but I didn't have to suffer nearly as many people trying to sell me things, nor were there an abundance of boats and jetskis as there are at other Thai beaches I've visited.
All good things must end, though, and before heading back to Bangkok I stopped a night in Nakhon Si Thammarat to visit my lovely lady's family. Nothing like a six-hour psycho van ride after a week in paradise... not forgetting that the tuk-tuk taxi just from Patong to the bus station cost 400 baht for 20 minutes versus 350 baht all the way to Nakhon...
Nakhon is a pretty little area, quite rural outside of the town itself. There is absolutely nothing to do for someone who has just come from Phuket, although there are some pretty waterfalls and mountains to visit in the area if you have the time, and the coast isn't too far away.
All in all, I am jealous of all of you expats living the high life in Phuket. If I could find a way to afford it, I would. You really have most things you can get in Bangkok: shopping malls, access to Western food/goods [actually sometimes better than Bangkok], etc.
There are beautiful beaches, marinas, rivers, mountains, temples, and wildlife galore to see and enjoy. I would say Phuket has a little bit of everything for people of all tastes. Sure, it has its pitfalls, and it may be a bit more expensive than Bangkok, but to me... Phuket is worth every penny.
I hope you enjoyed my blog. If you would like to get in touch or perhaps e-mail me with a question, I would love to hear from you - All the best, Sam Thompson.