Promthep Point - Phuket, Thailand
A well-known vacation spot for Europeans, Phuket is unfamiliar territory for Americans. And to this NorCal-bred girl it’s an island paradise . . . if you know where to stay.
The island is accessible via car through a bridge, though the easiest route to Phuket from Bangkok is through Don Muang airport (DMK). DMK is Bangkok’s old international airport and is comparable to San Diego’s airport in that it’s small and caters to mostly domestic flights. Flight time from DMK to Phuket is 1.5 hours at a cost of around $30USD (each way), with an option of going through several different carriers including Air Asia and Orient Thai.
Phuket airport is a bit of a drive from where most tourists stay, but many major hotels offer airport pickup. Thais that live on the island often speak a good bit of English as opposed to their counterparts in Bangkok. This makes taking a taxi easier. Phuket’s most popular beaches are all located on the west side of the island, with Patong Beach being the most popular.
To a traveller interested in culture, Patong is a desolate place. It has completely succumb to tourism and is comprised of seedy bars,nightclubs and other less-than-reputable establishments looking to lure young Australians, Russians, and Germans in search of cheap thrills. In a nutshell, Patong is a place for young people looking for a good time in an exotic country, on a beautiful beach. It is not a place to bring children (especially at night) and I don’t recommend staying here if you are in Phuket for sightseeing.
Patong, Karon and Kamala beaches
Patong may not be for everyone, but there are plenty of other beaches on the island. Karon and Kamala are quieter beaches located south of Patong. I consider them to be much more scenic, tranquil and suitable for families. For those still looking to experience Patong, there are shuttles that drive between most of Phuket’s beaches throughout the day and night. Additionally, you can rent a scooter and explore Patong (and the rest of the island) yourself for 300 baht/day ($10USD).Patong, Karon and Kamala are all relatively inexpensive for most foreigners. I would suggest shying away from the larger hotels and searching for an owner-operated establishment to find the best deal. The island is littered with European-run bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels. On the higher end of the spectrum, there is Laguna beach (no, not the one in Orange County). This is where the Kat Moss’ of the world stay when they vacation in Phuket. If you’re looking for a luxury beach vacation, Laguna is the place to be. It’s located closer to the airport than the other beaches, yet is more secluded and the beach itself gives Hawaii a run for its money.A lot of travellers discount beach locations as tourist traps void of culture. In the case of Phuket, I will admit that yes, a lot of it has gone to the tourists. Locals rely on them to keep their economy going but are not-so-secretly frustrated that the land once owned by their ancestors has been gobbled up by European investors.
I think though, that Phuket is a versatile place. I believe that you can indulge in a little R&R on a beautiful beach while still soaking in the Thai culture. Phuket is full of little nooks and crannies that you can explore by motorbike. Check out roadside stands selling mango and sticky rice – a local delicacy. Alternatively, venture to the east side of the island and explore the “locals” part of the island. Southern Thailand is culturally quite different from Bangkok and Phuket is a great place to observe this.
Nature lovers can try riding an Elaphant into the island’s tropical jungle or exploring the many islands scattered around Phuket. Many of these islands have their own mini-ecosystem with different plants and animals. Many of these islands offer the option to camp out (tents provided) for a small fee, providing you ample time to hike around. There are many commercial boat tours available and the guides tend to speak fluent English. Private boat hire on an authentic Thai longboat is also possible, though it will cost you a bit more.Phuket is what you make of it. I encourage people to not shy away from it because of its tourist-y repuation. Though well deserved, if you know where to look Phuket can turn into so much more.