Phuket, Thailand

Where: Phuket and Phang Nga Bay, off the west coast of Thailand.

When: March 2009.

Why: I visited Phuket as part of my 30th birthday adventure where I travelled from Bangkok to Singapore. Also on this journey, I visited Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi and the Bridge over the River Kwai, Koh Samui, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Ao Nang (Krabi) in Thailand; and Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in Malaysia.

I only had one afternoon, two nights and one full day in Phuket, before I caught the ferry to Koh Phi Phi. 

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Map

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Intro

I had a day and a half on Phuket. The day I had there was one of the most fun days of my life.

I can’t really tell you much about Phuket as all I saw was the small part of Phuket town around my hostel and the Bay of Islands (Phang Nga Bay). I have heard horror stories about rampant over development and some seedier resorts on the island, but I didn’t spend any time in the resorts and so I didn’t see that side of things. All I saw was a very pretty, Thai island.

I stayed in Phuket town, which to be honest, I found to be a bit run down, a bit boring and not that great. Phuket town is an old colonial town. I thought it was going to be a gentrified town of colonnaded, colourful houses, romantic small bars and restaurants etc. There was a market, one or two nice historical buildings and a few bars and restaurants, but mostly the city seemed to be quite run down and in need of a little care and attention. The streets were clogged with cars, it was dirty and there wasn’t much life there. I thought Phuket town would be the official centre of the island, but instead it just seemed to be a transit place which people passed through, but no one stopped at.

My hostel in Phuket was great though and had a really good crowd, so I am glad I stayed in Phuket town for that reason. 

In contrast, Phang Nga Bay is one of the most amazing places on the planet and I had one of the best days of my life here. This is where they grow islands and this is where I went on a wonderful, pirate style, sea adventure.

There didn’t seem to be a huge amount ‘to do’ on Phuket. Like Koh Samui, Phuket just seems like a great place to relax, take a holiday and have some fun. There’s lots of gorgeous beaches to relax on, clear water to dive into and loads of bars and restaurants to drink a cocktail or two in.

For me, Phuket was a transit point and though I had a good time there, it’s not somewhere I’m rushing to get back to. Again, like Koh Samui, Phuket island was one of the least Thai places I went to and I found much more beautiful places elsewhere. However, in comparison, Phang Nga Bay was one of the most unique and gorgeous places that I have been on the planet, and I still find it hard to believe that it was real.

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Getting there and getting around

I travelled to Phuket by bus from Koh Samui, right across the Thai peninsular. Getting the ticket was easy: I just wandered into a travel agent in Lamai and they booked it for me. It cost about 800bht (£16).

A mini-bus collected me from my hotel and took me to my bus, the bus then took me onto the ferry and over to Surat Thani, on the mainland, where I boarded another bus for the four hour journey to Phuket Town. The journey was interesting in that we passed mountains and jungle and limestone pinnacles, but to be honest, it was also a bit boring. Take a good book.

I’ve just been doing research on this to see if I can find a one-stop-shop webpage with the coach information on it, but unfortunately I’ve had no luck. I’ve also not been able to find anywhere where you can book Thailand coach tickets online (or at least non-Bangkok coach tickets). If you’re in Koh Samui then there will be lots of travel agents and hotels where you can book coach tickets. It looks like a number of companies travel this route, they all seem to offer the same package and prices range from 650 to 950bht.

I could have flown and it would have been much quicker, but it was really interesting to see more of Thailand.Bangkok Airways and Silk Air fly direct from Koh Samui to Phuket and the flight time is about 1 hour. You can find out more about Phuket airport at their website: www.phuketairportonline.com.

My bus dropped me off at the bus station in Phuket town, which was just off Phang Nga Road. From what I understand, a new bus terminal opened in 2012, and this is further out of town. According to Wikitravel this is known as bus station 2. This is apparently where all the long-distance buses terminate. Phuket.com has a good magazine article about the new bus station which includes bus destinations, travel times and prices.

My bus station (bus station 1) is now predominantly for local buses. I walked from the bus station to my hostel and this took me about half an hour.

After Phuket I travelled to Koh Phi Phi (aka The Beach). To find out how I got there, visit the Koh Phi Phi page. 

Getting about

All the journeys that I made were organised through travel agents, who arranged hotel pick ups for me, so I didn’t experience local public transport myself. However, I’ve done some research for you and it seems that for public transport on Phuket, there are buses, taxis and tuk tuks.

There are two types of buses: the blue, open-air song taew buses and the small local Phuket town buses. The song taew buses sound like dolmus buses in Turkey, in that you can stop them at any point of the route and just jump on. Apparently the buses travel between Phuket town and the resorts, run from 7a.m. to 6p.m., and cost about 15 to 20bht per journey. The destination should be written on the front of the bus in English.

There is an airport bus, which departs from Phuket town’s bus station 1, which is just off Phang Nga Road. A ticket to/from the airport cost 90bht (Dec 2013). For more info and timetables, visit www.airportbusphuket.com.

For tuk tuks and taxis, agree a price before you get in or you could find yourself paying silly prices.

I found a lot of useful information on the Getting Around page of Phuket.com.

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What I did on my holiday

Phang Nga Bay (Bay of Islands) Tour

I spent a day sailing around Phang Nga Bay, playing pirates, on a ship manned by transvestites; sailing in and out of tropical caves in a bright pink canoe; exploring islands; wading through caves and spotting monkeys. It was possibly the best day of my life.

I started off the Phang Nga Tour with a hangover – due to drinking far too much Chang Beer with a Christian Bale look-alike the night before. Whilst hungover, I was picked up at an obscenely early hour and driven to Ao Por port to join the Phang Nga Bay tour boat. At the tour office I was paired up with the most amazing German girl who laughed in the face of my hang over and who became my best friend for the day.

We boarded a lovely, big boat at Por Port, which sailed us out into Phang Nga Bay. This is where they grow tropical islands.

There is nothing like sitting with your feet over the side of a boat, feeling the occasional cooling spray of sea water, as the sun beats down on your back. We played the cloud game, but with islands, and relaxed in the sun, drinking Sprite and eating fresh watermelon.

The first stop for the boat was at James Bond Island. Here, long boats came to taxi us across to the beach. We were left alone to explore and we all went to get the obligatory photo of ourselves in front of the limestone stack that is from the James Bond film, The Man with Some Gun thing who never Dies.

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Also on the island there was a huge cave, loads of market stalls selling sea shells and trinkets and you could wander up some trails for views over the islands.

Apart from this, there was not a lot to do on the island, so after our 30 minutes, everyone was itching to get back onto the boat to carry on exploring.

Next we headed out into the bay and went to Hong Island. Here the boat anchored and the pink canoes were unloaded from the back of the boat. The German girl and I lay in the inflatable, pink canoe, our feet dangling over the side, as we were chauffeured into and out of limestone caves by our brilliant Thai guide. Being in the canoe, gently being ferried about, was so relaxing. All we could hear was the gentle lapping of water, and the soft echoes from the people on the other boats. The sun sparkled on the aquamarine sea, whilst we bobbed about through watery caves. We lay with our legs in the water, occasionally having a water fight, gently floating over the calm sea, exploring natural wonders in the sunshine. It was so peaceful, and so pretty, and everyone from the group was laughing and joking together.

After this we sailed to Panak Island. The canoes ferried us over to the entrance of a huge cave with a river running through it. As the tide was low, the canoes couldn’t get through the cave, so everyone walked through. It was a bit scary as it was a very long cave, we only had one torch and the water got as high as my waist – so everyone held hands to lead each other through in a long chain. I have no idea who was guiding me or who I was guiding – but it was quite exciting. (By the way, in Thailand it’s best to just not think about the Health and Safety – just go with it. Relax. Be Buddhist. Trust serendipity and trust that you’ll be OK).

We emerged into the light, to the centre of the island, where there was a beach completely enclosed by limestone cliffs. It was a truly, tropical, hidden paradise where pirates must have lived and buried their treasure. And here there be monkeys!

After this, the boat sailed us on to a hidden beach further around the island. Myself and the German girl decided to swim to the beach and our lovely canoeist took our shoes, sarongs and cameras and followed us in case we got tired. On the beach, we lay in the surf on the white sand, moaning about how hard we were working that day and how we needed to relax more. German girl went off sea shell hunting and when I’d had enough of lying in the sun, we went to pick her up in the canoe before heading back to the boat.

On the way back to the harbour I fell asleep (and got quite badly sun burnt). I woke at one point, thinking I was hallucinating as all the male crew had dressed up as lady boys and were dancing around the boat. But I put it down to too much sun and then fell asleep again.

The day ended back at Por Pier with a free DVD of the tour and a mini-bus back to the hostel. Brilliant, brilliant day out and possibly the best tour ever!

I did the tour with a company called Amazing Canoeing, but many groups and boats do similar tours.

Pootled around Phuket Town

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In Phuket Town I went to the market to look at interesting foods (they had durian fruit), and I pottered around the shops. I bought a new suitcase here and went to the bank and ate some nice pastries. And unfortunately, that’s all I can really tell you about the town as I only saw the few streets that were around my hotel.

Phuket Town is not really a tourist place; it’s a place where people live, work and shop. Phuket town is where practical things happen or somewhere that people transit through. I did really like my hostel though and I think it was a great, friendly place to stay.

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What I didn’t do on my holiday

Phuket is a place for relaxing on the beautiful beaches in the daytime and then partying all night long. You can also mess about on and in the water, with lots of water-sports and good scuba diving available.

There’s not a huge amount to ‘do’ per-se, but you can visit Phuket Town for a day trip or there is a new big Buddha in the south of the island. There are also one or two temples which you can visit. You could also go on a day trip to Koh Phi Phi to see The Beach, if you don’t have time to stop there. You can either catch a normal ferry or take a speedboat there.

Finally, Phuket is a good place to experience Thai culture and you can do activities to learn more about Thai culture, such as cooking classes, elephant tours, Thai massage, eating, or you could see one of the Thai dance shows.

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Where I stayed

Phuket Backpacker

Wonderful hostel in the centre of Phuket town. Very friendly staff, comfy beds, cool showers and a lovely common room and garden area. There’s a comfy lounge with an extensive collection of books and DVDs. Free internet too.

The bedrooms were big and open and clean. We had air con in ours and we got free lockers too.

The staff were really helpful: they booked my Bay of Islands Tour and the ferry to Koh Phi Phi for me. They also helped me to book accommodation on Koh Phi Phi, by talking to the hotel for me (that rhymes).

The best thing about Phuket Backpackers was the wonderful crowd of people staying there – everyone seemed to moving on to somewhere exciting and I had two great nights drinking Chang Beer in the garden with an interesting, warm mix of people from all over the world. If you are travelling on your own, this is a great place to meet people.

A mixed dorm with air con was £6 per night.

www.phuketbackpacker.com

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Useful links

www.phuket.com

www.gotophuket.com

www.lonelyplanet.com/thailand/phuket-province

www.roughguides.com/phuket

wikitravel.org/en/Phuket

Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.

If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.

All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.

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