As the home to our timeshare, Phuket has become a place we travel to more than usual. That is we’ve been here 3 times in a space of nearly 10 years. Perhaps that may not seem much to you, but for Mel and Suan it is unusual to return to the same place with some very notable exceptions.
So how do you enjoy Phuket?
Because we are such ‘veterans’, we will share with you what we did and what we suggest that you might well consider. So, this essay departs from our usual writing style slightly as we attempt to play guide book. Ready?
Avoid Patong, it’s tourist trap!
This will probably get us a marked for ‘termination’ from anyone connected with tourism or related business in this town. But we stand by what we say. When we first visited Phuket in 2007, we took a taxi from our resort to Patong. And it was not cheap. Costing 550 baht for a one-way trip, we spent just 2 hours and decided to return to our resort.
Aside from tour agents, money changers and restaurants, the strip that is the beach is not very much appealing. Did we change our names to “hey taxi”? Because that’s all you hear as you walk along the street! Sure, you may have this experience elsewhere too (and not just Thailand), but it was brought to new heights for us. So that was a REAL turnoff.
Perhaps we are puritans who do not enjoy the loud and glitzy bars anymore. Or worse, all manner of strip clubs and shows that degrade women (or was it the women degrading themselves, hopefully not forced). Our beliefs were partly vindicated in that even this was written, we had looked up some the latest blog posts about Patong. Enough said.
Getting to know the land
In our 2012 journey, we signed up for a half day excursion. Probably overpaid for it, as it cost us 2,550 baht per person! It was to be an introduction to local culture followed by an elephant ride in the forest. A sunset buffet was part of the deal, though limited to two alcoholic beverage per person. Aside from getting into the sea (read here), this was probably a more meaningful activity for us than bar hopping.
We started with a demonstration of local cooking culture. You might recall reading about our cooking school activity in Chiang Mai (here), but this was nothing like it! A lady demonstrated how the hard outer shell of the coconut is removed in order to obtain the flesh.
To obtain oil from the coconut, it takes 6 hours of boiling the grated flesh! As you will imagine, coconut is very much an important ingredient along with spices that are blended into curries the Thai is famed for.
Next, we walked over to a rubber plantation. Ah yes, Rubber. Originally from Brazil, it was smuggled into this part of the world in the 19th century.
Today Thailand is said to be the largest producer of natural rubber. there was tapping of the rubber tree and how the latex is semi-processed into sheets of rubber. I did not know the tree can be tapped for up to 40 years! Funny thing was, they recycled the coconut husk as a holder to collect the latex!
Why is everyone obsessed with elephants?
You probably should know that elephants are not just a revered animal in Thai culture, but that it is also a work animal. In the past, these otherwise gentle creatures would be working in the forests hauling timber. However as the industry started using advance machinery these elephants became jobless.
Like the horse, suddenly the role of the elephant was relegated to that of a show animal.
And show it was.
Two baby elephants painted for us and also played the harmonica. Imagine that! We’ve bought a basket of fruits to feed the two babies and they reciprocated with playful poses for us in our photos!
But no sooner as we got cozy with the babies were we whisked off to the elephant trek passing the Mahouts’ attap house along the way. There are 18 elephants in this safari park and there was a heavy downpour before we got on the elephants. Fortunately the rains stopped and the skies cleared. Phew!
The 30 minute trek into the hills took us to beautiful spots where we can see the entire Chamlong bay. You can take wonderful views of the bay from the top of the elephants.
After the rain, the muddy track also became a challenge even to our elephants as they heaved about the slippery slopes. So it was not all that smooth a ride as the giant beasts amber back down.
Finally we managed to get back to the base of the hill where we had a cup of coffee and tea before the guides show us how the water buffalo is harnessed for toil in the fields. We also got a chance to sit on the bullock cart before we saw how rice is unhusked in the traditional way. Yeah, city slickers alright…
With the day coming to a close, we drove down to Chamlong pier where we boarded a wooden “junk” boat for a short cruise within the bay area. A simple buffet dinner was served and we each had 2 glasses of drinks. Alas, it had to end and was time to return to our resort. To be honest the whole thing cost us a shade more than S$100 per person. So, it was definitely overpriced. But we felt good about contributing to the elephant cause, and we hope that enough of what we paid actually goes into taking care of these innocent gentle giants.
Not your cabaret show!
When you are in Phuket, one of the shows that is at least worth considering is Fanta-Sea.
It is located on a large area (~140 acres) with restaurants (including the one we had our buffet dinner) and a carnival shopping and games street. If you do not want to do buffet, you can eat at any of the snack or fast food outlets. Before you get into the theatre, you can play some good old fashion games including good ole throwing a ball at targets to win a prize! Do take photos with the ladies in traditional Thai dress before you get into the park too!
We got in the park around 7:30pm and got into the park after exchanging our receipts for the tickets. We took a walk all through the park and the shops, though we could not bring ourselves to buy anything.
Dinner was at a 4,000 seat capacity area with murals of Buddhist deities and angels. The buffet itself is separated between a normal one and a seafood one. We took the normal buffet. At 8:30pm, we started filing into the theatre to be seated. Take note that there will be confusion over storing up your cameras at the cabinets, so be patient!
As with shows, you are not allowed to bring in recording devices into the 3,000 seat theatre. The show itself is reasonable, but it is worth the visit to enjoy the experience. When you are done with the show, adjourn to the theatre facade, which is illuminated with different colors throughout the night, which provides really good photos. All of this cost 2,450 bath/pp including transfers. If you like it, go look it up so no links here…
So how would we recommend spending a week on this island?
- Spend 3-4 days at your resort pool to fully chill out and disconnect.
- Take a day to see the islands and immerse into the water. Get to know the fishes!
- See a show in the evening – Fanta Sea, not the ones in Patong. Certainly not ping-pong shows!
- A half day to experience island culture, elephants and all would be sufficient. Some people play with the ATV too, and that’s ok.
- Where possible, get to Phuket town and back on a complimentary basis from your resort. Walk the told Chinatown and perhaps get to Rang Hill. Otherwise, charter a Tuk² for the day. If you drive (read all about it), all the better.
Journeys made in February 2007 / October 2012, 2013 and 2016
PS: did you wonder why we always went in October? That’s because its Suan’s birthday month!