Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Thailand: avoiding the seedy side of Phuket


Phuket is one of those destinations in Thailand we were a little apprehensive about visiting.
It has a reputation for being on the seedy side with massage parlours and boozing Brits aplenty (hello Bangla Road) which really isn't our bag. But not ones to be put off by hearsay, we decided to head north from Krabi to Phuket and see if it was all that bad. And yes, there were some pretty naff parts but like with anywhere - you make it what you want it to be. In Ko Phi Phi we didn't fancy the intense party scene, but still enjoyed our time on the island, and the same goes for Phuket.

Getting here from Krabi was so easy; we booked a van transfer for 350 baht each (around £7 in March 2016) from a street-side travel agent and the journey took around three hours. Remember to haggle to get a good price - never settle on the first price they give you! Once we arrived in Phuket Town we hunted around for a songthaew - a local taxi-cum-bus - which took us to Surin Beach about 45 minutes away costing 40 baht each... 80p! A note on songthaews; they charge 40 baht per person for most journeys, but being Westerners we were always quoted more. Once we said we would pay 40 baht each the driver agreed without much fuss. Remember, haggling is a part of Thai culture and being white/Western we were always quoted inflated figures for transport, shopping, food etc. Don't be afraid to bargain and as long as you do it with a smile (it is the Land Of Smiles after all) we found most relented pretty quickly! 

Where we stayed

Surin Beach - one of the nicest beaches in Phuket and with more of an up-market feel to it, Surin is less busy than Patong but still has plenty going on. We ate freshly barbecued fish on the beach each night - blissful. We stayed at AM Surin Place for around £30 a night.
Patong - much busier and very touristy, but an experience! We stayed at Patong Mansion for around £30 a night which had a great little rooftop pool and super friendly staff. We then spent another two nights at Palmview Resort - a little bit out of the heart of Patong, but still within easy reach of restaurants and bars. 
Note - getting between Surin Beach and Patong is surprisingly expensive! Well, relatively. We got a taxi between the two which cost 500 baht (around £10 in March 2016) - compared with how much we paid for songthaews and the van trip from Krabi this was extortionate. We couldn't find an alternative way of getting there so just went with it. According to various people we asked about this its because there are too many taxi drivers (you'll see them just lying around in the shade napping most days) and not enough people needing them, so they have to charge a larger sum to earn enough.

What we did

Hire a bike - as ever, we started by hiring a motorbike/scooter to explore the area and surrounding scene. We paid 250 baht (around £5 in March 2016) for the daily hire, plus petrol on top. There are some great things to see within driving distance - start by heading to the south of the island via a couple of viewpoints (windmill viewpoint is something special) en route for amazing ocean views. You can see the winding roads from my pictures; they are a dream to explore! We stopped for a seafood lunch at the very southern tip before heading to Big Buddha. Ladies you'll need to cover your knees and shoulders, but I was able to borrow a wrap to cover up with on arrival for a small donation. Big Buddha was partly under construction when we visited which apparently has been the case for around three years! They rely on visitor donations to finish the build, apparently. Be sure to enter inside the Buddha to see monks chanting and have the opportunity to have a go yourself. Interestingly there are strings strung in a grid from the ceiling, and those meditating tie the string around their heads. A bit of research tells me these are called sai sin - cotton thread which is meant to provide protection and health to those wearing it and in this case connect the congregation to each other, the monks and the Buddha. Really fascinating to see in person.

Go on a boat trip - we chose a fishing trip... Rich's choice! Again, be sure to haggle these trips down. This was our first proper excursion in Thailand and rather foolishly we paid the advertised price... only to find out everyone else on the trip paid half of what we did. Doh. It's a great opportunity to get off the hectic Phuket streets and see the beautiful blue sea. We met some lovely people and had a load of fun catching grouper, red snapper, tuna, barracuda and even a squid! For lunch one of the skippers cooked up a few of the fresh tuna which we ate with rice, chicken and veggies. So delicious. It was the perfect day; Rich did his thing and I mostly read by book on the top deck in blissful tranquillity.

Visit Bangla Road - just for the lolz. It is exactly what you'd expect when people say 'seedy Thailand'. Lady boys, sex shows, buckets of booze, British lads pole dancing after one way too many voddies. We sat in an Irish Bar (yup, we were those people) alongside a bunch of middle-aged women howling along to 70s hits, and watched the world go by. We saw it all. Expect to hear massaaaaaage? yelled at you as you pass each massage parlour on your way home - Rich was even lucky enough to get his bum pinched at one point.

Where we ate

No 9 2nd restaurant - this was recommended on TripAdvisor and we found ourselves visiting three times! This is really unlike us - we usually like to try as many different restaurants as possible, but this place was just so great we couldn't not go back. I also found myself going against my number one restaurant rule; don't eat somewhere which serves five different cuisines in one place. We ate Thai food, the next time we ate steak, and then finally sushi. And each time it was so good. It gets busy, so be sure to get here early or be prepared to wait for a table.

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