We spent a week in Phuket in June 2014 after our honeymoon sadly ended. On the whole, we did not like Phuket, but that might have a little (or a lot) to do with our circumstance of coming off the honeymoon high. In spite of our overall bad experience, there were certain aspects of that week we did enjoy. Keep reading for tips, reviews, and activity recommendations for how you could spend a week in Phuket.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Kata Tranquil Villa (A) in Karon Beach, Phuket. The room was clean save a minor ant issue, it was quiet, there was a balcony, and the hotel had a nice pool around back. The woman at the front desk was also very friendly and helpful despite her limited English.
We booked the hotel on Agoda.com, the best place to search for cheap hotels in Southeast Asia. Hostelworld is still a good option if you’re a solo traveler looking for a bunk bed, but for a couple wanting their own room, Agoda or Airbnb, which is generally my favorite site to find accommodation, are the best places to go.
Where to Eat
We found two great restaurants during that week: Pad Thai Shop (B) and Greensomething (C). Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact name of that second one, but it’s in this building.
At Pad Thai Shop, get pad thai (duh). To this day, it might be the best pad thai we’ve had in Thailand. It’s 50 baht ($1.50) which makes it taste even better. It’s a pretty popular place — check out some of the chatter about them.
Greensomething was slightly more pricy than 50 baht, but still very reasonable. Their pad see ew and masaman curry were awesome.
What to Do
Obviously, one of the main reasons (if not thee main reason) people go to Phuket is for the beach. Unfortunately, we were supremely let down by Karon Beach (D). It was filled with old men in speedos, trash, and debris. The debris might have been a result of the time of year we were there (i.e. monsoon season), but the trash seems inexcusable. I can reach no other conclusion other than a simple lack of importance on keeping their beaches clean.
The cloudy weather no doubt added to the overwhelming feeling of being underwhelmed. That’s, again, most likely a result of the time of year we were there, but even if the weather had been nicer, I’m not sure the beach would have been all that inviting.
It’s probably important to add here, as you might be starting to think I’m a bit of a beach snob, that yes, I am. Take what I say about Phuket, and especially the beaches, with a grain of salt because, as I said in my post How Hawaii Ruined Me, being from Hawaii has made it very difficult for me to appreciate beautiful nature, beaches in particular.
Rent a Motorbike
We spent an entire day driving around the southern portion of Phuket on a motorbike we rented from Kata Tranquil Villa. I believe they charged 230 baht ($7 USD) for the daily rental. This day was by far the most fun we had the entire time in Phuket.
Departing Kata Tranquil Villa, we headed south towards Promthep Cape (I). We actually missed the turn off in the morning, but made sure to stop there in the late afternoon on our way back to the hotel. The views were incredible — we’re really glad we stopped.
Our first stop after leaving the hotel turned out to be Rawai Beach (E).
After enjoying the shade and scenery for 30 minutes or so, we hit the road again with our sights set on Big Buddha (F). This massive white statue of Buddha sits atop the mountain in southern Phuket and can be seen from almost anywhere in the general area.
There is also a wat (temple) at the Big Buddha where we received a blessing from a monk. We also took in some amazing 360º views of Phuket below such as this one:
After about an hour at Big Buddha, we headed back down the mountain, stopping for lunch at one of the restaurants on the side of the road on the way down. The reason we chose the restaurant we did was so we could eat lunch next to this little guy:
After petting the elephant a bit, we finished the trip down the mountain and went slightly more north on the main highway to Wat Chalong (G). It’s not just one wat, but a whole complex with multiple wats. While we were there, we saw a parade circling one of the wats that we later learned was a ceremony for a man who was becoming a monk.
Here are a couple more pictures from Wat Chalong:
When we left Wat Chalong, the plan was to just head back to the hotel, driving on the same route around the southern tip of Phuket. Except we got lost. We made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at Yanui Beach (H). Note: Seeing as how we were lost and I did not know where we were, the pinpoint of (H) in the map above is my best guess.
Funny how these things work, but getting lost and stumbling upon Yanui Beach was the best part of our day. Even a beach snob like me can admit that this beach was beautiful. It’s a tiny little bay with nice, clean, white sand and was very uncrowded. It was such an unexpected surprise and the water felt so refreshing after a long day in the hot sun.
We swam and laid out on the beach for an hour or so before getting back on the road where we quickly saw signs pointing us in the right direction. We made the stop at Promthep Cape and got back to our hotel just as the sun went down. Our butts were in so much pain from being on the bike all day, but it was well worth it.
If you’re nervous about getting on a motorbike in Thailand, make sure to read How to Rent a Motorbike in Thailand and Not Die… (which was the second post ever to appear on Roses on the Road!).
Tour the Phi Phi Islands
For another day trip, we booked a tour of the Phi Phi Islands through the Kata Tranquil Villa’s front desk. There are multiple tour companies that offer different boats (sizes, speed, luxuriousness) and different itineraries, but our hotel just had a brochure for one company so we went with them.
For 1,100 baht ($34 USD) a person, our tour included transportation to and from your hotel and the docks (J), a tour of the Phi Phi Islands (K), Monkey Island, and Maya Bay, and a buffet lunch.
The tour honestly wasn’t that great.
- The conditions were far from ideal: it was cloudy and the sea was rough.
- Because of the rough seas, our tour guides cancelled the Maya Bay section because they said it was too dangerous getting into the bay with the conditions the way they were. I’m glad they prioritized safety, but it still sucks we didn’t get to see where one of my favorite movies, The Beach, was filmed.
- The choppy waters also made the ride pretty uncomfortable with the constant bouncing up and down on hard plastic seats.
- There were two tour guides on the boat: an English speaking one and a Russian speaking one. The Russian guide was way more talkative than our English-speaking Thai guide. We would have liked getting as much information as the Russian tourists. I feel like we missed out on a lot of cool information that might have made the trip more fulfilling.
- Probably the biggest disappointment was simply with the destinations themselves. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed.
- Seeing monkeys on Monkey Island was awesome, no doubt about that, but we weren’t allowed off the boat like I thought we would be (again, safety reasons). The boat just idled off this cliff where a bunch of monkeys were hanging out and everyone was throwing bananas at them.
- The scenic mountains surrounding the bay that we stopped at in lieu of Maya Bay were really cool, but the water was murky and there were a million other boats there filling the air with exhaust fumes.
- The Phi Phi Islands, at least the small section we were dropped off at, didn’t even have beaches. It was just a town. We had our included lunch there and then just walked around the streets. It was fine, but definitely not what I was expecting.
In spite of all that, I’m still glad we did it, if only because I would have regretted never going to the Phi Phi Islands. It’s one of the biggest things anyone, myself included, thinks about when they’re planning a Southern Thailand/Phuket trip. It was just unfortunate that one of the activities I thought about the most, and was most looking forward to, didn’t live up to expectations.
I still think if we had done this not during monsoon season, I would have enjoyed it much more. Even if the destinations themselves still underwhelmed a bit, simply having smooth waters and sun to bask in would have made it a completely different trip.
Final Notes about Phuket (mainly reasons we did not like it)
- It was really smelly. This is also a general Thailand thing that visitors will just have to get used to as trash is often left out on the street to rot, but living in Chiang Mai and traveling to other places in Thailand has given us the perspective that allows us to say Phuket was especially smelly.
- There were hardly any sidewalks. Again, this is also a general Thailand thing, but Phuket is much worse for walking than Chiang Mai. It makes it harder and scarier getting around a new place when you’re having to walk in the same street with cars who don’t always obey lane lines or stop lights.
- The day we rented the motorbike, we had to fill it up with gas. This was the first time we had ever been to a gas station in Thailand so we didn’t know how the system worked. We deduced that all the pumps were full-service, meaning an employee fills up your tank for you. So this kid fills up our tank, the meter says 130 baht but he says, “150 baht.” I don’t know any better, thinking that maybe these pumps don’t have to be full-service and maybe there’s a standard upcharge for not pumping your own gas. I was reluctant and suspicious, sure, but what was I going to do? So we paid the kid 150. We confirmed weeks later through a friend in Chiang Mai that we did, in fact, get ripped off. We were just some gullible farang to take advantage of that day. There are few things that rub me the wrong way like being taken advantage of because of the way I look.
Although on the whole we did not love Phuket, we still had some really great experiences. Hopefully you’re able to take some ides out of this for your trip to Phuket!
Any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!