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Phuket, Phi-Phi Island and Koh Samui

PHUKET -

If your idea of a perfect holiday is finding a beautiful white sandy beach lined with palm trees, crystal clear water to swim in and a cocktail or ice cold beer a moment away then Phuket is the place you are looking for. As an added bonus, there is a lot of nightlife too if you are looking for this.  

Phuket is a tropical island some 860 Kilometres (540 miles) south of Bangkok facing the Andaman Sea on one side and the mainland peninsula on the other. It is one of the most popular holiday islands for tourists to travel to from all over the world.

From Bangkok you can catch a bus from the Southern Bus Terminal to Phuket, about a 14 hour trip.

Many international flights fly directly into Phuket, while other flights come in from Bangkok and other Thai cities. The International Phuket Airport is at the northern end of the island, with transport readily available to take you to any point of the island. Airport Taxis have set charges to different destinations on the island – head to the Taxi Terminal Kiosk to see prices. There will also be some 'hustlers' trying to get you to hire them, but it is better to get a taxi. You can also hire cars too if you feel confident driving, and many of the bigger hotels have their own van shuttles to pick you up and drop you back to the Airport.

The island itself is just 50 kilometres (30 miles) long and about 21 kilometres across (15 miles), with mountains down the centre of the island and a string of bays, inlets, headlands and small peninsulas creating the coastline with numbers of beaches along it, and small off-shore islands dotted along its coastline too.

There is a myriad of Resort Hotels here on Phuket Island, most in and around Hat Patong (mostly just called Patong) on the west coast, though the main city on the island, Phuket City is on the east coast of the island, once the historic trading port of traders who came here to trade in teak, ceramics, tin, rubber and other goods.

When you head into the older parts of Phuket Town, you could be mistaken for thinking that you are in the old part of Penang or Malacca as here you will find old shop-houses, with a mix of Colonial style 2 storey bungalows and the shop houses. If you want to see this architecture, head to Thalong, Dibuk, Satum,Yaowarat and Krabi Roads, and ideally drop into the Blue Elephant Restaurant at 96 Krabi Road (Tel: +66 (0)76 354 355 where you might be able to sit out on the Terrace or inside the old mansion building.

Just as in Malaysia, Hokkien Chinese traders and tin miners came here in the late 1800's and early 1900's, a few making a fortune from tin mining and building a mansion to celebrate their success.  Tin mining, trading and rubber were at one time the biggest industries here in Phuket, but these days it is tourism, and catering for them with drinks, food, accommodation, entertainment and transport – and Phuket now has all of these in abundance.

While Phuket Town may be the main town on the island in population terms, Patong on the west coast is the centre of the tourist industry with a myriad of resort hotels, big and smaller hotels, bars, souvenir shops, street vendors, night markets, entertainment and Go-Go bars too. If you want to be in the busy centre of the action with lots of tourists then Patong is the place to be, and if you don't then find a beach that is further away from here.

The west coast facing the Andaman Sea is where most of the resorts are located along a string of beaches. They all have a long stretch of sandy beach and the sea in front, with a backdrop of Palm trees and shady trees behind the beach.

Almost all, and certainly the main beaches will have some umbrellas to hire in restricted areas and no doubt there will be beach sellers offering you Coca-Cola, Lemonade, fruit juices, coconut water, sarongs, T-Shirts, hats, massage  – but hopefully not all at once!

At one time, there were so many umbrellas and sun lounges that you could hardly find a clear section of the beach to put down a towel. The Army has put an end to that and also stopped the bars and restaurants encroaching on the beach sands, so the beach is now a beach and not covered with sun lounges, umbrellas and buildings.

The further away from the crowded parts of the beach, the less you will be bothered. Remember, they are just trying to make a living, so be polite.

As per above, the further away from Patong you are the quieter the beach will be, and with the beaches being reasonably long, you can always move further along the beach away from other people if this is what you want to do. Patong has Jet Skis for hire and the noise that comes with them. It also attracts a lot more 'hustlers' and 'loud mouth drunk tourists' too – maybe not the place for children and teenagers.

Remember thought that if you want to be in Patong to shop or see the night life, then staying a long way from Patong means spending time and money on transport to and from your hotel and Patong, and this can be annoying, particularly late at night.

Remember to bring and use sunscreen, wear a hat or shirt and have sunglasses for the glare, because it will be hot, but equally it is easy to get sunburn and that is not fun. An Aloe creme/lotion may soothe the burn, but it is better not to get sunburned in the first place. Even if you sit under shade at the beach, you will still feel the heat of the day, the UV Rays and get a sun tan.

The monsoon season is between May and October – so in the afternoons and sometimes all day there can be rain – and this also stirs up the waves and sand in the water. The wettest months are May and September, with the high season (most tourists here) being between December and February.  Prices for accommodation also are at the highest in these months, so if you want to get a big discount look to come in the low season when there are less crowds.

Many of the big name hotels are resorts with huge pools, spas, bars, restaurants, entertainment- all in-house, and many people will spend all of their time in the resort and just take a few excursions organised by the hotel.  There is a Club Med in Phuket at Hat Karon (south of Patong) and also many other Resort Hotels up and down the west coast, such as the Laguna Lakes Resort at Bang Tao.

Heading north from Patong – the closest beach north is Hat Surin, followed by Hat Pansea; next Bay Ao Bang Tao, then Hat Nai Yang and Hat Mai Khao in the far north where there is a Marriot Hotel and Holiday Inn.

Heading south from Patong – the closest beach is Hat Karon Noi; next Hat Karon; then Kata Yai and Kata Noi and then right at the southern tip of the island is Hat Nai Harn ( a beautiful beach), and near the eastern tip of the island is Hat Rawai. All of these beaches can be reached by the road that leads south along the coastline. Next to Rawai is Ao Chalong, where International Yachts often moor.

The best way to choose where to stay is to search on the Hotels section of this website – using the name of the beach as a guide to its location on the island, and the description of the hotel and facilities to see if it suits you.  It is also best to book your accommodation early to ensure that you get a room and a good price particularly if you are heading to Phuket in the high season.

No matter which beach you stay at there will be places to eat, drink and shop, with a more traditional local Thai experience to enjoy.

If however you want to be in the heart of the action, then stay in Patong itself, where you will be walking distance to both Patong beach and also the shops and nightlife and then you can easily venture north or south if you want to see or visit the other beaches or activities.

ENTERTAINMENT

In the day you will most likely spend you day around your hotel pool or on the beach, maybe shopping, having a massage, facial, spa or just a drink at a bar or reading a book, while you build up an appetite for lunch or dinner.

If you venture out you will find a number of water sports activities – either at the beach closest to you or nearby.  Depending on the season and weather conditions, there is wind surfing, swimming, diving, snorkelling, fishing (including big game deep sea fishing), kayaking, canoeing, rafting, wave boarding, kite surfing, banana boat rides and jet skis.

There are also adventure sports activities – Muay Thai Martial Arts (at Hat Rawai) – the biggest and most respected is Tiger Muay Thai at Chalong; Para Motoring on a para glider from Buffalo Airfield (Pa Khlok Airfield); Quad Bike rides in the jungle; Bungy Jumping; sea cave tours on a Sea Kayak; speedboat rides; Zorbing Roller Ball; Flying Hanuman Zipline through the tops of jungle trees; and just taking a Tuk-Tuk ride is also an adventure.

Nature activities – In Thai Village – you can see Elephants performing and learn about the life of the Elephants and Mahouts who control them, see orchids here too. The Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World also has a silk museum to see. There are also a number of waterfalls in Phuket – Kathu waterfall, Ton Sai and Bang Pae as well as forest parks, such as Khao Phra Taew Forest Park in the north east of the island where there is also a Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. Also near here just off the coast is the island of Ko Naga Noi where there is the Naga Pearl Farm. In the south east at Cape Panwa (near the Ferry dock/Phuket Deep Sea Port) there is the Phuket Aquarium too, (See www.phuketaquarium.org part of a Marine Research Centre. Sightseeing, beach walking, headland climbing, watching the tropical sun rise or fall are also activities that everyone can enjoy.

If you love Abalone – there is an Abalone Farm and Restaurant at 35/4 Moo 1, Theppratherm Road, Tambol Rassala, Muang about midway down the west coast of the island. See www.phuketabalone. Tel: 66 (0)76252 799.

The Phuket Zoowww.phuketzoo.com is located at 23/2 Soi Palai Chaofah Rd, Muang. Here there are orchids, elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, parrots in a great tropical garden setting.

Phangnga Bay National Marine Park – this is a MUST DO Boat Trip from Phuket. It is amazing to see. The Phangnga Bay Marine Park is located in a large bay off the mainland, north east of Phuket and here you will see around 40 massive limestone pinnacles of rock (Stacks) standing maybe 1000 feet (350 metres) high out of the water, with sheer rugged cliff sides and a cascade of green trees and plants hanging down off their sides. They are like the original hanging gardens of Babylon, weathered by the action of the sea below them and air around them, with caves, overhangs and odd shape formations. In Ha Long Bay in Vietnam there are also these same types of stacks to be seen.

Tours vary in the type of boat used to take you there but if you can, some tours will have kayaks on board their bigger boat so that you can kayak around the stacks. You might also be able to pass under one of the limestone bridges to see inside the caves. Tours will also most likely take you to James Bond Island (Ko Khao Island), where the movie 'The man with the Golden Gun' was filmed in 1974. There is also a small fishing village called Panyi – where the houses are built over the water in stilts.  

One of the fun (but noisy) ways to see Phangnga Bay is on a long-tail boat. Negotiate the price before you take this on with a boatman. The boats are fast and it can be a great day out.

Phi- Phi Don Island – is also another day trip from Phuket and many tourist travellers also stay here on the island too at one of the many resorts. There are a number of Resort Hotels here with big swimming pools, bars and restaurants. The island has the mountains, clear tropical water, sandy beaches and it is very much a place where if you just want to relax, swim or snorkel, lie on the beach or around a hotel pool, get a spa treatment, have a drink and have a late breakfast , brunch or lunch – then you a bound to have a good time.  

There are six islands in the Phi Phi Island group – but Phi Phi Don is the one with the resorts and activities. Phi Phi Ley Island is where the movie 'The Beach' was filmed starring Leonardo Decaprio.

As a day trip – it is about 1 ½ hours each way on a Ferry from Phuket, which means you will have a few hours on the island, maybe having lunch, a swim and looking around, but not much else. If you stay on the island, you will get a better feel for the island, and be able to go out snorkelling on the reefs, maybe go sailing or spot reef sharks and if you are lucky see a Leopard Shark, with its leopard skin spots. There are a number of reefs and also King Cruiser Wreck for diving, and PADI diving instructors and classes for beginners and dives for accredited PADI divers. There is also rock climbing at Tonsai Tower rocks (under instructors), and an ancient cave called Viking Cave on Phi Phi Ley Island where there are cave paintings.

If you have never been snorkelling or diving, then you are in for a good time, as you will see the underwater world of fish and corals. Remember though that your back is directly facing the sun, so it is easy to get sun burned too. Diving allows you to go to deeper water but you can have almost as much fun just snorkelling staying on the surface of the water.

One of the intriguing things to see too is where the Thais search for Birds Nest – that is used in Bird's Nest soup. This is made by small swallows (Swifts) building their nests high up in the limestone caves using their spit with the nests located in caves in some of the limestone cliff sides on the islands. If you see a whole bunch of these little swallows darting in, out and around a Cliffside, this is where they are making their nests, and using bamboo make-shift ladders, people climb up to get the prized bird's Nest, which they then sell to Chinese Restaurants.

The 'birds nest' is in such high demand in Hong Kong and China, that enterprising people have re-created the cave environment in the top floors of old disused warehouses  and even built structures especially for the birds in Malaysia and Thailand. They even have special 'bird call' songs and lighting to simulate the environment that the swallows like, with a kilo of Bird's Nest worth over US$ 2000.

Cultural Activities

  •  In Phuket Town centre you will find Wat Temples including Wat Mongkol Nimit Temple on Yaowarat Road, Chinese Bang Niew Temple on Phuket Road and Wat Chui Tui Temple on Ranong Road. Wat Phra Tong, near Thalang in the mid-north is where you will see a large gold Buddha half buried in the ground. There is also Wat Chalong in the south too.
  • There are a number of museums in Phuket including the Thalang National Museum that has ancient artefacts, and tells the story of the Battle of Thalang when the women dressed as men forced the Burmese invaders to leave in 1785. The Heroines Monument statue of the two sisters who instigated this movement is close to the Museum . There is also the Thai Hua Museum with the history of the Chinese here on Krabi Road in Phuket Town and a Seashell Museum at 12/2 2 Viset Road, Rawai, see shells and also buy pearls and there is the Tin Mining Museum at Moo 5, Khatu-Nakoh Rd Tambon Kathu, between Loch Palm Golf Course and the British International School. This is a great museum to see with dioramas of the tin mines and the story of the thousands of Chinese mine workers who worked here. It is also housed in an old colonial mansion, so worth seeing for that alone.
  • Phuket Fantasea – 99 Kamala Beach (between Patong and Surin) This is a big live production theatre show that has elephants, dancers and lots of action. They can also pick up and drop you back to your hotel after the show.  Many of the big hotels also have shows, live music and entertainment at night too.
  • Phuket Simon Cabaret - in Phuket has over 100 'ladyboy' dancers and great costumes, music, colour and choreography.
  • Phuket Siam Niramit – in Phuket Town (by-pass Road between Tesco-Lotus Supermarket and Airport Road Junction) has a huge nightly show too – again with lots of colour, music, lights, costumes and staging.
  • Soi Paradise and Soi Katoey – are streets in Patong with sex shows, bars and action.

Note: If in Phuket with a family, check to see where to or not to go with children.

Some people love Phuket where you can have a great party time meeting other tourist travellers from all over the world, who come here for sun, sex, bars, Thai food and entertainment in a hot tropical beach location. Patong is very much a tourist town and a lot of people have a great time here too, but equally people who want to find a quieter place on Phuket can find that too.

The best starting point in your planning is to select a location and hotel that offers what you are looking for. If you landed at Phuket International Airport, you could also head north on the mainland to beach locations along the Andaman Coast such as Thai Muang or Khao Lak, or head south on the mainland to Ao Nang, Krabi or Khlong Thom.

Many people return to Thailand year after year and as much as food is great, it is the Thai people that really make being here so enjoyable.

KOH SAMUI -

Koh Samui is an island located in the Gulf of Thailand, off the east coast of the Thai peninsula, whereas Phuket is on the west coast of the Peninsula.

To get to Koh Samui you can fly to the Koh Samui Airport on the island from either Bangkok or from Phuket, or you could go from Phuket or Bangkok to Surat Thani on the east coast of the Peninsula and then take a ferry to the island. From Phuket, it is roughly a 6 hour bus ride and an hour by ferry – so in most cases it is easier to fly.

The biggest beach and main tourist hub on Koh Samui is Chaweng Beach on the north east end of the island – and it is here that the 'party people' head to both for the 5 kilometre (3 mile) long beach and also the night life – with bars, clubs, shows, girls, music and dancing. There also lots of beachside hotels here, tourist shops, supermarkets, tour organisers and other activities in the day.

The island itself has mountains in the middle and a 50 kilometre long ring road that runs roughly around the coastline with a number of Resorts and also smaller hotels and places to stay located at other locations on the island.

As you will have seen in Patong in Phuket, Kuta in Bali and elsewhere a great beach initially attracts some surfers or backpackers staying in thatched roof houses, who spread the word that 'the place is great', and then as more people arrive, small huts become guest houses, then hotels and as the hotels get bigger, so too does the range of entertainment and activities. Chaweng has developed this way too and its popularity is based on both having the beach as well as the nightlife.

If nightlife and meeting lots of people is not so much your scene, the second biggest beach just south of Chaweng is Lamai and it has less nightlife, but equally a great long beach with the palm trees, coconuts and a mix of restaurants, bigger and smaller hotels to stay in.

If you check on the Hotels section of this website, you will see hotels in Lamai and also Chaweng. Also look for Maenam Beach, Bangrak, Ko Faan (Big Buddha) Beach and Bophut – Fisherman's Village. These are all smaller beaches, but equally beautiful and are also quieter too.

There is also another island, north of Koh Samui called Ko Pha Ngan where the main developed part is at Hat Rin where there is a string of small bungalows right next to the beach. It is easy enough to get here from Koh Samui by boat and about a 10 kilometre road journey. There are also more islands north of here in the Anthong National Marine Park.

I hope you have a great time wherever you stay in Phuket, Phi Phi Island or Koh Samui. As with most holidays and travel it is often the people you meet travelling and the hospitality you experience in the places you stay that make the difference between a good holiday and a great one.

Happy Holidays

Happy travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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