If you’ve peeped my Instagram lately you will know I’ve recently returned from Thailand. Rather than upload photos to Facebook I thought it would be more informative if I collaborated all my images and give you an in depth explanation of our experience.
As a Phuket amateurs we had a certain picture painted in our minds of what this country could in tale. I am chuffed to say that everything you’ve heard about Thailand is true. The good, the bad, the sad and the absolutely beautiful.
We traveled to Phuket, the tourist capital of Thailand. The ‘Thailand experience’ begins the second you step off the plane. We landed at 9pm and we were hit with a smoldering, thick heat. For us, who come from New Zealand where the heat even in summer can be quite docile, it took sometime to adjust to being in a constant state of sweat.
The taxi ride to our hotel consisted of four near death experiences. People drive like their auditioning for the next Fast and the Furious installment .Our driver drove twice the speed limit, while he calmly avoided colliding with tuk tuks, pedestrians and scooters with a family of five all piled on. At one point we drove past a man driving a scooter with his wife breastfeeding a baby on the back. It was insane and for the first 5 minutes I kept thinking about all the road rules they would have broken back home. After about 20 minutes into the drive I soon began to realize that this was the way of Thailand. To the western eye it seemed chaotic and hectic but the the Thai it all worked in perfect harmony that resulted in zero road rage. I mean ZERO. A lesson we could learn in New Zealand.
We stayed in Patong Beach which was saturated in tourists. Many people have mixed opinions about this place but I personally loved it . If you prefer nicely manicured streets with decorative trees lining the pavements, I suggest you holiday elsewhere. These streets are unkempt, somewhat dirty and cluttered with cheap market stalls. It sounds very unappealing however I found that to be the charm of Thailand. It gives you a different experience to what your used to and offers you an opportunity explore a lifestyle you maybe less accustom to.
So let me offer you some travel hacks and detail how we spent 9 days in Phuket, Thailand.
The first thing I noticed about the Thai people was that you are never far from a smile. They have the ability to smile for absolutely no reason and to begin with, this was slightly perplexing but after awhile it becomes contagious. It’s rare to come across people who are so genuinely stress free and polite. Whether we were conversing with market stall owners, waiters or taxi drivers they all seemed to posses this friendly, laid back quality that was refreshing to be on the receiving end of.
Shopping: During the day the streets are hustling with market stalls in what I would describe as counterfeit heaven. Every top brand you can think of replicated and available at one fifth of the retail price. Nike Roches, Birkenstock sandals, Michael Kors handbags right down to MAC and Bobbi Brown make up brushes. Of course some products are not up to usual standard but for the price you pay it’s usually good enough.
Aside from these Phuket was great at selling unique trinkets, handmade bags, jewelry, and souvenirs.
If your planning to do some market shopping just know that there are stalls everywhere. Most stalls sell practically the same things, so if your shopping for something particular be sure to have a look around. You’ll find some stalls will sell the same handbag but of course one will sell it cheaper than the other.
When browsing the Markets it is almost expected of you to negotiate the price. Bartering is an excellent skill that will get you the best value for your buck. If your interested in a pair of shoes just ask them the price, most will type this out on a calculator. You can usually counter offer by halving that price, then the negations will go from there. It’s good practice to always be polite and if you genuinely not interested then always say thank you.
One time I got annoyed at my partner because he didn’t try hard enough to barter a much cheap price for a singlet when he could have. Because to me it was all about the $$ and the best deal I could get my hands on. He Swift reminded me the this is how the all market sellers make their living and thus put food on their table. So we shouldn’t be trying so hard to barter a really low price when in most cases, they rely on good sales to provide for their families. This was one of those rare ‘pearls of wisdom moments’ my partner occasionally has only when all the planets are in alignment. So I learnt a lesson in humility and always agreed on a fair price. You’ll also find that most markets and mall don’t open till about 10 – 11 am, so feel free to sleep in occasionally.
Nightlife: A very big contrast to what the day time offers. The stalls tend to fade (although some stay open all night) and all the bars come out in full force. Thai women will stand on the road side offering cheap drinks and entertainment and it will be hard decision to settle on one bar. The most over populated road is of course the famous Bangala Road. This was a two minute stroll from our Hotel (the Kee Resort) and I would dub this as the central hub for all tourist night life. On the last night in Phuket we took advantage on the cheap cocktails and played connect four with what we think was a lady? Anyways, we chilled, drank and played pool all night and then stumble back to our rooms. I realized the next morning, that drinking the night before your 12 hour economy flight home is not a fabulous idea.
If your strolling the streets through restaurants and bars after sunset, be prepared to weave your way through some fierce salesmen. Everything from tailor-made suits, sunglasses, cheap beers and infamous ping pong shows will be on offer to you.
A word of caution when it comes to Ping Pong shows. Most will offer you “free entry” and all you have to do is buy one drink. The catch is that drink will cost you four times the normal price and you will be forced to buy it. I’ve also heard rumors that some shows will only let your leave if you pay an “exit fee” which is something ridiculous like 2000 baht.
Beers and cocktails are ridiculously cheap which makes it dangerously easy to get pissed. Being as though it is Thailand take some caution. Because if you go to bed with Cindy don’t be surprised if you wake up with Bruce.
Food: Because we stayed in a place that was popular with tourist, we found that majority of the food available was hugely westernized. The main areas in Patong cater more for the western taste buds but if you wonder further enough into the less populated areas you are more likely to stumble on some genuine Thai restaurants. Because of the strong Indian influence in thailand there are a lot of Indian curry restaurants available. A word of caution, their idea of ‘spicy’ is no joke, delicious but deadly.
One of the best eating experiences we had was eating at a night market. Now it is true what they say, be careful what your eat. There were a lot of stalls with cooked meat being present to the general public walking past. They looked appetizing but if your not born with an iron stomach I would avoiding foods that have been sitting for a while and opt for food that can be cooked right in front of you. My partner didn’t apply this common rule, although his dinner was super yum (best description I could come up with), the dash back to the hotel bathroom a hour later was highly inconvenient.
I, being the wiser of the two, had Pad Thai where this guy on his scooter/kitchen cart whipped it up for me in 5 minutes.
Besides the fact that dinner was amazingly satisfying for lack of better description, the best thing about the whole dinner? Well for us to buy two dinners, two cans of coke and two Nutella and banana crepes for dessert, our two course menu cost us about five dollars! I kid you not , this will go down in history as the worlds cheapest dinner date.
Thailand is full of touristy expeditions and they are all easily accessible. We preferred to explore the more cultural side but there are plenty of adventurous things to do as well. Here’s what we got up to….
Wat Chalong Temple – This place stood as a beautiful reminder of how rich Thai culture can be.You’re able to explore the temples and watch others pray and give thanks. It’s a perfect way to spend a chill day as it takes you away from the hustle and fast pace of the city. The Temple is soaked in history and an absolutely beautiful way to spend an afternoon.
Patong city weekend Markets – Pretty much a collaboration of the regular street market but on a heavy dose of steroids. Row after row of continuous market stalls. We picked up a few singlets, family gifts and probably my favorite purchase this pink, gypsy patterned beach bag. So buy a beer from one of the many stall and exercise your bartering skills to pick up some sweet merchandise.
The Big Buddha is another over tourist populated hot spot but is definitely a must do. This great monument reflects the hard and extremely impressive level of craftsmanship it would have taken to build such a statue. It put us in a state of ‘awe’ as we tried to decipher the culture and history the Big Buddha represented, truly magnificent. Again, its another relaxing experience which comes with a magnificent views.
Long boat ride to a secluded beach. At the end of Patong Beach we took a long boat to Freedom beach, about a 10 minutes ride. This is also reachable by drive and short trek. This is what post cards are made of. White sands, 30+ degree heat and best of all minimal crowds. So minimal, a few women found it to be a fab opportunity to sunbath topless! This was my ‘screw it moment’ so off went my top and out sprung D&D. Actually it was less of a spring and more of a flop, but same principle. We spent practically the entire day getting tan and swimming at what felt like a private beach.
Speedboat Tour to Phi Phi islands and Maya bay. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. If you book a really good tour you’ll find that it is all inclusive of everything you will need for that day.
Transfers to and from your hotel, free drinks and fruit on board all day, joke cracking tour guides and a buffet lunch. Our particular tour took us to all the Phi Phi islands, monkey bay and the absolutely stunning Maya bay. My brain at times struggled to comprehend that such paradise has a place on this earth. The views of what were literally aqua blue oceans and rugged cliff sides were quite simply amazing and the fondest memory of our trip.
We snorkeled off the back of our boat and explored the coral reef. I squealed notes like Mariah when I stood on a sea cucumber and yes, I found Nemo. Life made.
This trip took up our whole day and we were buggered by the time we retired to our room.
Beaches – Phuket is blessed when it comes to beaches. One of the main areas is Patong beach which offers your practically everything from jet ski hire, cocktails, henna tattoo, beach side massages and paragliding off the back of a boat. Very crowded in peak season though so if your looking for relaxation and quiet surroundings I’d suggest visiting the neighboring Kata or Karon Beach which can be less populated. I would avoid Patong beach if your thinking of taking a peaceful stroll on the beach, only because you’ll get approached by people offer the above activities every 5 meters.
The Flying Hanuman – To kick our adrenaline and conquer my paralyzing fear of heights we explored the Phuket forest through way of zip line. Essentially just an extreme version on a flying fox made for adults. There nothing more to say except this was damn fun! Side note: take mozzie repellent. You can thank me later. Link below to check it out.
Besides our major sightseeing ventures, we spent every other day wondering around town and soaking in the culture and our surroundings.
Before leaving for Thailand I was determined to tick off certain things on our holiday. Majority the activities on my list we did , except one. I adore animals and the thought of riding an elephant through the Thai jungle was on the top of my bucket list.
However, being the over concern animal lover I am I of course did my research. The articles didn’t paint a pretty picture and from what I found there was nothing to support that these animals were being well taken care of. Still needing a bit more convincing, I wanted to see things for myself. Now I’m not saying that all elephant riding places do this but I can only report on what I saw. On our drive up to the Big Buddha our Tuk Tuk driver made a pit stop to his mates house and said we can take a photo with a baby elephant. We climbed out, rounded a corner and laid our eyes on a baby elephant chained by foot to a post. I couldn’t tell if it was well taken care of or not but either way I didn’t feel right for me to stand there and smile for a photo that would just wind up of Facebook. So we left pretty abruptly.
Afterward, we saw a few elephant riding tours on our way back. To which we saw these magnificent animals with metal seats strapped to their backs. They stood side by side in the pulsing sun and all we could see was group after group jump on board this animals adding a further 100+ kgs to the already heavy metal seats. After carrying their passengers they would return to base only to repeat the process with the next group. After seeing this it was an easy decision not to tick this particular activity off my bucket list and in fact remove it altogether.
Now of course it is up to the individual and many brochures will tell you that riding an elephant will complete your authentic Thailand experience. From our personal experience we felt as if we did not miss out on anything, we did get to see elephant up close which was more than satisfying.
Anyway, animal activate rant aside we departed Phuket with a feeling of immense satisfaction. We had done what we had set out to do and created the best memories possible. Taking this trip really highlighted the contrasting difference between our lives here in New Zealand and the Thai.
Reality has settled and we’ve now returned to our freezing mornings and frost covered windows here in New Zealand. Although this weather is less than desirable, we will be the first to admit that we are truly blessed with the daily comforts we take for granted. Our time spent in Phuket was forever memorable and we are so grateful to be a position to have traveled to the other side of the world. Overall, we loved what Phuket had to offer and are planning a return trip as soon as our bank accounts will let us.
If any one has any questions for this Thailand amateur feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do my best to come up with a clever answer.