Thursday, 11 April 2013

Phuket - A Local's Guide

I know London is my home now, and I am lucky enough I get to call several places home, but if I had to pick one, then no doubt it would be Phuket - the place I was born, the place I grew up, where all my childhood memories remain. I get asked a lot to recommend places to see, hang out, and stay in Phuket. Frankly I am tired of writing different emails each time someone asks me, so I've decided to do one big blog which I hope will be useful to everyone. Secondly, I am sick of people telling me that they hate Phuket and that they find it disgusting etc. That's only because you don't know where to hang out and you are probably going to the wrong places.

Let me just start off by saying that Phuket is very developed, we have a lot of amazing restaurants, hotels, shops and infrastructure. So if you are looking for a wooden shack and a fan on the beach rolling joints every night then you are better off going to another island such as Koh Tao that is much more underdeveloped. Think of Phuket as something in-between Ibiza and Bali. It has a mixture of both elements, seedy and serene.

My Favourite Hotel Picks:

1. Sri Panwa: This is probably the most amazing hotel on the island. The view from the sunset bar here is unreal. More suitable for couples or small families. Celebrities who have stayed here include: Gordan Ramsey, Snoop Lion, Rita Ora, Avicii etc. All rooms/suites come with private pool and will set you back a minimum of 400GBP a night on low season. Not everyone will want to pay this much, so what I recommend doing is actually go to the hotel around 5-6pm to have a drink at the sunset bar and watch the sun go down. They serve great food and cocktails there and you can still have a sunset swim.

 2. The Amanpuri: Luxury Thai style hotel with private beach. Very understated and discreet service.

Private beach access
3. Trisara: beautiful sea view villas with private pools. Great for romantic holiday or families.

4. Twin Palm Hotel: This is a small boutique hotel with a very young globe trotter vibe. They do an amazing Sunday brunch which gets booked out every weekend so make sure to book in advanced. They also own a beach club 5 minutes walk from the hotel called 'Catch Beach Club'.

Twin Palm pool
5. JW Marriot, The Banyan Tree or Indigo Pearl Hotel are also great choices.

Or why not rent a villa on the beach?

My Favourite Restaurant Picks:

1. Joe's Downstairs: Lunch/Dinner. Stunning all white restaurant on the beach with a nouveau Mediterranean menu. I love the food here and have never been disappointed. Great atmosphere and view at night. Perfect place to go out if you plan on going out to Patong later.

2. Kra Jok See: Dinner. Fun Thai restaurant that is popular amongst locals as well as tourists. The restaurant has no website and got famous by world of mouth only. Make sure you get a table and eat by 9pm because by 10pm everyone is up and dancing and the place turns into one big party. Advanced booking recommended.

3. Lotus: Lunch or Dinner. Restaurant on the beach, amazing seafood, tables in the sand. Very relaxed atmosphere, but the food is crazy good.

4. The Supper Club: Dinner. European menu, will make you feel like you are in a jazz lounge NYC style restaurant with the decor and huge bar in the centre. Good food and atmosphere.

5. Kan Eang at Pier: Dinner. Thai Seafood restaurant by the beach over looking into the sea and Chalong Pier. They also have a big bar area you can enjoy drinks. This place is similar to Lotus but more upscale.

6. Breeze at Cape Yamu - Lunch/Dinner. Modern French/Mediterranean food. Great food and atmosphere. This place is perfect for spending the whole day there. Get there for a long boozy lunch and after you can chill by their pool and carry on the evening with drinks, dinner and some music.

Sample menu at Breeze
 7. La Gaetana: Dinner. Family run Italian restaurant. It has been going strong for over 10 years.

8. The Blue Elephant: Lunch/Dinner. The worldwide Blue Elephant group has opened a chain Phuket for their Royal Thai Cuisine dining. I have never been to this yet so can't put a review but the website looks impressive.

Dine in an old Thai villa at the Blue Elephant

My Favourite Beaches:

Your hotel will probably have it's own private beach or have a local one near by, but if you want to go somewhere different then check out the ones listed below.

Leam Singh Beach, Surin Beach, Bang Tao Beach, Nai Harn Beach, and lastly Paradis Beach that is only accessible by boat. Pay a guy with a long tail boat in Patong to get you there and you can pay for another one to come back.

Markets & Shopping:
Shopping Malls: Central Phuket Festival in Phuket Town or Jungceylon in Patong. There are 'First Class' cinema experience here too if you fancied watching a film.

Open air night markets: Every night there is an open air food market that takes place from around 6pm in Patong. This is where all the locals will come out to eat. There are maybe 50 or so small food stalls that comes attached to their motorbikes selling all thai favourites. You must try their fried chicken and sticky rice. Dribble. Tell your Tuk-Tuk driver that you want to go to the 'Patong Talad  night market' he should know what you mean. If in doubt tell him it is behind Jungceylon. This place is also open during the day but it sells fresh ingredients such as meat, fish, fruit and veggies.

Things to do on the island:

1. Catch Beach Club: Hang out all day on Saturday here, in the evening it turns into a little party. You are usually wasted by then. Great food here too. OR Bliss Beach Club  for a quieter day.

Catch Beach Club
Bliss Beach Club
2. Flying Hanuman: If you are feeling active then this is a really fun zip lining place. Go with a group of friends, the site is huge and can take up to 2 hours to complete! And at the same time you get to see the nature side of Phuket - forest, waterfall etc. Since opening it's doors in 2012 business has taken off so make sure that you book before going!

Ha, I recognise this boy on the
3. Rent a bike and wander around: Motorbikes are cheap and they are everywhere, literally. I recommend you renting one for a day or two and just go around the island on them. Doesn't matter where you go, just drive, you will get a sense of what Thailand is really like on a bike. You can always make pit stops at view points or stop for lunch at one of the places I recommended.

4. Reggea Bar or Baba Nest sunset drinks: There are two places I would recommend having sunset drinks. One is at Sri Panwa's bar Baba Nest, this is a more high end upscale venue with the most beautiful view you can imagine. I can't recommend this enough. The other one is a bit more tricky. It is not a listed restaurant, and I don't remember the name, they may not even have a proper name. But it is a restaurant that is very close to Karon View Point, and it over looks the Andaman sea. Stunning sunsets here too. If you drive to Karon View point, just keep going for another 2-3 minutes then you will see a clutter of small shacks on the side of the road. That's it.

Baba Nest - Sri Panwa
Baba Nest
5. The Big Buddha: This has been under construction for a few years. It is now completed and I still have not yet had a chance to go. But if you want to see a gigantic buddha that sits at the top of a hill then this is the place. Think Jesus Christ statue in Rio.

6. Patong Night Out: This is not for the faint hearted. If you are easily offended then I don't recommend you go here, you need to be VERY open minded. You just have to love and hate this place for what it is. Bangla Road is a strip that is full of bars, clubs, ladyboys, working girls of Thailand and Russia calling you in, ping pong name it, even random monkeys appear from time to time. At night the street becomes pedestrianised and it is packed full of people going out trying to have a good time. If you want to book a table in a club then I would only recommend Club Seduction in their vip room or Hollywood Club. No need for advanced table booking. You can usually get a table when you walk in. Patong is the only place in Phuket that guarantees a party every night. If you do plan to come and see Patong's night life then try and coordinate it with the same night you have dinner at Joe's Downstairs because they are only a 5/10 minutes drive from each other.

Seduction Club
7. Thai Massage: They are 5 pounds outside your hotel. Get one EVERYDAY.

8. Sunday brunch at Twin Palms or Indigo Pearl: There's nothing better than a lazy Sunday spent eating. And these two hotels serve the best Sunday brunch on the island. I am not kidding, forget any buffet brunch you have ever known, these brunch will kick their ass. The choices are endless, even me, who is so greedy when it comes to food, I had difficulty trying everything that they had to offer from around the world. Literally. Lobster, prawns, crab, pasta, pizza, salads, 5J jamon, 30 types of bead and patisserie, cheeses, oysters, curry, rice, sushi, desserts from all continents of the world. And don't think for a second that just because there is such a wide selection that the quality is low. You can't be more wrong, it is so fresh and well prepared.

Bruch at Twin Palms Hotel
9. Learn to scuba dive, parasailing, snorkelling: all these activities are available at almost every beach on the island.

10. Ladyboy Simon Cabiret show: You will be shocked at how beautiful these ladies are. The show is very fun and entertaining. You can meet the ladies back stage after the show if you want pictures taken with them, but it will be at a tip!

Ladies and gentlemen?
11. Phuket Fantasy: If you are travelling with children or elderly people this would be a great way to spend your evening. It is like a mini Thai Disneyland, tickets into this place includes access to all the shops and games park as well as the 1.5 hour cultural/entertainment show.

12. Wat Chalang Temple: If you didn't plan on a side trip to Bangkok for a few days to see the temples then don't sweat. There are loads of temples in Phuket, they may not be as impressive as the ones in Bangkok or Ayudttaya but they are full functioning temples that locals use everyday. Wat Chalong is possibly the biggest and most beautiful temple in Phuket.

13. Shooting Range, Horse riding, Thai Boxing, Elephant rides and so forth are also available on the island. Ask your hotel concierge to find you your local one.

Island hopping and day trips:

There are so many islands around Phuket that you can get to within 30mins - 2 hours by speed boat. If you have the money to splash then I would definitely recommend hiring your own speed boat or yacht for the day. It really beats sharing the boat with other tourists with red patches on their backs and face. But if you are on a budget then there are dozens of day trips you can do that are organised by your local tour companies. Your hotel or neighbourhood will be full of these shops that can show you pamphlets of what trips they have available.

1. Phi Phi Island and Maya Bay: This is the most famous one, this is where The Beach was filmed. If you want to see Maya Bay completely empty then you will have to wake up very early and get there by 8/9am before the big tour companies arrive. Trust me, it is definitely worth waking up early for, plus you will get awesome photos, no fat tourist ruining your view. Once the tours starts to arrive then head to Phi Phi island and spend the afternoon there, have lunch, walk around, do some shopping. Phi Phi island is very small although densely populated now, there are no cars or streets, just walk ways. The night life on Phi Phi is much more laid back and 'cleaner' if you know what I mean.

Maya Bay
2. Racha Island: Beautiful small island with the only 5 star hotel on the island. If you have time then spend one night here and wake up to quiet, empty beach. The Racha Hotel.

The Racha Hotel
3. Similans: These group of islands are part of Thailand's natural parks and are only open for visit 6 months a year. It is famous for snorkelling and scuba diving, in fact if I am not mistaken I think it is in the world's top 5 most beautiful dive sites. There are no establishments on the island so if you want to spend the night here, make sure your boat has bedrooms.

4. Pangna Bay/James Bond Island: This is a very fun day out, you can enjoy the beautiful scenery, rock formations, set lunch on the island, snorkelling, canoeing between the lime stones and finding lime stone chambers, and floating markets in the water.

5. Koh Khai: If you don't like being on a boat or being out at sea then I would recommend Koh Khai that is only a 30 minutes ride from the east coast of Phuket. This island is very small, you can walk around it in 15/20 minutes. Since it is small and so close to Phuket, it can get quite busy so ask your tourist office to recommend you a good time to go.

Hope this helps everyone. Enjoy responsibly!
(None of the photos are mine, special thanks to all the websites for providing amazing photos)

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