With pristine beaches, tranquil temples and vibrant nightlife, is it any wonder how travelers are lured to Thailand from all corners of the globe?
Now the question is, to Phuket or not to Phuket? The largest island in Thailand gets a bad rap as a tourist trap, full of wild partiers, spiked drinks and scammers galore. For some, Phuket is far from paradise. I’ll be honest, my first impressions weren’t great. The ride from the airport took over an hour in a stuffy, overheated taxi, past construction sites, dirty apartments, and billboards aplenty. Far from the exotic land I had pictured.
But upon arrival to our resort on Karon beach, I was greeted with a cocktail and a smile from the friendliest hostess. I slowly realised all Phuket has to offer in the form of spectacular coastal scenery, fantastic food, and a unique culture. My time in Thailand was a truly eye opening experience which I encourage you to pursue yourself!May I now present to you my top 10 experiences and bottom 10 to skip while in Thailand!
10 Must Do’s
1. Phi Phi Island Hopping
Explore picturesque islands in pure relaxation as you set sail by long-tail boat amidst the emerald waters and towering limestone formations. The legendary Phi Phi islands flaunt a diverse rang of beautiful beaches, rainforests, mountains, and seaside resorts, making for the perfect day trip from Phuket. As you approach the inlets, cliffs give way to lush jungle just waiting to be explored.Of the two islands, one is completely free of human inhabitants, Phi Phi Leh, and the other is without roads, Phi Phi Don. Your worries are sure to be whisked away, we’re on island time now!Another popular option is cruising Phong Nga Bay to the island of Khao Phing Kan where James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed. I was happy enough to visit the location of Leo DiCaprio’s The Beach for my 15 seconds of fame.Whether you are looking to relax on the beach or get a bit more adventurous with diving, snorkeling or kayaking, you are sure to be satisfied after a day of fun in the sun! Quick tip: Find out more about my experience Thailand island hopping. Don’t forget the bottle of 50 spf sunscreen and insect repellent!
2. Indulge in local cuisine
My mouth is watering just reminiscing on the flavorful curry, noodles, rice, and soups of Thailand. There are so many options beyond the classic Pad Thai we all know and love (Noodles, tofu/chicken, egg, bean sprouts and spring onion in a tamarind based sauce all stir-fried together and topped with peanuts). Kao Pad or fried rice is commonly served in a big pineapple! Try Khao Soi, a delicious red curry dish of coconut milk, vegetables, meat and noodles, topped with crunchy noodles, cilantro, pickled mustard greens, raw onion and a squeeze of fresh lime. Somtam is a spicy salad made with green papaya, beans, chili, pla ra, brined crab, hog plum, and lime.
Quick tip: Don’t drink the water! This includes ice cubes in cocktails and be sure to use bottle water when brushing your teeth. Also be wary of fresh fruit. I learned this one the hard way.
Also give Tom Yam Yoong a go, a fragrant dish of jumbo shrimp and mushrooms, spiced with lemongrass, lime leaves, and shallots with chilis and fish sauce to give it a kick. The unique combination of spicy hot and sour, makes for a great start to your meal, or when paired with rice, a worthy main dish.Thai food is rich and spicy so be prepared to acclimate to the fragrant spices and herbs, which are sure to delight the palate! Expect to pay about 100-200 Baht or $3-6 USD per meal at a sit down restaurant and even less on the street. Don’t forget your 200 baht, 1 liter Chang beer or $3, highly potent cocktails.
Quick tip: Alcohol content is slightly higher in Thailand (Chang beer 6.4% ABV and “buckets” may have an entire handle of liquour, so take it easy!)
3. Big Buddha
Trek up the Nakkerd Hills to greet the jolly 45-meter tall Big Buddha. Complete with a sweeping 360-degree view of the entire island and vistas of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon, Andaman Sea, and Chalong Bay. You will feel at peace with the tranquility atop the mountain, as you are left amidst the tinkling of bells and the blowing of the wind.
This cross-legged colossus sits atop a podium crafted as a giant lotus flower and is layered in white Burmese jade marble. It glimmers in the sun, jutting into bright blue skies, and making it a natural symbol of hope for the Thai people.
This friendly giant is worth a visit. Known as “Phraputthamingmongkol Eaknakakeeree” by the locals, which does’t exactly roll of the tongue to us tourists, so we stick with Big Buddha. Entrance is free, but there are donation boxes everywhere. You are able to leave a piece of yourself behind by donating to buy a small tile or bell to write your name and a message as an offering or wish to their people. The tiles will be used to cover the base surrounding the Big Buddha which is being entirely funded by visitor donations. A smaller baby Buddha sits at 12 metres high, is made of 22 tons of brass and cost 8 million baht to build.Quick tip: Women, no matter how hot and muggy the day (that’s every day!) do not arrive in sundresses. You will need to respect that it is a sacred Buddhist shrine and dress appropriately, by cover ingbare shoulders and legs, or they will drape you in sarongs head to toe upon arrival. We learned this one the hard way over dirty looks from the locals.
Take your pick of a 6km, one hour hike uphill or ten minutes by tuk tuk or motorbike on the newly paved roads. Quick tip: To avoid the heat and the tourist crowds it’s best to go early in the morning but a late afternoon visit to watch the sun set over the bay makes for a pleasant end to the day.Before leaving, be sure to pay a visit to the Earth Goddess, Toranee, who according to legend, helped Buddha during his journey to enlightenment by wringing water out of her long hair and creating a flood that washed away the demon Mara.
4. Hike to amazing viewpoints
Nothing beats watching a golden sunset from Promthep Cape or Kata viewpoint. The panoramas at the peak of Big Buddha are absolutely breathtaking and well worth the trek up.
5. Orchids Garden
I never anticipated a stop at any sort of garden while in Thailand, but was a pleasantly surprised by this lush green wonderland. Flowers are kind of my thing.
6. Visit Thai Temples
Thailand is the most Buddhist nation on Earth, with 95% of the population as practicing Theravada Buddhists. Wats, or Buddhist temples are scattered across the island; 29 in Phuket alone and each more ornately striking than the next.Be sure to hit Wat Chalong, the largest of the monasteries, along with Wat Phranang Sang, Wat Pra Thong, Wat Srisoonthorn, and Wat Tham Ta Pan. Each is as unique and rich in history as the next, providing sightseers and Thai people alike a chance to admire their majestic grandeur.Quick tip: Do be sure to dress properly and remove your shoes and hat before entering a temple. It is bad manners (and bad luck) to place your foot on the raised threshold of the temple, there to keep out evil spirits. Quick tip: Inside the wat, keep your head lower than Buddha images and monks and don’t point the bottom of your feet towards them. Instead, kneel down with your feet tucked behind. If taking photos, realize it is a sacred place of worship, so do so discretely and respectfully. If you are not Buddhist, you aren’t required to participate in the ceremonies, but I encourage you to immerse yourself!
7. Pamper yourself with a Spa Day
Spa services in Thailand are cheap in price, but not in quality! Dip your toes into a bowl of fish for a pedicure sure to tickle as they nibble at the dead skin around your toes. Then get a quick splash of color on your nails and you’re ready to hit the beach. This will only set you back about 100 baht per service or $3USD.
Traditional Thai massage involves a lot of bending, moving, and tiger balm (a soothing, mint-like cream). They are more energizing and rigorous than classic massages, as the therapist uses his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches. Think yoga session, without any work on your part!
8. Take a Stroll through Old Phuket Town
I’m a sucker for architecture and was in awe of the beautiful old villas situated along these roads, whisking me back to the charm of a century ago. The heart of Old Phuket Town is Thalang Road, in the block between Thepkassatri and Yaowarat Roads.
The ‘Shophouses’ are the signature buildings reminiscent of Singapore and Malaysia with their narrow fronts, latticed windows, and courtyards. Nowadays, the town is home to quaint cafes and coffee shops, clothes boutiques and some lovely restaurants, guesthouses and local bars.
9. Scuba Diving
Koh Tao or “Turtle Island” is known for being the cheapest and best place to get PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Scuba certified. Second only to Cairns in The Great Barrier Reef for certifications each year. I wish I would have had a few days to spare for this experience, but if you don’t have time for the licensing, snorkeling and kayaking are fun adventures instead!
10. Relaxing sunset on the beaches
- Do smile a lot. You are in the Land of Smiles, and kindness will get you far.
- Do relax and enjoy yourself. Thais like life to be sanuk, always striving to achieve satisfaction and pleasure from whatever you do.
- Do immerse yourself in the culture and make friends with the locals. Most speak English and may point you to the hot spots around town!
10 Must Skips
1. Get a tattoo
For my first three days in Thailand, I was convinced that there was no better time or place to make a poor decision to get a tattoo. I was dead set on a tiny compass on my wrist, but resisted the spontaneous urge. Tattoos are too permanent to cheap out on. Beyond issues of safety, you don’t want to risk infection or poor quality that you will live with regret forever. You’re welcome mom.
Quick tip: Consider a bamboo tattoo, which is less painful and quicker healing time.
While it was quite the adventure to sit atop a massive 2-ton beast, traipsing through lush jungle; in hindsight, it was an experience I very well should have said no to. I hate to admit, but it’s due to my own lack of awareness in their treatment. Asian elephants are already highly endangered as is. It’s our demand for elephant rides and circus acts that leads to more baby elephants getting captured from their mothers, tortured, and sold off to entertain. But good news! There are safer alternatives out there of sanctuaries that care for the elephant’s as safe havens from poachers, circus-owners, and illegal loggers which are commonplace in Thailand.
3. Rent a motorbike
As appealing as it is to spend $10 for a day of sightseeing around the island, I have heard way too many horror stories. A good friend ended up in the hospital after wrecking a motorbike in the hectic streets where there are virtually no traffic laws followed.
The rental places will scam you too. Upon bringing the bike back you’re told that there’s damage that needs to be covered and some outrageous fine is quoted. You may run into a similar scam on the beach for jetskis. If you are insistent on renting, never give up your passport but opt for a cash deposit instead.
4. Sample honey at a bee farm
Sounds about as fun as it was (not at all). This was just an all around odd experience, that was included in our tour package. The honey sampling guys were creepy and they tried to get us to hold huge nets of wasps. Bees were all around the garden just waiting to sting!
5. Cuddle tigers
Much like the poor treatments of elephant, the tigers are intensely drugged so they aren’t too aggressive to interact with humans. Recently 156 Tigers were rescued from Tiger Temple where the tigers were so heavily tranquilized that they were asleep for most of the photos. And the babies are taken from their mamas at just two weeks old. How sad!
6. See a sex show
FREE SHOW, SEXY LADIES. ONLY BUY A DRINK. Laws prevent from outright selling admission to the ping pong show, so they lure you in other ways. I’ve heard of ladies pulling everything from live gerbils to bouqets of flowers out of theire V-jays. And even male tourists being jacked off on stage. Sure it may be a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, but far from appealing to me.
7. Buy tours through your resort
You can pretty much bargain the price of anything in Thailand clothing, souveniers, and excursions, so don’t jump at the first “low price” you see. I was shocked on our Phi Phi Island tour that everybody paid a different price for the same tour. We got jipped off by our resort and paid three times as much at almost $150 USD! Don’t book any local tours online where prices are jacked up too. You are best off buying them on the streets where you are able to bargain the prices for the exact same tours.
Ah, Patong. The land of spiked drinks, sex-laden hookers, and pick pocketers. Sound like a fun night out? If you are solo, do not even dare. Bangla Road is one of those places where Thailand perpetuates the stereotypes you see in the movies. Alcohol, Drugs, Prostitutes, Lady Boys, Monkeys. And the star act, ping pong shows. Another debatable is Koh Phangan, the infamous location of the Full Moon Party, Half Moon Party, Black Moon Party, Jungle Party, any rave you can imagine. If you are looking to get trashed off of “buckets” of alcohol, kidnapped and left for dead, go for it!
9. Buy tailored clothes
I wouldn’t recommend buying clothes of any sort in Phuket. I bought a couple dresses at the markets for super cheap and the quality was just that. They fell apart in the first wash and smelled terrible. Many people suggest getting a formal suit tailored in Thailand but I don’t expect the quality would be any better, and they take several days to deliver.
1o. Ride in Tuk Tuks
“Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk? Your ears will be ringing with the sound of this phrase. Tuk-tuks, or green four-wheeled open-air Daihatsu vans, are all over the island. They can be a fun and easy way to get from point A to B, but dang those drivers can be persistent. Sometimes a girl just wants to walk! There are no set fares and the passenger is obliged to negotiate a rate with the driver, but be aware that you are going to have to pay more than the native Thai people. They know you’re a tourist! Instead ride in a songtaew, converted pickup trucks that cost a lot less than a tuk tuk or a taxi, at around 25 THB.
Have you visited Thailand? Did I miss any top experiences to hit and miss in your travels?