Our route through Thailand let us leaving the beaches for last. A bit of urban exploration in Bangkok lead the way, then we adventured in the jungles of Chiang Mai before heading south to the islands. So expectations of Phuket were high and welcomed after a bit of chilly weather in the north.
However, almost everyone we encountered said the same thing about Phuket….
It’s not very pretty.
Parts are unkempt.
There’s tourists everywhere.
Well, part of me actually agrees! If you never leave Phuket downtown or only stick to the tourist beaches, you won’t get a chance to see the real beauty of this place. Not to mention, if you shy away from the local restaurants and don’t indulge in some Phuket travel luxury-style, none of Phuket will feel very appealing. If you are going to spend time on the Adaman Sea, do Phuket the right way.
How to Travel to Phuket
Several flights will fly directly into Phuket from the UK. If coming from the US, you’ll most likely be routed through Europe if from the east coast – but there are a few flights to Phuket toured through Hong Kong from Los Angeles. These routes tend to be some of the most affordable to Thailand, so it’s popular to land in Phuket and not see much else of the country. It can make for an overcrowded destination – but still wonderful if you know where to look. Not to mention, it’s a good push off point for visiting neighboring places via ferry.
Getting Around Phuket
It doesn’t matter how generous your travel budget may be – you’ll want to experience the tuk-tuk. Usually fashioned with a 3-wheeled motorcycle and cart, these zippy modes of transportation are quick and easy to find. They only take cash (Thai baht) but are perfect for shorter distances and can tackle main roads or alleyway with ease.
When you first land in Phuket, you may want to hire a car or taxi to get from the airport to your accommodation. There are a few apps to help, including Grab, that are like Uber and efficient at finding rides. If you have international data, it can be a big help to use local taxi apps to avoid cash and know when you’ll be picked up.
A Phuket Oasis
The make or break of a Phuket travel luxury experience is where you stay. And when you’re on Thailand’s coasts, you’ll want those epic white-sand beaches with see-through waters. The best we found anywhere in the country, including the famous islands, was just outside the public Phuket beaches.
At The Surin, there was a private stretch of sand awaiting all guests. This group of beautiful bungalows is right by the water. You can venture up enough steps to offer sweeping views at breakfast and from the open-air lobby. It’s ideal for those who value wellness and relaxation when they travel to Thailand.
The private beach is the real jewel. Guests have full access to the area, including lounge chairs, straw umbrellas and plenty of cocktail service. We just loved to float in the water (which was practically empty) and watch the world go by. You have access to some water sport equipment if you’d like to be more active.
After soaking in the salt water, you can cleanse your skin at The Surin’s gorgeous spa. Take a cart to the top of the hill and be pampered for the afternoon by a team of professionals. We indulged a couples’ massage in the traditional Thai style – which can be intense for those used to Western massages! But simply communicate your level of comfort and the spa will cater to your preferences – including the products used and ambiance.
Other highlights of the Surin were the fresh noodle bar at breakfast, traditional dancing at the al fresco dinner and a breezy morning yoga class right by the beach. The hotel property is within walking distance of a few lovely restaurants and shops as well. However, you can also take a tuk-tuk into town, or to the nearby public beach. The whole experience was one of the best we had on the entire trip to Thailand.
If you do choose to leave the property, there are a few fun places close by to explore. There are some local Muay Thai schools, so keep an eye out for running, training fighters. There are flyers for local events as well you can attend to see the students in action. For a quick and hearty meal, stop into the unassuming Khun Yaa restaurant. You’ll be delightfully surprised by the tasty piles of Pad Thai, Pas See Yew, fresh fruit shakes and cold local beer.
Where to Go After Phuket
Some people are content to stay right in Phuket, while others hope to see more of the country on their trip. Here are a few suggestions beyond the beaches of Phuket.
Koh Lanta: Just a three-hour ferry ride east of Phuket is this lovely, sleepy island. It gives you better access to tours in Phi Phi and some of the other small, iconic sandy islands on this side of Thailand.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai: Swing wide and take a plane north or Chiang Mai (or Chiang Rai If you want to venture further into the jungle north). This region and city are perfect for those who love nature, want to interact ethically with elephants and find amazing items in the night markets. I would recommend Chiang Mai first though if you want to end your trip on the islands in relax mode.
Back to Bangkok: Air Asia will speedily take you back to the capital city. It’s worth a day or two in this hubbub of activity, from foodie tours and shows to shopping and temple sightseeing. If you want to extend your time in Thailand, then getting to Phuket from Bangkok is simple. Plenty of domestic airlines fly south – which can be easiest, even when there’s a few bus or train options, as flights are direct into town. Air Asia has the best options, especially if you plan ahead.
We spent a few days in Koh Lanta and surrounding islands after our time at The Surin. On the way back, we took a day after the ferry to collect ourselves before the journey back to Bangkok.
The selection of hotels near Phuket Airport is plentiful and made for the quick layover. Our favorite was the Himaphan Boutique Resort. Expectations were open-minded, as hotels a quick walk from the airport often can be lacking. But somehow this beautiful oasis has done incredible things with their landscaping, spacious property and floor-to-ceiling glass door bungalows to make you feel like you’re at any other tropical escape.
Not to mention, in a quick tuk-tuk ride you’re right at the gates of Phuket airport. The Himaphan Boutique Resort offers late check-out options too.
Don’t skip Phuket, but embrace the crazy and pumping spirit of this fun part of Thailand. There’s plenty of luxurious, beautiful, interesting and delicious finds.
Have a look at how I managed to pack for two weeks in Thailand only using a trekking backpack from Decathlon UK!
What destination did you go to that surprised you? Would you go to Phuket or skip it? What’s your big vacation indulgence when you travel?