Our next stop in the Southeast Asia adventure was southern Thailand to the island of Phuket. Phuket lies on the Adman Sea and is 8° North of the equator (translation hot and sticky). Phuket Island covers 504 square kilometers and has a population of 231,000 Thais and an estimated 35,000 visitors at any one time. It is a busy place!
Phuket Island itself is mainly granite, with low forested mountains and a series of fine white-sand beaches (yes the amazing ones that are all over Instagram), mostly on the west coast. Much of the forest has been cleared, first for rubber plantations and then for tourism development.
Industry of the island is tourism, farming, mining and fishing. Tin mining has been curtailed in recent years and many old mine areas converted to modern resorts. Rubber tree plantations started in 1903 and can still be seen around the island. Other crops include coconuts, pineapples, bananas and cashews. Much of the land continues to be converted over to tourism, the more profitable industry. One of the biggest issues now is how to retain the benefits of tourism while sustaining the natural attractions that brought the visitors here in the first place.
We stayed in two areas of Phuket – Kamala and Kata beaches and visited several other areas including Patong and Phuket town. We did a couple of full day island trips as well to surrounding areas to see the caves, islands, mangroves and sea life.
Overall we enjoyed our beach time. This was the first beach vacation since we married. We liked the warmth, but would have preferred a little bit cooler. We swam in the early morning and evening to keep this fair girl out of the sun. Seriously we got off the beach by 10am! The warm water was amazing as well as the beautiful sandy beaches.
What we didn’t like was the crowds, the humidity and the obvious sex trade. Also, the constant ‘massage’ requests and other sellers harping on us was exhausting. It really made it tiresome to go out walking in the busier towns.
We enjoyed Kamala – a smaller town that is easily walkable with lots of good food and drink choices. We stayed at a boutique hotel just off the beach run by a cute Thai couple that absolutely doted on the guests Roajjana Residence. The managing couple cooked for us and helped with all our excursion plans. We walked the beach, swam and lounged around. It was a great break.
Our big outing for the week was an all day boat ride out to the islands to explore caves, see James Bond Island and tour the archipelago. The islands are amazing and we enjoyed our tour. We would have loved to kayak around, but in order to control the volume of tourists, you get in a kayak and are paddled through the famous caves. Fabulous scenery and they actually do a good job getting everyone to see the sights.
For our second week we moved to Kata Beach and stayed at an AirBnB. Another nice beach but much busier! We had no idea that the entire town was a Russian vacation destination. Almost everyone there was Russian. All the signage was in Thai and Russian. We will not be going to another Russian vacation destination any time soon! We traveled to several other beaches around the island and loved Kata Noi, a small beach south of Kata and worth the walk. We also walked to Karon beach, yet another beautiful location.
We did a couple of day trips to old town Phuket via the locals bus. An adventure to ride across the island with all the locals. The bus was more like a large truck with 2 long bench seats in the back. Old Town Phuket was filled with colonial buildings, markets and some good food.
Another day trip was to Patong. Known as the busiest town on the island and full of tourists. We taxi’d over for dinner and wandered around the shops and found dinner. We tried the local craft brewery in town – Fullmoon Brewery. It was so so. Hard to please our craft brew snobbery!
It was a fun stop and I can check it off the bucket list. Kayaking around the islands has long been on my ‘list’ and I am still looking for a bit more of that. But the temperatures and overall touristy feel of the place will not make it on our top 10 list anytime soon. We travel to explore and learn things along the way….on to the next destination.