The land of smiles promises to bring a smile to the heart of any and every traveler, no matter which part of Thailand is visited. Phuket is no exception. This tropical paradise has so much more to offer than just a t-shirt that tempts friends at home to mispronounce the name. Phuket takes travelers on a journey to another time and place. A place where the traveler is king (or queen) and every whim is suddenly somewhat important.
Flying into Phuket was more like landing in a dream. As we were descending, I saw a tropical oasis of magical mountainous islands tickling the drizzling sky. It was the same sulturous land that Leonardo DiCaprio frolicked in the movie, The Beach. My feet were not even on the ground, and I was already melting away pounds of stress and feeling true relaxation set in.
After landing, there was a bit of confusion after our debit card was stolen (we were tired and left it in the ATM machine for a second) and we had to find a taxi. Let this be a warning to keep a close hold on all of your personal affects as they could be stolen otherwise. The people are very kind in Phuket, but many poor people gather in tourist-heavy areas to get a chance at obtaining something of value. Travelers may need to purchase a visa upon arrival (depending which country you are coming from) and cash is preferred. We read not to take the taxis directly outside of the airport, so we ventured into the tropical drizzle, passed the parking lot, and across the street to try to find a “metered” taxi. Another warning for you: just because a taxi is across the street and reads, “metered” does not necessarily mean that it truly is. After giving the “metered taxi” man an attempt at swindling us, we went back in the airport and rented a car. It was about the same price as a taxi. In the end we never really used the thing, but whatever you choose to do, it should run you around 100 bucks (for a two way taxi ride or three to five days of car rental).
Renting the car proved to be a bit of a setback for us. We were in Thailand in Monsoon season, so a mountainous drive with Orlando-esque rains and 10 M.P.H. scooters proved to be quite a challenge. We forgot to pack our GPS, so we ended up making a four hour drive of what should have been an hour and a half from the airport to our hotel. After finally stopping at a gas station and getting help from a Thai cross dresser with a sharp beard, we finally found our hotel and realized that we had passed it about a dozen times.
Here’s where the real king and queen feelings began. We parked at our hotel and were immediately greeted by a nice man who scolded us for trying to get our own suitcases. What? You’ve had that experience at a fancy hotel in America? Well, we did not have to tip him; in fact, he was insulted when we tried to! Tips are not expected or welcomed in Thailand as a part of local culture. This was, of course, enhanced when we checked in and the woman behind the desk escorted us to our villa with umbrellas and a white glove. Once there, she gave us a tour of our room and told us she would be at our disposal. We stayed at the Access Resort. While it is not located on the beach, each villa includes a king sized bed, private entry into the resort-wide pool, and uber cheap local buffet breakfast in the morning. Oh, and there are two wet-bars you can swim up to as well. However, the real kicker is that this place only set us back around $60 per night. Take that, fancy American hotels!
Since our hotel was so dreamy, we spent a lot of time there. You know, accessing our private pool entry, ordering room service (which is delivered by gondola) and lounging around our over-sized room. After a few days of enjoying the feeling of being royal, we decided to do some Phuket exploration. A walk around the tourist area of town is really interesting. You pass all sorts of bars, but one thing that really stands out is the Australian bars. Everyone assumed we were from Australia since Phuket is a hot spot for Down Under dwellers. The beach is just a short two-minute walk from all that is touristy in Phuket. You will find palm trees jutting out of the sand, Cliffs nearby, and even soothing waves tantalizing you to enter. A day on the beach alone with change your entire life. We Floridians are accustomed to beaches, but nothing quite compares to the beaches of Phuket.
If you so desire, you can take a tour of the Phi Phi Islands where The Beach was filmed. We skipped that since it was an all-day venture and involved going over by boat. It was also quite rainy while we were there, but November through February are the most promising months to visit as far as rain goes.
Don’t be surprised if you notice a bit of rice with candy placed strategically around a building or in the middle of a walkway. All around Asia, including Thailand, these offerings are set out daily. Just be careful where you step so as not to disturb the local customs.
One thing that all visitors to Thailand must do is the Elephant jungle trek. You may be tempted to don a loin cloth as you mount this gentle beast and roam the jungle up a mountain passing natural fauna and flora and even pristine butterflies. We chose Kok Chang for our elephant trekking needs. The elephants were allowed to roam there and seemed to be treated very well. The price will run you 600-100 THB per person ($19-$32). Our elephant was amazing. She took us up a mountain that was sparkling with beautiful plants and butterflies. Once we were at the top, we saw the ocean and mountainous terrain. Our guide was very nice and helpful. He actually took photos of us the whole trek and never asked for a fee. You can feed the elephants there before and after riding as they have buckets of bananas for you to choose from. The owner has a bar with some local rum and even a small sort of shop where you can purchase nick-knacks and keepsakes. Thailand still incorporates elephants into their daily lives for various tasks, so don’t be surprised if you see one while you are out and about.
The food in Thailand reigns king over all other food. While I realize that this is a big claim, it is true. My advice to you would be to steer clear of the touristy restaurants. Not only are they pricey, but they often have a commercialized feel to them and may not include true local authentic favorites. Our favorite restaurant was a short walk from our hotel on the back road that leads up the mountain. It looked like more of a shack, but the people were friendly and warm and the food was spectacular. The portion served is more like an American restaurant while the price is like something from 1957. For a full meal and a drink, we paid under $5.00 per person. Again, tipping is not expected, a smile and thank you is much more appreciated.
Phuket, Thailand was an experience that I feel privileged to have enjoyed. I will always keep fond memories of the people, the food, and the serenity. The only problem with Phuket is the desperate desire to return and never go back to the way life used to be.
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© 2012 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.