My short vacation to Phuket (a popular beach side resort island) after a gap of more than 15 years. During those years, much of the island has transformed and it’s no longer the ‘cheap, cheap’ vacation paradise anymore. The beach scene have been cleaned up – you can now bring your own mat, rest on the beach without being harassed to rent one of those beach chair plus parasol and seems the jet-ski or time-share scams are no more. Every morning, waves of cleaners scout the beach and clear the litters. Even the touts are more gentle and they are “licensed” with each wearing numbered-neon vest. And yes, you could see the beach now, where previously, it’s mostly hidden by the “mountains” beach parasols and mats for ‘compulsory rental’.
My choice of Holiday Inn Resort was a great decision (having stayed there the last time too, during a golfing trip). Great comfy room, service, food and location. But the island hopping trip to Phi Phi Island, Maya and Khai Island was regretfully a bad pick of activities. Though scenic, it was swamped by mass hordes of visitors, smoking everywhere and sub-par service from service provider. White water rafting trip was great though (but no pics to show as camera was not allowed on the raft). Not much pics on this trip as the lighting was not great too. Thanks for coming along for the pixels journey.
Our accommodation for the vacation
Our deluxe room at The Holiday Inn Patong. Nice and cosy and most important..loads of power points to charge our tons of gadgets. The WiFi speed is reasonably speedy with little lag when watching video on our smartphone. But one very important tip…never accept the room right at the floor lift lobby ! We liked the easy accessibility but come nightfall, every so often, rude and inconsiderate guests returning from pub outing at 2.00-3.00am would raise a noisy ruckus at the lift lobby as they stomp their way back to their room. We were awaken on several occasion during our five nights stay. So, be warned, Patong is a party town, reject rooms near lift lobby at any hotel if you are a light sleeper.
My favourite way of making my breakfast at hotel stay more fun – customizing my own ‘Subway’ sandwich with food around the buffet line. This resort has one of the best breakfast spread I encountered at any resorts I have stayed. And the service from both service staff and the chef were amazing. During one of the mornings, I noticed one of the regular dishes – fried Thai sausage for the Chinese porridge, was not available. I casually mentioned to the senior chef making his rounds, that it was my daughter’s favourite item. Within 5min, he personally hustle up a small serving of the sausage, piping hot and send it to our table ! That’s what I call Thai hospitality !
“Wildlife” at the resort ..my fave pic of the trip. It was definitely no easy capturing this picture the scorching sun. After 20 odd frames over 15 minutes session, almost got dehydrated.
Frog patiently waiting for bees at the Holiday Inn Resort waterlilies pond. That’s what I called opportunistic predatory instinct. The frog knew the bees like the waterlily sweet nectar and station itself for an easy snack. Both I noticed the bees were not silly either. None came near the flower during the 15-20 minutes when I was waiting to photograph the frog’s endeavor.
View from our room. Not great…but no complaint either. Hotel at opposite side of the road is the Swisshotel Patong. This hotel also houses the famed Hooters restaurant right at it’s premise. And just short stroll down down, is the famed Hard Rock Cafe. Loads of diners, both local and international franchisers, massage parlours (both decent and not so decent) and many other amenities are all found within walking distance.
For want of a better word, I like to call this “office with a view”. Such is a beach vendor way of life on the beach. The weather is good, they get to eat. When it turns bad, it’s a tough day. The weather gods are their paymaster.
Parasailing, one of the “must-do” activities on the beach (at least for those who have it experienced it before). About 1000bht a pop, with short 7-10 minutes short jaunt up and down Patong Bay, you are back to mother earth. Prices are all standardized among the sea sports vendors at the beach, so there is no need to hunt for the most reasonable one. Observe which vendors are friendliest and give good service, then have fun.
Typical beach scene at Patong. I always love the beach parasols for the shade and for the picture framing opportunities with it. Each sand bed (rest ‘bed’ created from beach sand with a cushion resting on top of it) goes for 200bht per usage till you decide to leave. Not too expensive really. You could lied there whole day and soak in the sun and balmy air.
Artwork on display. There are many tattoo shops all around Patong catering to those who want to ink their body. Patong is like a mecca for body tattoo – more than a dozen tattoo studios dot the town alone. Prices generally starts from 1000bht for a simple design.
Beach vendor hawking bangles and accessories. You need not go to the shop, the shop comes to you at Patong beach. Sunglasses, drinks, ice cream vendors make their rounds at the beach.
The sea activities vendors vehicle , with the corrosive seawater, it’s understandably rusty in some spots.
Dusk comes to Patong. Tourists taking a relax stroll by the beach, while locals rushing about to end a day’s work at the beach.
Outer islands hopping
Tourists at Koh Phi Phi. Loads of tourists (including myself). Boat loads of them on the island made all the more famous by Leonardo Dicaprio’s movie The Beach (2000).
Lovely sight at The Island…venue where Leonardo Dicaprio film “The Beach” was filmed. I had just 2-3 min window to shoot this scene , before loads of other tourists elbow their way on this viewing deck.
Curious tourists surrounding resident macaques at Monkey Island. Despite being told not to feed the wild monkeys, most turned a deaf ear. I even see monkeys holding Coke can and drinking from it. That does not augur well for the wildlife on the island.
Water activities vendors waiting for business at Koh Khai (Egg Island), a little island tucked away in Phang Nga Bay. It’s only about 30 minutes away from the east coast of Phuket but ask anyone on the island if they’ve been there and you will probably draw a blank stare. There’s really not much on this tiny island except several eateries serving light food and drinks. One special characteristic of Koh Khai is that it has schools of tropical fish and they aren’t afraid of humans. As a result a lot of people are feeding them bread, swimming through them with people taking photos of them.
The friendly fish swarmed around beach goers, expecting to be fed. That’s where our loaf of bread bought at Patong town convenience store were for. We have stopped ‘hijacking’ bread from resort breakfast for quite some time.
One of the most popular activities, renting a beach mat (50bht) and just laze around. The tides come in fast and soon, our beach mat had to be moved from near the shore to under the sun deck. It’s a small island, you feel the Earth rotation fast.
Sea sports activity at Koh Khai. I did not experienced aggressive touting by the vendors. So it did not add to the already “fatigue” day from island hopping. Do note that toilet facilities on island cost 20bht per entry to the badly maintained restroom as this is not gazetted a national park , where there are no charges using it.
Patong town still sleeping at 630am. The town generally starts waking up from 7.30am onward, with most retail shops opening from 9am. Some massage shops opened early with even the masseur asking if i wanted a massage at 8am. This is the only time you will like walking the narrow pavements as it’s usually lined with taxis at the curb and their drivers smoking while waiting for customers. This prevalence of smokers was what affected my fond memories of this beach town.
A local whizzing by early in the morning. On way to work probably.
Motorbike taxis are common at the town to answer to short distance commute. Motorbike taxis are available almost anywhere. Fares start at 20 baht, although be prepared to haggle. The official drivers wear red or green vests with a white number on the back. This is not a recommended way of getting around, but they can be handy for short trips when you are in a hurry.
Tuk Tuks in Phuket are not the iconic three-wheelers you are familiar with in Bangkok . It’s modified ‘mini trucks’, usually painted bright red or yellow. A good number of them also have powerful sound systems and disco lights set up in the passenger compartment. These are the most usual form of public transport on the island, with dozens of them parked up waiting for customers at street side, outside all of the major attractions and resorts. Regretfully, tuk tuks have also developed a reputation for being among the most expensive means of getting around Phuket, with even a short cross-town trip costing as much as 100 baht. Setting the price works in the same way as with private taxis and limousines – state your destination and haggle the price before you get on. Make sure you’re clear on whether the price is per person or for your whole group.
A drink vendor chauffering his dog on way to work. Such scene makes the traffic photography more interesting.
Located downtown, diagonally opposite Bangla Road, the Jungceylon Shopping Complex has totally changed the shopping landscape in Patong. There are two main anchor stores in the complex are Robinson – a gleaming well-lit upper end department store, and Big C supermarket. The 200-plus other stores and restaurants in this shopping heaven selling brand-name clothes, spectacles, sunglasses, cosmetics and perfumes, shoes, computer games, tons of mobile phones and accessories, electrical goods but it is also a great entertainment haven with a five-room SF Cinema and a 16-lane bowling alley, superb for rainy days or to relieve from the scorching hot sun. There is also a fabulous food court named Food Bazaar at the basement of the mall selling delicious food at reasonable price. For those looking for decent massage services, there several great massage parlours, like Montra Massage, are located at the basement.
Bangla Road is like a “vampire” street, it really comes to life once the sun sets. The road is sealed off to vehicle traffic and becomes a 400 metre cacophony of neon lights, loud music, cheap beer and sexy girls. Heavily packed most nights of the year, it is quite an interesting and lively place to walk around as bars and clubs compete with each other for customers. If you’re looking for a fun night out in Phuket, Bangla Road should be your number one choice.
Fun at Bangla, but do be aware of scams in the area. When the good time rolls…the guard gets let down. Good to enjoy but don’t get taken for a ride.
You simply can’t miss Tiger Disco: the imposing complex covers some 5,000sqm on three floors. The building is fitted out with stone-like cement décor with large concrete tigers overlooking the street from the second floor. The place offers at least three types of entertainment: girl hunting (or being hunted by girls, according to one’s character and taste), pool, and partying to live music (from Phuket.com)
Footnote : All pictures used in this travelogue are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and all rights reserved.