When Lauren and I travel, we like to travel in style. Where possible, we like to download TV series and buy snacks to make our often long and tedious bus rides more enjoyable. This is exactly how we travelled to Phuket.
We were told that our bus would make its final stop in Phuket town. However, on arrival at Phuket bus station (#2) we were ordered by a rather rude bus driver to get off the bus, only to find our packs dumped on the muddy ground in the rain. When asking around we were told the only way to get to our hostel at Kata Beach was by taxi. The taxis at the station were charging the ridiculous amount of B1000. Walking to the street we managed to find a taxi for B550. This was our first introduction to over-priced Phuket!
Tip: We later learnt that you can actually take a taxi to Phuket town for around B300 and then catch the public bus to the beaches for B35pp.
We had pre-booked our stay at FIN Hostel via Hostel World (Bookings.com is a great website as well) and we were thrilled with our selection. FIN Hostel was bright, colourful and modern. Most importantly, it was clean, offered a range of extra amenities such as a kitchen, lounge, laundry area and swimming pool, and was close to the beach and a range of restaurants and cafes, including a Monday night market.
After walking the streets and scanning numerous menus attempting to find something in our price range we came to the realisation that this was just not going to happen. We eventually decided on burgers at Coffee Club, which were really good.
With no set plans we put on some laundry (B40) and headed to the roof-top pool for a swim while waiting for the machine to finish. The pool was very small, but quite refreshing and had two plastic loungers on the side for tanning. It all got a whole lot more fun when Lauren cleverly decided to throw one in the pool to see if it floated. Amazing! The picture below says it all …
When it came time to check on our laundry we were HORRIFIED to find all of it had turned BROWN! My beautiful wife had placed her new tie-dye clothes in with everything else … not so clever now. On top of that, the B40 we had initially paid was not enough to finish the cycle. So another B40 and an hour-and-a-half later we had clean, dry, brown clothes! Yay!
With that mundane chore over, we went for a stroll alongside a smelly, stagnant river to Kata beach. Kata beach, like many of the beaches in Phuket, was littered with umbrellas, beach chairs and holiday-makers making use of them for B150 PER CHAIR! Refusing to pay that, we were left with a mere metre of beach for us to make use of before the tide came up. Suffice to say, our stay was short lived. We longed wistfully for the quieter beaches of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan.
Later on in the evening, we went for a walk to explore Kata and came across some intriguing little alleys with really nice restaurants and shops. We were drawn to a very colourful one in particular, with interesting lights and curiosity got the better of us. What we didn’t know was that we were walking down – how can I describe it – the red light district of Kata Beach. The street was lined with strip bars and Thai woman half-dressed getting ready for a stimulating (ahem!) night ahead. As we walked along we were greeted with smiles and kinky waves and one or two odd looks. It was hilarious!
On our way back we came across the Monday night market just around the corner from our hostel. It was the biggest one we had been to and offered all kinds of things, from interesting foods to fresh produce, Chinese trinkets and clothes, spices and more.
Today we embarked on our tour to Phi Phi islands. The day before we had tossed up whether to go to Phi Phi islands or hire a scooter and explore Phuket independently. We found a tour agency who offered us a 50% discount on the tour so we decided to take it (1800B pp). Worst mistake ever!! Let me elaborate on our experience of Phi Phi islands with “Phuket Absolute Marine”.
We were picked up and transported to the pier by a minibus, collecting others along the way. Arriving at the pier we joined hundreds of other tourists waiting to take the same tour. Our tour guide, in her expressionless tone, rattled off the itinerary to the crowd that had gathered and then proceeded to make a sales pitch regarding flippers on hire for B100. After showing some gruesome photos of people that had been injured by sea urchins, she explained that the flippers would protect people. You should NEVER stand on coral reef in the first place, it is the fastest way to destroy it. After watching numerous tourists make their flipper purchase, we were tagged with different coloured wrist bands to help the guide identify us and herded onto our respective speedboats.
We were lucky enough to get a seat at the front of the boat on the outer edge so we had the chance to stand up and quickly take photos as we briefly stopped at the different places of interest. Unfortunately, anyone sitting inside the boat never got that opportunity.
Our first destination was the beautiful Pileh Cove. With crystal clear water and soft white sand we were all excited to get out and snorkel. However, I believe our tour was the only one to simply circle the cove and motor away. It was beautiful for a couple of seconds and then it was gone.
The tour just seemed to go from bad to worse. Luckily, we were sitting with a group of older Australians who we could have a good laugh with and joke about what “exciting” adventures might possibly come next.
The alternative snorkelling spot happened to be in a corner of Maya Bay where the coral was dead and the fish only came when bread was thrown into the water, going against all the conservation signs we had read about not feeding the fish. Lauren and a group of other snorkellers also kept getting stung by some sort of microscopic jellyfish in the area.
Maya Bay, famous for the movie “The Beach” with Leonardo Di Caprio, was our final stop before lunch. Lauren and I were so incredibly disappointed. It felt like a circus, with the beach swarming with over-excited tourists doing cartwheels and dives, taking photos, and running around shouting. It was virtually impossible to get a photo without some stranger in the background. This was ok, but we felt the beautiful bay deserved more respect. With a mass of speed boats arriving every hour of every day we can only imagine what the boat fumes and oil in the water are doing to the environment. We were told that in the high season you cannot even see the bay from the beach because of the amount of boats that idle in the bay waiting for a chance to offload their passengers onto the beach.
After the crowded yet beautiful Maya Bay we were herded back onto the speedboat to go and check out Monkey Beach. Unfortunately, the tide was too high and therefore the monkeys had retreated to the clifftop. We added it to the list of sights we were unable to see. You would think that a tour that offers “Monkey Beach” as one of their main attractions would be familiar with tidal times and schedule their stops appropriately.
Lunch on Phi Phi Don was in a prison-like cafeteria situated above a restuarant. The food was tasteless and we even had to buy our own drinks, even though the brochure advertised that soft drinks were included. I think by that they must have meant the 1L Coke that was shared between the 40-odd people on the speedboat. Note: unless you’re willing to pay B20 for the toilet just hold!
Kai Nok was our final stop before heading back to Phuket. Here we FINALLY got fresh fruit which was great since it was something we had all been longing for. We were given time to swim and relax on a small part of the beach that wasn’t taken up by B150 beach chairs. Yet ANOTHER thing we had to pay for. Lauren was even shooed away by a local collecting chair money as she was sitting on the beach too close to the chairs.
To top it all off, on our way back to Phuket the tour lady asked for our wristbands back. That was pretty much the icing on the cake for all of us. Now, I don’t condone stealing but I felt like we had earned and deserved those wrist bands! Lauren and a few others pretended to put their bands back but somehow slipped them into their pockets, up their sleeves, one lady even into her bra and we all had a good giggle about it. This was then followed by our usually monotone tour guide suddenly changing her tune as she bounced around the boat cheerfully asking for tips.
Needless to say, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND you DO NOT take Phuket Absolute Marine Tours. We would even go so far as to say that unless you can find a way to see the sights at a time when you are not surrounded by hundreds of tourists, then don’t go. There are countless more beautiful things to see.
All in all, Phuket seems like paradise to the weekend tourist wanting to escape their busy daily lives and relax on a beach. For us though, while it was an experience we will never forget, it is not a place we will rush back to any time soon. We left with a sour taste in our mouths.
We hope that you continue to enjoy reading about our journey through Thailand. We feel so blessed to be able to share it with you.
Next stop, Krabi, Ao Nang and Railay.