Phuket is such a big island that the “koh” (meaning island) was dropped long ago. I stayed in two different parts of Phuket – Phuket Town and Kata Beach. Most tourists skip Phuket Town, where the majority of the locals live, but I quite liked my time there in the old town area. Kata Beach is another story, a typical tourist beach town that caters to foreigners. It felt super cheesy after having been to some smaller Thai islands.
I first booked into a hotel that turned out to be far outside of the old town portion of Phuket Town, which I largely picked because it had a pool. I was, however, kitty-corner to the much-advertised shopping mall. Since I couldn’t see much else within walking distance, I decided to give the mall a go (I was on the hunt for new sandals after all, and I figured they must have a decent food court for dinner). The mall was so close – literally a hundred yards – and so far – it was across a crazy busy intersection with no pedestrian crossing. Standing on the corner trying to figure out how to cross, I accepted the offer of a ride from the motorbike taxi. I bargained him down to 20baht to get this chicken across the road. But since he sang me a song on our short ride, I ended up giving him 30. The mall was full of inexpensive stores, and I had no luck finding anything but pizza for dinner. I really have no idea why this mall is considered an advertisable destination.
The next day I transferred to the Memory at On On Hotel, right in Old Town (again I took a motorbike taxi and tipped extra because he deftly avoided us getting sandwiched between two cars while keeping my backpack securely sandwiched between his knees). The hotel is an old colonial building, and the place drips with charm. I was instantly happy with my decision to check out of the other place early, as much as my request to do so confused the other hotel staff. This section of Phuket Town has some great Sino-Portuguese architecture, lots of artist spaces and galleries, (real) coffee shops, and the best food I had in Phuket. I learned that Phuket has its own regional cuisine and I was lucky enough to try some local fare at Kopitium, after trusting my dinner choice to the owner (asking her to please recommend something local). I had a dish I can’t remember the name of, but it was great: ground spicy chicken served with fresh veggies, a clear broth soup, rice and an omelet to (as the owner instructed) help cut the spice of the meat. It was amazing! The next day I had some Thai pizza – massaman curry (my favorite) on a pizza! It was interesting, although not mind blowing. Overall I was really glad I spent some time in old town.
Now I’d met several tourists along the way who said I shouldn’t bother spending much time in Phuket. And after spending some time on a touristy beach on Phuket, I understand why. I opted for Kata Beach, supposed to be less crazy than Phatong, the main tourist destination. But I still found it super crowded and I also really didn’t locate any worthwhile food in the three days I spent there. Don’t get me wrong, the beaches are nice – good sand, a coastline that drops off quickly enough to actually swim in the water, something resembling waves (apparently it wasn’t surf season – that there is a “season” for surfing is already a bit funny to me) – and I can see why this a popular beach destination. But it was the only beach I went to in Thailand where I had to be careful not to hit anyone while taking a cooling dip in the water, and where the beach chairs were lined up three rows deep! I also had no idea that Phuket was so popular with Russian tourists, the signs and menus were as likely to be in Russian as English. And it took me a while to figure out that many of the Thais were addressing me in Russian and not Thai. I know there are other, less crowded beaches on that big island, but the traffic is so crazy there that I didn’t feel like scooting was a good idea. So I was admittedly a bit limited. If I go back to Phuket, I will definitely not stay on Phatong, Karon, or Kata beaches (the “top 3” west coast beaches). But honestly I’ll likely just opt for one of the smaller islands, like Koh Tao or Koh Lanta, where you can’t help but slip into true beach bum mode given the slow pace of life there.
Having spent so much time on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, I’m ready for the excitement of the big city. On to Bangkok!