Oh Thailand – how you seem to divide people! I asked my Facebook friends for tips/tricks/hints with where to go and where not to go in relation to Thailand… here is an abridged version of the answers I received:
Go to Phuket.
Don’t go to Phuket.
Go to Koh Phi Phi.
Don’t go to Koh Phi Phi.
Go to Koh Samui.
Don’t go to Koh Samui.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a place receive so many polar opposite reviews from so many different people (maybe Bali?).
I have taken heed of some advice given (good things about bartering, drinking and taxi scams), but have just had to go with my gut and experience these places for myself to make my own decision.
The easiest entry point for us was to fly from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (where we had spent three days after returning to mainland Asia from the Philippines), directly into Phuket. We had looked at taking the train north to Thailand, however, given the visa restrictions about land borders (15 day visa), or airport borders (30 day visa), flying was our only option.
Arrival into Phuket airport was pretty standard – long lines, surly immigration officials, taxi drivers hounding you as soon as you step outside baggage claim…
We had already arranged transfer through our hotel in Karon Beach (about an hours drive south), and this made it exponentially easier than having to barter and pit the drivers against each other to land on an acceptable price.
Now this drive from Phuket airport to Karon Beach is where we starting listing the worst drivers we have had since this trip began:
5. Manila, Philippines: Driver who created lanes in the middle of lanes, on sidewalks and in the gardens.
4. Bohol, Philippines: Driver whom had no interest in the brake. On the upside, a journey that took half the time that it should have.
3. This drive right here in Phuket. Driver who either has his foot on the accelerator or on the brake – there was no in between. Like riding a rocking horse.
2. Lombok, Indonesia: Driver who came within 2cm of knocking a kid off his bike.
1. Java, Indonesia: Driver who fell asleep at the wheel.
Some drivers here really are as bad as all the rumours!
Anyway, I digress! Karon Beach, Phuket is a nice spot, gritty sand and swell (probably because of the storms out at sea) but a good place for a quick dip:
From Karon, we moved to Patong Beach for a few days, to see what all the fuss was about. Ironically however, I’m still not sure why tourists flock to Patong. The beach was absolutely packed with visitors, and the main shopping streets a new level of seedy. Every few metres down the road, someone is trying to convince anyone who will listen to attend one of the “famous” sex shows – holding out menus on exactly what is on offer to look at. Surprisingly, I noticed just as many families wandering around as I did lads groups. Patong definitely didn’t seem like a family holiday destination to me?
Cutting that portion of the trip short in order to move to Koh Phi Phi, we grabbed a cab to Rassada Pier (B400/$US11), and purchased one-way ferry tickets to the island paradise.
The ferry ride took about 2 hours, but there’s some beautiful islands and beach scenes to take in on the way, so does fly by. The busy Tonsai Pier is the only way to access Phi Phi – so we had to wait for other boats to move before being able to disembark. Be aware the locals will charge a ฿20/person fee to enter the town from the pier – no option by that point, pay or get back on the boat!
In terms of where to stay on Phi Phi, we put it down to whether we wanted ‘party’ or ‘serene’. This helped narrow down whether to bother booking close to the bars/restaurants or out in the hills. We were only staying for 3 nights, so didn’t want to stay too far out from the pier, so chose PP Charlie Princess Resort, on the beach, back from the bars/restaurants. However, we were woken up by a street brawl one night that moved to the side streets by our room – sometimes you just can’t help it!
Most tourists use Koh Phi Phi as a base to head to Maya Bay (on the neighbouring island of Ko Phi Phi Leh about a 20 minute boat ride south) to get the customary shot standing on ‘The Beach’ made famous by Leo. These boat tours are easy to come by from Koh Phi Phi, and of course, the advice is to try and get out on the water early to beat the crowds.
We decided to hire kayaks on the beach and paddle as far around the island as we could instead. The hire for the whole day was ฿700/$US20 including a waterproof bag for all your extra items. There is some amazing snorkelling that can be done a short paddle from Loh Dalum beach, you can kayak through caves and around a blowhole also.
I did take a load of footage on my Go-Pro from the kayaking adventure, however, on our way back into shore at the end of the day, we came across a panicking Chinese man whose kayak was sinking and he couldn’t swim. In our attempt to help him, he flipped both of our kayaks, and now my Go Pro lives at the bottom on the Thai ocean. All is okay though, we managed to get him and his boat safely to shore after that. Good karma points, no?
After that happened, I thought I’d treat myself to the fabled drink du’jour of this island, a bucket. Haha. When in Rome, right!?
Again, I was surprised at this island – how much fun you can have, how much relaxing you can do, and even how clean things were. Everyone leads you to believe it’s 24/7 crazy and dirty, however, each morning, after the storm brought in loads of debris onto the beach (and also the people leaving empty buckets everywhere! Not me obviously.) – workers would clean this from top to bottom leaving lovely, soft white sand beaches for everyone.
Koh Phi Phi could be whatever you want it to be – I enjoyed laying on the beach, kayaking and eating some of the delicious local food (actually, that would sum up my ideal life!), but I watched loads of people head off on tours all day and have a great time, as well as the hungover masses at breakfast each morning who were clearly there to enjoy the nightlife. Whatever floats your boat – which could sum up Thailand in general really!
Been to Koh Phi Phi? What did you love? What didn’t you love?
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