Thursday, 23 December 2010

A few days in Phuket

A few days in Phuket

Phuket has a mixed reputation, partially deserved but also partially unfair. The first image that pops into many people’s minds is the overdeveloped and rather seedy stretch of Patong beach. However, remember that this is just a small part of a big island and is easily avoided if that’s not your thing.

Recently, my family and I stayed at Kamala beach, a bit further north of Patong and a world apart. Kamala is quiet, with no accommodation built directly on or behind the beach. It is a beautiful natural cove offering great photo opportunities and peace and quiet. Another advantage (for me) is the lack of vendors on the beach, here you really will be able to relax without having to refuse the Henna tattoo and doughnut sellers every 5 minutes!

We chose Kamala because it seemed ideal, having a young family. We didn’t want to be in an area that was too crowded, but still with a nice beach and swimmable sea. We stayed in the Marriott Courtyard, and it was a choice between either that one or the Marriott Courtyard on neighbouring Surin beach (I had a promotional offer to use up at one of these two hotels). As we were travelling with my in-laws (who are Thai) the choice was simple. Surin was badly affected by the Tsunami and many people died, especially in the Courtyard hotel. Kamala was left untouched. Thai people fear ghosts and that is a big reason why tourism was slow to recover in the affected areas. They wouldn’t even entertain the idea of staying at Surin for fear of upsetting any trapped souls. So…Kamala it was!

If you wish to pay your respects while in Phuket there are a few memorial sites around the island. At the southern end of Kamala there is a monument just behind the little river that runs behind the beach and a little grassed area and pavilion.

What to do in Phuket when you get bored of the beach and the hotel pool though….well there is a lot! We hired a car so it made accessing these places easy for us, but the “songthaews” are regular and there’s always a taxi or your hotel will usually arrange something for you. Of course we sampled the more family orientated activities, starting off at the rather more off-the-beaten-track Gibbon Rehabilitation Sanctuary.

This is worth a visit, even if slightly out of the way, to do your bit for a good cause. The centre is run by volunteers (European when we visited) and attempts to rehabilitate gibbons that were orphaned by poachers or kept as pets. They go through several stages of training before being released back into the wild, although of course some don’t make it. The only ones you can see are the latest arrivals who are still used to a lot of human contact, as they develop through the programme they are moved further into the rainforest and away from human contact. There are a couple of nice trails you can walk while here, a few refreshment stalls and elephant rides. If you’re interested, the staff are happy to talk to you about their programme as well.

Following on the animal theme we then visited Phuket Aquarium and it’s related attractions. Most people only look around the aquarium itself and then go, and the aquarium is fairly sizeable although beginning to look a little shabby. They do have a great selection, and some especially large fish that scared my daughter! If you’re travelling with kids this is a great way to entertain them for a couple of hours. If you’ve got an appetite for some more, the entrance fee also gets you into the “Baby Farm” as my daughter called it! It’s a building at the back of the main aquarium where they run breeding programmes for many varied species of sea life. Be careful if you go in there as the Thai’s are never that hot on health and safety, there are plenty of opportunities to fall over! And just a bit further down the road is a small facility that breeds turtles.

Phuket Zoo is, in my own opinion, a grim place best avoided. Sure if you have a little child, they probably will enjoy it and again it’s a good way to pass some time. But any older children may be upset by the cramped and dirty enclosures and the obviously stir-crazy animals. A lot of the facilities appear uncared for and dirty. This place does have a poor reputation and fully deserved, if you can….stay away.

If temples are your thing there are plenty of those to visit. We went to the Phuket Big Buddha, which is really only accessible on wheels, it’s a 6km winding road up a big hill. But when at the top you are rewarded with magnificent views all around. The Buddha itself wasn’t complete when we visited in October 2009 but was still a magnificent sight. Also worth a look in is Wat Chalong, probably one of the most visited temples in Phuket. We were treated to a procession of Miss Teen Thailand contestants in the temple grounds during our visit!

If you find that you need to hit the shops then Phuket Town should cater for your needs, as well as the nearby hyper-global-mega malls (!!) of Big C and Central Festival.

Phuket offers many superb photos opportunities and if you’re able to hire a car, I’d recommend a trip to one of the many viewpoints (they’re shown on any good map). You can get some spectacular sunset shots.

There are countless other activities such as trekking, boat trips, fishing trips, go-karting, Muay Thai fights and training camps and much more. Phuket can be a sleazy, booze trip if you want and Patong can certainly offer you that. But don’t think that this is all Phuket has to offer! You should have a great time!

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