Phuket Pause

Plant yourself on a public sun lounge on the wide, white sands of Nai Harn Beach.

After spending nine glorious hours propping up the boutique bar in Virgin Australia’s International Business Class on my flight from Perth, I’m feeling as cool as a cucumber by the time we land in Phuket. The star treatment continues as I’m whisked away to the Notovel Patong Resort, about one hour’s drive from the airport, perched in the hills above Patong, the home of the island’s colourful nightlife. There’s mischief in the thick, humid air as I survey the unfolding action of the town from my balcony and I’m keen to get involved. 

On street level I snag a bar stool at one of the multiple open-air bars on Patong’s main drag, Bangla Road, and before long I am playing Connect Four against one of the city’s very friendly bar girls. I was once a whiz at this childhood game, but my rusty skills are no match for her wily talents. As she empties out my wallet, 100 baht at a time, a fellow traveller warns me that these girls make their living gambling against dimwitted tourists and are practically unbeatable. I bet him a beer that I can win at least one game, which costs me another 700 baht – plus an ice-cold Singha – before I admit that I am, indeed, that dimwitted tourist. When she whips out her Jenga set I know it’s time to leave.

Patong has an addictive energy, and while the weird and wonderful action of the town is a humorous novelty, there’s more to Phuket than beer and bars.

If you’re daring enough to negotiate the island’s loose road rules, hire a scooter from one of Patong’s many vendors, or jump in a tuk-tuk (it’s wise to agree on the fare before you get in) and take the 30-minute drive to Rawai, a relaxed region on the southern tip of the island and home to its best beaches.

Unbelievably, this tropical paradise is ignored by most tourists who visit Phuket. Plant yourself on a public sun lounge on the wide, white sands of Nai Harn Beach or dip your toes in the warm Andaman Sea. Take a short walk to the north to Ao Sane, a small, hidden beach popular among the locals, or drive a few minutes south to the rocky reef at Ya Noi for spectacular snorkelling. 

Buddhism is Phuket’s major religion. To get an authentic taste of this harmonious belief system, take the 15-minute drive north from Nai Harn Beach to Chalong on the east coast. Here you’ll find a magnificent tiered temple, Wat Chalong, where you can witness local worshippers praying, offering gold-leaf donations and even setting off fireworks to scare away bad luck. Remember to remove your shoes before entering. 

When the hunger pangs strike, make your way further up the east coast to the small village of Laem Hin, 30 minutes’ drive from Chalong. Head to the pier on the edge of town and take your chances aboard a well-travelled traditional longtail boat for the five-minute cruise to Kruvit Seafood Raft.

This rustic restaurant is somehow kept afloat in the middle of Sapam Bay by styrofoam blocks and looks like it has been hastily nailed together by blind monkeys. However, the spectacular food makes up for any aesthetics the venue may lack. Expect to be the only tourist on board as you dig into fragrant cockle soup with lemon grass, deep-fried chilli fish and lashings of the best crab you’ve ever tasted – all washed down with ice-cold longnecks of the local beer.

After overindulging at Kruvit – trust me, you will – chances are you’ll be ready for some calorie-burning action. The friendly guides at SeaCanoe get your arms pumping on a sea kayaking adventure to idyllic island Ko Panuk. Board the spacious transfer boat at Ao Po Pier, 45 minutes’ drive north-east from Patong, and take the 60-minute cruise towards mainland Thailand. You drop anchor alongside the soaring limestone cliff faces of Ko Panuk and settle into your kayak. With torch at the ready, you then paddle through a series of tiny caves that penetrate the outer cliffs of the island to reveal a prehistoric interior of glassy bays to explore. There’s a good chance the noisy native monkeys will reveal themselves – I saw three on my trip – and you may even spot some bats hanging from the roofs of the caves.

Meanwhile, a generous spread of freshly prepared Thai delicacies awaits hungry kayakers on the mothership, as does a cooling swim in Phang Nga Bay.

Back in Patong, I finally take leave of the Connect Four magician and wander through the crowded streets still full of colourful characters. I pause to pose for a photo with a live iguana on my head – simply because I can. Connect Four may have cost me some cold, hard cash, but I’ve learnt the golden rule of getting the most out of Phuket: never bet against the locals. Rather, follow them to all the best spots.   

Where to Stay

Patong :: Mercure Patong Resort

Located in the heart of Patong, this hotel is a four-star property, but it’s hard to figure out where they lost the fifth. Don’t miss an authentic Thai massage at the in-house spa – like Patong, it’s a weird and wonderful experience. 

Nai Harn :: All Seasons

It almost seems criminal that you can score a room at this luxury resort. On the scenic southern tip of Phuket, the resort is just a stone’s throw from the island’s longest beach.  

Chalong Bay :: Novotel Phuket Beach Panwa

Enjoy a cocktail at the resort’s Sunset Pool Bar and you’ll be greeted by a scene worthy of a postcard. Opt for an alfresco breakfast with views of Chalong Bay, then stretch out beside the impressive pool and the bartender will cater to your every whim.  

Words by Shane Conroy - Published in Voyeur January 2010
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