Phuket as a destination is often misunderstood as most visiting tourists will rarely see past the southern beaches and main tourist stretch along Kata, Karon and Patong. But the island is a lot more than this, and being not much smaller in size to Singapore, there is a lot to explore away from the mostly developed southern beaches. So it is not just your typical tourist resort, and with various Phuket villa rentals scattered throughout the island, this gives flexibility to escape and explore the more diverse and multi-faceted features of the island. And, at the same time, a shortish taxi ride will easily reach from top to bottom, and coast to coast, of all of Phuket. So Phuket for us is all about escaping, and while the southern stretches are always convenient when flying in from abroad, for a quick break, beach life, nightlife, and a bit of hedonism maybe, we always prefer to escape to indulge in the affordable luxuries and frugal pampering found throughout. As the island is fantastic when it comes to value for money and it is one of few places I can think of where VIP treatments are even accessible to us mere Ps. We have had some unforgettably luxury experiences in Phuket staying in some of the most breath-taking pool villas, where, elsewhere, I could never even imagine to afford. In short, a visit to Phuket should always be done in luxury.
An Island of Many Faces
So many visitors will never quite realise just how unique and culturally diverse Phuket really is. Yet one of the better areas to highlight this diversity is in the traditions and heritage of Phuket Old Town, is found in the south, not so far from the convenient southern beaches of the main stretch. This is the old heritage area of Phuket which old colonial shop houses, century old Sino-Portuguese architecture, local Chinese temples and a good bit of old world charm. And these cultures are reflected again in the fantastic cooking and food in the area, which is the huge for us. But the unique cultures of the island are found throughout, and away the main city, where some other somewhat fascinating influences are scattered along the shorelines where a number of sea gypsy villages, for nomadic seafarers, who have taken up shelter many of the beaches and coasts. Then again on the east coast it’s just a short hop to Koh Yao Yai, one of the many nearby surrounding island excursions, with a population of 90% Muslim (and 10% Buddhist) due to the Malay and Indonesian heritage of those living there. Tradition’s which are reflected locally in dress, architecture, but of course lack of pork and alcohol. Other intriguing sights on this island include the farms of drying anchovies, called pla ching chang, as well as lots of cashew nut trees harvested for this regions staple local cuisine. But there are also areas of Phuket to escape everyone, for a bit of privacy and seclusion, surrounded by lesser known beaches, local fishing villages, and beautiful unspoilt scenery. They’re just so much varying beauty and intrigue dotted throughout its coastlines.
The Andaman Adventures
Phuket has never been a big hit with the backpacking crowds renowned in the region, due to the focus on luxury on the island, and this honesty works to its advantage. At the same time it will never be far to reach the full moon parties and island hopping which the backpackers trails are known for. And, regardless of where you stay in Phuket, there will always be tours offered and similar opportunities available to experience the surrounding postcard pictures of the Andaman. The nearest taxi stand, or a tour kiosk, or just organise tours online with free pick-up and drop-off to your door. It will be sorted in no time. Because the tourist infrastructure and tour connections are next to none on the island and the tours run daily year round. In fact if almost feels like there’s almost too much to choose from as tour companies compete and diversify daily to offer new experiences throughout the southern island. But the obvious experience in the region would have to be the beach and Maya Bay, on Koh Phi-Phi Island, which we’ve experienced three times to date, yet are still happy to return to. As each excursion has been different, starting from different parts of the island, travelling via different routes, and taking in new adventures and experiences along the way. Because it’s not just a ‘there-and-back’ destination, and while a quick visit is possible, it’s often the adventure, experiences and the scenery along the way which make the journey. Encounters with monkeys, for example, or snorkelling with coral fish, kayaking in seemingly forgotten lagoons, or just sightseeing along some of the most unforgettable sea karst landscapes the world will ever know. The Andaman must have some of the most beautiful scenery to ever come across, and if you do manage to exhaust the Andaman side of the islands, then there is always island hopping in the Phang Nga region, between the mainland, which is quieter but just as incredible to explore.