Some of my besties that I have known for 20 years (yes, since elementary school) came to visit in late October. We were planning a gals trip to Phuket and I knew little about the island before finding cheap flights through Air Asia to get there from Chiang Mai.
I immediately found out that Patong Beach is a sh*t-hole so asked friends who are familiar with Phuket where to stay. I decided on Kata Beach which is further south on Phuket Island and a little less cray. I wanted a swim up bar, nice beach, and the ability to visit the Phi Phi islands.
Here’s the thing, if you go to Phuket, you are bound to get mixed up with a tourist trap. I did a lot of research beforehand on island hopping and found that it all seemed to be over $100 a day to do tours to the Phi Phi islands. So I hesitated to book online knowing I’d figure it out later in person.
From the airport, we hopped in a van that would drop us off at our resort. It was 200 baht per person. We could have hired a private car for 1000 baht but I always love the cheaper option. However, I strongly advise that if you are in a group to TAKE THE PRIVATE CAR FROM THE AIRPORT. We had to wait a good 30 minutes to fill the van and then we were the second to last people dropped off. It took almost 3 hours from the time of arrival at the airport to get to our resort. HEADACHE.
Resort? Yes. I wanted a fun resort near the beach where we could have a fancy weekend. I searched online for hotels with swim up bars and booked Chanalai Garden Resort. The cost was only $100 (USD) per night. Split between three people that is a steal! We could have added breakfast for an additional $15 (530 baht) per day but I was hesitant to spend that much money. Once we checked in to our hotel the staff said we could pay $7 (200 baht) upon arrival at the meal hall. If you stay here, don’t book breakfast in advance!
The resort was really nice (especially since I am used to bungalows and hostels). It’s not ON the beach but only a five minute walk from the beach. The entrance is confusing and steep. The bartenders at the pool are very friendly and it was perfect for a girls trip. Because there were three of us, we got an additional bed free of charge. Although I will probably never go to Phuket again, I highly recommend staying here.
We spent two days at the beach getting massages and swimming. Kata beach is great for swimming and you can rent lounge chairs for 100 baht ($3) per day. The sunsets are great and it only rained (late October) once the sun was down. The majority of the restaurants and bars are right behind the beach one street up.
We spent one evening watching a fire show at SKA bar. It was one adult in his 30s and about five little boy putting on the show. Although the boys were very talented, I was wondering why they were out entertaining at 10:30pm on a Wednesday night rather in bed. I guess that’s not up to me to wonder about and they seemed to be having fun….. Thoughts? Am I a bad person for watching this!? Moral dilemmas while traveling around Thailand.
As for island hopping…..Back to when we were being shuttled in a van from the airport on day one….when we were about half way to our resort we got out for a toilet stop. They, of course, had staff on sight trying to sell us tours. I was skeptical (as always), but the guide said that for my two friends and I we could do a full day of island hopping for 1,500 baht each ($45). I had not seen prices that low online and didn’t hesitate to not take the deal. That included pick up, drop off, lunch, and snorkel gear.
Island Hopping tour: Phuket King Star Marine
We got picked up at our resort at about 7:30am. We had a bit over an hour to drive to the pier and picked up a few others on the way. We arrived at the pier just after 9 and it was hectic. Usually tours give me major anxiety as I feel that we are on a tight itinerary with 40 other people. I don’t feel relaxed and get stressed. We were going to take a speedboat to different areas south of Phuket which included the Phi Phi islands. Although we couldn’t go to Maya Bay (due to massive trash from tourism), we got to snap a few pics from the boat. The guides told us that before Maya Bay was closed that about 4,000 tourists would show up daily on a beach the span of about 100 meters. Personally, I think this should happen all over Thailand on a regular basis.
The tour was off to a rocky start. We went snorkeling and there was literally nothing to see besides a couple of fish. The snorkeling here is not as good as places I’ve been in the past. (The Philippines is way better). This is likely due to the mass tourism that we were contributing to and all of the excess fuel that is leaking into this part of the ocean.
Fast forward to the man who nearly drowned, the medical boat taking him back, and then us all returning to the pier to drop off his friends.
We then turned back around and made the 45 minute journey to Koh Phi Phi. If you Google “Best Thai islands to visit” bright blue ocean with white sandy beaches will pop up onto your screen. These are likely highly filtered images of Phi Phi area. Yes, there are beautiful cliffs peeking up from the waters, but we were shuttled to an area where you couldn’t see the clear water as it was just hundreds of boats floating nearby with tourists hanging around. We had lunch on the beach and then went to the small swimming area. My friends and I agreed that Kata Beach was nicer. However, it was pretty, but just a bit underwhelming.
Later we boated on over to “Monkey Island.” We couldn’t leave the boat since the monkeys are “vicious” but we were able to pull up fairly close to take photos and let the staff taunt the monkeys. It was a bit odd and although it was fun to see monkeys it seemed a bit unethical that we were up in their faces teasing them.
Following the monkey sitch, we headed back to a small island for more snorkeling, beer, and swimming. It was full of tourists, but we were able to relax or an hour and a half. It was nice sitting on the beach as the sun was slowly falling in the sky. Once the evening was over, we hopped back in the van and made it home around 6pm.
Did I like the island hopping? Yes. Would I do that tour again? No. I honestly preferred sitting on the beach at Kata, swimming, getting massages, and not being on a boat with 40 other people.
Would I recommend people go see Phi Phi Islands? No. Go to Krabi and relax. If you want to do island hopping in southeast Asia, go to Halong Bay in Vietnam.
Overall, I did have tons of fun with my friends, we had plenty of beach time, and I am glad to have gone to Phuket. However, there are a zillion other islands in Thailand to visit.
I don’t mean to be a cynic complaining about mass tourism while I am clearly contributing to it all, but more regulations may be necessary to preserve this beautiful area. But it’s all about the money, right?