When tourism rebooted, guest blogger John Borthwick jumped aboard Thai Airways’ new direct flight from Sydney to Phuket. Here’s a little of what he found.
Phuket is back. That is, Phuket visitors are back. The Old Town is humming and Patong is rocking. The kayaking’s excellent and Phang Nga Bay is still as close as we get to a glimpse of heaven on earth. Sample a few of these Phuket moments.
Phuket Marine National Park in the far north is home to the island’s best, cheapest and probably least-known thrill. Kayaking along the water trails of Thachatchai mangrove forest is one of the best few hours you’ll spend anywhere. Buttressed mangrove roots line the channels you paddle through while water crows watch your progress. Hire a guide and kayak at the park headquarters.
Tourist stunts like riding elephants, trunk ‘paintings’ and other mistreatments are out. ‘Look, don’t touch’ is the deal today at ethical Thai reserves such as Phuket Elephant Sanctuary Park. There’s an elevated 500 metre walkway from which you can observe the sanctuary’s dozen rescue elephants as they amble about, forage and bathe. There are scheduled tours of this excellent 12 ha domain, plus extended educational experiences.
The big one is Wat Chalong, Phuket’s largest and most visited shrine, which houses a bone fragment said to be from the historic Buddha. A 60-metre sacred ‘chedi’towers rises over the complex.The island wouldn’t be Thailand without at least a dozen temples, so look around: there’s probably a wat, and certainly a shrine, not far from where you’re staying.
With 50 km of Andaman Sea beaches that loop from headland to headland, if you can’t find a Phuket shoreline that love, you’re probably allergic to sand. Patong Beach was one of the original visitor magnets, and still is, but the farther north you travel up the west coast, the sands become ever emptier and lovelier. Northern Phuket is a world apart from the traffic and mall sprawl found elsewhere and up here you’ll find Mai Khao Beach. Stretching to infinity, if not 11 km, this is island’s longest and finest beach.
Phang Nga Bay
Phuket’s east coast faces this sublime bay, one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world. Much of it is national park where karst limestone islands float like snoozing sea monsters. The Phi Phi islands are always busy but their stunning Maya Bay is now from protected from over-tourism. The bay’s twin Koh Yao islands are low-key and languid, have quality resorts and will tempt you to escape for another week longer.
Phuket Old Town
History happened here long before beachcombers and tourism talent scouts ‘discovered’ the island 50 years ago. As befits what was an important hub for trading boats from the East and Europe, Phuket Old Town still retains that past. Among its 19th century Sino-Portuguese shop-houses is the elegant Tu Kab Khao restaurant on Phang Nga Road where family recipes like spiced crab feature among the traditional Peranakan and Thai dishes.
Phuket Walking Street is a Sunday night market that takes over historic Thalang Road in the Old Town. Sample the southern Thai culinary specialties on offer and pick up a few local handicraft gifts. It’s all family-oriented with toy stalls and buskers but if you have the chance, also duck into one of the new, upmarket bars and try a local Chalong Bay Rum-based cocktail.
As the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, Phuket evolved last century from an overlooked tin mining province to a wealthy tourist mecca. Encapsulating that change, in the north of the island you can find the three-storey Art Deco home known as Baan Ah-Jor (Great-Grandparents Home).Built in 1936 by a tin-mining entrepreneur, the mansion has been carefully restored as a private museum that showcases the daily life of a wealthy 1930’s Thai-Chinese family. And then have a meal at the museum’s excellent Red Table restaurant.
Words and images copyright John Borthwick ©2022.