Phuket: It’s called ‘poo-KET,’ not FOO-ket (and definitely not ‘FUK-it’).
Phuket is very popular with tourists from all over the world, (including the ones in our house). And it was the primary reason we chose to go to Thailand in the first place. Frankly, we didn’t take much convincing: “Wait, you’re saying it’s sunny, humid, and a country in Asia? Woo-hoo, let’s get malaria booster shots!”
You don’t need a very good reason to go.
Located on the western coast of the southern peninsula, Phuket is surrounded by the freakishly azure waters of the Andaman Sea. At 222 square miles (and almost the size of the whole country of Singapore), Phuket is Thailand’s largest island. But it’s tiny when compared to the mainland which is the world’s 51st largest country. Despite that honor, Thailand’s still only a little bigger than California. So…I guess my point is…that, um…Singapore is a surprisingly tiny country. Sure, let’s go with that.
After getting our fill of Bangkok’s metropolitan hustle and bustle, we hopped an airplane and flew about 900km south to Phuket International Airport. Arriving safely in the evening, we hailed a cab and drove the
60-mile 60-kilometer trip south to the remote town of Karon for some much-needed “sitting around doing nothing on a quiet beach” time.
Our beach hotel wasn’t on a beach.
According to some people on Wikipedia, the word “Phu-ket” means “mountain jewel” (because 70% of its surface area is mountains), so we probably shouldn’t have been surprised that our hotel, CC’s Hideaway was so…well, hidden away.
Though their website says the hotel is “superbly nestled in the lush hills of Karon overlooking the Andaman Sea,” they really meant to say, “You’ll need a shuttle bus ride to get to the beach.”
More “wedged” into the hills than “nestled,” the hotel’s bold modern architecture really stood out among all the thatched-roofed, traditional Thai buildings in the area. Yet despite that and its bright yellow and green paint job, the hotel still wasn’t easy for cabbies to find. Nor was it easy to get to — the road up to the hotel angled so severely at one point that the driver had to stop the cab and rebalance the weight (basically, us) before attempting to climb it.
Inside the hotel, we found a charming courtyard area with numerous lounge chairs surrounding a good-sized central pool ostensibly guarded by an inflatable Orca whale.
The rooms were well-appointed with trendy decor and a rock-solid build quality. The hotel restaurant was surprisingly good, so we ate there often because, as we said, you need a shuttle bus ride to get to town. To the hotel’s credit, shuttle rides to the beach were available hourly.
Still, our hotel was pretty nice.
Its location, high above the town of Karon, kept noise pleasantly to a minimum, but that only made our drunken late-night singing more noticeable to the other guests.
The view wasn’t nearly as “impressive” as we’d been led to believe, but only because it would’ve required us to focus our eyes, and we weren’t in this tropical paradise to do work.
The hotel grounds were top-notch and the staff couldn’t have been nicer (though we didn’t put that to the test). In fact, the only real downside of the hotel was its lack of “being on a beach”-iness. But if you want to stay near the beach, but not actually on it, you could do a lot worse. CC’s Hideaway was a really great hotel that we would highly recommend…like pretty much everyone else on TripAdvisor.com.
We would’ve recommended the hotel even more highly were it not for the undetermined “animals” that inexplicably shrieked continuously from dusk ‘til sundown, the cat-in-heat who cried all night outside our room until the wee hours, and the cock that crowed us awake every @#%$$ing morning. Other than that, it was great.
So what’s Phuket got going for it?
As I said earlier (pay attention!), the water around Phuket is either freakishly blue or freakishly green, depending on the time of day. So when reading on the beach in a rented lounge chair got boring (two days in), we took a boat to the nearby Phi Phi islands — a group of six small islands south of Phuket — for some snorkeling, swimming, and further sunbathing.
On the trip, we got utterly and completed soaked to the bone as wave after wave of Andaman Sea sloshed over the boat’s “protective” barrier, repeatedly dousing us for forty-five full minutes. Fortunately, the bright sun and tropical heat dried us off sufficiently so we didn’t have to sue the boat company out of business. Whew.
The even tinier islands off tiny Phuket island.
The boat took us to several exotically named locales: Bamboo Island, Monkey Island, Viking Cave, Pileh Cove, and Maya Bay (where Hollywood actor, Leonardo DeCaprio, shot the movie, “The Beach”).
Each locale was more spectacular than the last. But unlike many normal land masses, the Phi Phi islands’ limestone cliffs thrust dramatically straight up out of the water, seemingly from nowhere (but by nowhere, I mean, the continental shelf).
Weirdly, the base of each island appears to have been eroded over the millennia by those same sea waves. The result of the constant battering is an odd overhang that looks like the island isn’t connected to the Earth correctly. On the plus side, it affords you shade on hot days without having to schlep an umbrella to the beach — I’d like to see that feature in other islands, too (get on it, lunar gravitational pull).
The Phi Phi islands’ fine-grained beach sand was as white and toasty as any we’ve ever stuck our toes in, including the world-class beaches of Clearwater, Florida. In theory, the surrounding islands had all the makings of individual tropical paradises.
These idyllic islands had one major downfall, however, and that was the fact that they were veritable magnets for chartered, speed, fishing, and all manner of other boats, even cruise ships — all carrying their capacity of pale-skinned, camera-toting tourists like ourselves. The islands were more crowded than a Taco Bell kiosk at HempCon.
In fact, we’ve never been on beaches with more people. Ever. But strangely, the massive crowds didn’t bother us too much because we were only visiting each island for a short period. Had we intended to stay for a few hours or more, we might’ve felt inclined to murder a few tourists (you know, as a warning to others who might venture into our sun). Thankfully, it never came to that. NOTE: If you want isolated beaches like you see in travel brochures, try the Galapagos Islands.
Phuket’s Old Town looks really old.
The next day, we went to Phuket’s Old Town area and discovered a ton of Colonial Period architecture, though I expect other people already knew about it. We read that the style resembled the architecture of the British Straits Settlement, “Penang” — which was unexpected considering Thailand is the only Southeast Asian nation that has never been colonized. Apparently then, they just liked the aesthetic of oppression. Go figure.
Along with its European architecture, Old Town has super-narrow European streets and sidewalks, too. Suffice to say, Escalades and Hummers are not welcome here — especially since the Thai people drive on the “British” (aka, the left or wrong) side of the road.
Now, having casually flipped through a Phuket guidebook or six, we knew about the world-famous roti at Abdul’s and had to try it. We each got our own and it was pretty greasy — in other words, it was exactly like every other roti I’ve ever had, and equally delicious.
Overall, the area was pretty sketchy, kinda like seeing Bourbon Street during daylight. (Do. Not. Do. That.) Likewise, Old Town is the kind of place that looks best when you can barely see anything, like night. So in hindsight, we should’ve gone to see the Big Buddha instead because it looked really big even from a distance, and both cab rides cost about the same.
Later that night, we attempted to visit Patong, the really seedy part of Phuket (and probably the most fun), but learned that there was a huge automobile accident on the road, and since traffic in Phuket is no better than Bangkok, we headed back down to Karon again and went to “On The Rock,” an incredibly beautiful restaurant inside a beautiful hotel with a beautiful view that sells very reasonably priced, yet horrible, horrible food.
While digesting the aforementioned…let’s call it “food”…we waited outside a Dino Park Mini-Golf for 45-minutes to get picked up by the hotel shuttle. Evidently, you have to call the hotel in advance and let someone know you’re waiting.
The next day — I think it ended with “-day” — we had a light breakfast and then headed into a dark room with a strange man for “Thai massages,” which fortunately turned out to be Thai massages. Afterward, he promised to keep in touch, but never did.
Now thoroughly relaxed, but bored, we took the shuttle down to Kata Beach (about 20km south of Karon Beach) and sat in the shade of a rented umbrella reading eBooks while enjoying the balmy weather and delicious mango drinks (a simple mixture of mango, sugar-water and ice).
But, like all beaches in Thailand, Kata Beach was crowded as crap — tons of pre-melanoma, daytime-drunk Europeans, Chinese, and Australians sunned their corpulent carcasses in lounge chairs while sauteing themselves in tanning oil — the smell was stultifying and a little bit like bacon.
Overall, we had a really nice time in Phuket. We saw a lot of interesting…uh…We ate a lot of really good…um…We did a lot of adventurous…er, um…
Okay, fine. We basically did nothing. We pretty much just sat on the beach reading and drinking mango drinks.
Happy, now? Because we were.