I hadn’t travelled out of Hong Kong for at least a couple of weeks so it was almost certainly time for another trip. This was an extra special one as not only did it coincide with my 21st birthday, but I also had company – Little Jack’s Little Mother was along for the trip.
After just over a week in Hong Kong together, we’d covered pretty much all the major sights plus thrown in some hiking, plenty of getting lost and even the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Half Marathon for good measure (Little Mother did the running, not me!) so we felt like we’d earned a long weekend in 30 degree sunshine, lying on a beach. And boy, did it deliver!
I knew this was going to be a different sort of trip from my other adventures. You could tell Little Mother was a novice to Asian travelling from the second she put her seatbelt on in the minivan from the airport to our accommodation. On top of that, it’s easier to list the food she will eat than what she won’t, and she’s about as good at geography as I am at flying a rocket. The Thailand I remembered from my trip back in 2013 was one which had its fair share of eccentricities and shocks for a traveller who has never ventured outside of Europe, so I definitely braced myself.
The Phuket we were greeted with, however, was very different from what I imagined. We arrived late at night (making use of the very efficient Phuket Shuttle company in order to avoid the so-called ‘mafia’ taxis) so didn’t get much of a look at the less aesthetically pleasing side to the island before arriving at our accommodation, located midway between Kata and Karon beaches to the south of the island. I don’t think we could have asked for better accommodation really. Fantasy Hill Bungalow had it all really. For 1200 baht a night (during peak season, it’s cheaper at other times), we got a large a/c twin room with a clean bathroom and great veranda. The staff were friendly and helpful and the location perfect – around a 15 minute walk to Kata Yai beach on your left or less than a 10 minute walk to Karon Beach to your right. It’s surrounded by shops and bars so everything is right on your doorstep.
I reunited myself with the joys of Chang beer before we slept, planning to head over to Kata Beach the next morning. If I’m honest, there’s very little I can say beyond that in terms of activities. We went to the beach, chilled and relaxed, then went home. And it was perfect. The sun was scorching (my sunburn agrees) and the beach beautiful. Kata Beach was great and really long, though we personally preferred Karon Beach. It was a little quieter and the sand was a bit coarser, though the water was incredible. Neither beaches are particularly shaded, save for the line of trees at the back. For some reason, we kept poorly timing our beach visits for the height of the sun (again, our sunburn can vouch for this). Nothing beat strolling along the beach with the waves crashing against our feet though. Sipalay and Phuket have both now convinced me that, contrary to my original belief, I am a beach person.
I’d like to say we were cultured and did lots of activities but we really didn’t, and I’m not sorry one bit. It’s Phuket! Little Mother did get into the swing of things though. She ate half of a spring roll, haggled for Thai pants, wore said Thai pants and almost mastered crossing the roads. For my part, I was delighted to get stuck back into some authentic (though expensive) Pad Thai which I had fallen in love with during my last visit to Thailand. I really shouldn’t love that dish as much as I do.
The other activity we had planned to do was elephant riding. This was to be our ‘big’ activity on the morning of my birthday at the Kok Chang Safari in Kata. The ride would have been my fourth one in less than 3 years and I had been having doubts about it for a while. My visit to Elefantastic in Jaipur, India was incredible, mainly because of its sterling reputation in rescuing elephants who had been used as tourist vehicles at the Amber Fort. My Thai elephant ride in Kanchanaburi two years ago had left me with a somewhat bad taste in my mouth and I wasn’t sure if I was entirely comfortable pumping money into that industry again.
To top it off, the night before our planned ride, I stumbled across this fantastic article by a fellow traveller. Not only does it make some excellent points, its timing couldn’t have been better and Little Mother and I agreed the elephant ride wasn’t really for us. I’ve done it and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t enjoyed at the time, but to have read about the cruelty these creatures go through and then to have done the ride anyway wouldn’t have sat right with me. I genuinely love elephants so it therefore seems incredibly contradictory to put them through such a cruel ordeal.
My birthday was by no means a disappointment, however, as we had a fantastic day at the beach, indulged in chip butties at O’Tools, the local Irish bar (Little Mother is such a bad influence – I’ve eaten more crap in the past couple of weeks than I ever have on my travels – and she’s the fitness freak!), then watched the glorious Karon Beach sunset before settling down in a bar for the night.
It can’t be denied that Phuket (or perhaps it’s just Patong?) has gained quite a negative reputation. I was expecting seediness, tourist traps and a ‘Blackpool in the sun’ vibe and those elements can definitely be found if you look hard enough. But the Phuket we saw was, whilst touristy, safe and vibrant with a positive buzz and shabby charm about it. Unless you’re after hardcore partying, I’d definitely recommend staying in the Kata/Karon area which has plenty of nightlife without being seedy or too chaotic. Phuket’s never going to reflect ‘authentic’ Thailand, but it was a great place to ease Little Mother into the bizarre world of Asia, whilst maintaining the more familiar things we both love: sunshine, sea, sand… and chip butties of course.