Thailand is a beautiful country, but one with a somewhat seedy reputation. Now, I’m not one to judge, and if a cheeky trip down Khao San Road in Bangkok is your kind of thing, then fair enough. But if you’re looking for somewhere to lose yourself, somewhere to bathe in colours so vivid HD will never seem the same, a place where you can glimpse the still simplicity of untouched nature, then go to an island I love. Avoid the bars filled with western men looking for a happy ending and have a good look at the real Phuket.
So, now my little speech is done, here are few ideas that should help you enjoy your experience of Phuket and its surrounding islands.
1. Get into the water
I first came to Phuket at the age of 12. I remember flying over what seemed like thousands of islands covered in dark and light green forests. They looked like a mythical bale of giant turtles cruising just below the surface of the sea, and I couldn’t wait to get in the water with them. I was just old enough to learn to dive and now, at 20, I would recommend the waters to anyone with a diving licence. If you haven’t got one, then don’t worry, just get on one of the many boats that travel to the corals and neighbouring islands daily and grab a snorkel. There are few truer beauties than the life surrounding a coral bed; even now I can still see the colours.
Two years ago I travelled to some islands close to Ko Phi Phi (I’ll go into more detail on this island later). When I got in the water, I was greeted by a school of bright yellow fish, each one with a blue strip down the side. There were so many of them that every time I tried to move my arms, I touched a fish. It was fantastic, and, despite being given some serious evils from a grumpy blue fish, I count this experience as one of my best. Being at the centre of this curious ball of life was brilliant – something I will never forget.
2. Ko Phi Phi
“But Rob, I thought you were on about Phuket?” Don’t worry, I am, and there’s more yet to come on the main island. Ko Phi Phi is only £10 or so away, and there’s more to do than snorkel. Unfortunately for me, I had no idea I was going to Phi Phi. To be honest, I only knew it existed about ten minutes before sailing into the harbour. My dad had struck a deal with a friend, meaning we had the use of a boat as long as we looked after it. So we set off across the ocean in a small sail boat at what felt like a walking pace (not a lot of wind) and got to Ko Phi Phi about nine hours later. If you get one of the taxi boats, it’s about eight hours quicker.
The trip was like being in Zelda: The Wind Waker – we drifted past deserted islands by the dozen. But, unlike the setting in this classic GameCube game, Phi Phi isn’t for kids. This whole island is one, tiny, action-packed, concentrated party with backpackers from across the world invited. There are lots of hotels, ranging in stars, bustling bars open all night, and various entertainments on show. The island’s atmosphere is a mixture of fun and adventure with music blaring into the night.
3. Giant Buddha Statue
To the south of the island, in Chalong, a giant Buddha statue sits on top of a sizeable mountain. Some people say size doesn’t matter. Well, they might be right, but when it comes to statues size is everything. I remember walking the path that spirals around just below the base, through the small museum dedicated to the project, and up to the statue itself. Buddha stands at 45 meters high (a blue whale and a half) and 25 meters wide. You can walk around the actual base of the Buddha as well as look out across the island – or sea, depending on which way you’re looking – and share his spectacular view.
The statue was built with the help of donations from locals, Thai’s from other regions and tourists. The idea for the statue developed after a group of friends found the spot and fell in love with the panoramic views. In my visits I got to see the statue at different stages of its development, and I can’t help but feel a connection to it. If I were you I wouldn’t miss out on one of the new wonders of the world.
4. Bangla Road
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Nature is pretty and that, but we like a bit of fun too”. And fair enough, it’s as important to have fun as it is to soak up the beauty. Bangla Road is Phuket’s place for fun. Located on the west of the island, on Patong Beach, here there’s colour of a different sort – mostly UV and a little sequined. Nearly all the bars open onto the street as it gets a bit too hot to be stuck inside four walls. You can take a seat, if you can get one, and casually watch passers-by or the colourful and spectacular transgender women posing for photos. The night life here gets pretty loud and raunchy, so this isn’t the place for the light hearted. There are several bars with girls dancing around on poles and other temptations. Personally, I prefer to soak up the music and energy with a cheap beer in one of the smaller bars. There is one thing for sure: when you go to Bangla, you are alive and the rest of the world is too.
5. Songkran (water festival)
Happy New Year! Here’s a bucket and a water gun! Sounds a little crazy, right? I thought so too, but taking part in Songkran’s water festival is actually the most fun you’ll ever have. The more traditional customs of the Thai New Year have been replaced by a full scale national water fight. So, if you can visit the island around April 13th, join in. Everyone is fair game. Most places quieten down in the evening, but if you head to Bangla the fun doesn’t stop, with water flying through the street well into the night. I remember sitting with my sister, watching hundreds of Thai children soak confused tourists. So don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.
About the Author: Rob Kay
Taking his first steps into the world of public writing, Rob is currently in his second year of a Creative Writing BA at Bath Spa University. Travelling has been a big part of his childhood, visiting Thailand and Australia twice before the age of fifteen. Currently, travel is less of a priority for Rob, while he concentrates on academic pursuits, but he still tries to make time for it. With a passion for poetry and short fiction, his writing tends to be a little flighty. Normally you’ll find him with headphones in or on a sofa with an Xbox controller – losing mostly.