I was reluctant to write about Phuket for a long time, as I have mixed feelings about it. Sure I loved laying on the beach with 34°C sunshine or enjoying cocktails in the pool by the pool bar… but it just felt like everything and every person on that island was there merely for the tourists. (After our holiday there, my colleague told me he secretly calls it “the foreigners’ ghetto”, which I feel is fairly accurate.)
When we arrived in Phuket, I was shocked as our hotel room was super small (the whole room was filled by the bed), every shop was a convenient store or small gift shop for tourists, we drove past lots and lots of Russian tourists, and mainly also because we went to Kata beach first (described by Lonely Planet as “classier than Karon and without Patong’s seedy hustle” and struggled to find a free spot to lay down and the whole beach was full of locals wanting to sell something to you. Every 2 – 5 minutes you would be asked whether you want a massage, want to buy sunglasses, drinks, scarfs, dresses,… I felt so sorry for those locals who were dressed from head to toe in sun protecting material and seemed solely reliant on the lazy beach tourists to make money. After our scam in Bangkok I had researched the most common scams in Phuket and was advised not to rent jet skies, motorbikes or follow a taxi driver into a jewellery shop (not that we would have done that anyway). Not only at the beach, but at every corner they would call to you “Sawasdeeeee-kaaaa… Massaaaaage!” in a very sweet way, but after you’ve heard that 5 times in 10 minutes, it can be really annoying. We tried three different massage places, as it was very cheap, but the quality of the massage and surroundings were not that good and I’m guessing they were probably also not properly trained. It’s just worth investing more money in a more professional massage to prevent returning home with neck pain!
Already in our first night we really bonded with our boutique/art hotel in a Thai style called Sawasdee Village, as it had many lounges, sunbeds, water fountains, an amazing pool and really nice hotel staff. And so the small room was instantly forgiven. (And I was so pleased when I discovered that Netflix works in Thailand without VPN and you don’t even have to stream! So I was able to finally catch up on the latest Gilmore Girls episodes.)
The next day, when we went to Karon Viewpoint (and we by then discovered there is no such thing as a taxi or tuk tuk on the meter in Phuket, and the prices are much higher than in Bangkok) we had a good outlook over Katathani, Kata and Karon beach and decided to try Katathani, which I think mostly “belongs” to a beach resort. It was smaller than Kata, had a much nicer convenient shop nearby and less (or none?) people trying to sell things to you. However, we saw (Russian) tourists surrounding a small elephant that has been exposed merely for that purpose by a local. The elephant looked slightly frightened and it made me sad to see how both the tourists and the holder were exploiting it. That day we also decided not to go on an elephant track, as we read that they are not treated well and are not meant to serve as transportation for humans. The day after we tried the south side of Karon beach and were really pleased – the sand is soft and almost white, the water very clear and you can walk for a bit and just look inside the water and see small, colourful fishes.
All in all, we befriended Phuket more and more each day. Would we come back though? Probably not, as it’s just way too touristy!