Phuket has a bad reputation. Travel snobs will tell you it sold out long ago, that it no longer holds any mystery or allure and that you’d be better off going to one of the lesser known islands in Thailand instead. It’s popular because it appeals to the masses. Think of anything you’d like to do on a tropical island and you can make it a reality, and that alone is enough of a reason to make masses of tourists travel to Phuket every year.
My first impressions weren’t great. The taxi ride from the airport to Naiharn took over an hour, rolling past endless billboards, construction sites and low-rise urban sprawl; not really what comes to mind when you think of an exotic topical island. In reality it is just like any other built-up part of Thailand, except it happens to have some pretty spectacular coastal scenery.
I can’t speak for the whole of Phuket, it’s a big place, but Naiharn has a lot going for it and is a nice place to spend a few days. The beach is better than I expected and isn’t too crowded. There are a lot of Russians there, and while Russian tourists often get a bad rap, I have never had any bad experiences with them, and their love of taking photos with tablets is more a curiosity than an annoyance. Naiharn is the perfect place to rent a couple of chairs, order a few cocktails and drift between sleeping, swimming and watching unsuspecting people getting barrelled over by the sometimes sizeable waves.
The Phang Nga bay tour
One of the most popular things to do in Phuket is take a boat trip. There are a few options available but whichever one you choose will probably be packed with other tourists. We chose to do the Phang Nga Bay tour and just as expected we were chucked on a boat with about 50 other people. The scenery was really nice (sort of a poor man’s Ha Long Bay, but way more expensive), which made it all worth it, but if you are allergic to tourists you should try and rent your own long tail boat. The tours are really expensive, this one set us back 1800 baht each, which normally I wouldn’t even think of paying. It’s terrible value when you can get 1 night on a boat with around 10 other people on Ha Long Bay for much cheaper, but everything is more expensive in Phuket.
You don’t need to go to Patong
I often hear terrible things about Phuket but they are almost always from people who went to Patong or the popular beaches near it. I’ve heard Patong is trash-tourism central and no one should be surprised by what they find there anymore. There are so many options in Phuket that there really is no excuse for choosing one of the dodgy areas, unless you are there for dodgy reasons.
Should we travel to Phuket?
So, should you travel to Phuket? Yes and no. I’m sure there are better islands in Thailand, and even Cambodia, but Phuket is perfect for a weekend away. It’s easy to get to and there is plenty to do, or you can just relax at the beach. If you are on a longer trip then there probably isn’t much point spending too long in Phuket. It’s pretty expensive by Thai standards, and while the beaches are nice there are probably nicer ones on the islands nearby. Save yourself some money and head to them (and tell me what they are like, I haven’t been to any other islands in Thailand!)