After all that time in Northern Thailand it was time to head to the beach. Our favorite Thai beach is Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui but we decided to give the island of Phuket (pronounced poo-ket, not like some obscenity…) a chance. Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island and arguably its most famous. We’d been here once before, back in 2009 and we enjoyed it but we weren’t crazy about it. We figured we’d see if maybe we’d missed something.
We stayed on the southwestern part of the island, just outside what Lonely Planet calls the “sin city of Patong”, home to go-go girls and hangovers. The “just outside” part is important: our hotel, another Le Meridién, was maybe a mile-and-a-half out of town. More importantly it had what was effectively a private beach. That is, beaches are public in Thailand and on most beaches there is a steady parade of locals trying to sell stuff. Thus the beach at Le Meridién isn’t technically private. Because there are natural cliffs on either side of the property, though, it is effectively impossible to get there except through the hotel. That – along with gobs of gorgeous white sand – made the beach pretty damned good.
On the other hand there’s one thing I often hate about a place like this: the race to get down to the beach (or pool; our preference is the beach) early in the morning to reserve your chair. I just think hotels shouldn’t allow it, but they do. For us it’s not that big a deal once we learn the “rules” – we’re morning people anyway. So if I went down to the gym to run on the treadmill at 6:30 AM (it normally doesn’t open until 7:00 but they’d open it early for me just because I like to work out early; very nice touch) there wasn’t any problem getting chairs for us. Still, it’s a lousy system.
Most of our days, then, were just hanging out at the beach. For dinner we would take a taxi into town; it wasn’t that far but in the dark with no sidewalks it didn’t feel safe to walk. Taxis were surprisingly expensive for Thailand – almost $10 for the mile-and-a-half ride – but they were also usually pretty comfy. One night we ended up in this pimped-out van, complete with bar and huge leather seats. Very strange.
Once we got to town it was kind of what you’d expect for a big party destination. With the help of TripAdvisor, though, we were able to find a nice Georgian restaurant (who’d have guessed that??) and later a good Thai place. And using our own intrepid skills found a fun little bar with cute bartenders who didn’t skimp on the pours. Nothing to complain about.
On the other hand, though, nothing to convince us to come back either. From here it’s off to Koh Samui, by far our favorite Thai island, perhaps our favorite beach destination in the world. First, though, we had to get off Phuket, which required a taxi to the airport and then a reasonably short flight. The airport, though, was insanely crowded. Amusingly Mark had just emailed me a Bloomberg article about the impact Chinese tourists are having on increasingly overcrowded tourist destinations – a topic of some common observation on our part – that had Phuket as the cover photo. And here we were living and breathing in an absolutely, unbelievably packed airport. It was crazy.
Eventually, after only maybe an hour’s delay, we managed to get out of Phuket. Next stop Koh Samui, a place that is genuinely worth getting excited about.