We recently had an opportunity to visit Phuket for the first time whilst attending a family wedding. My sister had arranged to have a Thai wedding package at the Charm Resort in Patong Beach, and this gave us the ideal excuse to jump on a plane and check out Phuket. This corner of Thailand has long been a favourite amongst tourists and we were keen to find out why.
First off, Phuket International Airport is about an hour north of Patong Beach, and there are a couple of ways to transfer to your accommodation. Taxis are abundant, and all seem to have a set charge of 800 THB (about $30 AUD). We asked several of the operators and all had the same price to get to Patong Beach. The alternative to a Taxi is to get a shared mini-bus, which were charging around 200THB per person. These obviously take longer as they stop at several places along the way, and we had read some online reviews of them taking you to tour companies en route and trying to sell tours. We really hate hard sell tactics and chose to take a taxi.
The Charm Resort
The small wedding party of 14 were all booked into the Charm Resort. We had booked a standard double for around $75 AUD per night and the room was fine. We had just about everything we needed apart from an iron, and a view. Our room overlooked the side road and was pretty uninspiring. Overall for the price we were happy with what we got.
The hotel (not really a resort) has a rooftop swimming pool with a swim up bar, another bar area next to reception and a dining area that doubled up for breakfast and evening buffets. The dining area was usually busy for breakfast, and the choice on offer was pretty good. The only thing that we didn’t like was the ‘rationing’ of certain items like croissants and bacon. These trays were often left empty (intentionally I believe) forcing you to ask for them, upon which they miraculously appear. Not a big deal, but unnecessary I felt.
To our total surprise, we were ‘treated’ to a lady boy show one evening at the hotel. It seemed to be a part of the dinner, but no one was quite sure. It consisted of several lady boys in glamourous costumes miming to hit songs. Cheesy, but very entertaining.
The hotel excelled themselves on the day of the wedding, everything went smoothly, the staff were attentive, even taking photographs for us. The floral displays were beautiful, the food plentiful, and the day was a huge success. The ceremony was performed by three Buddhist monks, and a real insight into a traditional Thai wedding. I am sure that what they paid for this wedding would not have bought the flowers that were used in this wedding in Australia or the UK.
We were about 75 metres from the beach front, and maybe a 15 minute walk to Bangla Road, which is the main hub of the area for nightlife. We did venture up Bangla Road on a couple of occasions, once at night, and once during the day. There is a stark difference to what you will see between day and night. At night the road is blocked off to traffic and bursting at the seams with people. It was hard to determine whether there are more touts and girls trying to seduce you into bars, or tourists. About 50 / 50 I reckon.
We almost turned back when we first saw how busy the road is at night. I didn’t feel comfortable being guided through such a congested area, but Corinne did a wonderful job of keeping me moving and we didn’t have too many bumps along the way.
If you think that being asked to see a ping pong show involves table tennis then you should avoid this area at night. We found it a little sleazy, but are well aware that we are not the demographic this area is aimed at. Nonetheless we were interested to take a look, and the experience is memorable.
During the day, the road is open to traffic and is far less ‘colourful’. The same bars are there, but everything is more subdued, and you can walk uninterrupted for the most part.
I guess one of the main attractions to this area is the beach. Whilst the weather wasn’t great during June (their rainy season) we still went for a stroll and a paddle in the surf. Now I have to put a disclaimer in here, I am not a huge beach person. I don’t seek out beaches whilst abroad mainly because, well, living in Australia we have great beaches on our doorstep. The beach was fine, if a little scruffy (maybe it gets a clean-up during a busier season?).
Walking the streets of Patong Beach you will hear (possibly a hundred times a day) “Maaaasssssage” every time you walk past one of the numerous massage parlours. We did treat ourselves to a traditional Thai massage, although not from one of the parlours that have the girls lined up outside constantly asking every passer-by “Maaaasssssage” .
As I mentioned earlier there is something off putting about a hard sell, I just don’t like it. So we chose one of the Spa treatment shops that didn’t line up their staff outside, and just tempted you in by a professional and tastefully decorated window front. A lesson there for all the ‘hard sell’ spa parlours I’m sure.
We paid 400 THB each for an hour long traditional Thai massage. I hadn’t had a Thai massage before and wasn’t aware that it involves a lot of stretching. Now I’m no massage expert, but it was certainly different to other massages I have had. The girl was incredibly strong for her size (aren’t they always?), and pulled me into shapes I didn’t think possible. I heard Corinne ask her masseuse to ‘be softer’, but being a tough guy decided not to seem soft by saying “yep that’s fine” when mine asked if it was ok.
At one point she had her knees into the base of my spine and was pulling back my arms with all her might. A little later her legs were wrapped around mine like a pro wrestler trying to get a submission out of an opponent. I guess I can only describe the whole experience as a cross between a chiropractor appointment and a mugging. Still we both felt surprisingly good afterwards.
The highlight of our stay in Phuket (apart from the wedding of course), was a trip to the elephant sanctuary. You can read about that here.
Overall impressions of Phuket were that it has a lot of similarities to other SE Asian destinations, but is more expensive. Alcohol in particular I felt was overpriced for the region. I know a couple of oldies in their fifties are not really their target market, but I think there are nicer and cheaper places in the region. Whilst we probably won’t be rushing back to Phuket we can see why a lot of people return to this area time after time.
What was your experience of Patong Beach? Let us know in the comments below.