Friday, January 26, 2018

5 Days Itinerary in Phuket (Pearl of the South) - Largest Island of Thailand

Thailand is my favourite overseas destination - this claim should not be counted as an exaggeration since i do travel to the Land of the Smiles every year! However, i chose a different place this time; Phuket, the Pearl of the South!

Known to be a haven for beach goers, this largest island of Phuket, commanding a population of slightly less than 400,000 persons, is no stranger to me as i paid a visit over 10 years ago on a company trip that's spent almost entirely in the luxurious JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa.

I am not complaining but i thought i am doing Phuket an injustice since i didn't explore it well enough, deep enough. Hence, i specially arranged for this trip and brought along my dad who has never experienced a beach vacation!

Without further ado, let's begin with the itinerary.

Day 1
- Airport Transfer with Phuket SRC Travel
- Swissotel Resort Phuket Patong Beach
- Patong Beach
- At Akarin Tour
- Ruen Thai @ Patong
- Famous Bangla Street
- Street Food off Bangla Street
- Jungceylon Shopping Mall

Day 2
- Tour with Amazing Canoeing
  >  Bypassing Panak Island
  > James Bond Island
  > Panyee Island (inclusive of lunch)
  > Canoeing at Hong Island
  > Relaxing at Naka Island
- Sabai Sabai Restaurant
- Patong OTOP Shopping Paradise

Day 3
- Karon View Point
- Pictures with the Eagles
- Windmill View Point
- Promthep Cape
- The Elephant Temple
- Big Buddha
- Wat Chalong
- Raya Restaurant
- Thalang Road Weekend Market
- Torry's Ice Cream Boutique
- Phang Nga Pineapple

Day 4
- Tour with Seastar Similan Travel
  > First Snorkeling Spot
  > Lunch on Island No 4
  > Princess Bay
  > Second Snorkeling Spot
  > Sailing Rock - Landmark of Similan Islands
- Phuket Tuk Tuk (Taxi)
- Naughty Nuri's

Day 5
- The Eyes In the Sky (Phuket)

Day 1 (05 January 2018)
[Singapore Time 10.11 am] Arriving soon at Changi International Airport and well ahead of time to check in as our flight was at 12.20 pm. Looking at the yet-to-be-completed structure behind the control tower, i think it wouldn't be long before the Jewel is open for business!

Even though i had completed the online check-in before i left my house, i still had to wait for my turn for the baggage drop. It didn't take us too long though as there were quite a number of counters.

[Singapore Time 11.18 am] Breakfast was settled with a bowl of expensive (and pretty normal tasting) fishball noodles at Terminal 2 food court. As dad is a sucker for punctuality, we proceeded to the gate even though the plane departure wasn't for another hour.

Wait, i thought i booked with Scoot? For those who are living in the well (like I), Scoot and Tigerair had merged as of 25 July 2017! Actually, i don't really care so long i can fly to my designated destination, safe and sound.

[Singapore Time 12.26 pm] The plane took off from the runway almost on schedule and while it was only half filled, the happiness was negated by a wailing toddler seated just two rows behind us. Best of all, i forgot to bring along my earphones!

[Thailand Time 12.56 pm] Landed twenty minutes ahead of schedule at Phuket International Airport - third busiest airport in Thailand and the busiest outside the capital city of Bangkok.

[Thailand Time 1.37 pm] Given that i am travelling with my dad who has long been accustomed to the conveniences of tour packages, i prearranged for airport transfer with Phuket SRC Travel; surprisingly, the cost was almost comparable to taking a cab.

It's been more than an hour on the road and we had yet to reach our accommodation in Patong. Why did i choose Patong which is well-known to be extremely touristy? Because dad isn't the relaxed kind and staying in a touristy area means there would be a lot of activities; for better or for worse.

[2.50 pm] Finally; the Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach). I decided to splurge a bit more on a premier room which cost me about S$134 a night. Gone were the days when my room budget was S$50 a night. It's okay, for the sake of my dad.

[4.12 pm] After taking a shower and booking a day tour with At Akarin Tour for the next day, it's time to hit the famous Patong beach! With so many people lazing on the beach, i really can't imagine myself lounging on the beach for an extended period of time; snorkeling would be a much better option!

Early dinner at Ruen Thai restaurant; food was generally good and the die-die must order item would be the strawberry fruit shake! Pricing was almost comparable to Singapore; oh well, it's a touristy area and i really can't complain about it. 

[5.34 pm] Sun was setting at Patong Beach! No, we didn't catch the "performance"" as patience is unfortunately not a virtue in the family. In the mind of my dad, the sun sets every day, everywhere.

[5.39 pm] Hub of night life at Patong; despite the huge words 'Patong Beach', this road is actually known as Bangla street and from 6 pm daily, the vehicular road would be converted to a pedestrian-street. We were too early and while many had already started drinking, the atmosphere didn't "wow" us.

Chanced upon a night market off bangla street selling Thai street food; it's obviously catered for the tourists and for the pricing, i would suggest you visit a restaurant (like Ruen Thai) instead.

[6.00 pm] Checking out Jungceylon; the largest mall in Phuket. The shopping was okay but do make a beeline for the Big C Superstore where you can get local souvenirs (e.g. seaweed, peanuts, dried fruits) for friends and family back in Singapore!

On our way back to Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach); no, i didn't buy anything from Big C as Jungceylon is only about 13 minutes' walk from the resort and i could do the shopping on our last night.

[7.00 pm] In Thailand, i always make it a point to go for Thai massage! Alex and dad went for foot massage whereas i alone opted for Thai massage! The session was going well until the masseur asked if i wanted a massage "down under". Service level dropped after i rejected her persistent request.

[8.05 pm] Last stop at the 7-11 convenience stall near our hotel where we stocked up on the essential mineral water, snacks and of course, the must have yogurt drink!


Day Two (10 January 2018)
[7.30 am] I was up since 6.00 am and guess it must be my biological clock calling as i usually wake up at 6.30 am on weekdays to prepare for work; according to Singapore timing, it's already 7.00 am. Anyway, the early wakeup call was a hint to hit the gym before our first day trip to Phang Nga Bay!

[7.39 am] The staff who sold us the tour the night before had told us to wait at our resort lobby from 7.45 am and glad we were at the lobby early as the driver sending us to the Ao Por Pier had arrived ahead of schedule.

[9.00 am] Since we were the first to board, the minivan had to stop over at other locations to pick up the rest of the customers; resulting in us spending over an hour before reaching the building of Amazing Canoeing where we were blessed with snack and water.

[9.30 am] Ao Por Pier is a private jetty that stretches a few hundred meters out from the mainland. To access the pier, there's a fee of 20 baht per person but you also get to ride the shuttle and have the sea breeze brushing rapidly against your face!

[10.00 am] There were the options of big boat or speedboat and being an impatient person; i opted for the latter so that i can cover more places! I chose the front of the boat for that frontal view where the limestone formations slowly loomed in front of me.

Less than ten minutes later would be the first stop on our itinerary; Panak Island. It was said that the tide was too high and we couldn't step onto the island. Hence, the speedboat just slowed down for us to take in the impressiveness of this karst-dotted island.

After another ride against the waves for about 30 minutes, we arrived at the most recognizable island in Phang Nga Bay; so well known is this island that many agents market the tour as a trip to the island, rather than the bay.

[10.30 am] James Bond Island; named purely because it appeared on the 1974 James Bond movie "The Man with the Golden Gun". The iconic 20-meter 'stone' is actually an island known as Ko Ta Pu.

The main island that almost encircles Ko Ta Pu is Khao Phing Kan and i literally went wide-eyed over this smooth split between two towering rocks!

Dad taking a photo with the traditional long tailed boat; i would strongly recommend visitors to accord more time at James Bond Island as it is crazily crowded with tourists jostling to have a picture with Ko Ta Pu and i recall seeing a separate ticketing booth that would allow access into the caves (i think).

Departing from James Bond Island at around 11 am, our next stop would be lunch at Panyee Island. What's so captivating about this island? It's a fishing village built on stilts and had a population of 2,000 that consisted of only Thai Muslims.

There's even a decent mosque (constructed on solid ground) on the island although the key attraction, which i didn't visit, was the floating football pitch!

[11.30 am] Our Thai lunch at a restaurant that's located on the far north of the island. As it's communal dining, our table chad a nice mix consisting of 2 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 1 Cuban and 3 Singaporeans.

When lunch was done, we were given time (until 12.30 pm) to explore the shops in the village. The passage was dimly lit but its connected all over the place; kind of reminded me of the Chew Jetty in Penang. Pity most of the shops sell the same stuff and it's pretty boring after a while.

[1.15 pm] Our next destination involved a friendly chap with a bob marley beanie hat on the canoe at Hong Island! I thought we were going to work out our muscles ourselves but it's not to be, Oh well, the locals would know best on how to navigate rather than leaving it to the ignorant tourists.

We actually enjoyed the company of "bob marley" as he was jovial and eagerly pointed out formations that looked vaguely like animals, persons or organs. Even though it was nice to canoe into the caves and get close to the limestone, our skin suffered from the burning under the hot sun!

James Bond Island Number 2, according to "Bob Marley". The canoeing took only about 20 minutes and as all tourists can't all get onto the canoes at once, it's a matter of waiting for the rest to complete their rounds before the boat left for the last stop on the itinerary.

[2.10 pm] Naka Island where you can relax by the beach, swim in the water or partake in adrenaline-charged activities like jet-skiing, parasailing or banana-boating. We chose the first option and plied ourselves with coconut water, BBQ corn and the alcoholic mai tai.

Our stay lasted till 3.30 pm; not really enriching and i felt that the duration spent at Naka Island could have been used for a longer stay at James Bond Island.

[6.00 pm] We were back at Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach) by 5.00 pm and after a much-needed shower, our stomachs were gearing for dinner and our dining venue this evening would be the Sabai Sabai Restaurant where only one dish stands out; the strangely addictive guey teow phad see-ew.

[7.00 pm] It's Starbucks time! I have never known that Starbucks can be so empty as the common situation back in Singapore was that all the tables would have likely been taken up by hoggers.

[9.00 pm] Dad was tired and proceeded to bed whereas Alex and I enthusiastically walked to the resort's gymnasium for a short workout. As the sleeping bug had yet to bite, we even walked out to explore the OTOP Shopping Paradise that's super near to Swissotel.

[10.00 pm] Ending the night with a stroll along Bangla Street! Oh my, it was so crowded and the air was electrifying; loud booming music, girls dancing sexily around the steel poles that seemed to be in every bar and there were even strip tease clubs that had glass enclosures with scantily dressed ladies making sexually provocative poses!


Day Three (11 January 2018)
[9.00 am] This shall be a day of exploration and i had arranged for a private driver, Mr Daj, to bring us to the key attractions in Phuket that were already identified and confirmed in my email correspondence with him.

[9.30 am] Karon View Point where one can soak in the breathtaking sights of the three lagoons bordering Kata Noi, Kata Yai and Karon beaches.

You can even take picture with the eagles at Karon View Point; it's not free and please expect to pay 100 baht per person if you are using your own camera. No camera? Please fork out 200 baht for a Polaroid photo.

Spotted along the way to another attraction; elephant sanctuaries. I have read that many of these sanctuaries are just a commercial front to earn money and the operations don't really care about the welfare of these giants; hence, i decided against including it in my itinerary.

[10.00 am] Taken at Windmill Viewpoint where the beach and clear turquoise water beckoned to me! A pity i didn't bring along extra clothing and my snorkeling mask. :(

It's called Windmill Viewpoint for a reason.

[10.21 am] A short distance away was Promthep Cape which was the southernmost point of Phuket Island. The sunset was said to be most spectacular here and i honestly don't know why since the landscape was not mind-blowing extraordinary.

I expressed more interest in this outdoor Thai temple near the cape that had countless elephant statues of various shapes, sizes and colours!

No prize for guessing where we would be going next; the obvious hint would be the humongous structure on top of the hill.

[11.30 am] Big Buddha of Phuket - 45 meters tall and built in 2004, the white marbled statue was a sight to behold; whether from far or near. I spent almost an hour at this religious attraction as i couldn't help taking a ton of pictures!

The location of the Big Buddha on the peak of the Nakkerd Hills means you would be granted an amazing view! It was such a beautiful scene, like standing on heaven looking down on earth; it felt almost unreal. 

[12.50 pm] A short distance from the Big Buddha is the most important and biggest temple on Phuket; Wat Chalong! Its actual name is Wat Chaiyathararam to pronounce but because it's such a mouthful, visitors just called it Chalong Temple since it's situated in the subdistrict known as Chalong. This nuggets of information was supplied by Mr Daj! 

Unusual things to see in the temple included the lifelike wax models of the ex abbots of the temple and the pagoda that housed a splinter of Buddha's bone. Above were statues (of previous abbots) pasted with gold leaves by worshippers.

[2.00 pm] Late lunch at Raya Restaurant in Phuket Town that came strongly recommended by Ms Letitia Thng. She wasn't kidding as it was the best meal we had in Phuket; the crab curry was utterly delicious and i actually recommended it to a friend who enjoyed his meal very much too last when he was there last weekend!

[2.50 pm] After the filling and highly satisfying meal, we should work out the calories by exploring the nearby Thalang Road which is THE place to visit if you only have a short time at Phuket Town. Go on a Sunday (Lard Yai) for the Sunday Weekend Market!

As the road had yet to close for the market and there was a light drizzle, we decided to take shelter and pile up on our calories  by having desserts at the popular Torry's Ice Cream Boutique.

[4.00 pm] The market was almost on full force with the crowd starting to stream in; i believe it would be more happening at night but as we only had Mr Daj till about 6.00 pm, we couldn't stay till then.

There were a lot of food stalls but our tummies were still full from the meal at Raya Restaurant and the desserts at Torry's Ice Cream Boutique. Nevertheless, i got a pack of Pandan layered kueh for breakfast the next morning.

[5.45 pm] Photo of Mr Daj and my dad back at Patong Beach; we enjoyed his service and if you are interested to engage Mr Daj for your day trip, you may whatsapp him at +66 86 274 9195 or email him at ded.chatha@gmail.com.

[7.36 pm] After securing another tour with At Akarin Tour for the next day, we went back to the Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach) for a short rest before venturing out again! Above was a typical Thai pancake mobile stall that's everywhere in Phuket; however, it seemed more like a crepe. 

Bangla Walking Street again! 

[9.01 pm] Since we were in the vicinity of Jungceylon shopping centre, i thought i might as well have some shopping done; including the purchase of a pack of mini-pineapples that i have never seen before in my life.

I was so curious of this herbal charcoal toothpaste from Patong OTOP Shopping Paradise that i bought a few to try it out that night. If it turned out to be good and refreshing, i can purchase a few more for my family! 


Day Four (12 January 2018)
[7.30 am] It was already daybreak in the above photograph yet we had already been on the road for about 90 minutes; which means we were already at the resort's lobby at 6.00 am! Why did i have to torture myself on a holiday!? 

[8.19 am] Arrival at the base of Seastar Tour; journey on the road already took us more than two hours and there was still the speedboat portion which would be for another 1.5 hours.

Please collect your towels, snorkeling masks and have breakfast (porridge, pastries, toast, coffee, tea, biscuits etc); no charge would be imposed as they were provided as part of the expensive package we bought.

[9.23 am] On board the speedboat that would bring us to the islands many have heard of but may not want to take the trouble to travel to; Similan Islands! That's really the name of the islands and for those wondering what the big deal is; similan sounds like a Hokkien expletive (similar to what the f). 

[11.00 am] First snorkeling stop near Island No 5 (Ha) and 6 (Hock) of Similan Islands. I was excited as it's been more than a year since i last took a look of the underwater world! 

It's my dad's virgin snorkeling and he didn't expect the seas to be so much rougher. In his haste to take a rest at the rocks, he cut his toe; resulting in blood dripping all over the floor of the speedboat. Thankfully, the staff of Seastar Tour knew exactly what to do to remedy the situation.

A harrowing experience no doubt although i am not going to waste my hard-earned money doing nothing on the speedboat; down into the water i shall go and swim with the fishes! 

[11.50 am] Second stop at Island No 4 (Miang) where we had buffet lunch! Frankly, it was almost like reliving the experience in Sapi Island at Kota Kinabalu but worse since there's no proper tables and chairs for us to sit.

[12.30 pm] After lunch, walk off the calories by cutting across the island towards Princess Bay which was exactly how i imagined Similan Islands to be like! With about 30 minutes to kill, we took to snorkeling and taking plenty of photos! 

[1.36 pm] Third stop; the second and last snorkeling stop for the day near Island No 9. In summary, i don't find the underwater world at Similan Islands to be fascinating even though it's better than Krabi. The best i encountered so far, aside from Maldives, would be at the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia

[2.16 pm] At Donald Duck Bay at Island No 8; can you guess the reason for its name? Look for the stone that looks like Donald Duck! Remember, i mentioned duck, not trump. 

The true icon of Similan Islands isn't the Donald Duck stone; rather, it's the above Sailing Rock which looked like it's at a precarious angle / location that's ready to drop into the sea with a light push! 

Sharp-eyed readers would have seen the people crowding around the rock that has absolutely no safety barriers! Together with my dad, we reached the exact same spot and boy was it nerve wrecking! I was absolutely terrified that it would be my last day on earth!

Snorkeling at Donald Duck bay to soothe my nerves! 

Not for my dad as he was absolutely agreeable with height whereas his lousy son would literally see stars and get jelly legs when at height.  

[3.30 pm] Time to leave the Similan Islands; it's necessary to depart early as it's a long journey for those living in Phuket. If you prefer to stay longer at Similan Islands, you may consider the 2 days or even 3 days package with Seastar Tour.

[5.24 pm] A buffet dinner was waiting for us when we arrived back on the mainland! For the price we paid, i must admit it's value for money; service was friendly and there were breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between, there were sweets, snacks and fresh fruits with limitless water and soft drinks. Seastar even provided motion-sickness pills for free! 

[6.00 pm] On our way back to Patong Beach; the two-hour journey transformed the sky from daylight to sunset and eventually to night. By the time we got back to Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach), it's 8.00 pm which means we were away for 14 hours! 

[8.45 pm] I was determined to have a good meal on my last night in Phuket; with that in mind, we hopped onto a tuk tuk that brought us to Naughty Nuri's restaurant (it sells insanely good pork ribs)! 

[9.45 pm] Dad wasn't feeling well (maybe due to the long journey on the boat and minivan) and we got onto another tuk tuk to bring us back to the resort. p.s. each trip cost 200 baht within Patong beach, regardless of how short the distance is. 

[10.40 pm] Alex and I sneaked out to Starbucks to help SaNeVa buy Starbucks cards and a mug. Since we were there, might as well get a cup of frappe too before we retired for the night. 


Day Five (12 January 2018)
[7.00 am] Woke up early as i had to take pictures of the resort before i leave! I really just need a room to sleep when i am overseas as i simply have no time to check out the resort's facilities. Hell, i don't even know Swissotel Resort (Patong) has a rooftop pool! 

The airport transfer i arranged with Phuket SRC travel arrived on time and the assigned driver was super nice! He knows i like to take photographs and deliberately stopped over at Laem Sing View Point; a kind gesture that i deeply appreciated.

[8.38 am] Reaching the departure terminal for international flights at Phuket International Airport; with two more hours to kill before our flight, i thought i would have more than sufficient time to have breakfast. 

The two counters open to man the check-in were insufficient and we took almost an hour! Many foreigners were on this flight to Singapore and i think there were miscommunication about the baggage allowance, especially for those who would be in transit in Singapore. 

[Thailand Time 10.30 am] Dad had successfully cleared his first beach vacation even though i don't think he would want to take another one. He is really more a mountain person and i can sense that the sea doesn't quite appeal to him. 

While on the plane from Phuket to Singapore, i saw this island that looked familiar; it didn't take me long to realize it's the Phi Phi Islands! I didn't go this time as i have already visited it about 7 years ago; you may read it here

[Singapore Time 1.39 pm] Landing soon at Changi International Airport; do you know that there are two routes for the plane to land and take off? One is in between Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong and the other one is my personal favourite as you can see the coastline of East Coast Parkway and the city skyline of Singapore.

Last thing to do at Changi International Airport before collecting the luggage; stocking up on apple cider and liquor at the duty free shops. Strongly recommended by the service staff, i couldn't wait to take a sip of the handcrafted cider from Bilpin! 

=====

Expenditure
- Airfare - S$190 per person
(via Scoot

- Swissotel Resort (Patong Beach) - S$134 a night 
(via Agoda.com, twin sharing, no breakfast)

- Other Expenses - S$500 
(paid for airport transfers, meals, tour packages to James Bond Island, Similan Islands, the engagement of Mr Daj for a day trip and other shopping).

2 comments:

  1. You don't have to rush from one attraction to another. All you need to do is simply lie down and enjoy the tranquillity of the beach.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i would love to but there's so much to see, to do and to eat! haha.

      Delete

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