excitement, entertainment and leisure activities
My wife and I recently returned after a refreshing four day break in good old Phuket, Thailand. This was, for the record, our seventh visit to that tropical isle. Why do we keep returning to this gem of an island?
The reasons are many and varied. For one, it is just over an hour’s flight time from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. If you book early, the air fares are very reasonable compared to flying to Kuching ( over two hours flying time ) or to Kota Kinabalu ( about three hours flying time).
There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation to cater for every budget in this island. There is an equally wide choice of food available throughout the island and that too at reasonable rates.
Types of Accommodation
These range from five-star hotel or luxury resorts to four-star, three-star, two-star hotels and even hostel accommodations. The hostel accommodations too, believe it or not, have their own category depending on your budget. So this is a big draw for the tourists, especially those on a shoe string budget.
Quite a number of the five-star luxury hotels and resorts are at well-known beaches like Patong, Kamala, Karon, Bang Tao, Khao Lak and Kata to name a few. These are truly lovely white sandy beaches that seem to stretch for miles on end.
The Thai front desk personnel at hotels are fully aware that they are often the first contact for most visitors. They together with a few other nationalities, mainly from the Philippines, do an amazing job and are good ambassadors for Thailand.
For the sake of variety on this trip to Phuket, we chose to spend two nights at a three and half star hotel (Holiday Inn Express) and then another two nights at a five-star hotel (Swissotel Resort). Both are located within the Patong Beach neighbourhood.
Restaurants and Bars on the Island
There is a wide range of good restaurants, bars and eateries on the island. The average ones are the restaurants near the popular tourist spots on the island. These are the ones catering mainly to tourists on a budget and they seem to have a member of staff whose sole job is to ‘ guide ‘ tourists to their restaurants.
These places are usually non-air conditioned and they rely on fans to cool the patrons. The menus at these places have coloured photographs on what is on offer, dishes wise. So there is no communication problem as such. The prices here are also quite reasonable.
A Range of Quality Restaurants
Then again, for those more discerning and who are prepared to pay a little more, there is a wide range of decent, up market restaurants. We discovered a few of these. One had a pretty misleading name – The Coffee Club with about four outlets all over Phuket.
This chain of restaurants was able to offer a combination of Thai as well as western dishes. The quality of the food, the presentation and the attention to service was pretty impressive. You could also get different types of coffee beverages here. We dined at three of these outlets during the four days on the island.
Another almost fine dining style of restaurant is Le Siam at the upmarket JungCeylon Shopping Centre within the Patong Beach neighbourhood. The food and dining experience at Le Siam was wonderful and we also enjoyed the attention to service.
For those seeking more exciting, lively, albeit noisy outlets, there is a Hooters place near the Swissotel Resort in Patong. Quite close by to this place and almost next door is Phuket’s own Hard Rock Café. Both these establishments seemed to enjoy brisk business whenever we passed by on our way to other places.
Microbrewery and Restaurant
The impressive JungCeylon Shopping Centre also boasts a microbrewery cum restaurant nearby as well as inviting open air café style pubs and a Japanese Sushi outlet, all close by. There is also a really good spa in the shopping centre with a range of massage options, facials, manicure and pedicure treatments.
The typical bar scene in Phuket is not my cup of tea, so to speak, and so I did not venture into any of these pubs. From the outside, they did not appeal to me. Some appeared a bit grubby. Some others were much too noisy and crowded. Others seemed to have bored, young girls in short skirts or tiny shorts and t shirts that promoted a brand of Thai beer, cajoling those walking past to come in for a drink.
What was noteworthy, however, was the attractive price of a cold beer (Singha or Chang) at 80 Bhat during Happy Hours! In a tourist type restaurant, the beer costs 130 Bhat!
Leisure Activities Galore
There are a whole range of leisure activities on offer if one is so inclined. These include the very popular elephant trekking, a visit to a crocodile farm, zip lining, water sports of all types, day long boat trips to nearby islands like Phi Phi and James Bond islands etc.
Do note, however, that recently a few of these activities have been on the receiving end of some valid criticism. For instance, there have been comments about the torture inflicted on elephants by their mahouts to carry out these daily activities.
In addition, for some of these sea-going activities, there are safety concerns. Many boat operators do not supply life jackets to the passengers! Activities like zip lining need to be properly and professionally managed for obvious reasons.
There have been casualties in the recent past. Tourists and travellers need to be fully aware of these risks.
Simon Cabaret Show
This is an impressive and enjoyable one hour show put on in a typical Las Vegas style concert venue by the organisers. The venue is comfortable, modern and air conditioned and the parties concerned have gone to great lengths to ensure that the whole event is handled in a truly appropriate manner.
Whole families could be seen enjoying the spectacular show. Great credit is to be given to the attractive ‘ lady boys ‘ of Thailand for including aspects reflective of the region in their spellbinding show. The costumes too are really fabulous and the music was really lovely. This is one classy show suitable for all ages because it is performed with taste and style.
Other Interesting Aspects
In no fixed order, these are some interesting aspects that I noticed in Phuket during this visit.
- Alcoholic drinks are very reasonably priced in Phuket and in the rest of Thailand.
- There is, however, a very sensible ruling in place in Phuket. In an effort to curb rowdy, obnoxious, anti social behaviour and brawls, no establishment is allowed to serve alcoholic drinks before 11 am. The outlets observe this ruling. I salute the Thai authorities on this wise move.
- All taxi fares within the Patong Beach region are at a fixed rate of 200 Bhat. This is regardless of whether you hail a regular taxi or a tuk tuk which also has a sign proclaiming it to be a taxi! Most of the taxi drivers observe this ruling but there are a few rascals around.
- One needs to use the seat belts in taxis or the individual concerned will be fined 1000 Bhat for the offence by the local traffic police. We were reminded about this by the taxi drivers on each occasion. Good move too.
- In the past Australians, Germans, Brits and Russians used to be the major visitors. On this visit, people from the PRC seem to be around in huge numbers. They are all over the island and you know of their presence when they begin to converse, often quite loudly!
- Motor cyclists here ride their bikes sensibly. They use the bikes as a means of affordable transport. They do not race around the streets of Patong recklessly endangering the lives and limbs of pedestrians.
- Phuket does not seem to have a ‘ snatch theft ‘ problem in the city. The traders and workers in this area are ever so mindful of the negative impact this will surely have on the tourist trade. So visitors, on the whole, do feel fairly safe while holidaying on the island.
Benign and Gracious Attitude of Thai Society
The Thais, as a society, are to be commended for exhibiting a benign, understanding and gracious attitude towards their fellow countrymen and women who are working in the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries.
They do not adopt a sanctimonious, judgemental attitude towards those who are forced by circumstance and socio- economic difficulties to work in lowly, poor paying jobs.
These jobs include the following: doormen, cleaners, waiters, security guards, massage therapists, manicurists and even those in the oldest profession in the world. They treat these individuals with dignity, courtesy and kindness. How very refreshing to note.