I landed in Phuket on June 24 and would be there for 30 days. Why not maximize the allowance of my tourist visa?
While I had visited Thailand before in 2015, I had never visited Phuket. When I was planning my journey earlier this year, I knew I wanted to pass through Thailand, but I wanted to hit a new location. Why not Phuket? I did have some misgivings due to the utter reliance on mass tourism, but a few tourists wouldn’t kill me when out-and-about. Also, I don’t mind a bit of divertissement if the mood strikes me.
I did decide on an out-of-the-way (for a tourist) locale on the eastern side of the island. It’s a town/area called Ko Kaeo, probably best known as the location of the Royal Phuket Marina – a.k.a. “boat lagoon.” There were restaurants, grocers, convenience stores, and such in the area, so I knew I wouldn’t be without life’s necessities.
Perhaps a more accurate description of my decision process would be that my decision to stay at Phuket Stash determined my location. Phuket Stash is a co-working spot, and hopefully I’ll get around to producing a write up. It proved a quirky but quiet place to set up shop for the month. In hindsight, I could have found myself a cheaper place (15k baht for the month @ Stash), but that’s not exactly a burdensome sum for a month’s accommodation.
Phuket felt larger than I initially envisioned. The perception of size is magnified by road and traffic conditions, which were prone to substantial slowdowns and bottlenecks even during the nadir of the low season (bars, restaurants, beaches, and resorts were deserted relative to their potential capacity).
Public transit is spotty and not immensely convenient (shuts down at 6 pm). You’re required to change in Phuket town, as the bus/songthaew routes make up a hub-and-spoke system.
Taxi pricing is mafia-fixed and extortionate by Thai standards. Even a quick 10 minute 7km/4.5mile drive from Stash to Phuket town was 360 baht ($11) on Grab. A local taxi stand would have wanted 500.
When a scooter can be hired for 200 baht (US$6) per day, the incentive is obvious and strong. For various reasons (lack of need to travel, preference to get work/stuff done versus daily sightseeing, zero experience with scooters/motobikes, Thai driving), I opted against it. Why invalidate my overseas medical coverage?
Food prices are elevated by Thai standards, though it’s really not going to break the bank. Yes, you can get a rice or noodle dish for 30-35 baht in Chiang Mai. Yes, it costs 50 baht here (60% more!!!). That said, the marginal cost of 50-65 cents is not worth sweating over – for me. This sentiment was by no means universal, I should add.
See a sample price list below (your mileage may vary):
|Item||Location & Price (in Baht)|
|Retail||Local eatery||Air con/mall||Beach/restaurant||Tourist drag|
|Local beer (sm)||40-55 (s)||60-70||80||80-100||100-200|
|Latte||55 – 110||80+||110|
|Fuel (per liter)||29.7-31|
Overall, I found it affordable as someone earning and spending USD. Your perceptions naturally will vary. To borrow a Dutch proverb passed on by a friend, one “cannot look into someone else’s wallet” (i.e. judge how much a dollar/etc is worth to any given person).
To describe the categories a bit, “local eateries” are defined as small restaurants where you sit on a plastic chair outside, albeit shielded by an awning.
“Air con/mall” refers to the next tier up, which describes restaurants in air-conditioned buildings or in shopping malls. Newbies to Asia tend to like these places, as it blends “locals eat here” (i.e. more adventurous than eating at the hotel) and “within my comfort zone” for familiarity. I find that you’re primarily paying for the air conditioning and a marginally higher level of English (or other major tourist foreign language).
“Beach/restaurant” refers to higher end restaurants catering to expat as well as eateries that are beach-front. Pricing = location, location, location.
“Tourist drag” in this sense refers to central Patong. I would argue that you’re enduring the worst combination of high prices and dismal scenery, but Patong isn’t my cup of tea.
Every beach/area has its own particular vibe. Ko Kaeo is primarily local, but a small, convivial, and tight-knit community of expat yachters set up there for the Boat Lagoon.
Rawai in the south would be my first choice were I to return. It’s quite proximate to a couple of beaches and landmarks, is relatively inexpensive for “near the water” in Phuket, and is home to the location independent/digital nomad scene. There are numerous bars, restaurants, gyms, shops, etc to make life easy.
Phuket Town is the business hub of the island, home to the best hospitals, a shopping hub, and where you’ll find the relevant consulate if you run into some trouble. It’s also the transport hub of the island. The weekend night market is worth a visit.
Patong is the tourism/party/red light hub of the island. It struck me as overbuilt, dirty, and sleazy (people on drugs, ping pong show offers, and so on).
Kata was the preferred surfing beach of the other nomads I met. I didn’t get to spend much time there, but the surfers love it.
Surin at this time of year was the picture-perfect white, sandy beach popular with what few tourists were present as well as Thai families. The same goes for Bangtao just a little to the north.
Mai Khao would probably win the award for the quietest major beach, as it’s at the northern end of the island near the airport and Phuket’s luxury resorts.
Would I return to Phuket? Sure. Is it my favorite beach destination? Nope, though I’ve been to much worse. It does have many advantages. Thai prices (barring taxis), ease of travel to Thailand, food & lifestyle, and a sizeable & helpful expat community all contribute to my overall good impression.
We’ll meet again, Phuket.