Phuket Island is one of the most famous tourism destinations in Thailand. FRV Travel’s David Trauts went back for another look after almost four years and had to admit things have moved along quite nicely.
Once again I was in the main tourist area of Phuket, from Patong to Surin Beach. Sure there is plenty more to Phuket, like the whole rest of the island, but that’s the area where tourists love to soak up the holiday rays most. Since the tsunami delivered its chaos and destruction almost ten years ago and effectively hit the tourism and development reset button on the island, the place has boomed. There doesn’t appear to be an area spared the development push as tourists arrive in unprecedented numbers from all over the planet flocking in to look for sun, sea, shopping and what else is it they were looking for? Ohh yes, the Soi Bangla nightlife strip of Patong Beach. Well, maybe not all. There are other things to do too, but we’ll get to them later. They are expecting a 20% increase in tourism this year and in great Thai fashion they are gearing up for it with a new airport to be opened soon; an airport which will be receiving Airbus 380s, no less. They are also building hotels, restaurants, and especially beach clubs like crazy from end to end.
To begin the trip we were staying on the southern headland of Patong Beach at Amari Resort. Amari is a very family-friendly resort (read more on page 78). It’s quite a drive from the Phuket airport and especially through the Friday evening traffic like when we arrived. Patong is still the same as always but now there is more of everything. More restaurants, more bars, more hotels, more tuk-tuks and more tourists, especially Russian tourists. There is a veritable explosion of Russian tourists on the island. Of course there is nothing wrong with that except they seem so foreign and I have got no idea what they doing, thinking or saying. But there are also many more other tourists from all over the world walking the streets and laying around on Patong beach. During the day the roads are packed with people in shorts, T-shirts or bathing gear, mostly ending up in the shops of Jungceylon Shopping Mall. There seems to have been an explosion in facial spa centres where you can have a great facial and fresh new face for less than US$ 10.00. These places have become über popular with the tourists. The shopping in this centre is very popular too and is packed at most times of the day. An interesting spot for lunch or dinner can be the fresh food market behind Jungceylon where fresh produce can be cooked for you and eaten right there. The other option during the day is laying on a day bed with hundreds or thousands of other tourists along the beautiful white sand beach of Patong. There are so many small hotels and guesthouses on the main drag and just behind it down small lanes and roads; the place is a veritable beehive of tourist activity. A good way to get around is to rent a motorbike, which are available just about everywhere you look, for around US$ 10 a day.
Once again I was in the main area of Phuket from Patong Beach to the northern beach of Surin
At night the whole beach strip comes to life with restaurants serving fantastic Thai fare, with an abundance of seafood and other local delicacies. The night food market just near Soi Bangla is also a good option for cheap tasty Thai cuisine. Other international cuisines are available too when you need a change from the local food. Besides hanging out and having a beer at a bar somewhere along the beach strip there is only one place to go for nightlife in Patong and that is Soi Bangla Road on the northern edge of the beach. That road has boomed over the past few years and all the go-go girl bars and clubs that one hears of in Patong are concentrated there. There are thousands of tourists walking up and down the strip, and stopping at the bars for a drink at the hundreds of small bars. Some of the bars are tamer than others but it all basically centres on the staff of each bar taking turns at go-go dancing for their customers. It’s lively, it’s brash and if it’s only just the one time to check it out or you are down there every night of the week, it can be a load of fun. We won’t judge you for that. There aren’t a lot of options to the go-go bars except the nightclub Seduction and the more exclusive club upstairs called Blow. We spoke with the manager of Blow, Thomas, and asked him if there was anything else going on outside of the Bangla strip. “Well, we used to be just off the strip around the corner and it was dead slow. But now since we moved here on the main road a few months ago it is booming,” he said. It would appear there is only the Bangla strip in Patong.Click to view slideshow.
Beach Clubs are now all the rage
Head north of Patong and the speed slows down to a more sedate pace. We moved to the new Hyatt Regency Phuket on the southern headland of Kamala Beach. The beach life is fantastic in Kamala with loads of young and old foreign tourists laying around and baking in the hot Thai sun. Just back from the daybeds lining the beach, casual restaurants and Thai massage joints create a real summer holiday atmosphere. The whole beach holiday feel has been encapsulated in the strip of beach clubs on the next bay. That’s Surin beach. In the last few years modern, stylish and above all white, beach clubs have popped up all along that strip. They combine good food, great electronic music and chic surrounds to make a line of hedonistic, beach playgrounds for the young and beautiful jetset that frequents Surin. They say Surin is the equivalent of Seminyak, while Patong is the Kuta of the Bali scene. I’d personally say Surin Beach is a little quieter than Seminyak, and Patong is like Kuta flipped out on steroids. Surin is similar to Seminyak in that the tourists and hotels are all a lot more high-end than Patong, and on the beach club strip and back in town off the beach there are a number of decent restaurants. The place rocks during the busy periods. According to Cassandra at Catch Beach Club high season normally starts at the end of November and goes till the end of May. The peak season is from 20th December to 15th January, but I noticed it can be a little quiet in the low periods.
And in the End
The whole island of Phuket has boomed over the past four or five years and with the new airport coming soon it’s going to get even busier. Patong still remains the main focus of tourism with small hotels and nightlife centred around Bangla Road creating a microcosm of cheap tourism in cost and practice, but there are more up-market facilities to chose from in the area too. The whole Bangla strip is there rocking away every night of the week, but since it is confined to that one strip of road you don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with it. But don’t be a stick in the mud, it can be a load of fun too. It’s also possible to just lay on the beach or by the hotel pool every day and rest at night too. Kamala and Surin remain the more relaxed areas offering a little more sophistication and style, without the tourist trap feel that Patong can have. Luxury villas and hotel accommodations are available and beautiful beach clubs offer a relaxing holiday atmosphere. Phuket still offers a lot for any style of traveller, young or old.