Phuket. Oft-visited and yet oft-laughed off by “real travelers” as a tourist hell-hole.
I visited for a day ten years ago, on my way from Kho Phi Phi back to Bangkok. I don’t remember much of that visit, save for how grossed out I felt seeing older men lounging around the beach picking up “lady-boys.”
Safe to say, I wasn’t exactly stoked to go back, but, I was missing the ocean. We had essentially been land-locked since finishing our sailing trip in Madagascar, and I was itching for a surf or a real swim.
So we took a couple buses down to Phuket, specifically Kata Beach, a smaller beach with a few less resorts/less noise/less tourists than the neighboring villages. Of course, relative to some places we’ve been, it was crawling with tourists and those offering services to tourists, but we focused on the water.
After a little homework and some wandering around, we rented surfboards from the lifeguards on the beach. Yes. There are actually waves in Thailand, and yes you really can rent boards from the lifeguards. Whether or not it’s a legitimate business or just some entrepreneurial lifeguards, to be determined…
It was ~$5/hour, and so worth it. Luckily, we’d timed a swell and there was actually a decent beach break working for us. We shared the waves with only a few other people, most of whom had never been on a surfboard before (or at least so it seemed). With every ride, my smile widened, with every wave felt, my energy rejuvenated.
The other reason we headed to Phuket was to go scuba diving. After getting shut-out for diving in Madagascar, and then missing the window to dive in the Similan Islands National Park by a day(!), we settled for diving from Phuket – which is a massive dive hub. Everywhere you look, there are dive centers, or people trying to get you to a dive center. We booked a day of diving in/around Kho Phi Phi.
I’m a certified rescue diver (though it had been years since I last dove). Annie’s certified as well, though I had no idea that she hadn’t done any dives past her first certification dive. So we opted to do a refresher with our dive-master, Mike, a Swede who had been an instructor in Thailand for six years now.
The diving was good. Not great. Not horrible. Just good. The reefs are in pretty rough shape given all the tourism, climate change/warming ocean temps, and overall proximity to the coast, but there were still little pockets of life on the reefs, and large schools of fish cruising by. We did three dives that day – Bida Nok and Ealong Wall at Kho Phi Phi, and then Anemone Reef near Shark Point.
If you’re wondering what there is to see at Anemone Reef, don’t. It’s all in the name. Anemones everywhere! And of course, Nemo(s), too.
I don’t have much to report re: the area of Kata Beach. There are a couple resorts that occupy the best real estate, a ton of restaurants, hostels/hotels, service providers, just in-land, and tourists everywhere. We sought out a pad-thai restaurant one night, but after a long walk along a dark highway, we arrived to find that it was already closed. We settled for street-cart pad-thai and sat by the beach, watching the waves (and the rats awaiting our leftovers).
At a glance…
- Rent… surfboards from the lifeguards in the middle of the beach. ~$5/hour.
- Dive… with [Company name to be inserted here once we remember it].
- Stay… at FIN Hostel Phuket. Nice clean rooms with AC etc, but don’t expect much from the staff.
- Eat… at EAT Bar & Grill. Swedish ex-pat owned restaurant with great food. The owner sat down with us for a while and dished on what it’s like running a restaurant in Thailand. Same same, but different…
- Cool off… with “Fried Fresh Ice Cream,” a local ice cream cart with fresh made ice cream, frozen before your eyes.