Forget shopping, full-moon parties and tacky, jam-packed beaches, there is so much more to explore in and around Phuket, if you know where to look.
There are very few places in the world that feel like home and Thailand is one of them. Whether you’re a tired soul wanting to rejuvenate solo, bunch of friends hunting for a fun holiday spot or just another couple looking for ‘romance on a budget’, Phuket is that one destination where you may end up taking an impulsive trip. And if you think it’s ordinary only because it’s closer to home, you’re wrong. What you derive and discover on your travels simply depends on how much you wander without a stuffy itinerary and how profoundly you connect with the locals. Don’t race into a list of tourist traps; take it slow and delve deeper into local food and culture to uncover the unexpected. Lose yourself in Phuket to find a new you.
Make Kamala Beach your home
The fact that Phuket is overcrowded at all times is sort of a traveller myth. You can always find your own corner, away from the chaos of the sun worshippers. Only a 15-minute drive away yet far removed from the liveliness of Patong, Kamala is a haven of tranquility. While the northern end of the beach makes for a hot spot for adventures like surfing, snorkelling and kayaking, the southern end – towards the Rim Haad (Beach Road) – is a place where you’d want to grab a mug of chilled beer, settle on a lounge chair, and watch the sun go down. Kamala village houses a couple of resorts that are shaded by its enchanted canopy of rainforest and overlook the jade blue Andaman Sea. For a culturally-soaked stay, Keemala, 10/88 Nakasud Rd makes for a sophisticated hideaway in the jungle. Through its natural yet distinctive architecture inspired by the tales of early Phuket culture and tribes, it creates an illusion of a utopian Thai village.
Photograph the Old Town
The charming little old town of Phuket fairly shines with character and it’s best to explore it on foot. If you don’t want to do this all by yourself, register for a guided photography tour (approx THB 1,980 per person). Start with Thalang Road – a quaint boulevard studded with colourful, Sino-Portuguese shop mansions that house an interesting mix of restaurants, cafes, guesthouses and souvenir and trinket stores; they sell everything from batik, tie-dye apparels to fridge magnets, keychains and home decor.
What you’re likely to come across while walking along other streets is Jui Tui shrine, a very old Chinese temple on Ranong Road; a beautiful abandoned mansion called Limpanon House and an ancient pharmacy on Yaowarat Road; and a surprisingly interesting Thai Hua Museum and original Sino-Portuguese style Luang Amnart Nararak Mansion on Krabi Road. If time permits, buy yourself a cup of mocha and spend some time chatting up with the locals at the old-fashioned Pirrera Cafe on Dibuk Road. They say, you don’t need a guidebook when you know the people!
Learn Thai cooking at a scenic beach
To appreciate the juxtaposed and subtle flavours and aromas of Thai food, it isn’t enough to eat like a local. Learn to cook like one too! Register for a short-term Thai cooking class in Phuket and you get to take back the most precious souvenir – the ability to reproduce delectable dishes in your own kitchen back home. And how about a stunning Thai beach being your classroom for the immersive cooking session? Located at Sirey Beach, Phuket Thai Cookery School (in the pics above) makes for a good choice.
The class usually begins with a fun tour of the fruit and vegetable market where you get to know Thai ingredients better. After, you’ve got the basics right, it’s time to sport your aprons and get ready at your station for some real work.
Learn to make a five-course Thai meal with live demonstrations by a chef. Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in coconut milk soup), Som Tam (Papaya salad), Phad Thai (Thai fried noodles with prawns), Kaeng Kiew Warn Kai (Thai green curry with chicken) and Ka Nom Kluay (steamed banana cakes) are must-do recipes. End the class by enjoying your culinary creations with your newly-made friends, and of course, a great sense of achievement. A bite of Thai food is like a burst of flavours in your mouth!
Take a day trip to Koh Yao Noi
The land of sun and sea does have some unspoilt, hidden gems and Koh Yao Noi – in the heart Phang Nga – is one of them. Discover the true joy, peace and simplicity of an island by setting off on a bike ride on its circular, countryside roads, touring the traditional rubber farms with buckets hanging from the tree trunks and watching the buffaloes taking mud baths in rice paddies.
Many long-tail boats make daily trips to Koh Yao Noi from Bang Rong Pier on the east coast of Phuket (the fare is 50 Baht for an hour’s journey; daily departures at 9.30 am, 12 noon and 5 pm). You can also consider a catamaran trip to idyllic Ao Kian Bay, on the northern tip of Koh Yao Noi. Kayak while soaking in the exotic scenery surrounded by towering limestones cliffs and Toh Buad Cave or converse with nature by jungle trekking through the protected rainforest. Don’t miss the ‘Big Tree’ – the 300-year-old jungle giant requires around 20 people to form a circle around it and makes for a spectacular landmark.
Exhausted with all the activity? Take a break at the little nature-inspired shack that dishes out the most exotic Thai meal in the wild or plug into the local culture by interacting with the fishermen.
These locals are happy to invite you into their personal space, narrate stories of the past and offer a traditional delicacy of grilled banana and sweet potato mixed with fresh, ground coconut and dash of salt and sugar. After all, travels are made of these little experiences!
DIY THAI ‘POTLI’
Love the soothing aroma of Thai herbs? Enroll for a herbal compress “Luk Pra Kob” making workshop at Keemala, Phuket. The 2.5 hour class is a crashcourse to making “potli” that is used commonly in a traditional Thai massage to heat specific areas of the body. Now, isn’t that an express ticket to a Thai massage at home.