It may sound harsh to describe three weeks in Phuket as an ordeal, but that’s what it felt like to us at times recently. It’s not that it’s a bad place to visit – there are many things to see and do here to make for an exciting holiday – it’s the fact that we haven’t been able to leave when we wanted that has built the frustration.
We didn’t even intend to go to Phuket at all. Our original route saw us going from Koh Lanta to the mainland beach area of Ao Nang, visiting spectacular Railay and Ko Phi Phi while there. Then to Kantchanaburi for the wondrous Erewan Falls, then up north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai before crossing the border into Laos at the end of April. But the tsunami evacuation and subsequent accident on April 11th derailed us completely, and the detour to Phuket was required for a precautionary CT scan at the world-class Bangkok Phuket Hospital.
Even though the scan showed no damage, it still took days for Kristen to feel well enough to leave the hotel room. Staying at the very comfortable and unbelievably friendly Villareal Heights in Kata, we managed to get through the entire eight seasons of Entourage during our first week on Phuket! But days of unending sloth can take its toll even on the most committed loungers, and as soon as Kristen was up to it we ventured out to see some of the island. During our three weeks on Phuket we visited or stayed at many different areas, including Kata and the delightful Kata Noi, Karon, the Big Buddha, Patong and its infamous Bangla Road, Kammala, Surin, Bang Tao, Rawai, Nai Harn, Promthaep Cape, Rang Hill and Phuket Town. We can’t decide whether we like Kata Noi beach or Surin beach more (but we both agree these are the pick of the eight beaches we visited).
However to our surprise, our favourite part of the island turned out to be Phuket Town with its well-preserved Sino-Portuguese shophouses, cool cafes and lively music scene. We ended up spending six nights there prior to flying out, and with the possible exception of Kata Noi and Surin it’s to Phuket Town that we would return if we ever came back to the island. Towards the end of our stay we also managed to do a day trip to Ko Phi Phi, visiting justifiably famous areas such as Maya Bay and The Lagoon. It’s somewhere that we would like to return to for a few days to see it properly, but definitely outside the high season when it must get maniacally busy.
I’ve got to say something about the food on Phuket, because that was our main pastime there! Kristen was clamouring to leave the room as much as she was able, but the slow pace of recovery meant that heading out to a restaurant was sometimes the only activity possible. I could write a whole post about the various restaurants and meals we enjoyed, but for now will limit it to a brief summary of the more memorable ones.
Thai food: Kampung Hill restaurant in Kata serves Royal Thai cuisine in a gorgeously ornate setting. Suay in Phuket Town aims for top-end Thai and fusion food that mostly hits the mark. Gotum, a pleasant and unpretentious place also in Phuket Town served some of the best Thai food I’ve had in Thailand. As did the Pad Thai shop, conveniently located a short step from our Kata home and which serves the best Pad Thai on the planet (and a pretty decent noodle soup too).
European food: Acqua, a snazzy Italian place with water views was our choice for Kristen’s birthday blowout. With a superb range of cheeses and top quality food and wine, it was easy to see why this place has won so many awards (bloody expensive, though). The acclaimed Momtri’s Kitchen and The Boathouse, both in Kata, had spectacular settings but the food at both was somewhat disappointing (but both got points for kick-arse cocktails using local ingredients). Decent Italian at more modest prices can be had at Capannina, also in Kata.
All this eating was some compensation for being forced to stay on Phuket, but what we really wanted was to get away and resume our journey. The inability to move on was sapping our motivation in many ways, and by the last week we were feeling rather depressed about the situation. But finally the doctor gave the all-clear to travel, and to give a real sense of departure from that place – plus to make up some lost time – we decided to fly out as soon as possible. It took less than two hours to put 1400 kms between us and Phuket, and after a single night’s stopover in dreary Udon Thani we crossed into Laos to get the good times rollin’ again 🙂