After a hectic 24 hours in Hong Kong I hopped on another flight to Phuket, the gorgeous beach destination whose beaches and islands give Thailand it’s stellar reputation. While most of Phuket is heavily geared towards the tourist and beach scene, Phuket City offers a more laid back old town experience. I met up with the ever lovely Heather and after a brief stay on the sunny beaches of Naithon, we headed to Phuket City.
Naithon beach is a great place to stay close to the airport by the way. It’s around a twenty minute ride from the airport so it’s perfect for late flights (I landed at 2 am). I learned the first rule of Thailand while I was looking for a taxi, always haggle. I was first quoted a rather high price by a driver with a map. I looked at his map and the price he had there was half of his quote, so I offered him half of the map price. We settled in the middle and I was soon at the hotel.
<blockquote class=”imgur-embed-pub” lang=”en” data-id=”a/cI3bQ”><a href=”//imgur.com/cI3bQ”>Phuket City, Thailand</a></blockquote>//s.imgur.com/min/embed.js
Taxis, tuk tuks and haggling
Every single price you’ll find on the street is negotiable. Never pay the first price you’re offered unless you’re really rolling or looking to make some locals very very happy. If you can get one, a metered taxi is less than a tenth what it might cost in the US and offers the blessed gift of air conditioning. If a taxi driver refuses to use the meter, just say no, it’s a bad call.
For tuk tuks, you negotiate a price and route beforehand. Have some fun haggling and you can get a good price and the great open tuk tuk experience. Costs will go up as the night goes on; drivers want to get home and make money too, so plan accordingly. Most drivers are willing to spend a good portion or the whole day as your driver if you offer enough. $30-$40 is usually more than enough to secure this service. You can also get discounts or even free rides if you agree to have them take you to their friend’s shop. Be warned though, you’ll be paying one way or another.
Thailand is a great place to get custom clothing made though, if you have the time I would really recommend it. Haggle here too of course. I had a suit made over a couple days and with two shirts and pants I had a very high quality suit, shirts that actually fit right (I’m 6’3″ and live in Japan…) for less than a cheap off the rack at home. Scheduling more than one fitting is a good decision when getting a custom suit or dress made. Once the tailor has your sizes, they will happily make you clothing and ship it to your worldwide as well.
Food vendors usually have already low prices, but if anything seems high, always talk them down. Most people will charge what they can, and if you don’t care that could be 5x the typical value. Souvenirs are of course negotiable, if you can’t talk a price down, ask to have something else thrown in and you’ll usually both be happy.
Massages, pedicures, etc are usually relatively fixed prices, but more than fair. Treat yourself. A thai massage is an absolute must while in Thailand. Prepare yourself though, it feels like you’re getting beat up for an hour or two.
Bottom line, if a price is higher than you think it should be, negotiate it to what you consider fair. I enjoy the haggling process, but if you don’t, at least offer one alternative price before you buy.
To the city
After some fun in the sun at Naithon beach, we snagged a long distance cab to Phuket City center and decided to stay at the central hostel in town, which was a phenomenal choice. We had a great room with high ceilings with a balcony overlooking the main street. We liked the room so much we stayed there three nights. We happened to arrive the night of the night market in Phuket City, where the street is filled with live bands, incredible food, and a medley of vendors. We feasted on Phad Thai, bbq pork, and even horseshoe crab (a crunchy experience…). Of course, this was accompanied by many bottles of Thailand’s wonderful Chang beer. A rich beer served iced cold… or even with ice in it, it’s strength varies quite a bit from bottle to bottle, so be wary. Overall, my favorite Thai beer though.
The principal reason we went to Phuket was of course, for the beaches. Specifically we wanted to do some diving. Heather finished her certification here, so we were limited to what dives we could do, so we dove Ko Racha Yai and Ko Racha Noi. These were some great experiences thanks to the crew of Aussie divers. I would highly recommend them, especially for new divers or those looking to finish out their certifications (PADI). Although the water wasn’t the clearest I have ever dove, the visibility was still excellent. We saw a myriad of fish spp. octopi and other sea life while diving damaged (but healing) reefs, coves, and even a shipwreck. Thailand has been putting a lot of money and effort into conserving it’s natural resources after a long period of poor management, and the artificial reefs seem to be helping. Hopefully with diligence the ecosystem can return to it’s former glory. Next time I head to Phuket, I’ll probably stay on a live aboard and concentrate on diving, there are weeks worth of diving in the area, and most are pretty far from the mainland.
We spent our last day in Phuket chilling at Patong. Patong is a great beach, and a party town. The nightlife here is excellent, and offers something for everyone, but caters more towards wild partying than subdued nights. The beach is excellent as well, so kick back, put up an umbrella, and snag a couple drinks from the patrolling vendors (don’t worry, they’ll find you).
If you want to party and be close to major dive companies, stay in Patong. If you want to relax in an old town type setting, I’d recommend Phuket City. Either way, you’re going to have a good time in Phuket.