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Phuket
There's simply no escape . . .


"I had my opinions about Phuket before I came.  Seedy, overdeveloped, overtouristed, overpriced.  And I chose to avoid it.  What I didn't know was that if you like beaches, international food, Thailand, and islands, there's no avoiding Phuket.  Your paths will cross.  In my first year in Thailand, while avoiding it, I wound up here twice and two years later, here for a third time.  As I continue to shun it, I'll probably end up here for another vacation or two within the next few years."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


Phuket is Thailand's biggest island and the size of Singapore.  With unlimited funds and a choice to live either in Phuket or Singapore, I'd choose Phuket.  So would, I imagine, the majority of Singaporeans. 

Does Phuket really live up to the claim of being a sex den and packed out with tourists?  Let's not beat around the bush.  It is, hands down, Thailand's most visited island.  There have been direct flights here long before Air Asia set up shop.  Yes, it's an island, but unlike Koh Samui, Koh Lanta, Koh Phangan, Koh Chang, etc, you don't need to take a ferry to get here.  Two bridges span from the mainland to the island, so it's easy to get to.  It's on the Andaman Coast, making it more scenic and beautiful than the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.  There's a variety of accommodation available, the food is eclectic. The capital of the province/island, Phuket Town, offers real comforts and characteristic architecture, something missing in many Thai towns.  

Phuket sunset

Phuket - no escaping it and for many, no better escape

Phuket may just be too popular for its own good, and there's always a reason to come down here.  My first visit was in July 2007.   I had just learned how to kiteboard in Hua Hin, and the season had just ended.   I caught a flight and decamped on Naiyang Beach very close to the airport.   That was about the only benefit.   Wind was up and down, and Naiyang was so far removed from any kind of stimulation.   Near the end of my two-week stay, I rented a motorbike and drove to Phuket Town.  As the entire island stretches north to south about 50 km, the drive can take well over an hour each way, not a trip you'd be making on a daily basis.  Having had my fill of Phuket, I didn't think I'd be back for awhile.         

    
Vegetarian Festival: Doug returns three months later!

It's October 2007.  I had taken the plunge and moved in with my girlfriend and her son a month earlier.   October was his school vacation, and my girlfriend suggested we all go to Phuket for the annual Vegetarian Festival.  The Vegetarian Festival is a 9-day Taoist celebration observed by Chinese Thais, with the focus of the festival being in Phuket which is 35% Chinese.  People stuff their faces on delicious vegetarian cuisine and sacred rituals are performed at various Chinese temples.  Big time devotees walk barefoot over piping hot coals and pierce their bodies with swords, fish hooks, whatever. Some ascend ladders with bladed rungs to have a bloody good time.    A piece of advice.  The vegetarian food doesn't taste any better after you've inflicted wounds on your body. 

 

Phuket City Hilton Arcadia Dusk Phuket
Phuket action (l to r):  Bus driver opting for the cheapest accommodation possible by sleeping underneath his bus; Doug at the Hilton Arcadia; Doug waiting for Phuket's famous sunsets

This was our first family vacation, although I hadn't yet comprehended that I'd become the patriarch of a new family klan at that moment.  It was filled with fond memories.   We'd booked a few nights at the Centara on well touristed Karon Beach.  My hotelier girlfriend found it disappointing and found a luscious deal at the Swiss-run Movenpick, also purveyors of delicious chocolates, although I hadn't yet comprehended that either.  The Movenpick's Kids Club put my girlfriend's own hotel's to shame.  I tried lying to the staff and saying I was 9, then 9-and-a-half, and finally 12 to see if I could also make use of the kid facilities myself.  None of the staff bought it and security escorted me off the Kids Club premises.

Two Years Later -- Back Again!

Phuket beachEven though we lived in a beach resort city, my girlfriend wanted still more beaches for our 2009 family vacation.  We spent some of the time in Khao Lak and finished up in Phuket, back in Karon yet again.  Phuket called us back!

Actually, what called us back was an unbelievable hotel bargain.  Phuket abounds with them.  This bargain was extra special.  A former colleague of my girlfriend had moved to a competing 5-star chain in Phuket.   We were offered a deluxe room for USD 50/night including a luxurious breakfast buffet.  Sweetening the pot were two vouchers to a Middle Eastern dinner buffet.  I had just come off a Master Cleanse and lost 7 kg.  Once I stayed at this hotel for 3 nights, I soon found 3.5 of those lost 7 kg.  

We missed the Vegetarian Festival by one day in 2009.  No worries.  Phuket Town still had pre-festival festivities and I stuffed my face just before boarding the bus back to Hua Hin.  Magically, I found yet another lost kilogram.

 
Phuket's Magnetic Allure

There's just too much going on down here to ignore Phuket, try as I might.  I would not need my arm twisted to go down for another Vegetarian Festival. I didn't fall in love with Naiyang Beach but Chalong Bay in the southeast also has kiteboarding.  The island boasts an international school.  Half of Europe takes a dump here, and the dumbest Australians on their continent come here for holidays, yet as I pondered it over in my mind, I realized Phuket wouldn't make a bad place to live if you could find a place a bit but not completely away from it all.  And if it's not a bad place to live, how could it be a bad place to travel? 

Examine this map.  Look how many bays and beaches Phuket contains.  Sure, Karon and Patong host more Korean package tourists than the population of North Korea.  Who's saying you have to book your holiday there?  I'm telling you what it's taken me more than four years to realize.  Phuket has plenty more than the trendy beaches, access to numerous watersports, golf courses, shooting ranges.  I'd say one of the most obvious downsides is that it's got so much and it's so accessible that you may not feel you're on an island anymore. 

I'm not planning to arrange our next family vacation here.   That probably means our next family vacation will be in Phuket.


 

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