Andaman Coast Slow Travel: Phuket, Phi Phi and Krabi Town
An hour and half after taking off from Singapore’s Changi Airport, we arrived at our next stop: Phuket, one of the most-visited islands in Thailand, famous for its nightlife. Our destination: Patong. Heavily visited by western tourists, this city resembles a bustling beach on Mallorca more than anything. Love it or hate it, there are certainly some interesting things to be seen here.
Getting in and Around
Right off the bat, after leaving the airport, we’ve established a set of facts: compared to Bali, the ‘taxi mafia’ is a lot worse here. There seem to be no metered taxis on Phuket, period. Consequently, the fixed-price options you have here veer towards being a giant rip-off. But since you’re not going to walk or hitchhike to your hotel on the other side of the island, you have no other choice but to take what you can get. So these are the options for getting the hell out of the airport:
– ‘Taxi’ – a.k.a. transport in a car – this will cost you about 900-1,000 Baht (ca. 23 Euro, ouch)
– ‘Minibus’ – a.k.a. transport in a 10-seater van – will set you back 180 Baht per person (and you might have to wait until the van is full, since Thai transport will not operate for a half-empty vehicle)
– Shuttle buses – as of now, there are two companies – one going to Phuket Town and one to Patong. Tickets cost around 120 Baht per person, but consider yourself lucky if you actually catch the shuttle, because they either wait until the bus is full or leave once it is full, regardless of the schedule. So, in real life, the timetables aren’t reliable at all.
There are tons of tuk tuks which you can take around town – but seeing as this is more a tourist gimmick (since Thais tend to use them for VERY short distances), you’re bound to experience a dent in your budget if you take them up and down the strip or – god forbid – between towns.
Accommodation and Amenities
It took us about 45 min to get to our hotel with the airport minibus, driven by a cranky dude. We stayed at Nina’s Guesthouse, where we had a spacious room with A/C, TV, fridge and balcony for a mere 7 Euro. And that’s the upside to heavcily visited destinations: similarly to Kuta, Bali, the high competion drives down the prices; and it helps if you show up outside the main season.
Patong is also a great place to stock up on essentials for your next travels – there is a huge supermarket at the mall and tons of shops. Similarly, there are plenty of budget-friendly food options: a place called The Food Court, behind the Tiger club, comes to mind – their fried rice dishes are decent and start at 55 Baht.
What to Do in Patong, Party Central
There is little to be said about Patong apart from the fact that it has one of the craziest party areas in Thailand, not far behind the (in)famous Pattaya. If you’re not into partying, renting a motorbike and exploring the neighboring beaches and sights is a great alternative.
The beach in Patong proper is not bad either – but depending on whan you’re there, it might be less or more crowded. However, the water is balmy-warm, the sunsets are pretty, and the beach is actually pretty nice and clean for a party town beach. There is plenty of space to lay out, either in the shade or frying in the sun, and the water is bathwater temperature and relatively clear. The only drawback is the amount of touts trying to sell you shit – from bracelets, to henna tattoos, to the overpriced parasailing (about 35 Euro for a total of 5 min).
The city itself is an ever-growing construction site, with too much concrete, too much dust and not enough regard for covering up open sewers. Size-wise, however, it is relatively walkable, especially once you approach the busier areas around Patong’s notorious Bangla street, where there are plenty of sidewalks.
The Notorious Patong Nightlife
If you fancy yourself a Hangover-like night out, head down to Bangla, which becomes a walking street after sundown. On Bangla and the surrounding streets you’ll find everything from foodstalls to strip clubs, ping pong shows, and ladyboy cabaret venues.
The club promoters (usually women) are quite agressive, and might actually grab your arm or otherwise try to ‘drag’ you inside their bar. For us it was enough just walking down Bangla once or twice. But if you’re a fan of Bangkok’s Khao San Road, you’ll feel right at home.
Koh Phi Phi
Since three days proved more than enough for Patong, we moved on to the legendary Phi Phi islands, located southeast, just off of the coast of Krabi. Getting there was fairly easy – tickets can be bought at any tourist kiosk for around 350-400 Baht. We went ahead and got an open ticket to Krabi Town through Phi Phi. This was a mistake because tickets from Phi Phi to Krabi Town are super cheap – so buy them there if you can.
Accommodation on Phi Phi Don
As you’re getting off the pier, you will be bombarded by offers for taxi or accomodation. My advice would be – don’t stop unless you actually have a reservation somewhere specific. Once you walk past the initial vulture-like swarm of taxi drivers and resort promoters, head into the village and check out some of the guesthouses on your own time, and with no pressure. In low season you will surely find something in the 400-500 Baht range. We stayed at the Golden Hill Bungalows, which, was simple, but quite alright.
The island is actually pretty tricky to get around, as it’s quite hilly, so if you choose to stay in one of the areas further from the pier, you’ll have to take a taxi boat – which will likely add up to cost a lot. So to that I’d say – explore the area you’re in!
What to do on Phi Phi Don
Well, for starters, the party crowd can feel at home here: there is a huge party scene, with many super loud bars located directly in Loh Dalam Bay, as well as between Loh Dalam and the pier. Almost all of the beachfront bars have nightly fire shows, and the Reggae Bar lets you go up against another drunk tourist in their Muay Thai rink for a free cocktail bucket as reward. The vibe, despite the nightlife, is slighly less intense than in Patong, though.
For the more low-key crowd, snorkeling, beach-hopping and hiking around the hilly terrain might be a good choice. There are also several dive schools offering trips to some of the most beautiful dive spots in the world – Similan Islands. For those who are too lazy to trek too far but still want to check out some nice beaches, I recommend Long Beach and the surrounding small beaches, such as Loh Moo Dee.
Since there are several islands, some which are protected areas, trying to see it all might turn out very pricey, expecially going with the taxi boats. In this case, doing a snorkeling tour is actually a good way to hit up many of the famous spots. We did a full day tour (10 am to 6.30 pm), which included some snacks, drinks, and snorkeling gear, and we stopped at Bamboo Island (nice), Monkey Beach (meh), and Maya Bay (nice but crowded), among others. All in all, a good time was had by everyone, and we met some great people on the tour!
As of 2018, the regional government started imposing quotas for Maya Bay visitors, in order to preserve surrounding ecosystems – which have already taken a toll due to heaavy boat traffic and other factors.
Our last stop before moving on to the east coast of Thailand was Krabi Town, a transfer hub for many tourists traveling to or from the islands. Although there are some beautiful beaches near Krabi Town, we didn’t explore much since we only spent two days there before moving on to Ko Tao, plus, it rained the entire two days.
Krabit Town Food: Cheap and Cheerful!
On the other hand, Krabi Town itself was actually not too bad. I think many visitors do find it boring because there is seemingly not much to do in terms of nightlife and beach. However, if you love food, this is the perfect place to spend a weekend. Their night markets and the weekend walking street are loaded with culinary treats of all sorts, and everything costs at least 50% less than in Phi Phi or Phuket. For the musically inclined – you can let your inner diva shine on the public karaoke stage.
Whether you hit up one of the amazing curry stands (seriously, I dream about this curry to this day, even though the spiciness made me cry), try a “fried” ice cream, sample the local favorite ‘deconstructed’ pancake, or try a variety of meats on a stick, both your belly and your pockets will be full!