PHUKET, THAILAND: THE UNTOLD TRUTH

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Coral Island – at its clean, private part

When you think of exotic destinations, Thailand is definitely one of them and probably one of the first to cross your mind. When I decided to take my first trip to Asia, I wanted to go somewhere exotic so, naturally, I picked Thailand and specifically Phuket. Because of its well-known and touristic islands, I thought it to be visitor-approved and safe as a choice.

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Expectation

Instantly, I started dreaming of palm trees, magical beaches with turquoise water, amazing Thai food, massages, and the ridiculously low prices I’d heard people talking about and bloggers writing about. BULLSH*T!

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OK, not the palm trees and the massages, but everything else.

I’ve come to the conclusions that either:

 

  • every blogger is being paid to write that nonsense
  • they lack taste generally
  • they have a short memory or
  • they’ve never experienced or swam in a truly nice beach before.

 

Pick one.

 

No one tells you that from the moment you exit the airport, you feel like you’re constantly in a Turkish bath. The air was so humid, I thought I was having a panic attack every second I was the outside for the first 3 days. I just couldn’t breathe normally. And my hair never fully dried for 10 days!

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THE BEACHES

Palm trees everywhere! And that is the only thing that made me go to Phuket’s beaches, otherwise I would have totally skipped them and stayed at the amazing Mandarava Resort & Spa and its gorgeous pools.

I am Greek, OK? So when it comes to nice beaches, I’m pretty spoiled. I expected to find beaches that would blow my mind in a way that I’ve never seen before. And… I did. I faced overcrowded beaches full of plastic bottles and garbage. Kata, Karon, Karon Noi, Patong, Nai Harn, even Coral Island (which was by far the dirtiest and most packed) – all of them.

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Phi Phi – The reality

In contrast to the Mediterranean beaches, those in Phuket are not cute little bays. They’re the open and wild Indian Ocean (almost). Most of the day, the sea is wavy and shallow and the water much too warm, like piss. You need to walk 70-100 meters out for the water level to reach up to your neck. There are red flags posted everywhere for several different reasons. Plus the water is unusually cloudy and not crystal clear blue as they present it in the over-photoshopped pictures you see online.

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Nai Harn – my favorite beach

Basically, everyone keeps talking about the magical beaches in Phuket when it is actually the least attractive thing about the island. You want to see beaches? Try Milos or Lefkada or even Thassos instead.

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Karon Beach

 

THE JUNGLE

The best thing about Phuket and what they should talk about instead of the beaches, is the jungle. The nature and the germination is absolutely amazing – I’ve never seen that much greenery in my life. Enchanting birds singing on the branches of the huge coconut and banana trees, elephants and monkeys strolling around freely, and so many other species… I’m telling you. Phuket’s jungle is the main reason I’d return to the island.

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Singer bird! Anyone knows its name?

 

THE FOOD

I was definitely not satisfied by the food at the restaurants and I LOVE Asian food. To be honest, I’ve eaten Thai food once a week for the past 7 years or so. I read how everyone is obsessed with the food there but for me it was average. The food at the markets and the street food were so much better. They tell you that you can eat lobster for $6 but that’s a lie. You can’t! You probably could’ve 20 years ago, but now no-no. However, for $6, you can have some amazing shrimp and crab skewers, noodles or rice, and a yummy pancake for desert in the market of your choice.

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I wasn’t brave enough to try it

My recommendation? Karon Beach Temple Market, Baan Son Night Market in Patong, Phuket Town’s Weekend Night Market Na Ka and finally the Phuket Town Sunday Night Market in Thalang Road which is my personal favorite.

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Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

We also had great food in the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary: an amazing Pad Thai, some tasty spring rolls and chicken curry. Also, everything we ordered at the hotel whether it was pizza, burgers, or Thai food, was very decent and well prepared.

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Street Sushi

I must also mention that, in the 10 days I was there, I had food poisoning twice. The second one slightly more severe and both times were from the restaurants and not from the stalls. If the stall is busy, it is because it is good.

But the restaurants?? Let me tell you…

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Hygiene is pretty bad unless you want to pay over 50$ per person. We had dinner at a restaurant in Karon beach and noticed a couple of rats crossing in between the tables and outside their kitchen. Nightmare. And everything didn’t taste the way it should. Even the cheese on pizza. I wish I had known better and stuck to the stalls and the hotel.

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THE MASSAGES

Another great reason to visit Phuket and yea, they tell the truth when it comes to this. You can get a 1hr full body massage for 10$ and the ladies do know what they’re doing. I got a massage daily and I wish I had time to do so twice a day.

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I highly recommend the FRUTTA MASSAGE AND SPA in Karon Beach. They are slightly more expensive (meaning by 1 or 2 euros) but they are well worth it because they only use organic products, which smell heavenly. I have tried almost everything there and my favorites were the foot massage and the facial treatment! Ask for my sweet Thai aunt Som – she is the best. And don’t forget to tip them! What you make in a month, they probably make in a year.

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Thalang Road

THE STREET MARKETS

The street markets are great. Especially for those who love to haggle – i.e. my hubby. If you ever find yourself there, arrange to include a Sunday on your trip because by far the best market I went to was Phuket Town’s Weekend Night Market. You can find everything and anything. I even found a place where you can make your own customized passport holder!

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Karon – Temple Market

THE PRICES

For your transport, whether it’s a tuk-tuk or a normal cab, it won’t come cheap! I felt robbed every single time. Ok, it’s not London’s black cab prices, but hell, a taxi in Phuket is more expensive than in Athens and that is not cool.
The tours are also expensive and nothing decent comes at less than 40 euro per person. The tours I booked are ones of the most expensive tours I ever went on anywhere in the world.

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Banana + Nutella: always a win

The food in the restaurants do NOT come cheap. Now, I don’t mind paying as long as I can enjoy, but as mentioned above, that never happened.

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Overall, do not expect to pay the cheap prices you have imagined for anything of quality. For that, like everywhere in the world, you have to pay. Fakes, fruits, aloe cream, street food and coconut oil are some of the things that are inexpensive. What you can also get at a good price, but not cheap, are tailor made suits and coats.

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The only day we did Patong

PATONG

Patong… If you google that name and read the description, you’re gonna think it’s the place to be. The agency I went to book the trip with initially (I ended up booking everything myself in the end), suggested that I stay there overnight and most of the agencies give you offers on hotels in Patong. When I went there and saw how it was in real life, I wanted to vomit. Have you ever been to Laganas in Zakynthos? If yes, imagine that, 7 times worse. If not, let me describe it for you.
Lady boys and hookers selling themselves to you, drunk tourists throwing up on the side of the streets, transgenders up on top of the bars dancing to the rhythm (not) of hideous music, third-rate sex shows with women putting glasses and other fancy things in their parts, adult beverages that promise to give you a cheap hangover or make you go blind… I can keep going but I guess you got the picture.

 

If that is your cup of tea, you are probably reading the wrong blog, because there is nothing here for you.

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Play time

Things you should know:

 

  1. Like the British and Cypriots, in Thailand they drive on the “wrong” side of the street so keep that in mind before thinking of renting a car.
  2. Do not book your tours online. Book them in one of the countless agencies you’ll find in every town. You’ll pay almost 50% less that way.
  3. The sun will burn you even when it’s cloudy. Always wear some suncream. The sun in Phuket is very strong!
  4. Due to that, your tan will be deeper than ever! In just 2 days of sunbathing in Phuket, I got the same tan that took me 4 months of effort in Greece.
  5. Always fasten your seatbelt in a vehicle. The driver is not obliged to let you know and you will be fined. There is a piece of paper somewhere in the car but if you don’t notice it, guess what! They don’t care.
  6. In some beaches, smoking is not allowed. Do not ignore the signs or you will be fined. Usually you can smoke in the beach bar’s area.
  7. The elephants used for trekking are mostly mistreated. Visit a sanctuary instead and you’ll never forget the experience.
  8. Every designer item that you spot on a market is a fake. Never question that!
  9. The tourists visiting Phuket are not what you would see in Cannes or Mykonos. I don’t know how to put it differently.

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I am disappointed, guys. You know why? Because no one tells you all that. They skip basic facts that are important for someone to decide on a destination. Why? People need to know what to expect, and for me, it would have saved me 4 days of frustration. If I knew all of the above, I would have arranged my itinerary completely differently.

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With this post, I’m not saying do not go. No. I’m saying know what to expect. If you want beaches, come to Greece. Seriously. If you want to see amazing nature in a jungle setting and see elephants, monkeys, colorful fish species you never knew existed, coral reefs and beautiful sea beds, by all means, Phuket is the place. But if you travel in style and have a spoiled palate, do not expect it to come cheap.

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36 Comments

  • James says:

    That is precisely how i felt about Bali! Everybody talks about some places as if it was paradise on earth. Then, you get there and see how heavy tourism has spoiled the area and lost its authenticity completely. Sometimes i wonder what it would take to find a true paradise and keep it to myself!

  • Thailand is not on my wish list, but I would love to visit this country one day.

  • I think your expectations were way too high! Especially coming from Greece. Thailand is a beautiful country, but you have to be prepared for the heat, over-crowded beaches, etc. I hope your next trip is a memorable one!

  • adela says:

    I think this article has some good points, but also comes from someone that hasn’t done their research before traveling.

    You didn’t expect it to be super-humid, but this should have been obvious, because you went to a tropical destination. Also depending on the time of the year it’s more or less humid.

    Going to Phuket I can imagine it’s tourist packed. I’ve stayed in Thailand 3 weeks, and for an island experience I went closer to Bangkok, to Koh Samet which is not so popular with tourists, where I found beautiful beaches that were almost empty, and also a more touristy beach. To say don’t go to Thailand for the beaches is an exaggeration, not all beaches are the same :)

    Sorry your experience sucked, I don’t like packed places either, and I never use an agency to book my travels, because they always send people to the busiest places, unless you go to luxury resorts. Probably a luxury resort has it’s own private beach even in Phuket..

    • Niki says:

      erm… I obviously do a lot of research before traveling. Never found an article online saying it is so humid you have trouble breathing. So how the heck would I know? And also, for Phuket, November is the beginning of its “dry” season, even though it was raining 9/10 days.
      Also, I never said do not go to Thailand. I just said, know what to expect about PHUKET!
      The resort I stayed in was amazing, luxurious and 5* and it had 5 amazing pools that were way better than any beach around the island. My taste in beaches is very picky. It’s like talking to an Italian about pasta. I know how a good beach looks like but never founded there. With an exception: Maya bay in Phi Phi, but that’s another island so it doesn’t count. And it wasn’t for swimming, enjoying or relaxing since it had 2000 people on it and 50 boats.
      You are completely right, agencies suck – at least here in Greece. That’s why I booked everything based on the research I did. I was happy with my flight and extremely satisfied with the resort – just not the island.
      Do you recommend Bangkok?

  • I have to agree with you about the food. In tourist places it’s expensive, and streetfood is the best, and fresh. Most locals in Thailand don’t have a stove/oven in their houses, so they eat in the street, which is why it’s so fresh and tasty :)

  • RED RIDING HOOD says:

    Wow You went there! It must be dream come true 😀

  • I love how brutally honest you are 😉 But I would like to try it for myself :)

    • Niki says:

      You should!! Everyone’s taste is different and what I find ugly, you might find beautiful. It is good though to be informed, before deciding on a destination, based on true and honest opinions and not beautified posts by paid bloggers.

  • Rafa says:

    Nice pictures of beaches and food! Even though Phuket was one of the places that I didn’t like while travelling SEA. I found Karon Beach quite dirty. I will follow the rest of your trips :)

  • Teena says:

    I found street food to be the best option and the freshest by far and the tastiest. Way better than restaurants by far.

  • Matt says:

    It sounds like you had a pretty rough time, which is such a shame as I know you were really looking forward to it. Phuket is one of those places that has been so skewed by tourism, especially in the last 10 years or so, although I only spent one day there.
    If you head a bit further south in Thailand, down to Ao Nang National Park you can find some of those gorgeous beaches still. Also, Thailand is so diverse, if you visit the north of the country, it is such a different experience (jungle mountains instead of beaches).
    It’s a shame you had this experience as I could write a huge list of places in Thailand I would love to return to. If you do go back, feel free to hit me up!

    • Niki says:

      I really wanted to experience something authentic and I guess I should have picked something more secluded and less popular! I’ve learned my lesson though. Next time I will definitely ask for advice :)

  • marine says:

    I love the realness of the article. It doesn’t say we shouldn’t to plucker but just being careful and it all sounds like great advices !

  • Lisa says:

    I went to a yoga retreat in Koh Samui, a small island for 1 month. The beach was private and empty. The food vegetarian and very good and we rented motorbikes to go into the town which is busy, but nothing like the bigger places. Also, the northern part of the country is really spiritual and beautiful. I hope you get a chance to go again and see some more of what Thailand has to offer:)

  • Kasia says:

    Thanks for your honesty Niki. Thailand is on my bucket list but I will definitely stay away from the touristy places. I hate crowds especially on the beach. So that would be disappointing to me too. I guess all of those bloggers that rave about Thailand stay in more secluded and private places where you feel like the beach is yours. If you want to travel the less glamorous way you’d have to expect the crowds and the overrated places. Thanks for the tips.

    • Niki says:

      I went on some “private” beaches, but they weren’t as private and I would be extremely disappointed if I were that hotel’s resident! The thing is there’s no such thing as privacy in Phuket, only at the Laguna part. If you ever head that way, I recommend you to stay there!

  • Karen says:

    Love an honest travel blogger! I have heard so many glowing reviews of Phuket. I think many travel blogs believe they have to be upbeat and positive about every single place they visit. This was refreshing. Not every paradise is truly a paradise.

  • Kate says:

    I’m so sorry that you had this experience. I avoided Southern Thailand when I was there because I suspected it was exactly like this. I think you’re right that a lot of bloggers are being paid to promote these destinations in certain ways. Tourist hotspots in Southeast Asia and particularly Thailand are so overcrowded and consequently full of pollution and inflated prices. The humidity killed me too! I have curly hair and so it puffs out like nobody’s business. If you want to escape the crowds in Southeast Asia, I would really recommend Malaysia, particularly Borneo. I think that maybe 20 or so years ago Thailand was the paradise that people are still trying to pretend it is!

  • Tahnee says:

    I love how honest you are about places to visit. I will bear this in mind for any future travels there. Thanks for sharing a great post x

  • Enele Ogah says:

    You were brutally honest and though it sounded a bit harsh, I loved the honesty at the end!.
    From you, i’ve learnt to research before traveling and remember that not everywhere is a paradise like it’s over publisized as. 😊

  • You seem like a true beach connoisseur. heheh. Makes me wonder how our own beaches in the Philippines would fare. Ever been?

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