A Newbie’s Guide to Phuket: If I knew then what I know now…

4 May
Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Longtail boats at Nai Harn Beach

Ron and I have one more week left of our 3 month trip to Thailand before we head to Spain.  We are grateful of the opportunity we had to “live” with the locals in this beautiful country.

What brought us to Thailand, of all places?  Well, we first wanted warm weather.  And nice beaches.  Oh, and a good place to live on a budget.  We did a lot of research before we left California about Thailand and where we thought we would live.  We now realize there were some things we didn’t know before we left and wish we did.  Hindsight is 20/20, right?

This blog is for people considering going to Thailand, specifically Phuket and may have some helpful information for you based solely on our views and opinions.  Here is a list of things we really love about Phuket:

  • New friends we made

    New friends we made

    Thai people- they are some of  the most warm, welcoming people you will ever meet.  They really go out of their way to help you, even if they can’t personally.  They will find someone who can.

  • Weather – we visited from February – May, during “high” season and only saw rain once from Feb – Mar.  The days are warm and sunny, the nights comfortable.

    IMG_3159

    Enjoying good, cheap street food.

  • Beaches – There are so many to choose from!  We loved walking Kamala (where we lived) beach at dusk when it’s not too hot.
  • Massages- You can have a wonderful 1 hr massage for $10US everywhere you go.
  • Thai Food – How about ordering 1 Chicken with mixed vegetables, 1 Fried Rice w/Chicken and a bottle of water for $4.80US?  Not too bad.
  • It was inevitable

    Songkran Festival

    Songkran Festival- April is the Thai new year and it’s celebrated by splashing people with water to wish them luck for the upcoming year.  Get your water pistols out and join the fun!

  • Jungcelyon Mall – There is a modern movie theatre on the 3rd floor that shows first rate movies in English.  On Wednesday, the price is $3.40pp.  Before every movie,  a tribute to the King will be played and it’s mandatory to stand during it.
  • Bartering- Thai people are very proud and there is a scientific way to negotiate prices with them.  They will give you a price first (shown to you on a calculator) and you should barter with them to pay 1/2 the original quoted price by going back and forth.  If they are stuck on a higher price, then just walk away.  That will restart the bargaining again.  They enjoy this and will act put out by “allowing” your lowered price, but once they agree, everyone is all smiles.

    IMG_3060

    Prices and chair choices for movie theatre

  • Meeting people from all parts of the world – We have met people on tours and restaurants from Finland to Australia, South Africa to Bali.
  • English- Is spoken widely in Phuket.  We rarely had difficulty in conversing with people and if we did, I took out my iPhone and used Google Translate.
  • Medical Care- Since Thailand is a medial vacation destination, prices for services at Bangkok Phuket Hospital were a 1/3 of what you pay in the US.  We had a dentist cleaning for $30US and a partial physical with bloodwork for $34US.  The hospital is every bit as modern if not more than those in the US.
  • Shopping – Thailand is not the third world country you may of thought it was.  In the bigger cities like Patong, Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you will see American fast food places like Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Starbucks and Haagen Dazs ice cream.  In Bangkok you will find ultra modern malls with stores like Chanel, H&M, Coach, etc.  I managed to find a Krispy Kreme in the Paragon Mall in Bangkok, which was next to the Aunt Annie’s Pretzels.
  • Internet (a favorite topic of mine) – I purchased a local Happy sim card for $5 and added a 1G of 3G for 1 month for $13.75.  If you use more than 1G, you’ll receive a text allowing you to purchase a “booster” of another 1G for $5!  You can add money from any of the gazillion 7-11s in Thailand.  I was even able to make my iPhone a wifi “hotspot”.
  • Our current mode of transportation.

    Our current mode of transportation.

    We loved not having a car and driving our scooter everywhere.  You don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your helmut.  Just leave it on your scooter with no worries. And make sure you don’t fill up at places that sell “bottles” of gas.  They are a rip-off.  Look for regular gas stations and single gas pumps on the side of the road.

So you see, there are plenty of things to like about Phuket.  Next, I’ll discuss some of the “less desirable” things we noticed about living here.

Our kitchen

Our kitchen

  • Lodging- For what we wanted, we found it to be expensive.  You can live very cheaply in Phuket if you want to stay in a hostel or rent a room that doesn’t have a kitchen.  Prices go down even further after May.  We like to cook and found it very difficult before we arrived to find lodging and decided to just look once we got here.  We hired a driver and drove around the west side of the island and settled on Kamala.  It’s a lot quieter than Patong, but close enough for shopping and our weekly movies.  We rented a one bedroom condo with a kitchen (no oven as they are rare to find here) 5 minutes to the beach and it cost $400US a month more than we budgeted.   Next time we think we’d prefer the more livelier Kata/Karon area.
  • Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Sunset over Patong Beach at a nice restaurant.

    Restaurants- For a short visit, there would be no issues.  But for a longer stay, you might want a change from Thai food and the choices are schnitzel, spaghetti bolognese, pizza and fried chicken.  We could not find a Mexican or American restaurant near us.  If you want a really nice meal, you can find them, but you will pay close to US prices.  We enjoyed Mom’s Tri Kitchen in Kata, where it seemed they had more variety of restaurants.

  • Big C grocery store in Patong

    Big C grocery store in Patong

    Grocery prices- We shopped at the Big C in Patong, and once every 10 days rented a car and drove to Phuket Town to visit the big Tesco-Lotus and my personal favorite,  Tops Central Market because it has more of American branded products and a gourmet bakery.  If you cook in and want things like cheeses, crackers, olive oil, you will pay double what you paid in the US.  There is at least a double if not more tax on imports here.  Locally grown lettuce will be very cheap, but a box of Chips Ahoy will set you back. For the same reason, wine, champagne and liquor will not be cheap.  Local beers in a bar are inexpensive at $2US.

  • Car Rentals- Most Thais can’t afford a car and use scooters.  It’s expensive to rent a car.  We pay between $30-40 a day to rent a car when we need to.  A scooter costs us $85 a month.
  • Construction- Phuket is booming right now and there is construction going on everywhere building new hotels and condos.  There is still only 1 main road in most areas and the traffic is getting worse.  We are afraid that overbuilding has already begun and is changing the landscape daily.
  • Phang Nha Bay

    Phang Nha Bay

    Foreigners – As we said, we met a lot of different people but what we didn’t know was that the top 3 visitors to Phuket are: 1.  Chinese  2.  Russians  3.  Australians.

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Bangla Road, Patong

    Living in the US does not afford us the opportunity to run into Russian tourists too often.  Phuket, however, has a strong influx of Russian tourists. In our experience, we found them to be very unfriendly, rude and down right arrogant.  Too many times to count, we were cut in front of, reached over, or not acknowledged by them.  I continually read in the local newspaper of problems the Thais had with the Russians.  When we talked to Thai people,  they all stated a similiar dislike for them. They told us how the Russians refuse to speak English to them.  They think the Thai’s should speak Russian.  Our tour guide in Bangkok told us that Phuket has a serious problem with the Russian mob influence and the local Thai’s put up with them because they are afraid of losing their business so they tolerate their bad behavior.

  • Beaches- If you are coming to Phuket to see pristine beaches from
    Rows of chairs at Patong Beach

    Rows of chairs at Kamala Beach

    magazines,  you might be disappointed.   Due to the increase in tourists and boat traffic, the beaches on the west coast during high season are overcrowded with rows of beach chairs and umbrellas and littered.  Sometimes you may not be able to see your feet while in the water.  We found Patong beach to be the worst offender.  During one walk on the beach, we collected 3 bags of trash left by visitors.  We didn’t visit the Phi Phi islands as we were told how crowded they are and wanted to avoid that.

  • Patong – Very crowded, often times omitting a sewer smell and difficult to walk around due to lack of sidewalks on some streets.
  • Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Laguna Golf Course, Bang Tao

    Golf- Very expensive to play in Phuket at $150pp a round and up.

  • Beauty Salon Prices- For women who are looking for a quality manicure & pedicure, maybe a haircut and color, you will probably not save a whole bunch from what it costs in the US.  An OPI gel polish in Patong costs $34US.

Here are some observations we feel are important to know:

  • Shoes- The majority of Thais are Buddhists and believe the feet are the most dirty part of a body.  It is their custom to remove your shoes before entering a temple, a person’s home and some businesses.
    No shoes allowed inside

    Shoes outside a business

     

  • The King- Is loved by everyone in Thailand.  In fact, you should NEVER say anything negative about him.  We accidently dropped a coin with the King’s pictures on it and Ron stepped on the coin to prevent it from rolling away.  Our guide warned us to never use your feet on anything related to the king as that would be very disrespectful and could cause one to be arrested.
  • Eating Out- We found it cheaper to eat out than buy groceries and cook in.  Steak is very expensive in Thailand as it’s imported from Australia and New Zealand.  Remember, anything imported will be expensive.  When we did try and order steak a couple of times, we were very disappointed.
  • Eating Out Part II-  What ever you order will come out of the kitchen one at a time.  You will not be served the appitizer first as in the US.  As they make the dishes, is how it comes out of the kitchen.
  • Watering station vs. armed pickup

    Watering station vs. armed pickup

    If you can be in Thailand during their New Years celebration Songkran, we highly recommend it.  Join the locals in wishing everyone luck in the upcoming year by pouring water on them. But if you don’t want to get wet, definitely stay inside!!

  • Prices come down on lodging after May, however, the moonsoon season starts. The humidity and overcast skies begin mid-April and start in full force in May.   We found out it started a little early this year and if your only means of transportation is a scooter, you will either get very wet to go out to eat or you need a kitchen to prepare meals in the event it rains.
  • We decided to see other parts of Thailand and traveled to Chiang Mai and Bangkok.  Although we are beach lovers, we decided Chiang Mai had a better mix of people, culture and restaurants for us.  We also took a weeks vacation to Vietnam and loved it there.  You can read about that in our other blogs.

As our observations are purely personal, we hope this helps you if you are deciding to visit Phuket.  We are so grateful we were able to live in this beautiful country briefly and would love to return some day for it’s beauty and simply way of life.

Kamala beach sunset

Kamala beach sunset

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17 Responses to “A Newbie’s Guide to Phuket: If I knew then what I know now…”

  1. toemailer May 4, 2013 at 6:12 am #

    We would love to post the picture of you two on the scooter and excerpt your post at toemail if you do not mind? http://toemail.wordpress.com

    • drubano May 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

      Sure, we are fine with that. We are new to blogging and haven’t had anyone want to use our information before.
      Is there a reason to do that?

      • toemailer May 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

        Nothing beyond that’s what we do, post pictures from around the world where there is at least one bare toe visible. Yes, we had to go and get that idea lol 🙂

      • toemailer May 5, 2013 at 11:49 am #

        It’s posted now. Thanks so much, we really appreciate it! 🙂

    • drubano May 5, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      Your welcome!

  2. John Degen May 4, 2013 at 6:15 am #

    how is PHUKET pronounced? lol

    John Degen http://www.the-studio-at-caravanseri.com http://www.vacationrentals.com/ #63938

    Date: Fri, 3 May 2013 17:04:33 +0000 To: johndegen@hotmail.com

    • drubano May 4, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      Ron says there are 2 generally accepted pronunciations. One is POO-KET and the other is…LOL

  3. John Degen May 4, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    What a coincidence, that way they treat the king….Obama demands the same treatment here in the states! lol…..

    John Degen http://www.the-studio-at-caravanseri.com http://www.vacationrentals.com/ #63938

    Date: Fri, 3 May 2013 17:04:33 +0000 To: johndegen@hotmail.com

  4. Michele McAleer May 4, 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Nice job with the write up. I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. Lori Scalpati-Lukeman May 4, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Deanna… Love your Blog!!! Sounds so wonderful to be able to experience so many cultures! Stay safe and keep posting links to your blogs, I love them!

    • drubano May 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

      Thanks Lori!! I’m glad you are enjoying them. I like writing them 🙂

  6. Brittany June 2, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

    Hi, my boyfriend and I are in Phuket now and are first time travelers. Thanks so much for this post as I have already gone over budget and feel like I’m overpaying left and right. The bartering tip really helped!

  7. Arika June 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    Hello!

    I found your blog through Google when I wrote in ‘bartering in patong’

    I found it very informative! I’ve bartered elsewhere in the world but find each place differs, and my travel companion this trip is my mum, I left the husband at home in Canberra, Australia with the fur babies, and she struggles with bartering, yesterday she was told 1800 for 3 sarongs and gave them that much, so I’m sending her this article to read.
    Along with the main reason I came here, I also found other things you mentioned helpful! So thank you very much!

  8. Jessica February 3, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    We are currently in Phuket and it’s not as we expected, especially the part about the town being mobbed by Russian tourists (rude yes, saw a Russian man this morning digging into a meatball platter with his hands and shrugged when we called him out). I’m glad I read your post and learned a lot more about Phuket on what to expect.

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