Travelogue: Thailand, Phuket

Our final leg in Thailand was an all-too brief stay on Phuket. And, in fact, we had a very limited look at the island—the largest in the country—skipping over the (in)famous bits like Patong all together.

We spent two nights at the JW Marriott on Mai Khao beach, a 7-mile, relatively undeveloped stretch of the Sirinat National Park that spans the northwest coast toward the airport. Our one trip outside of the hotel took us to Old Phuket Town, with its beautiful Sino Portuguese architecture. Most visitors, however, would use the base to explore the nearby islands—from where we’d just arrived.

Here’s a look back at those last three days of our anniversary trip.

We’d lingered as long as possible on Ko Yao Noi, so we arrived in the afternoon—greeted with smiles, cool towels, and sweet purple concoctions. It felt a little strange at first, being in such a large resort, after spending the past days in such an intimate setting. It may sound odd to say so, because it was a beautiful hotel, but our first impression was that we were glad we’d only planned to stay our last two days.

I’d chosen the JW knowing that it was especially popular with families—many of whom come for the kids’ club activities. I think had our kids been desperate for an itinerary geared at them—as I thought they might be—I would have felt more grateful. You could virtually check in the kids all day for activities and special camps! Our trip had gone so well, however, that it seemed less necessary than anticipated. A good thing, overall.

That’s not to say we didn’t appreciate the resort amenities.

It did, however, seem difficult to leave the Mai Khao area for trips into town for dinner—not worth it for our family—and so one’s eating choices are more limited to the resort restaurants.

We bemoaned this a bit after a very expensive dinner the first night, but sang a different tune when it came to breakfast.

The buffet was incredible—so much fresh fruit! There were counters catering to every national cuisine, with endless options.

Nonetheless, we discovered that we were otherwise happiest when we walked a short ways down the beach where a small kitchen had been set up with a few tables. We would take turns between sitting with cold beers and hot curries and running into the sea.

The water was warm and beautiful, and practically all ours, it seemed. The kids were free to watch crabs dart in and out of hiding, or look for lizards near the palms, while we sat with our drinks.

Any reservations we had about the mega-ness of the resort were cleared up then and there.

And it got even better when we realized that there were some massage huts at various points along the beach, that would save us from having to go to the fancy hotel spa.

These were actually one of the best perks of the hotel. We stopped in on our first afternoon—Aron and I traded off watching the kids at the pool while we each went for an hour massage—and learned that for about $10US extra we could make appointments for two of the women to come to our room after the kids were asleep.

That night, we put on some spa-like pajamas I’d purchased at our last hotel, and two very nice ladies arrived around 8:30pm for some of the best in-room massages in memory. Part of the pleasure, of course, was the novelty of the experience—it was impressive the way this petite 70-year-old woman was at one point standing on my back, balancing on this tall hotel bed!

We asked them to come both nights we stayed at the Marriott, and also payed visits during the day. Even Hudson got a 15-minute massage on the beach!

We made one trip from the Mai Khao area. On our second-day, we took a taxi to Old Phuket Town, the cultural heart of the island, and it was a highlight.

Lonely Planet explains, “Europeans (Dutch, Portuguese, French, and British) began to arrive [on Phuket] from the 16th century, but the largest group of international arrivals were the Chinese, who flocked here in the late 19th century to stake their fortunes on the tin-mining boom. These workers married into Phuket’s Siamese community, and the local ‘Baba’ (also known as Peranakan) culture was born here. This distinctive cultural blend is visible all over Phuket Town, from its architecture to its food.”

We took a self-guided walking tour around Soi Romanee and Thalang road to admire its charm. Phuket 101 has a more thorough guide.

The colorful storefronts were lovely, as were the tiles that graced many of the porches along the road. I couldn’t stop snapping photos of the beautiful patterns.

Shopping here was more fun than we expected. There were many vintage shops and small boutiques along the roads. There were also quite a few cafes and appealing-looking restaurants.

We saved our appetite, however, for the stalls of the city market on Ranong Road.

I was grateful to be ending our trip with the fragrances of fresh herbs and frying fish, the sight of piles of fresh fruit, rather than at the hotel. It was definitely worth the hour-long taxi trip away from the beach.

Afterall, our flight the next night wasn’t until after midnight, so we still had a full final day to spend on the sand.

Hudson even joined the circus camp that last afternoon! He’d taken part in a scavenger hunt activity the first day, the turtle-care and conservation camp our second day, and this on the last—each about an hour in length.

Skyler could also use the kids’ club, but not without a parent present.

That night, after dinner just outside the hotel at a little strip mall that’s part of the Mai Khao resort area (a shuttle runs between the major hotels and stops there), we picked up our bags from the lobby and headed for the airport.

It was a long trip home: we left the hotel around 10:30pm for our 1:40am flight out of Phuket, a 5-hour leg to Beijing.

We spent a few hours in Beijing before boarding another flight, this one about 12 hours, to San Francisco. Once again the kids impressed me with their resilience. They were all smiles when grandparents met us at SFO for the final leg, a 2-hour drive back to Davis. I made a recording of them telling all about the trip—lots of it involving bugs—that I’ll treasure forever.

It was an incredible trip, the perfect way to celebrate our tenth anniversary! I’d suggest Thailand as a destination for any family open to some heat and adventure—I wish we knew we’d be back again soon so that I could start picturing us back there.

Maybe in another ten years!

Have you been to Phuket? Where did you stay? Would you recommend it? 

Previously: Bangkok (Part 1), Bangkok (Part 2), Khao Sok National Park, and Ko Yao Noi.

And the honeymoon that prompted this trip, ten years ago.



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