I can’t believe it’s been almost three years since I first went to Thailand! I’m not going to give you any tips on which hotels specifically to stay in or where to eat, as I’m sure that has changed immensely in 3 years time. However, I do have some tips that should still apply to traveling Phuket.
1) Travel right before or right after “High Season.”
High Season in Phuket runs from November to end of April because it is considered the “dry season.” During this time, there is nearly perfect weather with practically zero rainfall. However, this season also draws the largest number of tourists, which cause the price of everything to skyrocket. As long as you’re okay with the possibility of a little rain, I would suggest traveling at the end of October or early May. You may get lucky and have the high season run into these weeks since they are right on the cusp.
When I went in 2014, we went from mid-October to mid-November. We had fantastic weather—hot, sunny and just a little bit of rain in the afternoons. It reminded me a lot of Florida summers, just not as brutally hot. The biggest benefit of traveling at the end of Low Season were the hotel and flight prices. We stayed in a hotel in Phuket that had a massive pool with waterfalls and swim up bars, right near the beach for about $50 a night. Split three ways, so less than $20 a night per person. Amazing. We stayed at that same hotel on November 1st, and the price of the room had more than tripled, just because it was now technically “High Season.”
2) Try to Utilize Airports in Major Cities
We flew from New York City to Bangkok to get to Thailand because it was cheapest. I lived in Florida at the time and my friend in Boston, but the flights from New York were significantly cheaper than flying out of Orlando or Boston. I often do this when I travel internationally and use my Southwest points or buy a cheap Southwest flight to the major city. I have found tickets from NYC to be hundreds of dollars cheaper and usually can get there for under $100 most times, so to me, it is worth it. We then flew to Bangkok, spent a couple of nights there and then flew to Phuket. Phuket is a smaller airport so to fly from NYC to Phuket was much more expensive. Once we were in Thailand, it was very cheap to fly to other parts of the country from Bangkok. Although, I would recommend booking all of your flights months in advance.
3) Get Advice from Someone Experienced or Wing It
When I first traveled to Thailand, I had no experience and didn’t know anyone else that had any experience there, so I straight up winged it. The only things I booked in advance were my flights and my first night accommodations in each city I was going to. Again, I traveled during the low season, so I was able to do this. If you’re going in high season or if you’re not the type to wing it, then I would plan in advance by asking advice from friends who have been there or booking through a travel agent.
We flew from New York City to Bangkok, stayed a night in Bangkok and then flew to Phuket because it was cheapest. The first night in Bangkok, I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Bangkok; this is the only hotel I will recommend because I’ve stayed there more recently and it’s still just as great. I know Courtyard Marriott’s don’t sound like anything special, but this is the perfect place to stay the first night you arrive on the other side of the world. It’s cheap (even cheaper than American rates), clean, comfortable, has a rooftop pool, excellent service, nice gym facilities (not that you need it) and an incredible breakfast buffet that is included in your rate. Plus, you’re going to be extremely jetlagged, so a clean, comfortable place with a great breakfast is the only thing you want.
Next, we flew to Phuket and had a one-night accommodation for our seven-night stay in Phuket. The place we stayed the first night was fine, but it wasn’t in an area that had a lot going on. The next day, we checked out, rented mopeds and explored several beach towns in the area. Each beach has its own vibe and feel to it. We ended up staying 2 nights in Rawai, one in Kata, one in Karon, one in Patong, and then took a Ferry to the Phi Phi Islands for 2 nights.
3) Go to the Phi Phi Islands
I was traveling with two of my 24-year-old friends at the time, and one of them had heard we HAD to go to the Koh Phi Phi Don area of the Phi Phi islands. I had seen pictures and heard from other travelers that it is the best party area and the most beautiful part of Thailand, but I still didn’t know what I was fully getting into.
I’m the kind of person that will travel anywhere in the world, as long as I have nice accommodations. I used to get down with the dirty hostels back in the day, but unfortunately/fortunately (depends on how you look at it) I think those days are over for me. We looked on Agoda (similar to TripAdvisor) and booked the nicest hotel we could find in this area of the Phi Phi islands. Pardon my language, but it was a shithole. However, once I got over the fact that we wouldn’t be staying somewhere nice the next 2 nights, I accepted it for what it was and had the time of my life.
The island does not have roads or any motor vehicles so everyone, and everything is transported by foot or bicycle. The beach is beauuuutiful and lined with fun beach bars that have fire shows at night. There are sandy streets filled with food vendors, cute boutiques, and restaurants. There’s honestly no other place in the world like it.
The other great activity we did was take a long tail boat tour to go snorkeling and see other small islands in the area, like Monkey Island, Maya Bay (which you’ve probably seen or heard of from the movie “The Beach”).
We booked this once we got to the island by asking around at different hostels. This was my absolute favorite part of my time in Phuket. I mean just look at these monkeys!
For those of you that want to see the Phi Phi islands, but are looking for a more romantic getaway, there are other parts of the Phi Phi Islands to stay in. I have heard that Laem Thong is the best place to stay for honeymoons. More to read on the different areas here.
4) Don’t go to Patong unless you know what you’re getting into
We had been told by everyone we talked to that we absolutely had to Patong. Either they were full of shit, or they were messing with us. Patong was definitely the grimiest part of Thailand that we saw, but I guess it was worth seeing. Now I can at least say I went and joke about how gross it is to others that have been. They also told us to go to a Ping Pong show… we may have. Okay, we did, not proud of it. In our defense, we did not know what it entailed. This lady’s instagram pretty much says it all…
5) Do as the Locals Do
Drink their beer. It’s much cheaper than drinking imported beer, wine or liquor and it is actually delicious.
Eat their food. If you don’t, you are seriously MISSING OUT. Thai food is some of the best in the world. As mentioned in previous posts, I am a basic betch, so I obviously love Pad Thai, but I branched out a little more on my trip to Thailand, and I’m so happy I did. Papaya salad, Panang curry, mango sticky rice and banana nutella crepes were some basic staples that I had almost daily.
Rent and ride mopeds. Scary at first, but so fun and liberating once you get the hang of it. Plus, it beats sitting in traffic in a hot cab or hopping in an overpriced Tuk Tuk (although, I do think you should take at least one Tuk Tuk while you’re there to get the experience).
Bargain at the markets. No prices are set in stone when you are shopping at the markets. They give you one price, you offer another, and you can usually find a happy medium. Make sure to try to bargain with a few vendors before deciding on one because they can spot tourists a mile away and will often try to rip you off. I brought back souvenirs and Christmas gifts for everyone from the Thai markets. Everything is handmade and uber cheap. I bought elephant pants my first time there and got so many compliments on them that I ended up buying about 15 pairs the next time and using them as Birthday and Christmas gifts all year.
Lastly, when in doubt, just use the phrase “Same Same, But Different.” All the locals say it, all the time. It makes zero sense in most situations, but every once and a while you’ll be like “Oh, that actually works here!”