First…a quick disclaimer. There’s a lot of pictures in this post, like A LOT! Not only because our hotel and Thailand were beautiful, but we were trialing the new Sony Alpha 7R III for the week and got a little trigger happy with this incredible machine. I’ll be doing a full review on the camera and G Master lense in an upcoming “stuff I’ve tried” post soon. okay, sit back, relax and enjoy Phuket.
I think it’s fair to assume that we all looked back on 2018 and thought “Holy Sh*t what was that!?” I don’t know about you guys but it left us burnt out and exhausted. We were in desperate need of a break, like a real break. No trecking round cities and running for trams/buses/trains or taxis! We needed cocktails, sunshine, beach sand and cocktails – yep, we needed cocktails so badly we put it on our list twice.
In the end, we decided to head east, to the land of smiles. We had been to Phuket before (about 3 years ago) and like the seasoned travelers we are, we were smart enough to visit in Monsoon season. 2 weeks of constant (and I mean CONSTANT) rain coupled with a healthy bout of food poisoning meant we didn’t quite experience the island life we had dreamed of. It was, however, enough time to fall in love with the place, the people and the food. So, back to Phuket it was then.
Choosing where to go in Thailand is difficult. There are loads of Islands scattered all around the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand, each as beautiful as the next (or so I’m told) but none of them easy to get to. Seeing as ‘easy’ was the point of the trip, we decided that Phuket would be it! We could fly in direct to the Island – well direct via Qatar – without missioning to catch a ferry or water taxi after the 18 hour journey. With Phuket being the original Thai holiday destination it is crammed with hotels and you really are spoilt for choice. We had very specific criteria in mind to make sure we stuck to the chilled experience we were hoping for. We wanted a resort feel but without the resort size. It had to have a massive pool with a swim-up bar (because nothing says holidays like drinking cocktails in the pool). It had to be walking distance to the beach as well as walking distance to bars and restaurants. It also had to be luxurious, so that you could lounge around your room and still be comfortable. I mean…you know…simple things really.
We did extensive research, but in the end, the Avista Grande Phuket Karon really did tick all the boxes.
Karon beach is about an hours drive from Phuket airport. There are a couple ways to get there but the transfer service directly outside arrivals really is your best option. There is no Uber in Thailand, and the local alternative is pricey and a little confusing, the busses take forever and the shared van option really isn’t worth the saving for the amount of time lost stopping at every hotel along the way.
While you’re in arrivals here are some top travel tips! Pick up a local sim card, all the major providers offer a tourist sim with varying amounts of data and call time, they’re all ridiculously cheap so just pick the one with the smallest queue. Every bar and restaurant offers wi-fi but having data to get around and research where you’re going, is well worth the price of a beer or two! The ATM’s in Thailand all charge a service fee on international card withdraws (about 200 Baht) so withdraw the maximum you can as cash is king in Thailand. There is also an actual King in Thailand, but his name is Maha Vajiralongkorn. Don’t get them confused or you’ll end up in a lot of trouble!
Anyway, we arrived at the Avista Grande Phuket Karon and were happy to find out we had been upgraded to a poolside room with an ocean view. Game Changer – but I’ll let you know more about that later. The hotel was beautifully designed and pretty much looked just like the pictures, which is always a bonus. We did, however, find that for such a new hotel it was showing some serious signs of wear and tear, both in the rooms and around the grounds. A little disappointing, to be honest. Other than the minor scuff, chip or broken table, we were incredibly happy with our choice.
The swim up pool made all the difference and quickly became a part of our daily routine. Gym in the morning, dip in the pool, afternoon nap, dip in the pool, late night out, dip in the pool – You see where this is going right!? With temperatures well in the 30’s (centigrade) for our entire stay, the private pool was always a welcome relief and HIGHLY recommended – we still keep wondering why our Cape Town apartment doesn’t have a swim up pool outside our bedroom.
When we weren’t at our swim-up pool we spent sunny morning after sunny morning lounging around the hotel pool. Sun loungers were never in short supply and we always managed to find 2 somewhere. We were however disappointed with the swim up pool bar, bad service and mediocre drinks aside, the prices were so ridiculous that we only ever drank there once! I get hotel bars are notoriously more expensive than restaurants and pubs, but at three times the price they were literally forcing us out of the hotel to enjoy our sundowners anywhere else. I’ve never quite got the thinking behind that.
Breakfast was included as part of our stay, and as it’s generally one of our favorite things with any hotel stay, we were super excited for our first morning. It was, however, a little hit and miss. Some of the elements were really amazing while others felt very generic and mass produced. Fresh fruit was always plentiful with loads of daily variations, the pastries were also surprisingly good with interesting variants like coconut croissants and a donut tree that just kept on bearing delicious sugary round fruit! The one thing we really struggled with during breakfast was the amount of waste. We understand that this is a difficult thing for the hotel to control, but watching guests pile their plates to overflowing, then leave half of it behind was heartbreaking to watch. Not to get into a whole kumbaya, save the planet / there are starving children out there kinda thing…but, there ARE starving children out there and we ARE bleeding the planet dry! Come on people, be better! – Sorry about the rant, but this really bothered us every morning and I do kinda feel something needs to be done about the waste.
Despite some seemingly negative comments above, we really did love our stay at the Avista – I only feel it’s fair that I give you a well rounded and honest view – and in the end, it really did tick all our boxes. Resort feel check, massive pool check, a private swim-up pool bonus check, swim up pool bar…well…you can’t win them all!
The hotel was also a 5 min walk to Karon beach (another check off the list), which despite being one of Phuket’s most popular beaches, it’s also one of its widest meaning that it never really feels busy even during peak periods. It’s pretty easy to pick up 2 beach chairs and an umbrella for 200 Baht and just spend the day with your feet in the sand sipping on young coconuts…or beer of course. I chose beer!
The island is relatively big, so if you want to do some exploring we suggest hiring yourself a scooter, not only is it the easiest way to get around, it’s definitely the cheapest. Scooter hire will set you back anywhere between 200 and 400 Baht a day depending on the length of your hire and the size of the scooter. Everything in Thailand is negotiable, so try a few places till you get the bike and price you want. We picked up Jerry (yep, that’s what we named our scooter) for 200 Baht a day. We had only intended keeping it for a day or two, but we loved how easy it made exploring that we just held onto it for the week. The benefit of your own transport is that it lets you discover new beaches and restaurants you might otherwise miss out on. One of our favorite days was stumbling onto the most amazing beach at Kata Noi during a little exploratory session, not only was the beach incredible, but the beach shack restaurant on the sand served the best Holy Basil Pork we ate all trip – They should’ve called it “Holy Sh*t, that’s good basil pork”
You don’t have to walk far in Phuket to find a bar or restaurant, they are basically all on top of one another. Finding a good one is often a little trickier though. The rule of thumb is to try and get into the busiest one – safety in numbers and all of that! This is of course not always fail-safe. It served us well on our first night when we stumbled into Bounty Seafood on Karon Beach but failed us horribly at another restaurant (whose name I forget) on Kata beach – where we sent back a meal. On the flip side, we visited Ging restaurant in Kata for one of the best meals of our stay and were one of only a few tables on the night. So, on second thought, maybe the rule of thumb is that you need to do a little research, and often that research is sitting down and hoping for the best. The menus in Thai restaurants are like encyclopedias and offer anything from Thai and Asian to Italian and Russian specialties, it’s a true case of all things for all people. We try and stick to local food whenever we visit a new country and tend to leave the burgers and pizzas for when we’re at home. I suggest you do the same in Thailand, it’s difficult to end up disappointed.
One last tip before I wrap this all up. Embrace the happy-hour but beware the Mooze. Drinks in Thailand are not cheap (comparatively speaking of course) and when happy hour roles around the bars fill up fast, that’s when the Mooze comes out – no that’s not a typo. Mooze is a range of liquors that can only be described as flavored ethanol! The drinks are delicious, but they hit harder than a Muay Thai shin kick! It always put a smile on our face and was the perfect way to start our evening, but we’de always switch back to beer after our Moozey Mojitos.
Phuket will always hold a special place in my heart, it was one of the first holidays I ever took 15 years ago and I’ve been back 4 times since. It’s hard to describe what makes it so endearing but I think it might be a combination of the following. The people are incredible, it is not called the land of smiles for nothing and everyone is so friendly and helpful. The food. Ahhh man THE FOOD!! If I had to eat one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be Thai. The flavors and freshness of Thai food in Thailand just can’t be beat. It’s the thing we miss most when we leave and the thing we talk about most when we return. Lastly, I think the chaos is what makes Thailand and especially Phuket so amazing. Restaurant on top of restaurant, street vendors squeezed into every corner, power lines wrapped around trees and tuk-tuks blaring music through neon-lit speakers all come together in perfect harmony. It’s almost Zen-like really.
We only visited for a week and it was the biggest regret of our trip. We can’t wait to go back.
Okay. Travel safe and stay fancy!