Thailand is quite the glorified vacation destination. So, what makes it so amazing? We chose Phuket for our honeymoon during an off season and it was amazing! There were many things I wish I had known ahead of time; good, bad, beautiful and delicious. If you are considering going to Southern Thailand, this will help your planning and give you a much more realistic expectation.
Choosing an Airline
I used to be quite a fan of cheap airlines and tickets off kayak.com. My husband and I booked tickets online about 8 months in advance for about $800 each from Seattle to Phuket. It’s extremely difficult to get flights with less than 2 stops. Our two stops included Los Angeles, CA and Beijing, China. We booked our tickets through a site called Flight Network and it was the worst decision we could have made. Flight Network called us 2 days before our flight and told us that our flight was canceled. They offered to change our flight, however the only dates that they offered us only would have gave us 2 days in Thailand for our honeymoon. The only other option was a refund that would take 2 months (even though it actually took 4 months). My amazing in-laws were able to help us book last minute flight through Hainen for more than double the cost so we could actually have a honeymoon. Luckily our new flight only had one stop in Shanghai, China (try to avoid China as a stop if you can or allow yourself ample time). When booking a ticket, make sure you are looking up reviews if you choose not to go through the airline itself and insurance is beyond worth the extra money.
Our first destination was a tree house in the Khao Sok jungle at Our Jungle House. These houses sit up in high trees and are separated by thick forest on the edge of a river that flows along a canyon wall. The houses are open to allow a natural breeze, which means that covering the bed with the mosquito net at night is essential. We slipped into sleep at night at the sounds of crickets and thunderstorms; it was absolute magic! Sometimes it could actually get loud, especially in the morning when a group of monkeys land on your deck in curiosity. This was one of my favorite stays while in Thailand, even though it was North of Phuket and off the Island. This tree house resort sits right on the border of the Khao Sok National Forest. The main building offers food, drinks, excursions, hiking, elephant encounters, cave climbing and more. There wasn’t a boring day.
Other places we found sounded much more amazing that they really were. We stayed one night at a goat farm where there were cockroaches and fire ants everywhere. The family there did not see that we had already paid in advance and it was extremely difficult to convey since they did not speak any English. We never actually got to see the goats… we just heard and smelled them. Sad to say, that I wouldn’t go back. To get a better idea of a place before you book, contact the landlord and ask for an address; Google Earth can be a life saver and a great way to get a good idea of what you are buying into.
My husband’s favorite was a beach bungalow near the Kao-Khad bay. It was a simple hut on stilts that only had a bathroom and bedroom that was secured and the kitchen and living/ dining area were basically the porch. The owner, Suki, was so friendly and wonderful! She set up flowers and fruit to congratulate us. We were even offered an extra night for free. This place was a dream and we both wish we had spent more time here. In only a few feet was a private beach, perfect for swimming. Best of all, was the gorgeous evenings sat at the table, just watching the sunset with the sound of the waves.
Of course there are downsides to everything, however, this was mostly our fault. We had decided to rent a motorcycle and drive around the whole island with our GPS. Mid way through our trip at this bungalow, our GPS was left in the side pocket of the bike and of course, it was gone and our bike was moved to the other side of the road. Even when you find a gem here, remember that this is a poor country; always secure your things! I think we decided not to go get it late at night considering the stairs were almost an extreme sport.
I preferred renting through Airbnb.com over resorts, even if the experience was amazing. Resort food and activities are extremely expensive. If you would like a massage at the resort spa, you are looking at $40 rather than some of the random kiosks on the beach offering a 1 hour massage for $10. Our last stop was the most expensive at about $230/ night with a honeymoon package. We booked a condo at Andaman White Beach Resort since it had private spaces, beaches and pools. Our condo had a private pool and direct access to the resort beach.
I was actually able to sit in the pool and watch the beach at the same time. Extremely relaxing if you are lucky. Playing in the sea was really fun and the beach was clean. The food was way too expensive and definitely not nearly as good as the random family restaurants on the street. Our package came with a decorated room, champagne, spa credit and a romantic dinner for two. The massages were relaxing, slightly awkward as there was no music or talking, but rejuvenating. The romantic dinner was really just a table at the main restaurant with fancy decorations and an extremely limited menu. I was already a little disappointed when a cockroach ran out on our table and the couple at the table squished next to us and I stood up screaming and just about flipped the table over. Funny now… but at the time it was pretty upsetting. I truly wish I had better things to say about this place because they are in a prime location and close to the airport. But, later that night we had to call the main office 4 times to ask them to quiet our neighbors who were drunkenly blaring terrible Chinese music and screaming. We had amazing moments here, but I definitely won’t be back.
Thai food is one of my favorite types of food on this planet. It is quite typical for non-natives to come to Thailand and order the most basic well-known Pad Thai. Yes, it is twice as amazing as the Pad Thai you will find elsewhere and is absolutely delicious, but there is more out there! To my amazement, even though the weather is extremely hot and humid, soup is a huge phenomenon in Phuket.
There are many family-run stands where you can walk in, sit down in an open outside table and order soup. Luckily, on a chillier rainy day, we stopped into a small soup shack and it was absolutely superb! Not to mention, eating in Thailand is rather cheap unless you are buying from a resort. This huge bowl of street soup cost about 40 Thai Baht, which is equivalent to $1.28 USD.
There are other places that are based much more on the atmosphere rather than the food. We ran into a bar that offers seating in the waves of the bay, which was intriguing. We ordered fried fish and crab. Another thing to keep in mind is that Thais do not waste food and cooking is obviously done much differently. Fried fish is not de-boned pieces of beer-battered white cod with fries and tartar sauce. It is quite true to the words “fried fish” and fish being whatever was available.
After a while, you will begin to miss the food in which you are accustomed, however, I urge you to do your best not to go back to normal food until you are home again. My husband ordered an extremely complicated Thai dish and I ordered a simple cheese burger. Lets just say that after overhearing lots of fighting in the kitchen, I finally got what they thought was a cheese burger long after my husband had already finished his meal. Also remember that the country being poor, animals are not kept as healthy and in turn, beef and chicken taste almost worlds different and are used very sparingly. After this experience I wanted to cook something up myself. This was the joys of renting a small house with a kitchen. We walked down the street to a night market that only happened once a week and it was a wonderland of flavor.
We bought some rice noodles, a “mild” spicy broth in a bag, random fried items of the unknown and mango coconut sticky rice. We brought them all home and prepared a meal, turns out the fried meat was chicken, beef and squid. One thing to be extremely aware of at all times when buying food… “mild spiciness” in Thailand to a non-Thai is equivalent to burning hot lava. Usually if you are ordering food in a restaurant and the waiter sees that you are a foreigner, the chef will automatically tone down the spice by about 70%, so be careful if you are buying something pre-cooked in the market.
Unable to eat our homemade soup, we moved on to our mango sticky rice which actually made it’s way to being the best single thing I ever ate in my entire time in Thailand. The mangoes here are in a prime environment for them to become perfectly soft, sweet and delicious. The mango sticky rice we bought was from a man selling it fresh in a cart aside the market and you could tell from his knife skills and beautiful work that this was his life. He covered it all with a silky, perfectly sweet coconut sauce. Thinking of it after all this time now is still making me drool!
Things To Do
Elephants are among the top ten things that vacationers think about when considering coming to Thailand. Before you decide on an elephant excursion, it is important to know that these animals are rarely treated well here. Elephants are working animals in this country, meaning that they work for people until they are old of age or injured and are either put down or sold for amusement. Elephant Trekking (riding) is available, which is one of the activities available to tourists that are plainly terrible to the elephants. Please do not support groups that allow these trekking trips.
This Elephant was a retired logger and is now a part of the Khao Sok Elephant Sanctuary where I learned a lot about them as animals. She was a total sweetheart, she loved to give hugs and spray us with water. You truly can tell whether or not the elephant is happy and actually enjoyed baths and playing. There are many sanctuaries that do not allow feeding, bathing or trekking as well. These are great places to offer your support.
The Phuket Aquarium was a fun attraction. They had a lot of exotic fish and different exhibits. They even offer a fish-foot-cleaning service where little garra rufa in a bucket eat the dead skin off your feet (not for me, but, to each their own). The gift shop was pretty pricey, but worth a look and support for such a place. You are able to walk along the outside which is along the bay and you can see the holding tanks and working areas as well.
When it begins to get dark outside the aquarium, tons of carts appear with crafts, jewelry, food and clothes and the street magically turns into a market. Be careful at these and do not be afraid to haggle. If something seems too expensive, it’s because it is!
One of the more obvious choices; swimming! You will definitely want to- it’s always hot here. If you don’t mind crowded beached, Patong Beach is among one of the most popular beaches as it is one of the largest. If you desire privacy, you may need to be willing to go on a bit of a hike or drive along the coast line and pull off quickly if you spot something. One of the less popular beaches we found was banana beach. When swimming, be extremely careful of the coral. There is a lot of it and it will be an excruciatingly painful mistake. There are random fish that will swim along beside you. The most common one that occurred was a translucent fish that resembled a mini swordfish this a bright blue stripe along its side. Some may become uneasy about this, but I assure you they are harmless. Just be sure not to go out too deep if you are not with a guide.
If you like the road less traveled, there are many beautiful hikes in Phuket; it is almost like walking through a jungle. Be sure to wear bug spray, there are a lot of bugs! Waterfalls are a big attraction in Phuket and are gorgeous to see and relax by. You can also take “easier” hikes like a giant stairs that lead to a view of the massive Buddha across the bay.
We chose to do a small hike to the Kathu waterfall, where we were the only ones around. Near fresh water sources is where the plantation strives are you are able to see beautiful sights and floral scents.
The jagged mountains surrounding this country are absolutely amazing. The thick forests and jungles are everywhere and they make for gorgeous snapshots and if you are truly adventurous; hikes. There are many rivers, beach areas and lakes around if you venture past the cities, malls and black markets.
The people here rarely speak English, but are still extremely courteous and kind. These people are some of the most hospitable people I have encountered of the places I have traveled. Even random animals are sweet and loving, just be careful!
Plantains are some of the most common trees you will see other than palm trees. The berries are collected from the palm tree to create palm oil and is one the largest industries keeping this country afloat. Plantain leaves and fruit are commonly used for cooking and deserts. Once plantains are bruised or fell long ago, they usually get tossed out for the monkeys or donated to feed the elephants. One thing we learned quite well, never leave food close the place you are staying. Monkeys will find you and terrorize you until they believe you do not have any more food.
Speaking of plants, Thailand is humid and warm; it is a natural green house, so plants really thrive. Thailand is the home of some of the most colorful gorgeous plants I have ever seen. This being said, insects, lizards and snakes also thrive there due to the abundance of food, so be careful of where you step and make sure to always put on bug spray!
In fact, the all-desired orchids do so well here, they are often used to decorate beds and dishes to help welcome foreigners or surprise honeymooners in their suites. I don’t think I have ever seen as many orchids as I did in Thailand, they use them almost as confetti. Another common flower is the beautiful hibiscus flower. These are also used in decoration but are mainly used in tucking in drinks like Thai tea to up the ambiance.
The other thing worth mentioning is the road situation. Yes, you drive on the opposite side of the street as the U.S. but you have to be extremely careful of motorcycles- and there is a lot of them. If you are in a motorcycle, expect to be swerving in and out of traffic and at red lights, you make your way to the front of all the waiting cars because you are supposed to go first. There aren’t many speed signs and now that I think about it, I don’t think I saw a police officer once. Matching the speed of your surrounding traffic is your best bet. The only signs in English are the signs at the airport and major attractions. Throughout all other roads, all road signs are in Thai. If you are thinking of renting a bike or car, be sure you invest in a GPS with a Thailand chip.
Last Pieces of Advice
The first and foremost advice I would give is to ensure that you have enough time in each location if you are planning on moving around the island or country. I have planned three nights at the jungle resort and the rest of our stops were one night so that we could make our way around and see as much as possible. Not only did we feel a bit rushed, but it was also stressful driving the bike so often (for my husband anyway). Speaking of a bike rental, there are some places that will try and trick you and say that you damaged the bike when the damage was pre-existing. Be sure to take a video and lots of date-stamped pictures of the bike. Some places will request to keep your passport as collateral. Do NOT allow this! Copies should work just fine- this county will pay good money for passports so always keep yours close and safe.
There are plenty of these bike rentals to choose from surrounding the airport. We did not make any previous arrangements, we just went and there was plenty available. If you are not familiar with driving bikes, be extremely careful because they are right next to busy streets and all the rules are different and always wear your helmet- even if the locals don’t!
I would also greatly suggest going at an off-season as all the prices are lower and there is actually beach space! The bars are open, not crowded and you are much more able to see attractions without having to fight a crowd.
Be careful what you buy, black markets are not just weapons and drugs. If you decide to buy a designer bag and you want it to be legitimate, buy it from the mall. If you see a ton of designer bags (and other products) hanging around in a crowded street market, they are most likely fakes.
My last and most important advice is to truly relax and soak it all up. Traveling in a third world country can be extremely stressful, so make sure you are keeping your anxiety in check. After all, you are paying a lot of money and taking time to be there, you might as well enjoy it!
Play in the warm ocean, taste amazing food, soak up the culture, make new friends, lay on the beach, walk through the jungle, see amazing things, drink and be at peace.
*All Photos and videos in this post were taken by me and my husband during our honeymoon.