First, we'll start off with accommodations. Hotels on the island are aplenty, catering both to the budget-conscious "I-only-need-a-clean-bed-and-shower" type and the well-heeled traveler who prefers luxurious accommodations. So how do you choose?
For the utmost in the luxury factor, I'd strongly recommend Trisara, if you're willing to splurge (the 1-bedroom ocean view pool villa costs about US$1,500 per night). It's possibly the only 6-star resort in Phuket (apparently, the King of Sweden owns a residence here). It's on the northwest side of Phuket on Layan Beach, a completely private beach reserved only to Trisara guests (when I say private, it's really private - no other tourists can access this beach unless they swim in from the sea). Trisara's a short 15 minutes drive from the airport, and for easy reference, it's just above Bangtao Beach, a fairly developed beach with notable restaurants and hotels (that's where Lotus Restaurant is).
It's an all-villa resort, so you get the privacy of a villa and ocean-view plunge pool all to yourself, but the full facilities of a resort, complete with a fitness centre (that's accessible 24/7 and offers iced ginger tea on top of iced, warm or room temperature bottled water), library, restaurants, spa and saltwater infinity pool at the main deck. It's pure luxury, and really extravagant and indulgent. I mean, you won't even want to get out of the resort at all because everything you need is right there in your villa. Which is great, because the resort is quite remote anyways, there aren't any shops nearby that's reachable by foot at all.
The food's amazing here, and the breakfast that's thrown in together with the villa is all-inclusive. You get to order everything on the breakfast menu even if there's only 2 of you, plus several portions of each dish, all delivered to your room so you don't have to get out of bed at all! We actually want to go back, just because we crave their food. That's how good their food is.
Service is top-notch (they just want to say yes to your everything and make you happy). The Hubs got an impromptu tour of all of the different villas when he was out exploring the resort by himself. Yup, a staff saw him wandering by himself and offered to give him the grand tour of the sprawling complex. Plus, a history lesson of the resort (the general manager of Trisara used to oversee the Amanpuri, which explains why both resorts are so similar)
The resort's completely hooked up for wireless surfing, so you get to boast of your island escapades on facebook while enjoying a martini with the sunset.
One downside though is the mosquito factor, so bring lots of mosquito repellant. LOTS. Bring those tubs of herbal mosquito repelling gels to put around the entire villa so ward off mosquitos (we brought like 20!). Also, because the resort's quite ulu, it's a bit of a pain to get out of the resort. This is, of course, negated by the fact that the resort makes it such that you don't want to get out of it anyway.
The plush king-sized bed has a sea-view
The huge bathtub inside the even huger bathroom
Yes, your eyes are seeing right. The bathroom has a humongous couch. There's another sink at the other side of the plush couch.
The view from the other side of the restroom. Notice the amount of towels everywhere? We never topped up towels in our entire 2 week stay but we never ran out of towels!
The outdoor shower. Don't worry, it's completely private. This is in addition to the indoor shower, which you can spot a little on the left.
Every villa has its very own private sundeck and infinity plunge pool. Yes, this is the view you wake up to every morning. Gorgeous, isn't it?
There's also a saltwater pool at the main courtyard...I never see anyone here though, because every villa has its own pool
The main courtyard where the restaurants and bar are. It's super windy so you don't really mind the outdoor open-air seating.
The pavilions above the courtyard
The view of the coutyard from the pavilions.
One of the many pavilions for guests to laze and relax in, although I think it's so unnecessary because your villa has everything already
If you're looking to enjoy a little luxury but don't want to blow your entire life-savings on a villa stay at Trisara, the resort I'd recommend is the Indigo Pearl Resort, at Nai Yang Beach, beside the Sirinat National Park forest reserve (you can rent bicycles from the resort and go cycling around the nature reserve).
I've stayed here several times and it's one of our favourite resorts in Phuket. A Pearl Bed Suite, inclusive of breakfast (we love love lurve the buffet breakfast here), costs about $300-$400 per night. It's a huge, full service-resort with all the amenities but still feels very private and exclusive. It's got that exclusive, private feel of a boutique resort (it's very quiet and peaceful, and you always feel like you're the only ones in the resort), but all the facilities and amenities of a big resort.
Because the resort's so big, buggy service is available at any time of the day to get around. Just give the reception a quick call and the buggy will call your room when they arrive at your doorstep.
It's great for both families and couples. There are lots of activities for kids (there's a kids playroom, resort-organised activities catered just for kids and even a cooking school on site) and couples (the treehouse spa is amazing, lots of adult-activities and there are lots of secluded nooks and crannies in the resort to sneak away) so everyone is entertained.
There's a whopping 5 restaurants in total and they all serve amazing food, ranging from western steaks to Thai fine-dining. The chocolate lava cake from the Rivet Grill is AMAZING. And the apple crumble on the in-room dining menu is AWESOME.
Plus, this is just 5 minutes from the airport. Although the rooms don't have a sea-view, the resort is just next to Nai Yang Beach. Once you walk out the side-gate of the resort, there's the beach, and a long street of casual open-air eateries (what you should do is to takeaway Thai food for lunch from these eateries back to your hotel room to eat in air-conditioned comfort), bars, massage palours (massages are a must in Phuket, it's clean, hygenic and super duper cheap! A 1-hour oil massage costs 4000 baht, maximum) The shops next to the beach are like a less messy and much nicer version of Patong Beach.You have everything right at your doorstep, so you don't ever feel like you need to go to Patong.
The bedroom portion of the Pearl Bed Suite. The huge walk-in closet is behind the wall of the headrest.
The huge balcony, with the outdoor bathtub (it takes at least half an hour to fill this huge baby up so get it running earlier to enjoy a bubble bath). This admittedly isn't very private, even with a a roll-down screen for limited privacy, so you gotta wear a bathing suit when taking a bubble bath.
The other side of the balcony has a daybed to enjoy the greenery (and a view of the adult-only infinity pools in the middle of the resort)
The bedroom has rolling screen doors that look out to the greenery and infinity pools but also comes with curtains for privacy.
The bathroom has a long bench to watch your other half wash his hands/face/teeth.
The open concept bathroom with a rainshower. The toiletries, which carry Indigo Pearl's signature proprietory aromatherapy scent, is heavenly. The scent is dispersed throughout the resort, including the rooms which burn the aromatherapy oils. It's awesome.
One of the 2 infinity pools in the centre of the sprawling resort. These are adult-only pools so you don't hear any screaming children from the comfort of your bedroom.
The other infinity pool on the opposing side of the centre of the resort
One of the many nooks and crannies for you to sneak away and laze around. Love the swing.
One of the many nooks and crannies for you to sneak away and laze around. Love the swing.
The library with free use of the apple computers and internet
The striking check-in lobby, where you're greeted with lemongrass welcome drinks
Twinpalms is at Surin Beach, 2 beaches north of Patong, so it's very developed. Lots of eateries, massages and shops. It's about half an hour from the airport, and note that Twinpalms does complimentary airport transfers (unlike Indigo Pearl). You get to travel in air-conditioned comfort and iced waters and magazines (Twinpalms has its own magazine - they're amazing with branding here) to the resort.
The good part about Twinpalms is how sophisticated and sleek the decor of the rooms are. It's exactly how I'd design my perfect ideal home. A neutral color palette with an emphasis on cream and with accents of black, very grown up and very chic. Also, everything is super wired up. From your bed, you can control the curtains, tv, lights, everything! Twinpalms felt more like home to me than any other resort I've ever stayed at, purely because of the way it is decorated and how high-tech it is. Also, I love the sophisticated, grown up, vibe of this resort. You very seldom see or hear kids here. However, the best part about this resort is that all their pools are saltwater, which, I have discovered, is infinitely better than the usual chlorinated pools. You don't get that dry, stringy, chlorinated hair and skin after a dip. Instead, your skin is super soft and your hair is as if you've just done a hair treatment! It's awesome. Oh, and have I mentioned the molton brown toiletries?? It's the little luxurious touches here that strike you.
The best deal here is to stay in the pool duplex, it's the most value-for-money (it's about S$600 a night). You get almost 2,000 sq ft of double-storey space all to yourself, with 2 full toilets, a separate living and dining room, and a private pool and deck.
Oh and service was brilliant here. Even before we checked in the resort, they'd sent us a questionnaire to ask for our travel preferences so they could adjust accordingly to our quirks and peeves. We didn't even have to go to the check-in counter to check out. Just as my finger was poised to call the reception, the staff rang our doorbell to check us out. They'd come to our duplex, with a mobile credit card machine and a porter, to check us out without us having to lift a finger.
The downside is that the resort is really quite far from the beach - no seaviews unless you're at the penthouse pool duplexes and even so, the sea does look quite far away still. Also, there's only 1 main restaurant, so it's like a cluster-fest at any time of the day. In addition, the resort isn't too heavily guarded, unlike Indigo Pearl and Trisara which both can only be accessed through guard-posted entrances. Actually, Twinpalms isn't guarded at all. Both entrances don't have any guard posts. Oh and the room service, while yummy, is very limited and not available 24 hours. The upside of this is that the staff will happily grant any dish orders from the dishes that are available on their restaurant menu, even if it's not on the room service menu.
The super "strong" Cosmopolitan welcome drinks. I got drunk with just this one glass.
The humongous living room. I could actually live here.We actually got the staff to go to Lotus to pick up dinner for us once! It's like taking room service to a whole new level.
The surround sound system beside the couch, and the long study table for 2 at the side.
The full bar, with a wine fridge, plus 2 fridges off the dining room. There's also a coffee machine that makes awesome coffees. And the 2nd bathroom and toilet behind the bar.
The impressive floor-to-ceiling windows of the duplex. The curtains, both blackout and sheer, are operated with a touch of the button.
The bedroom on the second floor.
The huge bathtub and his and her vanities. OMG, the sinks are super huge.
Molton Brown toiletries! 'Nuff said.
The small but super awesome saltwater pool.
The fully stocked library with iMacs on the opposite side for free surfing.
So, once you're comfortably settled in Phuket, what's there to do in Phuket, you ask? I say, stuff yourself silly with Thai food and get lots of massages (we usually get 2 a day)!
Seafood is a must in Phuket, especially lobsters. Phuket is famous for this baked cheese lobster dish called lobster thermidor. A whole lobster is slathered in cheese and then baked till golden brown. Every seafood restaurant will have this and most do a fantastic version of this local specialty. Prawns (cooked with clear vermicelli in claypot), fish (steamed whole with lime, chilli and herbs or fried with crispy garlic) and squid (barbecued) are also must-tries. Don't bother with crabs, as Thailand crabs are tiny and skinny, not very satisfying. My favourite seafood restaurant is Lotus at Bangtao Beach. It's built over wooden planks and situated right on the sand, so you get a breath-taking view of the sunset every evening. Otherwise, most respectable seafood restaurants should have live seafood swimming in tanks. That's a true blue seafood restaurant.
There are lots of authentic Thai eateries at Phuket town, where most of the locals live, work and congregate, in the middle of Phuket, far away from the coastline. This is where you find the cheapest, most authentic cuisine. And, usually, found in the most run-down and dingiest of places. We once were tucking into dinner when a hugeass rat scurried past us. We looked at it, looked at each other, shrugged, then resumed eating with gusto.
If it's not a "seafood restaurant with live seafood", but just a simple Thai eatery, stick to the typical Thai dishes and stay away from fish or lobsters because they won't be as fresh as if you were to go to a proper seafood restaurant.The only seafood that's still fresh, anywhere in Phuket, is prawns. Somehow, Phuket prawns are always fresh.
Also, Phuket isn't known for its fine-dining scene. The fine-dining restaurants are usually located in the upscale hotels, but why pay for fine-dining hotel food when you can get amazingly delicious Thai food for cheap at the countless restaurants littered around Phuket?
I seldom indulge in street food in Phuket, unless it's freshly cooked and straight off the fire into your plastic container. No point risking food poisoning and ruining your holiday because food in Phuket restaurants, even the high-end ones, is infinitely cheaper than in Singapore.
As for massages, don't get those in the hotel in-house spas unless you require the posh ambience and don't mind the much higher prices. There's usually at least one massage parlour outside every hotel, and don't worry if it looks dodgy. I haven't encountered a "dirty" massage parlour yet. No funny business here. Most massages will cost between 300-400 baht, depending on the beach. The more populated the beach, the more competition and the cheaper the massage. Even so, I always tip my masseuses because the maximum cost of a 1-hour oil massage is only 400 baht, the equivalent of only about S$15, which is ridiculously cheap, in my view. The massage parlour usually has a bunch of foam mattresses arranged in neat parallel rows, with just a curtain between each mattress for privacy. They will lay a clean fresh towel on each mattress before starting and usually provide a variety of massage oils for you to choose from (me likey the lavender). Sometimes, you get a lady-boy as your masseuse, and they really are the sweetest persons ever with the most amazing skills. No worries about wandering hands here. But, if you're still queasy with a lady-boy massaging you, you can request a specific masseuse instead.
Getting around Phuket is usually done by taxis. Rates are usually negotiated with the taxi driver first (they don't use the meter here), and would include a round-trip. Ask your concierge for the standard cost of a round trip to the place you're heading to, so you don't get overcharged (although we haven't yet been ripped off, ever). Your taxi driver will send you to your destination, wait several hours for you to finish at your destination (he will ask you for an estimate of how long you'd take) then send you back to your hotel. We've actually taken a cab to 2 places, then fallen asleep in the taxi and brought back to the hotel safely. U can do the same with tuk tuks, but it's really a novelty and taxis are way more comfortable and private anyway.
If you're adventurous, you can rent a car or a motorbike and drive/ride around. Please note though, that the road signs are all in Thai, so you'll have to memorize the route you need to take if you're heading to a specific destination. But if you're going for a leisure drive around the island, you can explore the island at your own whim. Just remember how to get back to your starting point. You don't have to rent from the rental companies, as you can rent a car for cheap from the owners of little convenience shops. A lot of Thais are happy to rent out their personal cars for some extra cash, even if they don't advertise that they do. They usually ask for your passport or the like, as a safeguard to ensure the safe return of their car. You'll have to top up the gas when you return it though. Please note that gas stations are super old-school. It's a manual pump with a generic rubber hose. Don't worry, the gas owners (who double up as provision shop owners) will help you if you don't know how to use it. Ask your concierge for recommendations so you don't get ripped off. Oh and you don't need a driver's license to drive around!The Hubs once rented a scooter to ride around. He didn't know how to make a U-turn so he had to get off the bike, manually turn it around, then go off on his merry way!
Also, most hotels have a list of in-house extra-curricular activities conducted throughout the day that you can sign up for, such as Thai dance, cooking classes, handicraft making, beach volleyball, yoga, pilates, and so on. Some are complimentary, and some have a small cost attached to them. Go try some of them. Especially if they are complimentary. I once tried swinging on the trapeze which was a hoot. And beginners' muay thai, it was incredibly fun!
Also, most (respectable) hotels have an "in-house" elephant that's brought around the resort everyday at scheduled times to greet and play with guests. They're sooooo awesomely cute, I always have a hoot feeding and patting them!
Water sports aren't my thing, but there's always a bunch of sea-sports operators on almost every beach. Seek out a few to compare the prices and then try them.
Island hopping is also done by most tourists in Phuket. You hop onto a ferry and get to see the various islands around Phuket, including Phi Phi (where The Beach was filmed), and Rawai (a party beach). It usually lasts a whole day, and can be quite tiring. Besides, I thought Phi Phi island was really quite overrated and underwhelming. It's one of those, do once in your life type of things.
Catch a muay thai match if you can, it can be quite the eye-opener. The flexibility and strength of the fighters, agility and grace of the sport is quite mesmerizing. And if you've tried a muay thai class before, you'll totally understand and appreciate how tough this sport is! But, as with island hopping, it's really a watch-one-time-and-you're-done thing.
Most hotel bars have the most amazing in-house bands (I've noticed that somehow, they're almost always filipinos), so grab a nightcap, soak in the cool night sea breeze and dance the night away.
I won't tell you to go to Patong Beach or any of the super touristy things that most first-timers to Phuket are always recommended to do by silly commercialized tour operators, like Cape Prompthep (to watch the sunset at the southern-most tip of Phuket. As long as you stay at a hotel facing the sea on the west coast of Phuket, you get to see the exact same sunset everyday, hello!) or FantaSea (a sub-standard theme park which requires a major overhaul and a lot more rides to be borderline interesting). BTW, muay thai matches and island hopping border on such "touristy things". For the record, I feel that Patong Beach is way too messy and touristy. Nothing particularly unique to see or buy there at all. Bars are piled with overweight middle-class foreigners or naval personnel on their R&Rs, totally crass, totally low-class. The night markets are also not a worthwhile sight, with lots of imitation goods and nothing you can't find in Far East Plaza.
Oh another thing I love doing in Phuket, is to have a bubble bath. Most hotels in Phuket have humongous bathtubs, so bubble baths are incredibly pampering. Light a few candles, pop some champagne, and toss in some sea salts before you hop into the hot bath. It's so relaxing, it'll lull you into a stupor. This is best done just before bedtime.