Thailand is also called "The Land of Smiles". It didn't take long to see why. Every Thai person we interacted with while on the island was kind, friendly, and so hospitable. Even when they told us no, it was not directly no: "I am so sorry madam, but that is not possible".
Our seven day trip in Phuket, Thailand was an early graduation present for my sister and a late graduation present for me. Two of my best friends from college joined us for five of the seven days. This trip was a dream. We thought it would rain every single day (monsoon season starts in June and lasts until October) but we only had a few showers and it never impeded on beach time.
Day One (Friday)
We arrived in the morning and checked into Anantara Vacation Club Resort. It is located on the northern tip of the island with private access to Mai Khao Beach. That was our first stop, followed by time at our pool and dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant called "Kin Dee" (taxi - $500 BHT RT / $16 USD).
Day Two (Saturday)
Elephant Retirement Park was the highlight of the trip. We found the park and booked the trip a few weeks prior to arriving in Phuket, and settled on this park because they treat the elephants humanely and do not allow riding. Instead we fed, bathed, and gave them mud baths. The park is home to four female elephants and one baby boy. They roam the property freely and are eventually released.
That afternoon we taxied to Phuket Night Markets in Old Town Phuket, and had dinner on Thalang Road. (Taxi $1000 BHT one way/$32 USD & $1200 BHT return/$38 USD - we had a minibus though)
Day Three (Sunday)
On the southern part of the island there is a marble Big Buddha statue on top of Mt. Nakkerd in Chalong. We planned for a round trip taxi that day ($2400 BHT total/$77 USD), and made the 1hr+ trek to the other end of Phuket.
The views from the top of the mountain were incredible. It was a hazier day, so the camera couldn't come close to capturing what we saw.
The Big Buddha is considered a sacred site, so a skirts longer than our knees and coverings for our shoulders were required. In typical Thai fashion though, the site was generous enough to give you free skirts and shawls if you arrived without the proper clothing.
The rest of the site held other Buddhist monuments and sculptures. We also met two fearless monkeys.
After spending an hour at the Buddha, we made our way back down the mountain and stopped at Wat Chalong Temple. Along the mountain you could eat at a local outdoor restaurant overlooking the hills, or jump on an ATV instead of taking a taxi. It was incredibly windy and steep - so be prepared.
The temple had similar rules regarding dress as the Big Buddha. We also removed our shoes before entering the temples themselves. People burned incense, lit candles, and decorated the temple with colourful flowers and offerings.
We left the temple around lunchtime and had an hour ride home. There wasn't a lot to eat at the temple, and our taxi driver spoke very little English. Twenty minutes into the car ride we used Google Translate on our phones to ask him to take us to his favourite Thai restaurant. He stopped at a local seafood restaurant with outdoor seating and it was one of our favourite meals. Meals outside of resort and tourist areas truly are as cheap as everyone says - I paid $7 USD for my meal and drinks here.
Day Four (Monday)
Everyone told us to visit Phi Phi Islands. Every. Single. Person. So I am going to tell you the same thing: if you visit Phuket, you must visit Phi Phi Islands.
We booked a day long tour through a woman we met at the markets. It was $50 USD including our transport, and we had no idea what to expect. Another bus picked us up early in the morning and took us to the marina where we boarded a speedboat. Our first stop was snorkelling in the reef off Phi Phi Island, followed by lunch and a tour of the caves and monkeys on the coastline. We stopped at Maya Bay which was really special, considering it is closed beginning in June to help conserve what is left of the reef.
Day Five (Tuesday)
A lot of sites and advertisements mentioned Patong Beach. We called our favourite taxi driver and he drove us along the coast until we arrived. It was a cloudier day, so I can't say that this was the most beautiful beach we saw. But it was more of the beach town vibe that I love - busy, vibrant, and full of activity. Patong Beach is surrounded by a busy street full of markets, shopping, and restaurants. Tuk Tuks sat on every corner and Bangla Road is front and centre. (Taxi $2000 BHT RT / $64 USD).
We considered doing a night on Bangla Road since it is often listed on tourist sites, but never made the trip. After visiting it during the day I wasn't disappointed in our decision to not go out at night.
We had bought a lot of souvenirs at the markets, and Patong Beach held more of the same. What it also offered was stall after stall of fake designer purses. We walked to the first stall and I told the girl what we were looking for. "Follow me", she said and lead us to a back room filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with purses. Every stall we visited had a back room like this, and we were able to shop for exactly what we wanted and pay 1% of the real price.
We celebrated Allie's last night with dinner at Takieng Restaurant at the Marriott Renaissance.
Day Six (Wednesday)
My mum's nail tech told her that massages in Thailand are cheap and wonderful. There was a booth near our beach, so on Mariah's last day we started our morning with a massage. We laid by the pool and attempted to go back to Mai Khao beach but the tide was so high we couldn't get in the water. The rest of the day included more pool time and packing.
Day Seven (Thursday)
Normally, I would have planned another excursion for the last day. But we still have seven days of travel ahead of us in South Korea, and the first five days of our trip were filled to the max. Today was more relaxing by the pool and beach.
My sister and I accessed Mai Khao beach through the Anantara property. We stumbled upon a small restaurant made out of bamboo huts, offering local seafood that they had caught that morning in the sea. There were more Thai massages, swings overlooking the ocean, and fresh coconuts. We came back for dinner, eating fresh crab and shrimp, and watched our last sunset.
Things You Should Know
Water is not potable in Phuket, so we only drank bottled. It's generally cheap, sometimes as little as $1USD for a Litre bottle.
Tipping is not required - the price of the restaurant determines whether or not you need to tip. Some restaurants include a service charge and tax, but that was rare.
Taxis can be the most expensive cost of your trip, so plan ahead. Travelling in groups definitely helped minimise this cost - the most I ever paid for a taxi was $20 USD and that was round trip!
A lot of people warned us that Phuket was too touristy, too shady, and full of prostitution. Those people were wrong (and many had never visited the island, but heard this from other people). We only met the kindest, warmest people and never felt unsafe or threatened during our time here. There were definitely more touristy areas, like our resort, but if you chose to leave for a more cultural experience it was accessible. Phuket is gorgeous, clean, and welcoming.
Just be kind. Everyone here is so sweet and friendly, and things won't always function the way you would expect if you were in the US. There were a few moments where we watched foreigners (US and European alike) get upset at Thai servers, waiter, or workers and it was embarrassing - their kindness and friendliness rubs off on you if you let it. I'm walking away more joyful and relaxed.