Playing the Tourist in Phuket – Part 1
It’s a funny thing but, when I’m living in a place, I find it hard to muster the enthusiasm to go and visit the popular tourist attractions. I lived in Oman for two years and yet I never went to the Musandam Peninsula in the north or Salalah in the south, both of which are said to be interesting places to visit for one reason or another. The same goes for Phuket. After four years here, I’ve only recently got around to seeing the star attractions! I feel like, since they’re always there, there’s no rush to go and see them right away, which inevitably leads to me never seeing them.
Fortunately, during August, I had the opportunity to play the tourist and look around many of the key points of interest in Phuket. The reason was that a good friend of mine was visiting from Bangkok – Malinda. She was coming to celebrate my birthday with me, though she also wanted to do some surfing since Phuket is virtually the only part of the country with any descent waves.
We had a three-day weekend because my birthday is fairly close to the queen mother of Thailand’s birthday, which is a national holiday. I decided that, in order to save money for a bigger trip later in the year, to allow my friend the chance to surf (which she really enjoys and doesn’t get much chance for in Thailand) and just to visit a few places I haven’t been to for a while, we would spend the time exploring Phuket and the immediate area instead of heading further afield.
Surfing in Phuket
Malinda landed in Phuket late on Friday 10th August and we spent the evening catching up and having a few beers together. The next day, we headed to Kata Beach. I had actually hoped to be heading for Bangtao Beach because I have been learning to surf on the relatively tame waves there. Kata is perhaps the best place in Phuket to surf, but the skill level required to ride the waves there is well above my abilities and, despite having significantly more practise than me, is also above Malinda’s.
As we have previously, we headed to Phuket Surfing and rented a couple of boards. They’re generally a good outfit, with good boards, fair rates and friendly staff, but they sadly made a slight miscalculation with Malinda’s board. The leash, which keeps the board fastened to the surfer’s leg, was a bit too short. The significance of that fact will become apparent soon.
We had been a little optimistic in renting the boards for two hours. Within about 30 minutes, both of us were already exhausted, having been continuously battered by the waves and dragged around by the strong undercurrents. As much as we tried to stay away from the crowded and rocky southern end of the beach, the current kept pulling us that way. Malinda managed to catch one or two waves and I came a few steps closer to actually standing up on the board than I’ve been for a while.
Sadly, Malinda then came off her board and, because of the short leash, there wasn’t enough clearance between her and the board as she tumbled in the surf. The board smacked her pretty hard on her left thigh. It wasn’t serious enough to need medical aid, beyond a bit of Tiger Balm, but it was painful enough to stop us from surfing for the rest of the weekend.
Viewpoints in Phuket
After lunch, and with the sun still shining, I decided to take the scenic route back to my apartment. Malinda hadn’t previously looked around the main points of interest in Phuket, despite a previous visit to catch some waves, so I offered my services as a tour guide and we rode off south towards the so-called Karon Viewpoint.
I say “so-called” because, despite its name, the viewpoint isn’t actually in the town of Karon. It’s just south of Kata Noi, which is south of Kata, which is south of Karon. It’s also known as the “Three Beaches Viewpoint” because you can see the beaches of those three towns, with Karon being the furthest away. However, it is still part of Karon Municipality, which is where it gets its name from.
From there, we headed further south to Windmill Viewpoint. This one actually deserves its name because it’s the site of a couple of big wind turbines (so even this isn’t a totally accurate name). It offers a good view of Nai Harn Beach, which we’d briefly stopped at along the way, as well as Ya Nui Beach – one of my favourite beaches in Phuket and another brief stop on our journey that day.
Still going south, we reach Phromthep Cape – the southernmost part of the island and a pretty good viewpoint. It has a distinctly rugged, windswept feel to it and is a very popular place to watch the sun go down, but I had other plans for that special moment.
Big Buddha Phuket
By the time we reached Rawai, it was starting to get towards the end of the afternoon, so we stopped for dinner at one of the restaurants on the promenade. I ended up eating half of Malinda’s vegetable fried rice because the restaurant’s definition of a “medium” portion was rather generous. Fortunately, I have a distinctly hearty appetite (and, according to some, hollow legs).
From there, we drove to perhaps one of the most iconic tourist attractions in Phuket – the Big Buddha. At 45 metres, it’s the third tallest statue of Buddha in Thailand and, with the added fact that it’s seated on one of the island’s tallest hills and is clad in gleaming white Burmese jade marble, it shines like a beacon on sunny days. It’s visible from much of the southern end of Phuket.
Actually getting up to the Big Buddha was a challenge in itself because my old motorbike is starting to show its age. Second gear is becoming a little temperamental and I’m finding it increasingly challenging to climb up hills, which isn’t ideal on an island as hilly as Phuket. Climbing up above Kata Noi to get to the first viewpoint, I’d actually had to put my feet down to virtually walk the bike up a particularly steep bit. By some kind of minor miracle, that wasn’t required when it came to reaching the statue.
This was only my second visit to Big Buddha and, like the first, it was towards the end of the day, which isn’t actually ideal. The statue faces the east, so it gets the rising sun on its face. Taking a photo of it in the afternoon is more challenging because the sun is directly behind the statue, putting its front in deep shadow. Even so, it’s quite an awe-inspiring sight.
It has always given me a bit of childish amusement to know that the hill Big Buddha is sat on is called “Mount Nakkerd”, which is pronounced the same as “knackered”, a common British slang term for ‘tired’ or ‘worn out’. By the time the sun was heading for the horizon, both Malinda and I were comprehensively Nakkerd, but we still had enough energy to stop at a bar/restaurant a little way down the hill.
I’d actually discovered this particular viewpoint after seeing someone else’s photo online, with them posed against the rock. I then triangulated the exact location using points of reference in the image and comparing them against Google Maps. I was impressively close to getting it right, and was close enough to find the spot after a bit of exploring. Weirdly, I’d been up to this bar on two prior occasions before I finally went to see the Big Buddha, despite the fact that the bar is a grand total of 650 metres away from the statue.
While sipping our beers and enjoying the view, we couldn’t help but notice a group of British girls loudly chatting nearby. They didn’t ruin our experience in the slightest – I only mention them because, as we drove home for an early night, we spotted them walking down the hill. I’ve no idea where their hotel was but, to put it into context, the main road is 5.1 km from the bar. That’s quite an ambitious walk, especially in the dark!
Well, this turned out to be much longer than I expected, so I’m going to have to cover the other days of the weekend in subsequent posts. Stay tuned for more!