Phuket - The Highs and Lows of Thailand on One Tropical Island
There has maybe not been a destination I have been as torn about as Phuket, Thailand. The island itself is beautiful, with many great options for visiting tourists. However, I chose to stay in the Patong area, and the sex tourism honestly made me a bit sad. When walking down the streets, women and ladyboys make lewd gestures towards the visiting men, trying to get them into their massage parlors. Vendors shove explicit menus in your face while walking, trying to get you to attend a ping pong show. However, the thing that bothered me the most was seeing how the visiting men treated the local Thai women. I saw women grabbed,
restrained, yelled at, and dragged around. Every time, I felt the urge to intervene, but what would I do as a solo-traveling white woman? So I had to leave it alone.
The cabaret shows were a lot of fun though. I liked this vibe a lot... it may still be sex tourism to an extent but it was a lot more tasteful, and the outfits were lovely. The actresses danced and sang to modern pop music while onlookers cheered.
One of the coolest things to do in the Patong area is to catch a Muaythai fight at Bangla Boxing Stadium. I am not huge on watching spectator sports but I found it to be a ton of fun! There was a lot of suspense involved in seeing who was going to win and hoping the other person doesn't get hurt too badly. I really enjoyed it thoroughly!
There are also many tours leaving from the Patong area which give you an opportunity to explore local islands, such as the popular Koh Phi Phi island. I opted to take John Gray's Hong Island kayaking sea cave tour I found on TripAdvisor. It was really awesome seeing the sea caves and seeing the inside of these islands with wildlife such as monkeys right up close. Check out my videos to see some of this footage, it was really special!
Further from Patong, the vibe is much different. There are many different things that tourists do while in Phuket, and I tried to do them all. One of my favorite things was the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where elephants are rescued from their lives in the logging or tourism industries and are given the opportunity to retire in peace. It was cool to get up close with the elephants on their own terms, and I even got to feed them! There was one older female elephant who was blind and she was my favorite, as she kind of nudged up against me in a friendly way.
Another really cool experience on the island was going to the Chalong Bay Distillery. I got to try several different types of rum they make and was given a little tour to see their rum-making facilities. I then enjoyed a meal with a couple I met at the distillery and spent some time with the resident cat (of course). It was awesome to see a distillery that really focuses on employing the local people and using sustainable practices to create their liquors. It is definitely a brand to keep an eye out for as they expand into European and Asian markets across the world.
Finally, I spent some time in Phuket Old Town with my local friend Joy. We went to a cat cafe that had decent food, but I do not recommend it as the cat area had an overwhelming smell of urine. Then we found a cool wizard and dragon-themed bar called Hog's Head Pub that had a really cool ambiance. After enjoying some drinks here, I had to say goodbye to Joy as it was time to move on to the next leg of my trip in Bangkok!
Overall, I definitely recommend Phuket but I wouldn't suggest staying in the Patong area. There are many other areas that are lovely and have beaches with a much less seedy vibe, such as Karon. There are many lovely and beautiful things to do on the island and with some planning, you're sure to enjoy it!