As a lurker on the forum (for many months), I must say thank you to the many posters from whom I pinched ideas/hints/tips - and to Athena and a number of other people who were kind enough to answer my occasional PM’s :-) T/A is a fabulous resource - as they say "nothing beats experience". Hopefully I can now give a little back by relating my own experiences.
Travel: We travelled Jetstar, Sydney to Phuket and return. As a fairly experienced traveller I have usually found it cheaper to book early, but this time they got me … I booked 6 months ahead during a sale period (and saved $200 each on the “normal” fare), and a month or so before we travelled they dropped the fare another $300). Well, you can’t win them all (but I sure would have liked that extra money in my pocket in Phuket !) - Maybe the economic downturn and the rumours that they were thinking of dropping the Sydney/Phuket route had something to do with their drastic fare reductions.
The flight left on time and arrived 10 minutes early. We pre-paid AU$30 each for food/coffee/soft drinks etc and thought it was reasonable value (certainly cheaper and better than what we had at Sydney airport) – 2 meals on the way to Phuket and surprisingly both tasty and satisfying. My wife paid for an entertainment unit and the one unit between the two of us was plenty – she watched 2 movies, then I watched one.
Our return flight was about 20 minutes late leaving Phuket, but we still arrived in Sydney about 20 minutes early (thanks to a big tail wind). With hindsight, we wouldn’t again order meals for the return flight (at night), just take a snack with you. The Jetstar staff were as efficient as those on most other airlines and we were happy with their service. At 5 ft 9 in and 5 ft 10 in respectively, we found the cattle-class seats reasonably comfortable.
Accommodation: We chose our accommodation after reading literally hundreds of reviews on T/A and we were not disappointed. I would suggest though that you read between the lines and research carefully.
One hotel we researched was hovering around 7th or 8th in the reviews for Karon, then jumped suddenly to 1st . Upon checking in-depth, I discovered (a) that most of the reviewers had just recently joined T/A (b) most were making their first review and (c) most reviews followed a similar format. It all appeared just a bit too contrived for me and I chose not to stay there on principal (maybe T/A smelt a rat as that hotel has recently dropped in ranking!) ;-)
I visited the hotel in question whilst in Karon and will post a separate review on it. If you/re interested and can’t figure out which hotel it was then PM me and I’ll let you in on it.
We spent 5 nights at Boomerang Village – Kata … and 6 nights at Pacific Club Resort – Karon. I thoroughly enjoyed both and going on our experiences I believe all of their reviews are most definitely genuine.
For more info’ check out my separate accommodation reviews on “Boomerang Village Cottages” and “Pacific Club Resort”
Arrival/Pickup: We pre-arranged our airport pickup through our first accommodation (Boomerang Village – Kata) and our driver was waiting for us at the airport (with green name-card in hand as arranged). We could have arranged it more cheaply ourselves, but with a late arrival we figured the hotel would at least be expecting us if we used their driver.
Tour Driver/s – I contacted most of the T/A “recommended drivers” and was quoted between 1500 and 2500 baht for my preferred day-tour itinerary (one driver advised it couldn’t be done in one day and quoted me a total of 3000 baht for 2 days). I get the distinct impression that “some” recommended drivers are suffering from their own fame and have increased their prices accordingly.
Thanks to a tip on the forum, we finished up booking our driver (Mr Toy) through Miss Wu of Exquisite Tours. We made our arrangements by email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org (or you may phone her office on +66 763 44654 or her mobile +66 878 923 850).
Reproduced below is a copy of my email with the itinerary I asked her to quote on (feel free to use it or adapt as you see fit). The price we paid was 1200 for the day. It was not rushed and was quite do-able in 6 or 7 hours.
“Miss Wu, I have suggested an itinerary below (if it can fit into one day), but am willing to be advised if you have better suggestions - we don't want to swim at the beaches, just sightseeing and taking photos. Also would prefer one driver for whole day ... and prefer not to visit cashew nut factory, jewelry stores etc.
Pickup from Boomerang Village Kata around 9am - Then we would like to visit the following locations (not necessarily in the order stated).
Baan Chang (quick stop - watch elephants eating bananas?)
Nai Harn beach
Promthep Cape viewpoint
Chalong pier (maybe short stop for soft drink or coffee?)
The Big Buddha
Phuket town (then Lunch at Rang Hill - Tungka Ka Restaurant)
Siray Island (sea gypsy village then feed monkeys)
Return via Patong (maybe a short stop to look around)
Then return to Boomerang Village Kata.”
Mr Toy was on time, his car was a modern air conditioned Toyota and he followed our itinerary to the letter (with a few extras thrown in as we progressed). He left the engine running whilst we were out of the car sightseeing (so that it was always nice and cool when we returned) and he was always there to open/close the door for my wife. In all, he was a most attentive and careful driver (I don’t think he exceeded 60kph during the entire day).
Our day tour above was one of the highlights of our holiday. I suggest you do it early in your stay as it will give you a good grounding on the location and layout of various attractions. You will then have time to go back to “special places” and explore on your own with more confidence. Thanks Miss Wu & Mr Toy.
Restaurant's we ate at – Prices etc:
No matter where we ate, the food was consistently good. The prices varied but every single dish we ate was to our satisfaction. Note: we don’t particularly like seafood, so the prices below may be a little less than what you may pay. In general, most street restaurants (not street stalls) had chicken and pork dishes at around 125 baht plus another 25 to 50 baht for the same dish with beef or seafood. And yes … you can pay a lot less … and you can pay a lot more … I am generalising in accordance with our experience.
Karon - The Red Onion (look for the blue seat covers), on the third corner back from the roundabout at Karon. Gets very busy … 2 soup – 2 main courses - 2 boiled rice – 2 Chang beer – 1 glass white wine (drinkable) – 1 coke – 1 bottle water. 560bht
Karon - Karon Seafood Restaurant, on the second corner back from the roundabout. 2 main courses, 2 boiled rice, 1 bottle water. Around 400bht
Karon Beach Resort and Spa – (Our Big Night Out) At the very southern end of Karon Beach when heading toward Kata (on the sea side of the road - the restaurant overlooks the sand and the water). Note: Quite expensive by Thai standards, but I had the best steak I’ve eaten in 20 years (the last one that good was in Argentina). Great food and great service. 2 steaks and trimmings – 2 Coffee – 1 bottle of good Australian Red Wine – AU$120 and worth every cent.
Karon – Pacific Club Resort – Jim’s Dining Room. We had several lunches and dinners there. All very good tasty food in nice surroundings – An extensive menu with Thai, Tex-Mex and Western dishes. Their Thai food was around the same price as the street restaurants (plus service charge).
Kata – Boomerang Village Resort – We had dinner there several times and all the Thai food we had was good and reasonably priced (for a resort) – 1 entrée, 2 mains, 2 rice, 2 jasmine teas, 1 beer – around 600baht. The only thing that let them down was the hamburger I had for lunch one day – Yuk! – Their menu also has a few Pizza choices (showing their Italian heritage). Nice surroundings with Thai decor and artefacts.
Phuket Town - Tungka Ka Restaurant on Rang Hill - We went to this one for lunch whilst on our car tour – 2 soft drink, 1 chicken chilli cashew nuts, 1 stir fried vegetable mushroom egg, 2 boiled rice, 2 chinese tea. Total 380bht - They have an extensive menu and great views over Phuket Town. Highly recommended.
Patong – In the basement of Jung Ceylon shopping centre (beside “That’s Siam”) there is a food court with around 8 or 10 stalls. You buy a cash card at the counter (I bought a 500 baht card) and you then go to each stall and pick what you want - hand them the card and they swipe it. When finished take the card back to the counter and they refund your change. We pigged out. Spring Rolls 80bht – Lab Gai (Spicy Thai Chicken Salad) 65bht – Boiled Rice 20bht – Beef Pad Thai 50bht – Thai Omelette 20bht. All of the food was fantastic and every dish was prepared fresh (they even rolled the spring rolls in front of us).
Suggestion – Do some shopping in (and around) Jung Ceylon shopping centre and the “That’s Siam” handicrafts centre in the basement, then head into the food court for an early dinner, then out into Bangla Rd to the famed “Aussie Bar” for a couple of drinks. Try to get a seat upstairs at the front overlooking the street and you can spend an enjoyable hour or so watching the freak show pass by. Good clean entertainment (take your camera). I think it cost around AU$7 or AU$8 for a beer and a bacardi & coke (and a very large extra charge it you decide to souvenir a bar mat).
The Famed Captain Mark: We did the Koh Phanak Sail Caves and Hongs Tour with Captain Mark and can't see how any other tour could improve upon our experience. A great day out, with great food, a great itinerary, and personalised service. One couple from Scotland, one couple from Singapore (with their 7 year old daughter) and us two old fa-ts from Sydney. A nice secluded beach for lunch, no throngs of tourist, no souvenir stalls and Mark went out of his way to keep us all (including the little girl) entertained. Didn't we feel lucky (superior?) when we passed those other boats with 100 or more tourists and their fleet of little kayaks/canoes all heading for a mass experience that we had just enjoyed privately and serenely!
PS. When we phoned to give Mark our hotel details he was pleased to advise us he had dropped his price (from the price he originally quoted us) by 500 baht per person. Professionalism and "Integrity". Highly Recommended ! Thanks Mark & crew.
The Friday Night BBQ (soon to be Saturday night): Due to varying reviews, we had mixed feelings about attending this one but we thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Richard himself picked us up from Kata and we transferred to the BBQ in the back of his covered ute (on padded bench seats).
The food at the BBQ was good and plentiful, but the highlight of the night for us was when we arrived at the Sunshine Bar. The staff were gathered behind the bar and as soon as they saw us all arriving, on went the music and they sang, danced and clapped us all into the bar. It was almost like arriving at a movie premiere (maybe it was because Cathy & Gary arrived at the same time).
The kids who attended had a great night, singing, dancing and climbing the pole etc, and the only thing perhaps unsuitable for them was one song which contained a few adult words. Most of them appeared not to notice (or didn't react). Would we go again – Yes. Would we take our grandkids – Yes. A most enjoyable night out at a very reasonable price – Thanks Richard and Megumi.
Shopping: Didn’t do much … Don’t have any need for knock-off brand clothes and watches, etc. but I did buy a couple of genuine brand sports shirts in the shops in the Jung Ceylon centre (they had a huge sale on) and I got some good bargains. Although they were genuine, I suspect they were seconds (one of them even had a K-mart price tag and it definitely was not a K-mart shop
Tailors: As we’ve booked for the “Melbourne Cup Cruise” Sydney/Melbourne/Sydney later this year, my wife virtually insisted that I buy a new suit (I’m sure she thinks that will then entitle her to a new outfit), so after much research and a few personal recommendations, I decided on Instyle Fashion of Karon and Patong (also known as Niphon Rich Collection). You can check them out at www.instylefashion.com .
They were most professional, offered to pick me up from our hotel and were in no way pushy. I had one suit, plus one jacket, plus one pair of trousers and two shirts made by their store in Karon and am very pleased with the results.
I suggest you visit them early in your stay, as I had one initial measure, then two separate fittings, plus the final try on and pickup. On the night of the final pickup/payment we were collected from our hotel, driven to their premises, and they then delivered the clothes back to our hotel leaving us free to continue on to dinner.
I don't know if I got the best deal in town, but don't really care as I got clothes that look good, that fit perfectly, from a tailor that has a good reputation (and does not haggle). Total cost 15600 baht (approx' AU$570) for the lot. Very pleased :-) Feel free to PM me if you require more details.
Elephants: For those who want an elephant experience without actually riding one (or paying), ask your driver to stop at Baan Chang (also known as Kok Chang) and you can just help yourself to the bananas (make a small donation in the box provided), then feed the elephants and take all the photos you want at no charge.
Tuk-Tuks … The going rate is 100bht within Karon, 200bht Karon to Kata, and 300bht Karon to Patong. If you can do better then go for it – I couldn’t be bothered for the sake of a dollar or so.
Dress – I wore shorts and sandals everywhere (including our expensive night out - and also on the plane). I did put on a button up shirt for our big night out.
Mozzie Repellent – Before we left home we bought a tube of "Bushman’s Plus" Insect Repellent with 80% DEET (it also contains sunscreen so it’s handy to carry at all times), and we had no problems.
Our Biggest Annoyance – “Timeshare Touts” – Normally young English speaking people (sometimes two of them) on motor cycles. The will usually pull up in front of you and as you go past they will look at you as if they know you and say “hello, how are you” or “where are you from”.
This all leads to them giving you a lucky draw scratchy which leads to offering to buy you a drink in a bar which leads to a “free” meal (and taxi-ride) etc, providing you watch their “timeshare” presentation. If you don’t buy, you’ll probably end up paying for the meal and your cab back to your hotel.
When they spoke to me I would say “Nyet” (there are lots of Russians in Phuket), or “no thanks, I’ve already seen a presentation”, then keep walking. One English girl tried the same thing on us 4 times in 3 days. They’re a real pain in the a.se.
Other Touts. Just smiled, said no thanks, kept walking and had no problems. DO NOT shake hands.
Phuket Airport – After you check in for your flight home (and get rid of your cases), take the lift (or the escalator) up one floor to the 3rd floor to the Thai Airways Restaurant. Not the cheapest food we ate in Phuket, but what we ate was good. They had a wide selection of Thai and Western food and it was a nice place to relax with a drink before the flight home.
Duty Free at Phuket airport (to take home) – Benson & Hedges were 500bht for 200 (around AU$19.00 a carton). Bacardi was around AU$40 for 2 x one litre bottles.
My Philosophy: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Nobody likes to be ripped-off, but keep it all in perspective. As a couple you probably pay AU$2000 or thereabouts for your airfares, the same again for accommodation and meals, so why bother trying to screw some poor local for 50 cents or a dollar when it won’t really make that much difference to you.
One example: We came out of an upmarket restaurant after spending AU$120 on dinner and a Tuk-Tuk driver out the front quoted me 300 baht for the trip back to our hotel. I laughed at him (in a nice way) and said you know it should only be 150 baht, the same as we paid coming here … he laughed and said ok – 200 baht. I laughed and we jumped in. Then his wife jumped in beside him and fed her baby his bottle as we were driven back to our hotel. AU$120 for our dinner – an extra 50 baht for the baby’s dinner or whatever … who cares !!
Finally the weather. The forecast said rain almost
every day. We had 5 minutes light drizzle whilst out with Captain Mark, 5 minutes light drizzle on one other day and a bit of rain after midnight on 2 nights - I think someone was looking out for us.
Thats's it folks … we had a fantastic time and will probably go back next year. Once again, thanks to all those who contributed and helped make our holiday so enjoyable.