Neil's Backpacker Guide To Phuket . . .

by Neil Campbell, Mar 14, 2001 | Destinations: Thailand / Phuket

Backpackers and Phuket the words don't really seem very relevant together, almost like sex and the British. Although like the British if you look close enough you might find one or two with wardrobes of leather and whips and chains in the spare room. Back packers do come to Phuket and with good reason. Phuket offers backpackers more than thatched huts on the beach, 24-hour chemists and little bars showing poor quality VCDs of the latest films.

Phuket offers Thailand in miniature; for those who seek the bright lights of Bangkok there's Pattong beach a hedonists utopia of razzmatazz and club culture and as the Islands demographics change the ever shrewd Thai business sector changes with them, couples and young travelers are on the increase and older single men are in decline, as a result the town's girlie bars and sleazier environments are on their way out and an influx of nightclubs and live music bars has stepped up to take their place. Prices in Pattong however are still on the vertical side of steep and finding a place to stay for under 300 Baht a night would merit some credit. Of course that's all irrelevant when less than 10kms to the south are the much more chilled, and less expensive, havens of Karon and Kata. A back packer myself, my partner and I had no trouble in finding a room for under 300 in Karon, despite the reverse negotiating of our ever helpful Tuk Tuk driver, in Kata the prices came down even more and finding a bungalow for 150 was a breeze, although we had to share our bathroom with the biggest vampiric leech I've ever seen, the resilience of your average Thai leech is quite simply amazing every, morning we'd disperse it with the loo hose/water cannon and every evening it be back.

Wildlife is something else phuket has in spades and the huge national park of Koh Sok to the north is well worth a visit with it's miles and miles of unspoilt rain forest, rope bridges and gorges that will bring the Harrison Ford out in everyone along for the standard 16km Trek. Wild Gibbons and birds chatter noisily in the trees and creepy crawling things everywhere will keep your wits about you. If you like the idea of wildlife but can't stomach the many legged and slithering beasties then take a trip up to the Gibbon sanctuary, again in the north, where Gibbons are gradually released into the wild, reversing some of the harmful impact the tourist trade has had on the local wildlife.

For beach lovers, Phuket and it's neighboring island offer some of the best in Thailand. Among my personal favorites, although I confess I haven't seen them all, are Hat Nai Harn a short but glorious stretch of golden sand and a great little reggae bar where they often have full moon parties with a ten piece be-dredded skanking reggae band, Kata Yai, or south, beach also merits a mention as it's just busy enough to lively but not too busy as to be crowded and as I mentioned earlier staying in kata isn't going to break the bank and finally there's a little beach just a little south of Nai Harn call Nia Yai which has the perfect combination of a two coves one with a little sand and then some coral and rocks and the other with a long expanse of sand, the beach is very quiet and boasts a cheap restaurant, some rustic inexpensive bungalows and snorkel and mask hire for 50 baht a day. The beaches of the surrounding islands and bays such a Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Phang Nga would need another five pages to describe, and besides you don't want me to spoil all your discoveries.

Eating out in Phuket can be as lavish or as simple as you like. If you like to break the bank when you eat then expensive restaurants will provide all the Pizza and Pasta you can handle, if breaking a 100 Baht note is more your thing then look for one of the markets which seem to spring up guerrilla style just about everywhere you go and provide stalls selling anything from horseshoe crab to beef burgers and French fries.

I think to be honest what makes Phuket so interesting as a backpacker destination is the potential to stay here, as many do, in the sun. There's work teaching English in Phuket town and Pattong and all over the Island. There's long-term accommodation such as the idyllic Friendship Beach where every Sunday the local Expats and the local Thais descend for a barbeque and a great burst of Rock and Roll from everyone and anyone who can play guitar. Those who do get a foothold here will find themselves among the lucky few, the dreamers, the retired and the eccentrics oh yes the eccentrics the mad old Germans who keep wild boars in their boat houses and the crazy old Americans who sell t shirts on the highways just so they can stay here.