Finding the ‘Perfect Route’ for Things To Do And See in Phuket
We’ve always said we don’t really use guide books. Sure, Lonely Planet travel guide to China was the reason we spent our first week of full-time travels in Beijing, navigating our own way to The Great Wall, but typically we opt to go with the flow, seek out local advice or ‘Google’ our way as we travel. Very rarely do we bank on published guides or books to direct our travels… until we opened up a Marco Polo guide book. We weren’t really sure what to expect when we were sent the three books for Thailand but when we received them, we were incredibly impressed, particularly by some of the unique features that we’ve yet to come across anywhere else. One of those features inspired an entire day excursion exploring Phuket by motorbike. Marco Polo guide books call it “The Perfect Route” and we couldn’t agree more!
Exploring Phuket by Motorbike
We started the day a little later than we had originally planned. It was our intention to wake up early and follow the “perfect route” step by step with all its suggestions for things to do and see in Phuket, which included a recommendation for a great breakfast spot, but as we woke up to a sunny Thailand sky and leisurely went through our morning routine, we decided the most perfect thing about using the guide is the fact that we are on our own time and able to customize it as we please. So, we got ourselves ready, hopped on our motorbike and headed off to one of our favourite restaurants near our hotel where we took another look at the map and the detailed guide over some cashew nut chicken and crispy pork with kale.
Around the Bay of Chalong Phuket: Big Buddha & Wat Chalong
With our plans for exploring Phuket by motorbike already modified slightly, we set off to the first stop of the route, The Bay of Chalong. This natural harbour brings in sailors from all over the world and when we got there, there were many yachts and boats docked. We strolled down the 700m long pier to get a good view of the bay and the boats and take in the fresh air off the water. We’d definitely recommend a stop here, especially if you can make it for breakfast at the lighthouse!
From there, our Marco Polo route took us up to the Big Buddha, a 45m (150ft) tall Buddha statue. There are two things of importance should you head this way. The first being that proper clothing is required, even though you are not entering a temple, and that means the ladies need to cover shoulders and legs. Not to worry though, they do provide shawls to those who don’t have and unfortunately, we weren’t prepared! Feeling like rookies, we walked up to the stand so Carolann could cover herself and shook our heads at our mistake. Since we weren’t planning on visiting a temple, we didn’t even think to bring a wrap!
The second thing to note is that as of October 2015, the grounds are still undergoing some construction (tail end of a larger restoration project). Be sure to check whether the site is open before heading out there. Though the construction didn’t ruin the experience, we imagine that a visit after completion would be much more pleasant. Construction aside, the view is absolutely incredible. The Big Buddha looks towards the Bay of Chalong and it is one heck of a view!
After making our way back down the mountain from the Big Buddha, we headed a short distance to Wat Chalong, the island’s biggest monastery. Here, we walked through the fairly large and beautiful grounds, taking in the elaborate detail on the buildings, the statues and ornamentation around the property and the peacefulness of the entire space. We even got a bit of a sound show as crackers were being set off in a large clay pot every so often. It was a great example of the beauty of Thai religious architecture.
Phuket Town was the next destination on the perfect route. We easily found a parking spot and hopped off to stroll along the streets. Thalang Road and the historic quarter offered quite a few shops and restaurants with a Sino-Portugeuse style. We loved the feel of the area and thought it was almost reminiscent of some parts of Penang, Malaysia – Colonial buildings and remnants of a European settlement. We definitely feel this is one of the top things to do and see in Phuket for it’s uniqueness and history and with so many restaurants and stores, you’re guaranteed to find something to satisfy both the foodie and the shopper!
Our one tip would be to try and make it in both the day and night. We heard a night time visit means some incredible shots of the streets and buildings without all the parked cars and bikes along the curbs.
Since we were exploring Phuket by motorbike, more time needed to be tacked on for getting around and as we had already had a late start to the day, we decided to customize the route further – something we absolutely love about this route as we’re very much sporadic travellers so if we have some key spots to hit up and the freedom to do as we choose, we’re pretty much in exploration heaven. We skipped the northern parts which took us to some fantastic looking historical and natural sites and headed straight to the next leg of the route along the west coast.
Finding A Surprise Along the Way
One of the reasons we love exploring by motorbike is the freedom to come and go as we please. Every time we’ve been in Thailand, we’ve made some incredible finds absolutely at random as we drove along the roads. Driving in Phuket was no different. As we cut across from east to west, we started noticing stands along the road with colourful somethings hanging on display. After the second stand we decided to stop at the next one we saw.
The warm smile that greeted us was typical of the locals we’ve met before in Thailand and after greeting her, we used hand gestures to ask whether the strings of colour in the plastic bags were something we could eat. With a nod of her head she pulled out a packaged of what looked (and ended up being) crepes and proceeded to put some of the stringy coloured bits into the centre before rolling the crepe around them. Offering it to us, we each took a bite. Delicious candy floss-like filling surrounded by semi-sweet thin crepes met our taste buds and created an explosion of flavour. We hadn’t even swallowed that first bite before we were pointing to the bag and indicating we wanted to buy some to take with us. Purchase made, we set the bag on our bike hook and waved goodbye before setting back out again.
The West Coast Beaches of Phuket
We stopped at Nai Yang beach where we watched a moving sunset on a strip we had virtually to ourselves. A few groups of people tossing a Frisbee, some couples walking along the shore and a few families enjoying the last rays of sunlight were the only others present with us to enjoy the light and colour display as it slowly faded below the horizon. Quietly and reflectively, we continued down the coast to an equally quiet Nai Thon beach. Here we saw food stalls and stands and grabbed some fresh fruit juice.
By the time we got to the next stop, Surin Beach, we were pretty hungry. With all the open-air restaurants overlooking the beach, we would have had a hard time deciding which one to eat at, especially since our mutual indecisiveness tends to peak when we’re hungry. Fortunately, Marco Polo guides provide lots of insider tips and suggestions.
We chose to go with the one already listed on the perfect route and try the Catch Beach Club for dinner. After talking about not being able to find many good sushi restaurants in Thailand (though we did find one amazing Japanese restaurant in Koh Samui), we found the Catch Beach Club had absolutely delicious sushi! Added to that, the restaurant had a great, chic atmosphere, a wonderful view of the beach and some nighttime fire entertainment.
Patong – Should You Stay or Should You Go?
Finally, incredibly satisfied and with our bellies full, we made it to the last stop along the route – Patong Beach. Though Patong is often a divisive location, with some people who love it and others who would never return, we found it one of the top things to do in Phuket, pretty much for that very reason. We wanted to see for ourselves what it was like and what we found was an experience outside of the rest of our travels in Thailand and a great evening overall.
We walked down the pedestrian street in Patong and discovered why some people would choose to never come back: crowds of people, busy bars and clubs, handouts for ping pong shows frequently flashed in front of you and all the vice one thinks of travel to Thailand. For us, it was not the Thailand we’ve come to know and love but it is definitely part of the Thailand that draws many people there each year. It was something we were glad to have seen but equally glad to have left behind. Walking away from the pedestrian street was calmer and we found a quaint and friendly cafe to rest for a while and enjoy some milk tea and coffee. Patong may not be for everyone but was a great stop while exploring Phuket by motorbike.
Take Your Time While Exploring Phuket by Motorbike
While the guide gave the suggestion of 2.5 hours driving time and 1 day of exploring, our style of taking photos and videos and generally taking our time would probably make this route best broken up over two days. We were also on motorbike which we knew would slow us down a bit!
If you’re heading to Thailand and looking for some great things to do and see in Phuket or are thinking of exploring Phuket by motorbike, the “Perfect Route” really offers a great taste of all the island has to offer with some amazing tips and suggestions along the way. Take our revised route or the full thing via the guide, it’s really up to you!