Phuket | Rainy Season Bargains

Having spent much of the past month in isolated beach towns, we set off for Thailand’s tourist hub of Phuket for a change of pace. Andy, per usual, knocked out for the entire hour it took to cross the Andaman Sea- oblivious to the huge waves slamming into our boat the whole way. What a gift! Like most of the region this time of year, the surf at Kata Beach was pretty high – making swimming conditions a bit dicey. But we still had a blast exploring the beachfront happenings, and the nearby resorts were offering up some pretty steep discounts for the off-season 🙂

We got a steal at the Sugar Palm Grand, where a penthouse suite only set us back about $40 USD a night. The hotel itself was set up along a steep hill- requiring 2 different elevators and some stairs to get up the final stretch (my mother’s worst nightmare!), but the killer views over the beaches and central mountains made it all worthwhile. Thankfully they let us use a golf cart to get our bags up there on the service path. Having a multi-tiered infinity pool didn’t hurt either, and the SkyBar was a great spot to watch the moon rise over the bay. Andy got a kick out of all the resident wildlife too- including friendly resident cats that would often hitch a ride in the elevators, and a small bat colony below the SkyBar that would swoop out at dusk.

It was here in Phuket that we became aware of the option to hire local drivers for the day, a tool we increasingly utilized on future legs of our Asian adventure. This not only allowed us to customize the scope and speed of what we wanted to see (a crucial aspect of traveling with a toddler) – but it was also much more cost-effective than joining organized tours. For about $50 USD a day, we lucked out and got linked up with a guy named Noom via our hotel manager – who we used for all of our excursions while here. First stop – the Big Buddha, which is visible from almost anywhere in Phuket. We were quite surprised that it was built only in 2004, naively thinking that such structures were all somehow ancient.

Continuing along the tourist beat, we also made a cameo at Phuket’s most visited religious complex – Wat Chalong. While the temples were indeed impressive, the clear highlight for us was a huge silo that was purpose-built for the thousands of firecrackers that are set off randomly throughout the day. Just when you’d zone out on some ornate decor – BANG! Another offering in the works. Definitely made for an exciting visit! Next we set off for Wat Khao Rang (near the hill of the same name which is known for monkey banditry), and had some more unexpected excitement. While admiring all of the exotic architecture, Andy spotted a fairly large snake climbing up a statue right in front of us! After poking around on Google, it appeared to be a non-poisonous radiated rat snake. Definitely Andy’s highlight for Phuket!

Having outsourced any driving responsibilities, we made a reservation for a tasting session at Chalong Bay Distillery to try the local hooch. For $10 USD, we got 1 oz pours of 6 different homemade rum infusions, 2 gins, a vodka, and a small simple cocktail using our favorite of the lineup – quite a deal considering a single cocktail cost nearly the same. But we also learned after that fact that most visitors really just “taste” the rums and spit them out into a bucket, which seemed (and still seems) like a crazy concept to us. That also meant that we looked like total drunks, being possibly their first customers to swallow all of the samples- much to the the amusement of our super friendly bartender named Jenny! The rest of the staff kept Andy entertained and well-fed with ice cream while we enjoyed our tasting session, such a great overall experience. Would highly recommend this as a pit stop to anyone visiting Phuket!

The food options in Phuket were also a real treat. Beyond the usual Thai classics (that we were needing a break from), it was easy to find high quality pizza (Pomodoro being among the best), Indian (Highway Curry was super tasty), German (at the aptly named German Bakery – a new cuisine for our driver that he plans to introduce to his mom!), and of course – Russian. Phuket has long been a haven for Russian tourists, but the Ukraine conflict has led to some parts of town feeling more like Moscow that Bangkok these days. After extensive travels around the former USSR, we’d become quite fond of many such regional dishes- and were delighted to come across a restaurant that did them well (called Gagarin – that totally milked the cosmonaut theme that made the name so famous). Pelmini with sour cream, Chicken Kiev, Beef Stroganoff, and a tasty pumpkin/pork cabbage wrap were just a few of the winners we had over multiple visits there. Having a dedicated play area chock full of toys was an added bonus too!

As with our other stops in Thailand, the weather gods made sure to remind us it that it was indeed still rainy season. We barely beat these dark clouds from Karon Viewpoint back to our hotel, where the skies really opened up. Andy really wanted to swim in the heaviest part of the downpour as we’d done in Railay, but quickly changed his tune when the thunder kicked in! He kept his “earmuffs” on for much of the rest of the day.

Easily the most fun we had during our Phuket time, however, was taking a road trip up to Cheow Lan Lake in Surat Thani. Noom (our driver) brought his girlfriend (Bow) along for the day, and they both joined us for an incredible cruise around the Khao Sok National Park. With a bit of assistance from our new local amigos, we were able to charter a boat for under $100 USD for 3 hours – including kayak rentals at a lakeside lodge. Our captain sped us through a number of narrow passages among soaring karst spires, and even stopped at a postcard perfect swimming hole that we had all to ourselves. Thankfully the rains barely showed up that day, and the remnant clouds lingering among the valleys and peaks created a surreal backdrop.


As an added bonus, Noom took us by a temple called Matahad on the way back to Phuket from Cheow Lan – which had apparently just been commissioned by Thailand’s new king. Pretty wild to see such ornate Buddhist structures like this (and the Big Buddha in Phuket) still being constructed. We were incredibly thankful for all of the insight we gained from our local driver-turned-friend, and will miss him and Bow dearly. Till next time!

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