Taking a trip across the island of Phuket in Thailand was something I had wanted to do for a very long time. Having done some 20 odd trips across the years, I now fondly consider this jewel of the Andaman, my second hometown. These trips involve potential real estate investors rattling away financial jargon or friends discussing the upcoming bar-hopping night, but the ones where it was just me driving around were the most enjoyable so far.
Travel Tip: Books a Toyota Yaris or another cheaper alternative just one day before landing there. Since the system allots one to you, you will almost always get an upgrade at the counter as the cheapest cars will already be booked (only in a prepaid situation). Talk to agencies like ASAP or Thai Rent-a-Car kind of smaller players as they will go out on a limb to accommodate your requests, unlike the very large brands which don’t really bother if you need any last-minute adjustments.
So, it was the Altis with a 1800CC 1.8VL 16 valve intelligent engine which I was offered. I was driving up the hills of Kathu effortlessly, which on a Yaris felt like being ferried along with a wailing pregnant hog, especially on the climbs.
Though I do own my apartment in Bangtao, an upmarket & expat infested beach area in Phuket, I almost always choose to stay either in Patong or Kata beach areas just for the energy those places bring to you. The bars in expat zones are priced for expats which is exactly what we Indians yearn for. Add some live music to the scene and its akin to Jannat for our desi hearts.
Ok, so apart from my work schedules which usually got over by 3pm or so, I did manage to catch some very local happenings. like Loy Krathong in October last year and the Vegetarian Festival early this year. The Loy Krathong is a prayer offered to the Water Lord to be kind to the crops and keep the nation prosperous always. It’s a complete visual delight to watch beautifully crafted flower arrangements being adorned with colorful candles and being set off into the waters. Some areas like Chiang Mai, up north in Thailand, still allow the lit lanterns to be set off into the sky but the government has realized the safety hazards involved and have decided to ban it in Phuket and surrounding areas.
Now comes my favorite part. The food during the festival. Oh my god, if there was ever a food scarcity in Cambodia or Laos that time of the year, you know where it has all landed up. Fresh seafood, amazing fusion food, deals on drinks everywhere. My favorite has always been the Som Tam Goong, translating to Raw Papaya Salad with Seafood.
Depending on how you like your spices or your capacity to handle it, you can get a plate full of aromatic veggies with prawns and squid all over in a spicy sauce that will make you go running towards a Chang or a Tiger beer to wash it down. Romantics are advised to stay away from any PDA (public display of affection) or PLA (post lunch action), as your partner is sure to faint at the over-killing garlicky emotions you would be expressing post such a lunch.
One of my favorite drives in Phuket is the one from the Airport to Bangtao via Nai Thon beach, avoiding all motorways and through Sirinath National Park, a dense & lush forest where one’s driving skills are tested on every corner. This route demands a stopover at Nai Thon Beach, where the white sands and crystal clear blue water make you feel like surrendering to nature. For those wanting to stay here, there’s upmarket Pullman Resort as well as a very few luxurious serviced apartments here.
Further down towards Bangtao, one would pass Phuket’s most expensive residential zone, namely Trisara Avenue (named after the villas there). The one enters Laguna, a beautifully manicured mega residential and resort zone home to luxurious resorts and smaller residential buildings like the one I own a flat in. Having tracked property prices here for over past 3 years, I have realized that, with upwards of 15% net gains per annum, if there is a place one should invest in the place is Phuket.
An important tip to remember while driving In Thailand is that honking is severely frowned upon. Our Indian driving license works fine to rent a car as a tourist, but that doesn’t give us the right to blow the horn every two minutes. Lane discipline is quite well adhered to, despite many westerners feeling otherwise. They drive on the same side as us so that makes life simpler. I would highly recommend renting a self-drive car over hiring a tourist vehicle.
You will enjoy the sights more and the flexibility of doing your own thing. If the loud side of Soi Bangla in Patong or the serene beaches of Bangtao and Mai Khao have satiated you enough, take a 3-hour drive to Krabi. Stop by at PhangNga and take a cheap ferry to James Bond island, have some local coffee made by Malaysian immigrants. At 20 baht a cup, iced or hot, it’s the best you will have on the island. Have the ice cream made with fruits on an ice slab. The hot banana or peanut butter pancakes/crepes at a roadside stall. Get a foot massage (while at it, try not falling asleep and snoring). And most importantly take the off-the-beaten roads. Thailand on wheels is one the most beautiful journeys you will take in your life. Enjoy and Khaap Khun Khraap!