What’s the craic? I did the research and tried and tested all of the below bits so if you’re looking for some fun, you can trust me on this one hun.
Ahead of the big move to Melbourne, the girls and I really just wanted an extended lay-over but we got so much more from our time in Thailand.
Here are 5 things to do if you are looking for a relaxing holiday in Phuket:
- Visit the Big Buddha
- Walk with elephants
- Dance at a Full Moon Party
- See the islands
- Treat yourself to a Thai massage
Visit the Big Buddha
The Big Buddha statue, and its smaller statue friends sits atop Karon Hill, and offers a fantastic viewpoint over Karon, Kata and wider areas. Entry to Big Buddha is free, but it’s a pretty priceless experience. I recommend taking a tuc-tuc to Big Buddha as opposed to a taxi to get the full experience, the long winding drive up the hill makes it feel like you’re traveling through the jungle, you won’t even miss the air-conditioning.
There is a certain tranquility that envelops the area surrounding Big Buddha, far from the noise of traffic, tourists and every day life, this is a quiet space where you can take in the skillful craftsmanship of the 45M Buddha and watch Buddhist monks carrying out blessings and ceremonies. You can even get blessed, at a donation of your choice, should you desire. I recommend bringing lots of water and suncream, simply sitting on a bench that overlooks the coastline and taking it all in. It’s the perfect setting to take a quick minute to be grateful for the fact that you made it to Thailand.
Sidenote: You need to cover your arms and legs to visit Big Buddha, but do not fear if you are lacking in the maxi skirt and cardigan department because shawls, at zero cost, will be provided if you forget!
Walk with elephants
Ahead of visiting Thailand, I wanted to make sure that I made a concerted effort to be as ethical as possible when it came to engaging with native wildlife. Tree Tops Reserve offered the perfect solution for getting to see elephants, which are the national animal of Thailand and can be seen illustrated pretty much everywhere.
While the majority of us know that it is unethical to ride elephants, and that they shouldn’t spend their life chained up for our entertainment, a lot of us (including myself) were unaware that the latest craze of bathing with elephants is equally as harmful to their wellbeing.
Bathing with elephants is just as damaging as riding them because their “Mahout” or master must keep them controlled while a large group of tourists crowd around them throwing buckets of mud and water at them. The Mahout will generally control the elephant via a knife, nail or even a long fingernail under the water. On top of this, it’s extremely unhygienic for humans to bathe with elephants as they will essentially be submerged in excrement.
I think when it comes to spending time with wildlife, we need to imagine if roles were reversed. If you were taking a bath, would you like a group of sweating elephants flaking buckets of dirty water at you? Probably not. It stresses them out no end, they’re majestic creatures and they don’t deserve it.
Moving swiftly on from my rant. Tree Tops Reserve is a fantastic organization that homes elephants that were previously used in the tree logging and tourist carrying/riding industry. The group bought land that had previously been used for elephant riding, and now allows the elephants to roam freely. Tourists who wish to visit can feed the elephants bananas and walk with them, safe in the knowledge that they are well looked after and happy. There is no touching allowed and the elephants are not forced to perform for visitors.
Visiting Tree Tops was a very heart warming, and a bit of an emotional experience. It might cost a little bit more but it pays to know that you are not contributing to an industry that is damaging to native wildlife. There is a very decent vegetarian buffet lunch included in the price, some of the best egg fried rice and spring rolls of my life. Just do it.
Dance at a Full Moon Party
You can’t visit Thailand without a Full Moon Party! I will be totally honest, I was a bit apprehension about visiting Patong as it is noted as the crazier side of town but I was very pleasantly surprised. The event was on a small private beach owned by Paradise Hotel, the perfect setting to let loose and blow off some steam.
I’m so happy that there happened to be an event on during the week we were there. The beach party includes a rotation of international DJs, some play full songs from start to finish, others have these demented remixes, as a 70 year old trapped in this body, I preferred the stuff that was less “unce” vibes, but my point is that there’s something for everyone. The event also included some killer fire-dancing shows and fireworks, fluorescent body-painting and the worst hang-over of your life via the famous buckets which by my calculations have about 3 shots in them. ( 🙂 )
I woke up feeling like I had been at the gym for 17 hours the day before, which means my inner drunk dancing demon persona came out, this feeling of death usually means a ball was had. Good setting, better music and great company made for a fantastic night at a relatively cheap cost. If it happens to be on when you’re in Thailand, make sure to make a night of it!
See The Islands
My favourite day of our long lay-over was seeing the surrounding Phi Phi islands. We visited Khai Nai Island, Maya Bay, Monkey Island, Viking Cave, Phi Phi Don and Bamboo Island.
I was recommended V Marine Tours by a friend who recently visited, and I would recommend them to others, the boat leaves early-early, we’re talking set alarms for 4.30am but it’s well worth it because it means that the sea and islands aren’t polluted by fellow tourists. It also minimises the likelihood of vicious sunburn, unless you’re Irish, then you’re most likely going to be destroyed. That’s life.
The island tour starts with watching the sun rise and breakfast on the beach at Khai Nai Island, an island which just consists of a beach bar, a volleyball net and mini huts that cater for the water sport fanatics. Next up, you will be taken to Maya Bay for some snorkelling. Maya Beach has been closed off to tourists since 2018, due to the fact that the large volume of visitors has and continues to negatively affect the coral reef. When you snorkel for the second time at Phi Le Lagoon, you will notice that the ocean floor is much more lush with “sea fauna and flora” and that there is more diverse variety of sea life, including baby sharks, who according to our guides like the salty shallow water.
Maya beach is still lovely to visit, but seeing how the coral reef can be affected by tourism is an eye-opener for sure. I will say that watching Planet Earth III – Coral Reefs on the way over and then seeing it for myself was a brilliant experience. I really loved getting so close to the sea life and getting to swim in deeper water while also feeling safe as the speedboat was there should we need a break, on top of that there were no worries of being knocked out by Jetskis which do tend to fly around the waters of the smaller local beaches.
Once we were finished with snorkelling and a quick pitstop for sunbathing out on Phi Phi Le beach, we arrived to Bamboo Island for lunch to finish the tour off. We ate at the Natural Resort, as always, we were welcomed by incredibly friendly staff, and vegetarianism was no problem at all. (Sidetone: After a week of being fully vegetarian, I would consider it as a lifelong lifestyle, if spring rolls and egg fried rice existed in the same way at home.)
It only one hour to get back to the marina we had travelled from that morning, even though we felt a million miles away, in the best way. This was a day where there was no wifi and very little need to be on your phone because it was so much fun. When you’re on holiday, I think that’s always the goal.
On the way home, swaddle yourself in towels and put a big hat on. The girls and I have ridiculous looking sunburn to show the consequences of trying to get a tan on the last day. Between the three of us, we have blistered noses, a need to wear socks and sandals and viciously sunburnt arses.
Overall, this was definitely my favourite holiday day because we got up early and packed so much into eight hours. I would recommend V Marine Tours because the snacks were literally on tap and we learned a lot about Phuket, it also offered the opportunity to pretend to be a Bond girls via the wind blowing through the hair as the boat hammered across the sea. 10/10 would recommend.
Treat yourself to a Thai massage
There is nothing quite like a Thai massage. Really, there isn’t. Maybe the Irish are shy or prudish, maybe it’s the Catholic guilt. I found the very thorough breast massage, during what I thought would be a fairly standard back massage, a little awkward. There was no weirdness or hanky panky going on. it was just part of the package. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel mildly to violently uncomfortable throughout this segment, I did go to a convent, it can’t be helped, however, how I felt after the treatment more than made up for four minutes of internal squirming and my massage therapist “Glitzy” was so funny and sassy that I spent the two hours laughing, mostly at the way she scoffed at the state of my nails and eyebrows and anything else she could roast.
This is probably the part I didn’t research so much but taking a good look into the beauty parlour should give you enough insight into whether or not you will receive good quality treatments. A smaller quieter beauty parlour that was located around the corner from the great experience we had at the end of the trip saw one of the girls get low-key mounted, extensively elbowed in the forehead and swayed from side to side while sitting in a sort of lotus position between the massage therapist’s legs. You love to see it.
During the week, I got a back (and boob) massage, a facial and a foot massage, and we’re looking at about 3 hours of bliss and 36 euro in total for those treatments. If your massage therapist does a good job, give them a tip! It’s obvious that they work really hard and are great at what they do. My only regret is not starting each day with a cucumber cooling mask.