Ah, the freedom of the open roads. It beckons to you to try explore places that you’d normally not be able to – since access is limited if you are not having your own mode of transport. So it is the same in Phuket where we had visited quite a few times (due to our timeshare) but yet know so little about. Aside from the shows (eg Phantasea) or the islands (eg Phi Phi), we asked ourselves how much have we seen of this island?
Renting a car in Phuket is such a breeze we found out. Call them up (the many rental companies) and they will deliver the vehicle of your choice to you hotel. The international chains are available but as usual they charge by blocks of a week. The smaller local companies can hire them out on a day rated basis and are thus more flexible.
We hired with Andaman Car rentals for a period of 4½ days. The total cost is 6,000 baht and it includes the basic insurance. The guy who handed over the car told us that in the event that the car is wrecked, the maximum payout we need to make was 5,000 baht. Hmm…not sure if this is for real.
Ok, for the first day we weren’t terribly ambitious. We read the pro and against crowd on Phuket town and decided perhaps we should check it out ourselves.
Take rental car. Drive towards Phuket town, enroute top for lunch at Leam Hin. Enjoy the town from Rang Hill.
|Picked up the rental and after an orientation with the mobile data on the SIM card we bought, we commenced on the ~15km drive towards the eastern side of the island. We’re on the way to Leam Hin seafood restaurant, said to be rather popular with locals because it is rather affordable.
Across the water from the restaurant is Coconut island. To get there, you can take the boat from the pier that runs parallel to the restaurant. Wow, those that book resorts on that island are really isolated…
Just 10 minutes away would be Phuket town. Today’s Sunday, so traffic was a little heavier than usual. But because it’s raining, we found it easy to get a spot to park right along Thalang road.
|The old town area that is Chinatown is home to rows of shophouses that one would easily identify for those coming from Singapore or Malaysia. Many were businesses of all kinds – you can see the one that retails “Tingkat” tins. That one was closed, perhaps due to the night market that was due to open soon! The Thai Hwa museum is a ticketed attraction and did not appeal to us. It showcases the lives of the migrant Chinese that “wondered” to Phuket seeking mining and commercial wealth in the 1800s. We saw traces of Peranakan type influence too.|
|The iconic pictures of Chinatown are definitely its shop-house facades. The colorfully painted and decorated doorways and windows stands out especially on a grey day we had today. Good for a walk all along Thalang street but then for us it was time to move on. We drove up to Khao Rang hill, where we looked over all of Phuket town and the bay area.|
|↑ The cat was right in front of the China Inn, oblivious to all of us.
From Rang hill, one can view the panorama of Phuket town and the bay. Sure on a clearer day it would be even better but for us the highlights of coming to Rang Hill is to have a meal or just drinks at Thung Kha café. To get there you need to descend a flight of red stairs. It affords a mini overview of the town but is actually better known for its food. This time we just had coffee/tea and a dessert of sticky rice with durian! The entrance to the café is easy to miss, so look out for it signage!
|Swings on really old trees on Rang Hill||We stopped at premium mall and it was a disappointment||For us at least since it did not have much in the way of brands. Nonetheless we have touched it and know what’s there. Not recommended to spend time here unless you are looking for sporting goods.|
The day’s drive was easy, since it was mostly on the main routes and city. Traffic can get bumper to bumper but it was at least still moving. We stopped at a Tesco Lotus mall on route 402, which facilitated us to stock up on supplies of mineral water, snacks, fruits etc. This was our drive route:
Finally got to see what Amanpuri looked like! Made a mad dash to Sarasin bridge but it was very rainy. Visit Turtle village where the Anantara and Marriot resorts are.
|Today we drove towards Surin beach with the intent to just take a look at the Amanpuri. Opened in 1988, it overlooks the beach, which today was pounded relentlessly by the sea. To access the resort, one needs to be a guest. For some reason they allowed us to make a lunch reservation at the last minute. Since it is Suan’s birthday, we figured why not celebrate it with a nice meal in a posh resort!
The lunch is definitely expensive (which resort is not?), and we both chose fish for our meal. Overall quality is good but definitely not a place to dine often! Not too many guests since it is the low season. Cute thing was – the cars they use to ferry guests around do not have doors!Then it was off on a ~40km drive northwards to Sarasin bridge that connects Phuket with Phang-nga. Because it was still raining, we did not walk the pedestrian bridge at Sarasin. But we did find a market near it that sold a lot of Pineapples! Some for just Baht20 for three of the fruits! If you want, you can get one for just Baht10…
|Nearby in Mai Khao is the Marriot and Anantara resorts. They have a similar “village” of shopping – called Turtle village. There is a Jim Thompson here too! Not at all bad since it was quite lively with people|
|and it had restaurants such as Swensen’s and Thai Express. There was even a coffee club! If it’s one thing that annoyed us, it must be the constant attention that one gets from sales folks hawking timeshares. Like their cousins in Las Vegas, they dangle “free” stuff in return for your agreement to attend a 90 minute pressure sales session…it appears that so many hotel chains are jumping on the bandwagon!|
We made a pit stop at Lady pie café on the way back to buy some – well pie – today we had the chicken and mushroom one. Micro-waved back in the apartment, it tasted quite nice (for Baht110). Dinner today was at the Sunset restaurant. This one does not have complimentary pickup/return service and for that reason alone we wanted to try it out.
Our drive today took us from central to all the way to the north:
Skies cleared today. On we pressed to the cape view points of southern Phuket. Managed to drive up and see the big Buddha too!
|While it was not considered and early start, we still found local folks having breakfast, going to the temple etc. The drive was via route 402 to the south and then onto 4022/4021 to reach the southernmost tip of Phuket. The actual Promthep cape is further away but we were at Phra Prom to view the magnificent coastline. There is a shrine on top of the lookout point, where devotees have donated money to build a circular rank of elephants.|
|As a free stopping point, it was natural to find loads of tourists being disgorged from buses to soak in the views. We did the usual photo clicks and then proceeded for lunch. Read here (coming soon) about our culinary adventures.
We continued our drive and got sidetracked when we saw someone attempting to para-glide down the sides of the coast. This is windmill point and aside from serving as a lookout, it was also where enthusiasts come to soar with the wind.
|After enjoying the views we drove on to Karon view point. To be honest it was not what we expected given all the hype that we read about on the web. Perhaps it was the mistiness from the haze…For the view was shrouded such that it was not that impressive. Maybe if we come on another after the rain drenched land is dried it might be better!
And we did not let that stop us from making an impromptu decision, to drive to the big Buddha.
|Located on a mountaintop, it was only possible to access from the Patak Villa side. Still in a state of construction though. The panorama could have been better without the haziness. We made the return journey via Patong and Surin beaches before arriving back to our resort for a rest, heading out to dinner at 6pm.|
With the skies cleared finally, the crowds are coming out! The roads were noticeably busier.
Our objectives were the view points from the various capes on the southern end of the island. These are all free to access, so best to explore on your own rather than with a day tour! In a matter of 6 hours we covered most if not all of the coastal capes on the southwestern side of the island with time to spare!
The map of our drive today:
Another day of Cape catching. We got back to Phuket town again because it’s ‘drier’ and bought snacks. Today we raced to Sarasin bridge again and managed to walk it!
|Today we are headed to yet another tip of Phuket – Cape Panwa. Along the way, we saw this guy delivering bananas… Anyway it took us a lot of effort to finally locate the lookout point. It was none other than at the Phuket aquarium! Yes, all the driving and we were there… Hazy but the views remained quite scenic with idled boats.
The cape appears to be on the southernmost point of the island and near the port. We think we saw cruise passengers walking along the roads as their ship stops here for a couple of hours or half day. Think about. From this point, it is quite a distance and traffic to get to Phuket town or the other sights. We really wonder what day tours are offered by the cruise ships when they dock here…
|But then it was time to head back for lunch at Rang hill. This time, we were determined to have lunch at Thung Kha.|
|Because today is a fine day we headed back to Thalang street in Phuket town. The original aim was to buy some snacks to bring home, but we concluded that there wasn’t anything special about the produce here that we could not find back home.
||The consolation was that we had a lot more photo opportunities. Novelty for western tourists but this is not special for us!||After Chinatown and Tesco, we made a mad dash towards Sarasin bridge. This time we made the stop at the market just after the bridge. We can now say that there is evidence that pineapples only sell for baht10 per fruit! And there are many stalls here!|
|The Sarasin bridge links Phuket with Phang Nga just like the road bridge except it’s an ornamental pedestrian bridge. You’d think why did we make it back here for? There is a true tragic love story for two young lovers jumped off in 1973 because their parents refused to allow their romance to be consummated with marriage. The story had been turned into Thai movies, written and rewritten since then.||Today Thais come here because of this story. Perhaps you might want to do so too!||Tourists visiting the bridge are served by a small market. From 4pm it starts to bustle as local folks and tourists alike begin to converge to the area for a walk on the bridge. It’s a lovely walk with lovely views of the straits.|
|Now we have always read about the Cherng Talay||market. So today we actually walked in it.||Located just a little further down from the Sunset restaurant along the road of the same name. Not too exciting and wasn’t sure if we would dine there – well technically you can only takeaway since there is no seating.|
Today’s drive affirms that Phuket is small. At 576km², it is smaller than Singapore by approximately 20%. This meant that traversing the length of the island is equivalent to driving from Jurong to Changi in Singapore. It took us around 50+ minutes including traffic.
Because Phuket has a more mountainous core, driving across the island east-west is a little more tricky. Just like the reservoirs in the central catchment in Singapore, to cut across one need to “skirt” around these mountains. That took probably 35-40 minutes – Patong to Phuket town.
Here’s how we made the drive today:
Morning drive along the coast led to a small gem. We spent the balance of our time at Central Festival walking the mall! Aargh! Returned the car and back to a state of immobility.
|We wanted to drive along the Patong beachfront today. But just as we got out of the Surin area we saw this lookout point – Laem Singh beach viewpoint.||The sun’s out and day’s beautiful. What else could we do but to stop for a photo session for our model?
We actually drove right up to Patong. But the beachfront is now a one-way street, so we did not want to spend time circling the town just for this idle drive.
|It’ a big mall…|
|So it was off to Central Festival mall at the junction of routes 402/4020! The mall is home to a large number of chain boutiques. The bakery is really affordable and we can testify its quality.|
|Like Chiang Mai, you have to purchase coupons for the food court. Only in this case it’s prepaid cards rather than the paper coupons. Food prices are modest though the noodles (60 baht for the chicken broth noodle) have servings that match the price! After days of eating at restaurants, it’s time to scale down!
For those who want more bang for their baht, make your way to the equivalent of ‘economic’ rice stall where the four items with rice cost just 70 baht! Forget about coffee – it’s all instant powdered kind though for 20 baht. Cannot be compared with kopi-c back home!
Central festival is located on the junction of routes 402 and 4020:
Some observation about refueling.
After topping up petrol at a few different stations, we realize that the prices do vary between 24+ baht/liter to 26+ baht. Not that it appears that significant, but it is almost an 8% spread! We did take note that there are small kiosks where folks sell bottles of petrol – most likely to scooters and moped drivers. It was something like 35 baht per bottle. Not sure what volume is in one bottle but it did not appear to be a lot.
Well it has been fun.
For those whose sole aim is to gain a tan by the beach, hiring a car for self drive would probably be a waste. But for the explorers out there, even if you do not intend to hire a whole week’s worth of car, it would still be an excellent option for a day or two.
This journalog focused on the road tripping only. Read more about our travel stories about Thailand here. Find out what we ate on this journey and our previous sojourns to the islands in the Andaman sea.