While the rand might prevent many South Africans from travelling to places where the exchange rate is a killer, it has opened up South East Asia as a favourite travel destination.
For the vast majority of South Africans, their first overseas experience will be spent in Thailand and more than likely in Phuket. There is nothing more appealing than an idyllic island for the ultimate getaway, after all.
I’ve had the fortune of calling Phuket home for several months. It’s been amazing living that beach bum life. I’ve lived in many places and can honestly say I’ve never encountered this many South Africans abroad in my travelling life. If Australia is the unofficial “second South Africa”, then Phuket is definitely a close third.
When Thai locals can string Afrikaans phrases together, you know they have been exposed to many of our people. The one thing I have noticed is that most who visit Phuket do it all wrong. Many Instagram feeds are dominated with images of the popular, touristic Patong beach and nearby island of Phi Phi (a hot spot for those looking to party), but Phuket has so much more to offer.
It’s not about drunken nights on Bangla Road and ping pong shows. It certainly isn’t about wrestling fellow tourists for overrun trips to James Bond island or Maya Bay either.
If you plan on visiting Phuket, here is my advice: Spend a night or two at most in Patong and Bangla Road. Then, for your own sanity, leave that manic place. Visit Kata beach, Karon beach or Panwa for a more authentic Thai experience.
If it’s dancing you’re after, then venture to Phuket Town in the evening. Take in the cool vibes and charm of the old town and eat local food that isn’t priced solely for tourists. Have a relaxed tipple at any of the cool and hip establishments in Phuket Town. Then make your way to Timber Hut, a live music venue that has been in existence for 27 glorious years.
If there is something Thai people know how to pull off, it’s a good market. There are various options from the Sunday market in Phuket Town to a night-time container market and a floating market. All are great options for delicious food and various trinkets.
If you want to get around efficiently, then rent a scooter. It will save you from having to negotiate with the countless tuk-tuk drivers that come out of the woodwork like blood lusty zombies in tourist areas.
This is Thailand and for the ever-scared South African I can guarantee it really is fine to walk around at night.
One of the highlights of living in Phuket is lazily cruising down the coast and taking in the beauty of the coastline. Drive all the way to Prom Thep Cape and get some epic shots. Visit the Big Buddha for a panoramic view of the island.
Show your culturally sensitive side by steering clear of riding elephants or visiting drugged out tigers.
And don’t make the common mistake of equating Patong, the tourist capital of Phuket, to the entire island.