Getting to Know Phuket, Part 2: Food, Shopping, Beaches

This is Part 2 of a series of posts about my travel in Phuket.

Food

Coconut juice in husk, Phuket

To me, coconut = sunshine

I am not a very adventurous traveler, especially when it comes to food. I have allergies to shrimp, crab, and lobster — and if you know Asian cuisine you know shrimp or shrimp products are used liberally. Thankfully, with Thai cuisine I can always ask for a vegetarian option.

The flavors aren’t very alien to me either, as we use plenty of fish sauce in Filipino cooking and also have Thai restaurants in Manila. There’s still something special about eating a particular cuisine in its place of origin, though — even if that place is very tourist-y.

Thai chicken noodles at Layan Beach, Phuket

Thai chicken noodles

I’ve also been largely successful in getting food with a spice level I can handle, but that’s probably because Phuket attracts such a wide variety of travelers that the restaurants understand not all palates can handle a barenaked chili.

On my first visit to Phuket, I had dinner in a beachside restaurant that had an eclectic menu of Italian, French, and Thai dishes. I ordered a dish made of some ground chicken and rice. I asked the cook to make it not spicy. He said, “No spicy” — and then proceeded to serve me a dish of chopped chilies with the ground chicken layered over them.

I gave him a shit-eating grin, stirred the chicken and chilies into the rice, and ate everything. Surprisingly, it didn’t burn my tongue and insides like I thought it would.

My friend Angelica introduced me to the wonder of nam kang sai, Thai flavored ice. It’s like a mash-up of halo-halo and snow cones: jelly, beans, and flavored syrup. It’s a fun dish especially when hot and humid out (which in Phuket nearly always is the case).

roadside stall, Phuket

ordering nam kang sai at a roadside stall

Thai are also accustomed to eating heavy fatty foods in the early morning, which is the best time to buy gai tod: Thai fried chicken. This is usually paired with sticky pandan-flavored rice cooked in banana leaves. It’s delicious, cheap, and I could probably survive on just this for a couple of days.

fried chicken roadside stall, Phuket

a popular fried chicken roadside stall in the Cherngtalay area

With so many expats who call Phuket home, of course there are going to be some Western-style restaurants and cafes (with the corresponding tourist prices). Bake near the Laguna area played host to a few brunches and lunches I had with my sporty friends. Angelica says the coffee at Cafe Waya in the Boat Avenue complex is much better.

(One thing I won’t do in Phuket is go to a Starbucks or a McDonald’s though!)

Bake at Laguna Phuket

Bake at Laguna Phuket

Tinlay Place on Lagoon Road is home to a few well-known hangouts, such as the upscale Siam Supper Club where I once blew two days’ food budget while dining and drinking with friends. (I think I spent the next few days scarfing the hotel’s buffet breakfast until it closed, then having instant noodles for lunch and dinner. Huhu.)

Peppers Sports Bar also in the same complex is decidedly more laid back. If you’re craving for some good English pub food eaten in the company of some friendly regulars, this is the place to go. When I dropped in, it was Quiz Night and I realized just how bad I am at trivia. 😉

Peppers Sports Bar, Phuket

Peppers Sports Bar

Peppers Sports Bar, Phuket

I can’t remember what this dish was called!

On subsequent visits to Phuket I was able to stay at friends’ houses and had the opportunity to cook my own meals instead of dining out all the time. If you’ve got the street smarts you could probably pinch a few more pennies by buying ingredients at the wet markets — but language is a huge barrier (I can’t read Thai!). I’ve always chickened out and just do groceries at one of the big Tesco Lotus supercenters. Most times I just buy dressed chicken, soy sauce, vinegar, and rice and make Filipino adobo that lasts me a few days stored in the fridge and reheated at meal times.

Adobo

Adobo: probably the only food I can cook without looking at a recipe

Shopping

Price-wise, goods in Phuket can be twice as expensive as in Bangkok so I’ve never actually gone shopping for anything much here. I was however introduced to Lemongrass House, a line of locally-produced essential oils, home scents and body care products. They are due to open in the Philippines, but meanwhile whenever I’m in Phuket I make sure to stock up at the Lemongrass House main headquarters.

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spacious, naturally air-cooled interiors at Lemongrass House

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Beach

There are so many beaches on Phuket’s western side.

I went once or twice to Surin Beach back when Catch Beach Club was still there before the military ordered all permanent structures on the sand demolished. When it comes to beach hopping by my lonesome I stick to what I know. I went once to this “Banana Beach” some expats were raving about. You park on the side of the road just after Trisara Resort and make a trek down the hillside to this little spit of sand surrounded by rocks. I’m not sure what the appeal was aside from it being completely free of tourists. I stayed for a little bit to take pictures, but what you don’t see in these photos are a huge number of plastic bottles washed ashore.

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Banana Beach” near Trisara Phuket

Phuket

Since I have been mostly based in the Laguna area, this meant usually lazing about on Bangtao Beach, one of Phuket’s longest beaches at six kilometers long. The first time I was in Phuket, I walked from my hotel the Best Western Bangtao (formerly Frangipani) all the way past Xana Beach Club and beyond. It took me three hours out and back — no wonder I was sunburnt!

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one of the many shrines that dot Bangtao Beach

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looking pretty deserted, and that’s fine with me

There’s a quieter beach on the northern part of Bangtao, called Layan Beach. This is where Nikki Beach Club was situated for about a year and a half before it was suddenly shuttered, but I hear it’ll reopen under a new name and management. Just beside it is Layan Beach Restaurant, where I always order a nice chicken Pad Thai and then get an oil and Tiger balm massage on the beachfront.

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Layan Beach

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Nikki Beach on the left, Layan Beach Restaurant on the right. The whole left side has now been torn up.

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my view from Layan Beach’s deck chairs behind the tree line

All along the shore just behind the tree line there are restaurants and bars that offer food, drink, and beach chairs and umbrellas for rent. I remember when Reggae Bar had an actual hut just under the trees with tables and chairs (in 2013) — the beachfront was certainly hopping before the military takeover. Now, it’s very quiet and laid back.

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Reggae Bar, Bangtao Beach, Phuket

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Some days you see couples taking prenup photos. Other days you see this.

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flotsam, Bangtao Beach, Phuket

I always order a fresh fruit shake when I’m on the beach. Yum! Then I throw my beach blanket on the sand, lie back, and listen to the waves smashing against the shore.

I know in the past I’ve sung the praises of Boracay Beach in the Philippines, but lately it’s gotten too crowded with establishments built right on the sand not even 10 meters away from where the waves break. You can’t go an hour without someone hawking their “parasailing, banana boat, flying fish” and there’s entirely too much loud music along the stretch.

(I think I’ve gotten old and mellow, but that’s just the way it is. There may be some partying going on in Patong, but that’s not my scene anymore.)

Now that I’ve experienced the pleasure of a long quiet stretch of sand and sea with no one to bother me, I can’t imagine a beach holiday any other way.

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baking under the sun trying to even my tanlines

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Phuket

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this sunset was mine, all mine

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