From Railay Beach, we took a long tail boat and a minivan (500 baht/person) to get back to Phuket. There are several ways to get from one province to another here. The most popular here is a ferry (650 baht/ transport on Phuket included), you can also consider a speed boat (1400 baht) and, finally, a minivan (we’ll include more information about the minivans in the article about getting around Thailand). After spending a bit over 4 hours in a journey, we arrived to Karon Beach, one of the most popular tourist cities on Phuket.
Getting to Karon
For our 3-day stay on Phuket, we chose this place as it is situated between the two others, well-known destinations and is a good departure point for a trekking to The Big Buddha.
The town itself isn’t either a worth seeing cultural spot or a place of particular beauty. It’s just yet another typically tourist resort, situated around the over 2 km sandy beach, loved by the tourists. It offers the entire set of facilities for a family holiday or can serve as a departure point to other, more interesting places. The cheapest and most flexible way is to get to the places of your interest by yourself, but if, for some reason, you prefer the organized tours, there are plenty of possibilities here.
When it comes to gastronomy, you can find most kinds of food, local and international in Karon. The variety of restaurants, small bars, and little spots is amazing and the prices vary depending on your choice. In average, Karon is not overly expensive. You can get Thai pancakes from 40 baht, shakes for around 50, fried ice-cream for 80, Thai chicken dishes in the restaurants (not next to the beach though) for around 100-120, a pizza- 200-220, a wide variety of seafood, which is generally slightly more expensive.
Karon has a wide variety of accommodations to offer. From shared dormitories in hostels, to very luxurious resorts such as Hilton or Novotel. Yet, contrarily the Phi Phi Don, where we would definitely discourage you from sleeping in them (unless you are a true party lover and not getting any sleep doesn’t scare you), here hostels can be situated in a quiet and comfortable neighborhood, not far away from the beach, but secluded enough to guaranftee a good quality of sleep.
We slept in a private room in Karon Living Room Hostel, which is situated around 700 meters from the center, right on the main street. We would definitely recommend this place, as the rooms are spacious, the facilities are very good, Wi-Fi quality as well, breakfasts are tasty and, most importantly, the personnel is charming and helpful.
Karon – the beach!
It’s impossible to talk about Karon without mentioning the city’s most obvious advantage- the beach! Karon beach is over 2 km long, wide and definitely not overwhelmingly crowded. Quite honestly, it’s also not particularly charming or beautiful- just kilometers of sand, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it will definitely fulfill your expectations. Unlike some other beaches, it is 100% sandy with a comfortable way to get to the water. It’s also not as shallow as we got used to here in Thailand, which makes it comfortable to swim, but probably not that desirable for families with small kids.
However, there are 2 major WARNINGS, as far as the Karon beach is concerned that absolutely need to be mentioned here. The first being the jellyfish. They are absolutely everywhere and in a large amount. Although, according to the locals, not particularly dangerous, getting burnt isn’t probably the experience you’re looking for so be careful! They can also be found very frequently on the beach, as the tides throw them out of water. So be careful also when you walk barefoot right next to the water line.
The second and far more important issue in Karon are the rip currents. They are the reason, for which Karon is considered one of the most, if not the most, dangerous beaches in Thailand. The number of casualties is so big that the statistics are no longer available, not to scare away the tourists. The rip currents are generally more characteristic for the wet season, however, they were also present and even visible now, in February. Numerous warning signs are located along the beach and you should definitely take them seriously. Most importantly, swim here in the safe and guarded areas, situated between the yellow and red „swim here” flags. I know you can be an excellent swimmer, but so were many others and the power of nature can still be overwhelming!
The Big Buddha trekking
The next morning after our arrival, we went for a trekking to the Big Buddha, which is situated on the 400 meters hill over the south-west coast of Phuket. The path starts between Karon and Kata, right from the main street. The entire way takes around 5 km and is quite a mild and continuous way up, in the first half, in a jungle. Later, the trekking path joins the major road, so it’s not that pleasant any more.
If you decide to do it, it would be a very good idea to start really early, as it gets very hot here and going up in full sun (especially the last parts) can prove to be quite exhausting. But, overall, we really enjoyed the walk. After around 70 minutes, we made it to the top of the hill and entered the terrain of the Big Buddha.
Being an extremely touristic spot, there are numerous shops around the statue. However, to my surprise, the prices of snacks and beverages are much cheaper than we would expect from such a place.
The entrance to the Big Buddha itself is free. The statue is 45 meters tall and is extraordinarily beautiful. To get to it, you take stairs that are not as tall as I thought they would be. These stairs are also probably the best spot to take a photo, but, depending on your luck and the hour you get there, they can be pretty crowded.
Around the Big Buddha, there are numerous, smaller statues that are incredibly charming as well. You can find the Buddha for each day of the week, as well as many places when you can kneel down, lit the incense stick and make a little prayer yourself. The place is also marked by the large amount of the memory leaves, which cost you like a 100 baht and the income from them goes to charity.
Yet another very touching experience is being blessed by a monk. You can take your shoes of and go on your knees and get this spiritual experience. Around that places you can get a lot of souvenirs, more expensive than in the city, yet the income from them goes to the charity, therefore, we did buy one of the elephant statues there. Plus it was really nice 😉
The elephants’ abuse!
Unfortunately, there’s one place on the way that spoiled my joy and enthusiasm. When we were checking the route, we saw that there’s something called the Elephant Sanctuary along the way. Sanctuary my ass… The first thing we saw, when we got there was a baby elephant, chained so tightly, that he wasn’t even able to make a single step! He was crying so hard that it actually ripped my soul.
The adult, or just older elephants, weren’t much better. Dressed in the extremely heavy saddles, in the full sun, they were driving the tourist continuously in the excruciating heat, without even a pause for water. Their state was also horrible. The deep wounds visible on each and every elephants should remind the people the cost of their „adventure”. The Thais got really angry with us, as we started to document the cruelty, conditions and chains! Well, obviously he wasn’t happy, but trust me we weren’t either…
PLEASE, PLEASE DON’T SUPPRT THIS AWFUL PROCEDURE! I understand that you are in Thailand and wish to see these wonderful animals, but DO SOME RESEARCH! There are some true shelters and orphanages around Thailand, where you can enjoy the company of these majestic creatures without literally harming them! It’s really not that hard!
Just after our Big Buddha trip, we headed to see Kata Beach, as we were not so far away and wanted to have a look on the tourist resorts around. Kata is situated around a kilometer away from the border of Karon. Kata is another tourist town with a lovey beach and a huge tourist base. It is, however, more expensive than Karon and, in our opinion, slightly nicer. The beach itself is smaller, but also very nice and not too crowded. The city is organized a bit differently than Karon. In the latter, there is a vast commercial street right next to beach, where you can find everything, from clothing to food shops and expensive restaurant. In Kata, the most expensive resorts are situated right next to the seaside, so it appears calmer. Of course, you can buy some street food, beverages, ice-cream etc., but the overall impression is different.
Beware of the Patong Beach!
On our last day in Phuket, we decided to make a trip to the infamous Patong that everyone here brags so much about. When you come to Thailand, you have probably heard, or at least should have, about the enormous entertainment sector that is extremely popular here. It covers everything from bars and regular parties to prostitution and human trafficking issues. Although the places most famous for that phenomena are located more in the north of the country (Pattaya or Bangkok), people also travel to Patong to get similar experience.
Patong beach was situated only 5 km from Karon and we decided to take a walk, which in the full heat of the day can be more exhausting that the distance might suggest. Konrad is not as fit and well prepared for such conditions as I am, so he suffered severely, especially on the parts up the hill. The long tail boat from Karon to Patong is around 400 baht and the price for the taxi is pretty much the same, so you can save yourself the trouble.
Immediately after entering the city, we noticed that Patong is different. First of all, it is a bigger city, with the parts inhabited also by the Thais. Second, and most importantly, the atmosphere here is completely different and it is felt right from the moment you enter the city.
But first things first, the city is extremely oriented on the western tourism. You have plenty of places like McDonalds (I counted 4, and we really spent there like an hour), Burger Kings, Starbucks (again- at least 4). I’m not saying this is wrong in itself, it just shows that the clients that arrive here seek for something else than Thai culture experience. When we got to the beach, it was so crowded and noisy that we resigned even from cooling down here. I’m sorry to admit that but I’m undoubtedly getting older, as I get tired by merely looking at such things 😉 But as far as the quality of the beach is concerned, it is still a wide sandy one with a nice view, if you can handle the overwhelming atmosphere around. Plus, it’s incredibly dirty as well.
From the beach, we went to see the town and the walking street, which we thought won’t be that bad during the day. I guess Patong is a town that never sleeps. The bars were open in the middle of the day as well, just the clients there were “slightly” different. Getting near the district with bars, pubs and night life is generally announced by the awful smell all around. Ok, I know that in Asia it’s really not that uncommon, but in other places you had like 50 meters of odor and that was it. Here, we had the impression that it was stinking all the time. And the amount of bars and pubs!
We got there in the around noon, so it was quiet and kind of empty, but it left us with absolutely no doubts what’s going on here in the evenings! At first we seriously hoped that maybe it’s just a place for western people to party like the Phi Phi Don, but we soon noticed young Thai girls and women in the bars, the poles and I felt I had to get the hell out of there ASAP.
No judging here, if that’s what you’re looking for in Thailand, you’ll definitely find it here in Patong. One thing we could not understand: we saw a couple of families with small children here and lots of couples. What the hell are they doing here?
After a quick walk around, we went back to Karon, feeling lucky that we accidently didn’t end up staying in Patong (honestly, it was the first place we found accommodation in Thailand, but resigned from it immediately after doing some basic research).
Our stay on Phuket was short, but enough to see what we wanted here and to realize that we probably won’t be coming here anymore, as this is not exactly the kind of experience we’re looking for while traveling. But it was worth seeing, and if you come for more sedentary holiday, you come with family, or just don’t want to move around, it can definitely be a place for you!
For quite valuable information about catering, accommodation and entertainment on Phuket check:
They are popular around here and can provide you with a good starting point for your journey.