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This past week has been a busy, and kind of disorienting, one. Immediately after helping host Thanksgiving for 50 people (complete with one of the only turkeys found in Thailand), I left Chiang Mai and spent the weekend high in the hills of Chiang Rai in a hill tribe village that grows the coffee beans brewed at one of my favorite cafes in Chiang Mai, Akha Ama Coffee (more on that coming soon).
After spending a few days in the crisp mountain air, sleeping on a mat on the floor and using a squat toilet, I flew down to tropical Phuket to stay at the 5-star Millennium Resort Patong Phuket hotel located in the island’s busiest, and most infamous, area.
From gathering a large group of foreign travelers and expats, to being isolated in the rustic hills, to being at luxury hotel on Thailand biggest and most-visited island, I feel like I’ve seen the whole range of what the country has to offer.
There’s always more to discover, however, which is one of the reasons I went down to Phuket. If you’ve been following along on Instagram or Facebook, you’d see that I spent my first trip to the island exploring some local places for Millennium Hotels and Resorts Asia to pin on their Local’s City Map. Staying at the Millennium Resort Patong Phuket was of course nice – the giant hotel was in the center of all the action, just a few minutes walk from Bangla Walking Street and Patong Beach, with a large swimming pool, chic Escentika Spa where I enjoyed an excellent Thai massage, and some of the most friendly and welcoming staff I’ve ever met – but I left the area to go see what else the island had to offer.
With just two days, I didn’t cover as much ground as I was hoping – I had completely underestimated just how big Phuket is and how expensive transportation is around the island – but did get to a few spots that seemed worlds away from the craziness and nightlife that may initially come to mind when you think of Phuket.
First up was Phuket’s Old Town which can only be described as completely charming. With streets lined with colorful and crumbling Sino-Portuguese style shophouses and a distinct Chinese influence, it reminded me of Hoi An in Vietnam or Georgetown in Penang. Along with both of those towns, here there were also a surprising amount of unique cafes, galleries, restaurants, guesthouses and shops.
You could easily spend an afternoon here doing a cafe crawl. Bookhemian, a cafe / bookshop / gallery and cinema space, was one of the first places I stopped into and would fit in perfectly with Chiang Mai’s creative cafe and art scene.
The space was cool, the staff was young and charming, and the coffee was strong.
For dinner, Tu Kab Khao, is the way to go. Situated in a 120-year-old building the charming (there’s that word again) restaurant recently opened this past summer and serves expertly prepared traditional southern Thai dishes in style along with custom cocktails.
My meal here – spicy pomelo salad with shrimp, creamy jackfruit curry, and a rose lychee cocktail made with Tanqueray gin, mint leaves, burnt cinnamon and plenty of fresh plump lychees, was one of the best upscale Thai meals I’ve had in a while. (And by upscale, I mean the entire meal cost me about $18 USD with tip…)
On my second day, I hired a driver and went to a couple of the island’s most important sights – the Big Buddha and Wat Chalong.
Still under construction, the Big Buddha is a relatively new addition to Phuket’s skyline but has quickly become one of the most recognizable points in the city. Situated high on a hill with views looking over the entire island, the Phra Puttamingmongkol Akenakkiri Buddha sits 45 meters high and is free to visit for both Thai nationals and foreign visitors.
The largest and most significant temple on the island, Wat Chalong is located in the same area as the Big Buddha and worth a stop if you want to combine the two and enjoy temples. While the main temple building is pretty, it’s really the elaborate three-story chedi that stands out. The decorative building is filled with buddha statues and artwork and supposedly houses a fragment of Buddha’s bone on the top level. You can walk up for views of the complex.
It’s places like these that are pinned to The Local’s City Map which helps travelers get unique ideas about where to go, what to do and where to eat in places including Phuket, Singapore, Malaysia, Jakarta and Manila, and encourages locals in those destinations to share their favorite spots.
Between now and the end of the year, locals can pin their favorite places here for dining, shopping, nightlife, the arts, sights and landmarks to the map to receive 25 – 35% discounts on room rates from Millennium Hotels and Resorts Asia. Hurry!
Note: I was a guest of Millennium Hotels and Resorts Asia during my stay in Phuket to check out the island and use The Local’s City Map but all opinions are my own. I chose where I went and what I did…and will definitely be going back to Tu Kab Khao my next time on the island!