Local tips can add to your holiday joy, even if you’re a seasoned traveller, including little things you knew already but had forgotten. Fresh from the shores of the Andaman Sea in Phuket, here’s a collection of some favourite tips from the last trip.
- Always travel with someone who likes maps, especially when maps are not your friend. Good to get some orientation and idea of distances to plan your days and before you set off in taxis.
- Taxis and tuk tuks are the choices to get around town. Barter hard with a smile. Do some investigations first to get a ballpark and work from there, for example, prices hotel foyers prices give you a starting point to come down from. You can even hire a driver or a boat for the day and split the cost between friends.
- Get a metred taxi from the airport (check it’s on when you get in). We paid 700 THB into Phuket, were quoted 1100THB on the way back by the hotel desk service, and agreed 850 TBT on the street ourselves by being insistent, so prices vary.
- When you agree a price, specify ‘no stops’ or you might find yourself being dragged around their friend’s shop on the way.
- Tuk tuks in Phuket are sadly not of the fun three-wheeled variety found elsewhere in Thailand, and they’re also more expensive. If you’re getting a tuk tuk home and you know you’re being charged an inflated rate but they won’t budge (any of them!, because they don’t like having to take you up that hill to your hotel), pick one with pimping lights and pumping music. Makes you feel like you got your money’s worth, and your fellow passengers will sing.
- Bartering is expected at the markets but not in shopping centres and restaurants. Barter with good humour and manners to get you further. If you’re allowed to walk away without a fight, you’re at their limit. Don’t forget, the final dollar you save will probably be way more important to the Thai seller than to you.
- Street stalls and markets in Phuket and other areas of Thailand are full of life and hustle and bustle and give credence to the Thai catch cry of ‘same same’. If you want something a bit different, head to the quieter areas off the beaten track, like old Phuket Town or even some of the larger shopping centres. Old Phuket Town has some wonderful historic streets dotted with unique shops and galleries, where the speed slows down tenfold and the quality and variety goes up.
- Try some street food – hot and fresh. Pad Thai cooked right in front of you is not to be missed and is one of the safest ways to eat.
- Remember that just about everything in Thailand comes with chilli, occasionally near deadly quantities, so ask for it to be tempered to your taste buds if you don’t want to lose your lips.
- Always eat the pineapple. It’s holiday pineapple. A special kind of pineapple. Delicious. It also has ‘medicinal’ properties to overcome other ‘issues’ you may have when suddenly adjusting to a different diet. Lots of fruit! Say no more.
- Fresh croissants at brekkie are a good thing, but Thai humidity makes them soggy within seconds. If there’s a conveyor belt type toaster, whack them through to return them to their former crisp glory. Also transforms pancakes from rubbery to hot and delicious within seconds. Winning.
- No matter how many times I try desserts in Asia, even at the poshest of establishments, I am underwhelmed. They’re all about flummery, gelatinous textures and super sweet flavours. But the local ice creams are pretty fab, and dirt cheap. If you’re buying from the street-side box fridges, forget the standard magnum type things and hit the local brands instead. Delicious!
- Try a street stall pancake for dessert on the run. There’s a bit of a fixation on banana flavoured ones, but the simple lemon and sugar is a classic. Watch the cooker first to see how thick the pancakes are – it’s a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears – you have to get one that’s just right.
- Don’t drink the local water – that will increase your chances of getting sick. This means the country goes through an extraordinary number of plastic bottles buying bottled water, many of which end up in the oceans and discarded on the beaches. Shame! Don’t leave them behind and be horror tourists.
- But if you keep one, or even better, travel with your own drinking bottle, you can boil water at night and keep refilling your own bottle and help save the world one bottle at a time.
- Keep some bottled water next to your toothbrush and use that for brushing instead of the unpotable local stuff. That one sneaks up on you.
- Wine drinkers – just give up for the duration and stick to cocktails – cheaper by far and feels more like a vacation. Or drink the local beer which is a cost effective travel drink.
Spa treatments and massages
- Do some of these. Do many of these. Do these every day if you can. Get. a. foot. massage.
- Choose the place you go carefully. Sometimes it is a case of you get what you pay for, like nail polish that goes furry and peels in two days for $9. The spas in resorts or hotels are more expensive, but they are more convenient and will often be nicer with better privacy and offer a more indulgent experience. Hotels usually offer two for one deals and happy hour deals in the middle of the day, especially in the low season.
- I’m pretty sure the spa treatment places along the main drag with strings of girls and lady boys thrusting the massage menus at you as you walk past do more than manicures and back massages. Especially the ones with private rooms. That’s probably not the place to go if you’re away for a girls’ week away.
- Be aware that once you add oil in the mix (aromatherapy massages), tummies and sometimes even more can be involved. You’re in charge – specify beforehand if you want to concentrate on certain body parts or leave some out.
- Try something new – I did a heat compression massage which was fab, but don’t let anyone walk on your back. No one’s tried that on me, but I’ve heard stories and it can do a lot of damage.
- Zika virus and malaria are about, so take insect repellent with you and put it on before you go out. Close your door and wardrobe at night in your hotel room – mozzies lurk there during the day and come out at night to catch you unawares. Sneaky little buggers. Depending on where you go, consider malaria tablets (before, during and after your trip), and even a mozzie net.
And a special tip to my beloved daughter and others of the lily white variety.
- Yes, Ms Temporary Tomato. Of course you can still get burnt under an umbrella, especially when your skin is so white and transparent even taxi drivers comment. And the water in the pool does afford any protection as you float around on top of it, even for a few minutes. In fact, it’s just like saying to the sunburn gods, ‘Send it down, Huey – with an extra bit of bite.’ It’s like that Thai chilli- it burns.
Wherever you go, do a bit of research first about your destination and what’s on offer. For Thailand, Lonely Planet is a good start, or Phuket.com, or expat or foodie blogs and (serious) foodie reviews (more on eating out in Phuket coming soon). You don’t want to find out about the amazing things when you get home.