The Pearl of the Andaman Sea is Thailand's largest island, and Andrew J Wood visited the west coast and explored the interior which is mostly mountainous.
It is Thailand's largest island, we will visit the west coast and explore the interior which is mostly mountainous. We plan to stay for two weeks. The west coast has a number of magnificent long sandy beaches and is the centre of the island's nightlife.
For centuries, the main source of income for the island was tin mining. Now, tourism and rubber have made Phuket the wealthiest province of the country.
The 2004 tsunami badly damaged Phuket, mainly the beach resorts on the west side of the island. Since then, Phuket has fully recovered and a tsunami warning system has been put in place.
Bkk (blue dot) to Phuket
With stops the journey time will take approx 11 hours driving across 12 provinces. We plan to do the journey in one day, God willing. The car has been fully prepped and recently serviced. It's a hybrid so we have two engines. What could be easier?
Our friends said DRIVE TO PHUKET! Why don't you fly from Bangkok it only takes 75 minutes?
It's a journey I'd often talked about, one I've wanted to do but never had the time. Even after 26 years of living in Thailand. Work always came first. Having completed a road trip to Chiang Rai (796km) a few years ago I was keen to do Bangkok-Phuket and here at last we are undertaking the trip after weeks of planning.
Leaving Bangkok we will follow the coast road south-west along the Gulf of Thailand towards Hua Hin and then all the way south to Surat Thani. From there we cross the isthmus east to west before turning south again towards Phuket and the Andaman Sea.
Arriving in Hua Hin
We left Bangkok before dawn, the forecast said overcast and showers, but we arrived at our first stop in Hua Hin in bright sunshine at 07:00am. A journey of just under two hours. Normally with traffic it would be three hours. Our early start had paid dividends.
We continue on Route 4, the Phet Kasem Road, Thailand's longest (1,274km). Our journey will take us through 12 of Thailand's 76 provinces – Bangkok, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani Phangnga, Krabi and Phuket.
From Hua Hin we head further south along the Asian Highway, hugging the western edge of the Gulf. The kilometres slip-by. We travel on good roads, mostly dual carriageways. The traffic is reasonable and we make good progress. Passing through Pranburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, we continue leisurely south.
We reach Chumphon - our halfway point. Located on the Isthmus of Kra, the narrow stip of land connecting the Malay Peninsula with mainland Thailand. With a 222 km coastline and 44 islands, the Chumphon Archipelago is known for it's coral reefs and a long coastline dotted with peaceful beaches. It has waterfalls, green forests, mangroves, and rivers. I took a mental note to explore this region further on a future trip. The waters look clear and clean and uncrowded.
At Chumphon we join the A41. It is the main road for the lower southern provinces. We head south-west.
Route 41 is a four lane highway, two lanes in each direction. It is also part of the Asian Highway AH2.
The journey goes surprisingly quickly. Flying from Bangkok to Phuket would only take 75 minutes however you would miss all the amazing scenery including a sunrise AND a sunset. There's no better way to get a feel for the diversity of this wonderful country and take a sneak peak at daily life as we drive past.
A sneak peak at daily life
We are on the last leg of the journey. As we pass through Krabi province with its hilly terrain and limestone outcrops I'm reminded of Danny Boyle's film 'The Beach' starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It was filmed on Koh Phi Phi. The islands are located close to Phuket and are reachable by speedboat from Krabi or Phuket. Located in the Strait of Malacca, between Phuket on the west and the mainland on the east. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province.
Dramatic scenery in Phangnga
We pass through Phangnga province festooned with dramatic limestone outcrops. We then cross the Sarasin bridge that links the mainland to Phuket island. We quickly pass through the police checkpoint and drive onto the island. We head south to our hotel at Kata beach the Kata Seabreeze hotel for a much needed rest.
It's a fine three star hotel, clean and well managed and close to one of the most attractive beaches in Phuket. We found it excellent value for money and we were pleasantly surprised at the range of hotel facilities and in-room equipment. It has 330 guest rooms. It has everything you need in a resort. The Z Bar & Restaurant, 4 swimming pools including a swim-up pool bar, gym, spa and kids club.
Direct pool access
Our huge room was comfortable and well equipped. The air-conditioning worked a treat. The en-suite bathroom with bathtub and walk-in shower, was wonderful. Heaps of hot water and powerful. The private balcony was a big plus with steps straight into the pool. Very nice!
The resort is a 45-minute drive from Phuket International Airport.
We had planned our trip to coincided with our UK friends' visit to Phuket. They had accommodations at the busy Patong area a short drive (10km) from Kata.
With blue skies and sunny days we were at the start of this year's high season. It was evident that the Russian market, after the ruble currency crisis – stemming from reduced oil revenues and sanctions following Russia's annexation of Crimea, saw the ruble drop by half – had made enough of a recovery. The Thai tourism industry was benefiting from improved Russian exchange rates.
Jet skis at Patong beach
Phuket's most famous and developed beach is Patong beach with a 2km long sandy beach located in a bay with warm waters, ideal for swimming and relaxing in the sun.
However Kata, Kata Noi and Karon beaches have a completely different feel than Patong.
Kata with it's beautiful sandy palm-fringed beaches are quieter and more family oriented. Good food and especially fresh seafood can be found in abundance here.
Karon is a more up market destination which has a 3km long, broad and very white sandy beach.
After five days in Kata we moved to Patong to be near our UK friends. We checked in for three nights at the Deevana Patong Resort & Spa a four star property with excellent food and comfortable accommodation. It is perfectly located a short walk from the Bangla Road (Soi Bangla), Patong's famous walking street - just opposite the Jungceylon shopping complex.
Patong is Phuket's centre of nightlife. The area around Soi Bangla has more than 200 pubs, bars, go-go bars and discotheques where the action does not stop until very late at night.
With our UK visitors we visited Wat Chalong Phuket's finest temple. Wat Chalong was built at the beginning of the 19th century, it is the largest of Phuket's 29 temples and the most visited.
Wat (temple) Chalong
The newest building in the grounds is a 60 metre tall 'Chedi' containing a piece of bone from Buddha. The walls and ceilings are decorated with beautiful paintings illustrating the life of Buddha and the temple houses many donated golden statues. Wat Chalong Chedi is built on three floors, we climbed to the top for great views of the temple grounds.
Phuket's BIG Buddha
To get spectacular views of the island we were advised to visit the big Buddha, one of the island's most important landmarks. The huge image sits on top of the Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata and is 45 metres tall. It's visible for miles.
View from big Buddha hill
The site offers the best 360-degree views of the island, with sweeping vistas of Phuket Town, Kata, Karon beaches and Chalong Bay. It's very accessible. We drove off the main highway and up an easy 6km access road. Highly recommend a visit for the views alone.
We visited Phuket Town, we walked through the old town where there are Sino Portuguese shop houses and Sino Colonial residential mansions from the 19th century. In one such building we had dinner at the Raya Thai Restaurant voted by locals as one of the island's finest. We agree.
After 8 days we said our goodbyes to our friends from England and headed north to stay at the Angsana Villas Resort in the Laguna Village.
Entrance to Laguna Village
A short drive north it took just 40 minutes. The Laguna area is a resort destination in its own right. Developed from an old tin mine. Laguna has numerous 5 star properties and all can be accessed by boat and complimentary golf carts. The resort complex has a commonality that allows guests to visit all properties on site and dine in any of its outlets. You can just sign the bill back to your own hotel. It is popular with tourists as it provides a great choice of dining options. It's a good concept.
We thoroughly enjoyed The Angsana Villas Resort. Our accommodation was like a private apartment a one bedroom suite with a fully equipped kitchen, wonderful AV system and huge beds.
Seafood BBQ fired up
We enjoyed sitting around the large pool in the cushioned cabanas and breakfast was quite excellent and a wonderful seafood barbecue most Friday nights. Good value and great service, I can highly recommend.
The Surin Phuket
I had the opportunity to visit my long time friend, GM and SKAL Phuket President Claude Sauter, at the fabulous Surin Hotel for lunch and a catch up. It's a very special hotel and the waters and beach looked pristine. The location is popular with the jet set crowd. It's neighbour is the Amanpuri Resort.
Close by is the Manathai Resort an elegant and stylish 66 room boutique resort with a superb restaurant and stunning spa, owned by friends of ours, a lovely hotelier couple. We had lunch together in their outstanding restaurant a few days after visiting the Surin. The weather was simply wonderful. It was a happy delicious rendezvous.
Before leaving Phuket we wanted to experience a different side of Phuket, a mountain retreat. We drove to Chalong to Villa Zolitude Resort and Spa.
Villa Zolitude is Phuket's best kept secret, a luxury rainforest retreat nestled on a lush mountainside offering spectacular views over the bay of Chalong. This romantic resort feels a world away hidden amongst the treetops yet it is just minutes from several stunning beaches and Phuket Town.
Each two-storey villa is self contained with its own pool. The setting is gorgeous. In the heart of the forest on a hillside.
The view from your bedroom with windows on three sides is immersive. It's as though you are in the treetops. It was spectacular and so peaceful. A wonderful lap pool and restaurant too. Our two nights here was too short. We hope to return.
Andrew J Wood
Andrew was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague, travel writer and director of WDA Co. Ltd and its subsidiary, Thailand by Design (tours/travel/MICE). Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a former board member and Director of Skal International (SI), National President SI THAILAND, President of SI BANGKOK and is currently Director of Public Relations, Skal International Bangkok. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University's Hospitality School and most recently the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.