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Why Phuket is much more than a tourist island

Patong Beach, Phuket

These days, when parting with our hard earned holiday cash, our expectations have been colossally elevated by the sheer abundance of choices and alternatives out there. We demand that our holiday delivers and below are some very good reasons why a holiday in Phuket could prove to be an unrivaled travel experience that not only exceeds your expectations, but smashes them into oblivion.

 

 
The Initial Consensus

Your initial perception of Phuket as a travel and tourism destination will be shaped through hours spent surfing travel review sites & social networks, keying in google searches and the heavily influential tips and recommendations from your social circle. This conditional filtering of the limitless supply of available information will ultimately sway your choice of whether Phuket is the travel destination for you.

In a general sense, every travel destination comes with a pre-conceived label attached, compounded and defined by millions upon millions of online, user generated experiences. As Thailand’s largest and most developed Island, Phuket is largely perceived as being the most touristy, overcrowding and expensive holiday destination in the kingdom, with over 52,000 reviews on Tripadvisor alone helping to establish this perception.

Sunbeds & Umbrellas, Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Sunbeds & Umbrellas, Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Having lived in Phuket for the last 2 years of my life, my perceptions of this stunning part of the world as a travel & tourism destination have naturally evolved from this initial consensus and a new kind of filter emerges applying a new level of clarity and understanding to the vast abundance of readily available information.

Railay Beach, Krabi Province, Thailand

Railay Beach, Krabi Province, Thailand

Greater Phuket

One way in which my perception has evolved is that I am more aware of the Phuket that exists away from the main beach resorts such as Patong, Karon, Kata, Surin & Kamala. I am more aware of the ‘Greater Phuket’ Province, as well as neighbouring provinces such as Phang Nga and Krabi. I have discovered that Phuket as a tourist destination should not to be treated as in island in isolation.

 

 

The incredible places to experience in the greater Phuket province and surrounding provinces are all easily accessible, even during a 10-14 nights vacation and can comfortably be reached without eating too much into your holiday relaxation time. This makes Phuket a rich and diverse travel destination and provides an experience that few other holiday destinations can compete with.

Some Suggestions:


Raya Island, Phuket, Thailand

Raya Island, Phuket, Thailand

Island Hopping

Island Hopping has long held a fascination and pre-occupation for travellers to South East Asia. In the Andaman Sea, travellors to Phuket are blessed with islands & beaches such as Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Raya Island and Railay Beach, Krabi all within a few hours by boat, so that you can gain that feeling of ‘travelling around SE Asia’ even under tight time constraints.

Some Suggestions:

  1. Koh Phi Phi
  2. Railay Beach
  3. Koh Lanta
  4. Raya Island

A major draw to Phuket and part of the reason for it’s huge popularity is it’s International airport, the second busiest in the whole of Thailand after Bangkok. This means that you can book your flights in and out of Phuket and after spending some time relaxing at one of Phuket’s world class beach resorts, spend a few days on any number of stunning island destinations to add an entirely different perspective to your overall Phuket holiday experience.

Have you combined a holiday to Phuket with other nearby island destinations ?

Roger Gibson
Marketing & Communications Manager
Thavorn Hotels & Resorts (THR) Phuket, Thailand
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Life Changing Decisions in Langkawi, Malaysia

You’ve all experienced the post-holiday blues at some point,  despairing at the very thought of returning home and going back to the ‘same old same old‘ routine. Some of you may have even made an on the spot decision to continue your holiday indefinitely.

I aint leaving on a Jet Plane, don't know when I'll be home again

I aint leaving on a Jet Plane, don't know when I'll be home again

Good on you! My decision to take an ‘extended leave of absence’ from the UK happened in an instant, but the actual ‘doing of it’ took over 12 months to materialize.

This decision was made on a sticky evening in the town of Kuah in Langkawi, Malaysia, as the clouds drifting slowly across the breathtaking mountain backdrop.

Kuah Town, Langkawi, Malaysia

Kuah Town, Langkawi, Malaysia

This was January 2009 and the end of an amazing 3 week ‘blowout’ in SE Asia.

We celebrated the run-up to New Year in Langkawi, staying at our ex-pat friend’s apartment, and living like Rock Star Royalty.

New Year's Eve on Ceneng Beach, Langkawi

Little Lylia’s Chill Out Bar, New Year's Eve, Ceneng Beach, Langkawi

New Year’s Eve at Little Lylia’s Chill out Bar, Pantai Cenang was immense and once we regained consciousness, we embarked upon a land and sea mission up to Had Yuan, Koh Phangnan, Thailand for 10 more days  of serious relaxation and partying.

Stone Bar, Haad Yuan, Koh Phangnan, Thailand

Stone Bar, Haad Yuan, Koh Phangnan, Thailand

Now we had returned to where it all began, Langkawi, and I had just made up my mind on a decision that had been gaining momentum as the trip progressed.

Conversations with my ex-pat mate and witnessing first-hand the experiences a life in Langkawi could offer made it clear to me that Se Asia presented possibilities, such possibilities as:

1. Dining like a King Every Single Night of the week

Since we had arrived there all we had done was go out for the most amazing seafood, chinese and malay dishes, all night long and the bill would come to about 10 GBP per head.

lobster, Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Malaysia

lobster, Pantai Cenang, Langkawi, Malaysia

At Places like Wonderland, a Local Seafood restaurant in Kuah Town, the quality and price of the dishes was quite simply unreal.

Chinese and Seafood Feast at Wonderland, Kuah Town, Langkawi, Malaysia

Chinese and Seafood Feast at Wonderland, Kuah Town, Langkawi, Malaysia

Not only that, you could bring you own booze just paying for the price of the mixers at the restaurant. A trip to the ‘duty free off licence’ meant you could get seriously sozzled for another 2 GBP per head.

2. Smoothing away the rough edges with the Cool Beach Nightlife

You won’t find a more chilled out beach life than on Cenang. Sometimes it seems like no one’s running the show, so if you bothered about little things like your food turning up you may be dissapointed. But you will meet some colourful characters that take laid back to a whole new level.

Asie, Little Lylia's, Cenang Beach

Asie, Little Lylia's, Cenang Beach

3. Living amidst Breathtaking Natural Scenery

Langkawi is one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos and is made up of 99 islands on the west coast of Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand. The best place to view this splendor is with a bird’s eye view from the viewing decks and sky-bridge, some 700m above sea level courtesy of a hair-raising ride in a cable car.

Langkawi viewed from Cable Car

Langkawi viewed from Cable Car

4. I haven’t even got to the Powdery White Sand Beaches and warm clear waters yet.

Cenang Beach has the most impossibly white and powdery sand, the kind where whole days can be lost just enjoying the sensation of it between your toes.

Therapeutic, time consuming sand on Cenang Beach, Langkawi, Malaysia

Therapeutic, time consuming sand on Cenang Beach, Langkawi, Malaysia

I am sure we’ve all felt like this at the end of a fantastic holiday, but these possibilities were playing on my mind, there was something more to this, there was a definate desire to break the chain of monotony in my life and go out there and experience something else.

Maybe you feel like I did back then, something a little bit more serious than the post holiday blues, of no real desire to go back to your life at home.

If you do, then my advice is to give it some serious thought, look at all the options. It took me a full year of living back in the UK before I finally did something about it. A full year of weighing up the pro’s and cons, considering whether it was just an extended break of a couple of months that I needed or a clean break entirely.

Even then, I wasn’t completely sure and I made the final decision whilst back on a 4-week holiday in Haad Juan, Thailand.

View from Bungalow on Haad Yuan (Barcelona Bungalows)

View from Bungalow on Haad Yuan (Barcelona Bungalows)

I decided once again, that this was not a long enough break for me and once I had made my final decision, the wheels were firmly in motion and there was no turning back … I went home, tied up all the loose ends and was back out in Asia within 30 days …

If you would like to know more about what life is like for an expat in SE Asia then please feel free to leave a comment or you can contact me directly via Facebook or Twitter at the addresses below.

Cheers

Roger

Musings from Siem Reap, Cambodia

Being English Gentleman of Leisure

English Gents marauding around Asia

English Gents marauding around Asia

we purchased a 7 day entry pass for the the Angkor Archeological Park. Most people buy a 1 or 3 day pass, but we wanted to take in the temples and ruins at a more relaxed pace, slow it down a little. Turns out, it’s a full time job due to the sheer number of historically important and impressive sites that archeologists have uncovered in the Siem Reap area over the last 100 or so years.

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Temple Girls at Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Temple Girls at Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

As I write this it is 7am and we are waiting for our Tuk Tuk driver to take us for 2 hours down a bumpy, dust track to visit a temple ruin that has been claimed by the jungle (Beng Melea).

My Best Buy in Cambodia

My Best Buy in Cambodia

Back in England, few eyebrows were raised when I rolled into work at 9.40am every morning, so this feels like the middle of the night to me. The tourist guides tell you Angkor Wat is the heart and soul of cambodian people, however members of the older generation would disagree. They have no interest in seeing Angkor Wat and on a number of occasions we have heard people say “Why do I care about stone? I want food. The heart and soul of Cambodian people is not Angkor Wat. It is just in trying to survive.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Fortunately, I will never begin to comprehend the attrocities that the Khmer Rouge committed against it’s own people. At The Killing Fields Genocide Memorial close to the capital city Phnom Penh an inscription in the exhibition there reads:

“The method of masacre which the clique of Pol Pot Criminals was carried upon the innocent people of Kampuchea cannot be described fully and clearly in words because the invention of this killing method was strangely cruel so it is difficult for us to determine who they are for. They have the human form, but, their hearts are demon’s hearts”.

Genocide Memorial Phnom Penh

Genocide Memorial Phnom Penh

Genocide Memorial, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Genocide Memorial, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


The aftermath of this darkness is haunting and I can feel it thick in the air where ever I go. When it comes to genocide, if Hitler and Stalin et al were neuro-surgeons, Pol pot and his Khmer Rouge were back street abortionists.

Despite the continued poverty of the Cambodian people, a tourism industry has sprung up over the last decade and Angkor Wat is the Pin up Boy of Cambodian Temples, a beast of architectual endeavor. Whilst it is undoubtably impressive in size and grandeur, for me it is surpassed by the truly magical qualities of a couple of the other temples and ruins that left me completely awestruck.

Angkor Watt, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Watt, Siem Reap, Cambodia

I was blown away by Ta Prohm (the Tree Temple used in Tomb Raider)

Angelina Jolie on Tomb Raider set, Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angelina Jolie on Tomb Raider set, Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Cambodia

and even more so by Beng Melea, which felt like discovering a lost ancient civilisation swallowed by the jungle. The whole experience was like a massive game of Lara Croft, clambering over ruins pursued by local kids (who may or may not have been packing darts with poisoned tips) whilst continuously dropping Indiana Jones quotes with Dave.

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Having a seven day pass to the temples allowed us to spend time hunting down Japenese and Korean girls (hitting them with our best English Gentleman’s Japenese/Korean pick up lines) and to have an interesting discussion with a flute playing South American guy, about shifting world power, the imminant collapse of the American dollar and a new world order. All this in a small room surrounded by 40 buddah carvings in a quiet minor temple off the beaten track a bit.

Angkor Watt Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Watt Archeological Park, Siem Reap, Cambodia

A few days in Siem Reap visiting the temples and ruins can leave you with the impression that the country is developing and business is booming. Sadly that is not the case. Many of the older generation that survived the genocide are damaged beyond reprieve. Some of the younger generation are beginning to pick up the pieces and find a voice for change, but any grievences with the corruption and abuse of power by the government (many of the senior officials being former Khmer Rouge) are only whispers as to shout loudly would likely land you in a hole in a field.

To give you an idea of how corrupt the government is over here, they have called upon the services of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is currently exiled in Dubai awaiting trial in Thailand for stealing from his own people. Asking Thaksin to become economic advisor to your country is like asking a wealthy businessman with a repuation for human rights attrocities to take over your football club. Nothing in Cambodia makes much sense.

Close enough to "Frank" Shinawatra at COMS Manchester City FC

Close enough to "Frank" Shinawatra at COMS Manchester City FC

However, many of the young people we have met have less political aspirations and a sheer drive and determination to drag themselves out of poverty. One girl we met wanted to be a journalist, but had wisely decided on a less dangerous career path. Whilst us English Gentleman were busy taking a leisurely stroll around ancient ruins perusing over women, films, music and the philosophies of the east and west, this girl was up at 4am everyday making breakfast for her family, before starting work at 6am for a 13 hour shift in a hotel then straight to school in the evening to study business and English. As the Older generation state, the heart and soul of Cambodian people is not in stone or the pure madness and evil of it’s harrowing past. The heart and soul of Cambodian people is in survival and only the younger generations determination for change and to make a brighter future for themselves will allow this to happen.

Cheers

Roger

Top Tips for Wading through TripAdvisor

You may have mixed feelings over the tropical Island of Phuket, with tales of touristy, overcrowed resorts yet sublimely, stunningly beautiful, deserted white sand beaches clouding the issue.

Heaven or Hell ?

Heaven or Hell ?

These types of feeling are not only isolated to Phuket, far from it, and before you book a holiday to any travel destination, you will more than likely begin dissecting thousands of TripAdvisor reviews, wading knee deep through other people’s, holiday joys and woes.

Wading through Tripadvisor Reviews

Wading through Tripadvisor Reviews

If this sounds like alot of hard work, that’s because IT CAN BE!!! While you are chained to your desktop, America’s Next … Reality Fad will be going on without you. It doesn’t need to be like this however and because you have decided to read these tips first, it will make the job a little easier, more fruitful and ultimately less time consuming for you.

1. Do your Friend’s opinions count?

I’m guessing they do. In fact over 78% of people are influenced by the opinions of their family and friends (Erik Qualman @equalman author of Socialnomics). To tap into this, TripAdvisor has added a great new addition where you can Connect with your Facebook account. This allows you to see your friends’ recent travel activity and also view their favourite travel destinations. I can see that many of my facebook friends have visited Koh Phi Phi, so I click on the link and it takes me straight to the page. It also shows me which hotels my friends have written a review for and as I trust BIG LEE’s judgement, this is likely to hold alot of weight.

Tripadvisor with Facebook Connect

My friends social activity through Tripadvisor with Facebook Connect

2. Safety in Numbers!

Before you dive headlong into individual reviews, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. TripAdvisor Ranks each hotel and resort in a particular destination based on it’s customer reviews, so you can see which hotels have consistently received Top Ranking ‘positive’ reviews.

Phuket Map - Numbers indicate Tripadvisor Ranking for each resort/hotel

Phuket Map - Numbers indicate Tripadvisor Ranking for each resort/hotel

3. Save valuable time by narrowing down your search

If you know you are only interested in a family beach resort with pool and activities for kids, then tick the boxes under ‘Amenity Type’ for ‘beach’ ‘pool’ and ‘kids activities’. TripAdvisor will filter out the unsuitable properties thus saving you valuable time in the process. In fact, I have done it for you here, saving you even more time.

4. Look for common trends in reviews.

Look for common trends across a number of reviews rather than hold a single review in too much esteem. We all know people who see the world through Rose Coloured Glasses and we also know people for whom nothing is ever good enough. There could have been an isolated problem at a resort or the guest could have had a bad holiday for other reasons (like they just found out they can’t stand their partner).

5. Look at how hotels deal with negative reviews.

TripAdvisor gives hoteliers the opportunity to respond to reviews. There could have been a good reason why the pool was sub-standard, but if the hotel doesn’t address this then it looks like they either don’t care or they agree with the reviewer.

Luxurious Freeform pool with Swim up Bar

Luxurious Freeform pool with Swim up Bar

6. Scrutinise the source of troublesome reviews

If a particular review is putting doubts in your mind about your desired resort then scrutinise the credibility of the source by checking the reviewers profile. See what other reviews they have posted and if they are the kind of person for who you would happily follow their advice. Remember, you’re idea of the perfect holiday might not be the same as your grandparents.

Are these your kind of people? (Actually, Yes)

This Party Rocks !!!

7. Deal and Offer Coupons

You can take advantage of some great discount coupons on TripAdvisor by clicking the Deal and Offers Tab. Remember to always check other sources as well, such as hotel booking websites, Facebook pages, Twitter and hotel websites as these coupons might not be the best deals you can find on the web.

8. Member Profile Area

TripAdvisor has the handy feature where you can save all your research into your own member profile area which includes your recent travel searches and any hotels you may have added to your shortlist.

My Member Profile on Tripadvisor

My Member Profile on Tripadvisor

Here are a few Tripadvisor searches on Phuket to get you started.

Visiting Phuket, Thailand
Karon Hotels
Thavorn Palm Beach Resort
Inside Phuket: Written by travelers for travelers

9. Ask the Tripadvisor Community

If you have any burning questions then the Tripadvisor forums are a great place to look for answers. Again, to get you started, I have listed some useful searches.

Tripadvisor Forum – Phuket
Tripadvisor Forum – Karon Beach
Tripadvisor Forum – Thavorn Hotels and Resorts

10. Don’t get distracted.

Remember, you do have a life outside of TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor can become entertainment in itself, especially when you uncover reviews like this.

“I spent the night in the (hotel) room and experienced a friendly spirit. This presence got into bed with me, an old lady, she was nice and I just patted her on the head and we had a comfortable restful sleep. I think I will ask for a different room next time.”

but you must resist the urge and use it for it’s intended purpose, to help you find your dream holiday destination

If you would like any insider tips on Phuket then please leave me a comment or contact me at any time via my Facebook and Twitter pages below.

Cheers

Roger

Use Social Media for your Travel Research

Hi Welcome to my travel/social media blog. I’d like to kick off with a travel tip for you all. You’ve decided that Phuket is the holiday destination for you, so when researching where to stay, why not check out social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as most of the hotels and resorts on your short list will have a presence there.

Most people when researching their chosen holiday destination on line will visit travel review sites such as Tripadvisor, but many have not even considered seeing what other people are saying about a particular hotel or resort on Facebook or Twitter?

Often, you will have a hotel or resort in your mind and although the review sites have helped narrow down your search, it can be really useful to start a conversation with someone who has already stayed at the hotel to seek out their opinion on any questions you may have.

Whilst Tripadvisor does have a forum for answering such questions, a resort’s Facebook page can be the place to quickly obtain exactly the information you require. Often, if you post a message on the wall of the Facebook page, in next to no time, a fellow guest is only to happy to assist, as illustrated in my example below.

Thavorn Beach Village and Spa (TBV), Phuket, Thailand

Please click image to read guest comments

I think this instantaneous level of engagement is fantastic and helps personalise the whole process of travel research where often the reviews which help form the basis of your decisions are from anonymous sources with an axe to grand.

Roger

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