In November, my partner and I visited Thailand. More specifically, we visited Phuket, Thailand’s largest island. Phuket is the place to be if you’re young and love to party. There are countless clubs and parties, and alcohol goes for next to nothing.
But it’s also a great place to holiday if you’re a little older. The beaches and islands are beautiful, it’s always hot (even when it’s raining), and the strange nightlife will blow your mind.
No matter your age, there are certain things you’re better off not doing. The following 5 items I suggest you give a miss for something a little better.
DON’T: Ride an elephant (or see a monkey show)
I’m not an animal rights activist. I’m not even a vegetarian. I don’t particularly care whether or not I’m eating free range chicken. But I could not bare the way elephants are treated in Thailand.
My partner and I had planned to take an elephant ride through a forest. But when we saw the elephants, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. These elephants are raised in captivity and kept with their legs chained to the ground. They have sad eyes, and look Goddamn miserable. Their caretakers don’t have a symbiotic relationship with them. They are treated as dangerous assets rather than as allies.
The same goes for monkeys. We made the mistake of seeing a “monkey show”. Instead of watching monkeys being the remarkable creatures they are, we were subjected to monkeys on chains being forced to wear hats and put balls through hoops.
Do yourself a favour and don’t take an elephant ride. While this may not change anything in the long run, you’ll at least keep your integrity intact.
RATHER: Take a day trip to an island
By far the best time I had in Thailand was a day trip to Phi Phi Island. After an hour long boat ride, you get to spend time on the most beautiful beaches. Clear water, in which you can see fish swimming even if you’re not snorkeling. Beautiful beach sand, as well as greenery. Plus, you get to see animals in their natural habitats. You can watch monkeys being monkeys, rather than being forced to pretend they’re human.
DON’T: Do a city tour
A city tour sounded like a good idea. What better way to see Phuket, after all?
Wrong! While the city tour did take us to all the places worth seeing, there was a lot of bullshit thrown in. First off, they took us to the aforementioned elephant ride and monkey show. It was a bad start.
Then, after we’d seen a couple of viewpoints and temples, we went on an increasingly frustrating tour of “factories” and “farms”. These were really just shops, poorly disguised as something more. Some made a show of pretending they had anything of interest. Others just asked us whether we wanted to buy things. They obviously pay tours to bring tourists to them. You feel like an idiot for allowing yourself to be subjected to this.
RATHER: Get on a motorbike
You can rent motorbikes cheap in Phuket, and they’re the best way to get around. Instead of the city tour, take yourself to see the following:
- A viewpoint: all you need is one. Radar Hill is a nice high one, but you may as well choose whatever happens to be on your way
- The Big Buddha: there’s no great story behind the Big Buddha, but it is quite something. Built for the purpose of being an impressive tourist attraction, it really fulfills its function.
- A temple: again, all you need is one. Look for something that’s close to another site. Unless you’re a Buddhist, or a fan of religious sites, too many temples will kill the mood.
- Phuket Old Town: the old city is quaint and rather gorgeous. All you really need to see here is Thalang Road.
There you have it. Aside from the shops and an awful buffet lunch, these sites cover everything.
DON’T: Visit a ping-pong (live sex) show
When you arrive on Bangla Road – Phuket’s main road – at night, you’ll be bombarded with hawkers and promoters. Most of them will be shoving posters for “Live Sex Shows”, “Ping-pong Sexy Shows”, and my favourite, “fucking shows”. I’m no prude, but there are reasons to steer clear.
You may be wondering what ping-pong has to do with sex. Well, Thailand’s version of a ping-pong show involves naked women shooting ping-pong balls out of their vaginas. Seriously.
Some shows will take an audience member and give him a handjob right there on the stage. Both the show and the handjob will sound appealing to many. But my problem has nothing to do with the sexual liberty.
Aside from ping-pong balls, performers shoot other objects from their vaginas. Razor blades and darts are the least of it. They also release live gerbils and frogs from up there. It’s just straight-up degrading.
So, while it is quite a sight, you’ll leave there feeling dirty.
RATHER: See a ladyboy cabaret
Thailand is famous for its “ladyboys”. The term is a little confusing since there’s no simple answer to what a ladyboy is. Some are transgender women, i.e. they transitioned from male to female, including surgery and all. Others are crossdressers and drag queens, who transform into women as part of a persona or for entertainment value.
Regardless, a ladyboy cabaret is a lot of fun. It basically consists of ladyboys lip-synching to popular songs while getting the audience involved. It’s entertaining, degrading to no one, and you’ll leave it without feeling violated.
DON’T: Eat at buffets
Buffets are very popular in Phuket. I’m not sure why this is, but it is a cheap way to eat and to experience different types of Thai food.
However, buffets are not the most hygienic option. The food stands in the open air for extended periods of time, giving you a good chance of suffering from food poisoning. My partner fell prey to it, and so do many others.
This includes buffet breakfasts at hotels. Do some research on TripAdvisor before you partake of your hotel’s platters.
RATHER: Try freshly-made Thai street food
Look, you might get food poisoning from Thai street food as well. But it’s made fresh while you watch, and you’re not going to eat as much of it as at a buffet. You’ll at least get to try something more interesting than green curry or cashew chicken.
Keep an eye out for the guy who sells surprisingly delicious curry pancakes, as well as one of many rolled ice cream stalls.
DON’T: Buy a tailored suit
This one I don’t have personal experience with. I admit I was tempted to try one of the countless vendors offering tailored suits for next to nothing. But, not one to waste even a small sum of money, I did my research first.
While there are those who claim to be happy with what they got, the vast majority say this just isn’t worth it. Even if you do get a suit that looks reasonable on you, the poor quality renders it worthy of the low cost.
RATHER: Stock up on cheap summer wear
Phuket is not the place to get good fashion (although the malls do sell international brands which may be cheaper if you have a strong currency). But it’s the perfect place to stock up on cheap stuff to wear to the beach or to bed or to play football in. Vendors on every street sell the same vests and shorts. You can bargain them down to 100 baht an item. That’s 40 South African rands, $2.80, or £2.26.
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