The last time I was in Phuket was before the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. We figured there isn’t much for our kids to do or experience, at least not until they’ve grown a little older. So after more than a decade, we planned a vacation, and kind of expect a Phuket that might be different from before.
Phuket, it turns out, has remained pretty much the same, yet a little different. I honestly expected more drastic changes as a direct result of post-tsunami recovery and redevelopment. However, that seems not to have happened.
I still recognise Patong beach somewhat. It’s like what it had been the last time I was there. The streets look about the same as before. Many of the same landmarks remain unchanged. The streets seem to look the same. The beach is still pretty much the same too.
Sure, there were some new developments, but that is not unexpected when you return to a place about ten to fifteen years later. Perhaps, at Patong, the biggest new thing would be the Jungceylon shopping mall. It’s huge, modern, different, quite unlike any other thing there. It looks like a nice place for certain kind of shopping, the kind, unfortunately, not what I’d expect you’ll come to Phuket for.
Still, you can get some Thai souvenirs to bring home. Or you can dine in relative comfort and hygiene, if street food doesn’t work for you and you don’t want to keep eating at your hotel.
Something else has changed, at least to me. It seems profits are overshadowing smiles. You see, when I arrived at the airport, asking to buy a prepaid SIM card, I was directed to a shop, still inside the airport terminal. I was asked how long I would stay, to which I replied three days. It was actually four, I answered wrongly, but it didn’t matter. I was offered a 799 Baht package. Now, I had a specific SIM card in mind, and which I knew costs only 299 Baht. No, I was told there’s only that 799 Baht one. I pressed further, and finally was told they ran out of that type of card. The 799 Baht one was actually similar to what I had in mind, but was good for 14 days instead of the 7-day package I was aiming for. I happen to also know the 14 day package was supposed to cost only 599 Baht. I asked if there was anyone selling the 7-day package, and was given a “don’t know” answer.
So never mind, outside the airport, I asked for other SIM card sellers. I was eventually directed to a minimart. The minimart quoted 495 Baht. Again, I asked the seller about the 299 Baht price, and I was told the 299 Baht price is in town, but in airport, it’s more.
How disappointing. In Bangkok, it’s 299 Baht in the airport. I suppose Phuket is far too touristy, it is a great opportunity to earn another 200 Baht or so. I know the amount isn’t much, in absolute terms, but just something that surprised me, compared with the experience in Bangkok.
The other thing was about the hotel transfer we had arranged to pick us up from the airport. Despite having kids in tow, and seating almost at the back of the plane, which means it would take me longer time than usual to exit the terminal, our transport rep was not in sight. We called two phone numbers that had been given to us, but both went unanswered. Eventually someone showed up about 15 minutes after we exited the terminal. But he wasn’t the actual fellow, I think he was simply asked by the actual rep to help look out for us. The actual fellow, who has our names, showed up 5 minutes later. Apparently he wasn’t the driver. The driver, and the vehicle, would take a bit more waiting.
So they’ve gotten a bit more organised (or not), outsourcing bits of work here and there. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think I’m terribly demanding, but for having to wait like 30 minutes after we exited the terminal, I’d think a simple apology would have been nice?
A word on tourist seasons. It’s considered off-peak from May to October, because it’s the rainy reason. Now, you don’t need to be too worried about it. For the entire time we were there, it rained only once, heavily, for 30 minutes. It even ponded in the hotel. That was all the rain there was.
This is my second time to Phuket during this so-called rainy season. I think it was also in June, then. It also poured heavily, but only for a short while.
If you think you can live with short bursts of torrential downpours, then take advantage of lower prices during the off-peak season. June seems to be the best time during this low season. Hotel rates are cheaper, airfares are cheaper, and there is less crowd. Sounds good all around to me.