When you think of crystal blue water and tropical climates, Thailand might be a place that you think of. It’s pretty much 82 degrees 24/7. I’d never been there before so it was going to truly be an adventure.
Let me start by saying the ENTIRE trip only cost me about $1700 and that includes flights, hotel, & food. BUT I didn’t stay where most of the tourist stay. No, I was going where most of the locals live and I was excited to experience the Thai culture.
What to Pack for Thailand
Packing can always be a bit of a headache, and also, you do need to consider the types of activities that you want to do. Additionally, sometimes the time of year can make a difference too. I went at the beginning of October and stayed for 3 weeks.
- 5 Sleeveless Shirts
- 3 Short Sleeved Shirts
- 3 Dresses
- 3 Swim Suits
- 2 Shorts
- 3 sets of gym clothes
- 1 pair of leggings
- 1 sweater
- 1 pair of sandals that can get wet/ are comfy to spend the day in
- 1 pair of hiking/walking shoes
- 1 lightweight-waterproof poncho
Other items that were definitely needed:
- Travel Sized Umbrella
- 1 Beach Towel
- 1 packet of facial wipes (you’ll see why later)
- Mosquito repellant
- Hand sanitizer
- Credit Card with ZERO foreign transaction fees (I used CapitalOne Quicksilver card and it cost me nothing to get cash from all the random ATMs as I needed it. Plus, many places accepted credit card. ***UPDATE: I no longer recommend Quicksilver. They now charge ATM fees plus interest. And they do not have a chat option, which makes contacting them outside of the country an issue.)
When you’re considering packing, keep in mind that it stays pretty warm most of the time. It can cool off a little at night but it’s nothing that a light sweater wouldn’t take care of. I don’t think I wore pants at all. The other thing is: it rains A LOT. You will be going along and then all of a sudden torrential downpour. So living a “wet life” sort of becomes your norm.
Also, because it rains so much and it’s so hot, it’s humid. Really humid. If you’re a curly girl, forget having your hair straight.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there are random washer & dryers (I say random because they look like they are part of someone’s private home, but you can pay to use them) so that you can wash your clothes if need be.
Traveling To & Arriving in Phuket
The plane ride was quite a long one, and we had a bit of a layover in China. But once we arrived in Phuket, we went to one of the windows at the airport and arranged for a taxi to take us to the hotel.
I think it was about 550baht which freaked me out for a minute, but then I used the currency converter on my phone to find that that was only like $20 (much better deal!).
When our flight had landed it was already nighttime. So I was a little scared about getting into a cab with someone in a foreign & strange place. As it turns out, I had no bad experience in Thailand and the people in general are very hospitable.
It was about a 15-20min drive to the hotel. I was staying in Rawai.
This particular hotel is sort of tucked up in the hills. There’s a pretty steep driveway to get up to the check-in desk, and because of our late arrival I was worried that no one would be there. It looked pretty dark & vacant.
But we did get checked in. And they gave us our room.
Our Hotel: The View Rawada Resort & Spa
Now, a couple of things about this hotel. First, when you read the reviews about the stairs believe them (we booked on KAYAK.com). The steps are INSANE getting to the room.
I have no health problems, I work out, I’m in pretty good shape, and it was still definitely a workout. I think we initially had a 700 room, but we kept checking for closer rooms to become available, and we did eventually get to move down to a lower room.
The rooms themselves, were pretty nice. They don’t technically have a king bed, it’s 2 full beds pushed together. The bathroom is in a glassed area, so don’t stay here with someone who you aren’t ok being a bit intimate with. There is a cover for the wall, but there’s no sound barrier since the wall by the bed is glass.
The beds were decently comfortable IMO. There’s closets so that you can hang your stuff. There is free wifi, but the further away you are from the lobby the sketchier it gets. The rooms have AC which makes a HUGE difference for the humidity.
And unfortunately, when we arrived something had happened so that the hotel had no water for 3 days. Thus, this is where the wipes would’ve come in pretty handy for face and body. We ended up just going out early and so things like restroom were just used elsewhere.
The views, however, are breathtaking, and there’s a restaurant down at the lobby (they even do room service). Food was delicious, though more expensive than most places. I’m not entirely sure why this place is called a resort & spa, but then again, I didn’t really spend a lot of time exploring it. After all, I was there to see Phuket not a hotel. lol
PROS About Rawada Hotel
- Modern Looking / Aesthetically Pleasing Rooms
- Gorgeous rain shower
- Clean Rooms
- Nice closets
- Relatively comfy beds
- Free Wifi
- Restaurant in Lobby
- Room Service
- Individual room balconies
- Cold Pool
- Staff was very friendly/ helpful
- Incredibly affordable
CONS About Rawada Hotel
- Climbing the stairs is rough
- Parking lot is far-ish away from rooms
- A bit too far in the hills to walk to anything
- Wifi is spotty (particularly in rooms higher up)
- Ants (DO NOT LEAVE food around in the room, and get rid of those decorative bed flowers asap)
- Pricer food (but honestly, still cheap & super tasty)
- Water might go out (not sure if that was just a fluke that happened to us)
- Beds are not a king even though they say they are (but honestly not a big deal IMO)
Exploring Phuket Thailand
There is a lot to do in Phuket, Thailand, and it’s mind blowing how cheap everything is. When I say ‘cheap’ I mean ‘affordable’. You can get an hour-long Thai massage for $5! I’m not going to lie, I considered several times selling everything I have in the U.S.A. to move there and live like a king! (But actually, only Thais can own property in Thailand. Smart. Otherwise, so many foreigners would buy up all their land, I’m sure.)
Phuket isn’t really a walkable place IMO, as most things are pretty spread out. But I was staying in Rawai which is not where tourists typically go. They are usually on the other side, where there’s a Ritz Carlton (I believe).
At any rate, we rented a scooter for 15 days from Nina’s Cars, as this was a super cheap way to get around. We only had to get gas a handful of times (which again pretty much cost nothing).
Before I move on to the adventures and exploring, a couple of general things about Thailand:
- The people are all incredibly hospitable…
- Except the cops. They can “fine” you any amount for any reason. It’s all very willy-nilly. So be careful, and do your best to obey traffic laws so you don’t get pulled over. We got pulled over for not wearing a helmet and then got ticketed for not having a license on us (even though we had passports; which they took away. And then we had to follow them to the station). Then, once there, we bargained to lower the ticket, and if the chief wasn’t there, I think they would’ve lowered the fine. I think we got lucky that they weren’t super crooked, but we did hear plenty of horror stories.
- Pretty much every place has wifi. This is how I loaded maps, took screen shots, and got around without buying a phone plan there.
- Restaurants kind of don’t exist. The food places are usually in the patios of people’s homes. Or they look like park areas with lots and lots of tables.
- When meeting someone or greeting them: Men say, “Sawatdee-krap” and women say, “Sawatdee-kah”.
- Thank you as a man is, “khob khun krab” and as a woman, “khob khun ka” (Learn pronunciation by clicking here).
- Be prepared to take your shoes off when going indoors.
- Thailand loves 7/11 apparently, because there was one on every corner. And this is where you can buy bottled water, DO NOT DRINK THEIR WATER.
- If you mess up and drink their water (or have ice in your drink) and end up with terrible diarrhea you can always go to a pharmacy (which sell antibiotics w/out the need for a doctor visit or prescription).
- If you go in April be careful of Songkran (aka water festival). You can literally be riding a scooter and get fire-hosed, buckets of water thrown on you, or anything water related. There’s apparently a lot of crashes and deaths due to this, but the people of Thailand are all ok with it.
- If you’re the queasy type don’t go to Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival. While it may make you think of carrots, furry out door creatures, lettuce, and vegetables, this festival couldn’t be further from it. There’s a small group of people who basically parade & do self-mutilation. Yep. Pretty freaky stuff. I’m not sure if it changes dates, but this festival was going on in October while we were there.
Nai Harn Beach
Going to the beach in Thailand is a definite must (if you love the beach). Nai Harn Beach is a pretty beach with a good amount of sand to spread out on, relax, swim, and enjoy some sun. The water was a decent temperature, but I felt like it was EXTREMELY salty. Usually the ocean doesn’t make my eyes burn, but that time it did. Could’ve just been me though.
There’s plenty of parking and even vendors up in the tree-shaded-area selling Thai coconuts, snacks, and various things to eat. If you spend the day here, there’s wind surfers doing pretty cool tricks a little later-on in the day. This beach was a great place to go and we went several times.
The Big Buddha in Amphoe Mueang
We accidentally went up a weird-off-road back way, and thought it was so insane to get to this place. There were random elephants, pigs, two blonde girls on an off-roading quad… and there we were on a scooter made for paved roads. The road was dirt and there were some terrifyingly steep parts. It was pretty crazy. How we found the buddha eventually seems like a bit of a miracle. However, on the way down we found the real road which was a lot better. lol
The sign to get to the big Buddha can be very easily missed from the main road, so you really got to keep an eye out for the entrance just FYI.
Once you get to the top of the mountain, where the big Buddha is, it’s quite an impressive sight to see. It didn’t cost anything to go there, but they do accept donations. You can even wait in line to get a blessing from a monk who ties a bracelet on your wrist. There are little pop-ups selling things, but you aren’t required to spend money here. It was very peaceful, and the views were pretty amazing.
Elephant Rides in Phuket Thailand
As someone who lives in America, Elephants are definitely an unique animal to me. As I’ve only ever seen them at the zoo. So, seeing them up-close and having the opportunity to take a ride on such a magnificent creature was a pretty amazing experience. If you’ve never touched an elephant it feels like touching really old-wrinkly-dry skin. And these animals are HUGE. lol
On the same road to the big Buddha, there is an elephant area where you can pay for a quick ride through the jungle. The view was pretty great, the ride was interesting, the sun intense, and a pretty good time. However, I’m not going to lie, I felt REALLY bad for the elephants. You can buy them a basket of bananas (which they love!), so of course, we had to do that after the ride.
And, while this is sad, it’s also kind of interesting that they chain the baby elephant’s foot so they can’t get away. Because they do this when they’re young, they think they cannot break away; which is ultimately how they’re able to keep the adults around. Otherwise, they’d break away easily (as told to us by one of the people working there).
Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about the elephant rides. It was both simultaneously sad and amazing.
Monkey Hill Ratsada
I don’t know if this is the official name for the place, but it’s really just a road where a ton of monkeys live. It was about a 30min drive or so to this road from where we were staying, and from what we gathered the monkeys can be quite aggressive. So we were instructed to keep a distance, definitely don’t try to feed them or leave your stuff unattended. It was obviously a free activity, and definitely very interesting to see a bunch of random-wild monkeys.
Tiger Kingdom in Amphoe Kathu, Phuket
If you like animals and you think tigers are cool, then you’ll probably love tiger kingdom. Admission is reasonably priced and you can even purchase a ticket that lets you go in and pet a tiger (the sizing of your choice). Again, I have mixed feelings about caged animals, but it was pretty incredible being able to be around & touch a tiger (which their fur feels pretty weird).
I was both excited and nervous to get into a cage with a wild animal. I’m not sure if they keep the animals on tranquilizers or if the place is just hoping the animals have been socialized enough that they won’t just randomly attack you. The reality is, that a tiger could kill you very easily if it wanted to. I think the worker got a kick out of how nervous I was. lol But the whole experience was worth the risk IMO. Plus, now I can say I’ve petted tigers.
Thailand Food & Cuisine
The food in Thailand was pretty delicious. Thank goodness for picture menus because I do not read Thai. I’m not exactly adventurous when it comes to food. I mostly tried to stick to things that I at least knew a little bit about. Although, nothing tastes the way Thai food dishes taste in the U.S., so just expect to order dishes “you know”, but they taste differently. We even ended up going to a Mexican food restaurant and an Italian food restaurant (and I had the same experience).
So if you let go of any expectation and just enjoy the food, it’s pretty darn good. There were so many delicious dishes and places (too many to list) but I will list a few places that were my fav below.
I don’t really eat much dessert but one new thing I tried was this pancake dessert (at the hotel) and OMG so delicious.
If you love super spicy food then you probably can handle Thai peppers (which are crazy hot IMO). All in all, your tastebuds are in for a treat in Thailand. Just don’t drink their water. My travel companion made that mistake and let’s just say it was about 4 days of torture for him.
The other really wonderful thing about food in Thailand is that it cost practically nothing. (Again, I’m just shocked that the entire trip was so inexpensive.) And like I already mentioned before, many of the places to eat are in front of people’s homes, or they almost seem like covered tables you’d see at a park.
Places To Eat That I Enjoyed:
- The View Rawada Hotel Restaurant – while the food was technically a bit more expensive it was pretty darn good. Particularly the chicken larb and the pancake dessert.
- AKA Restaurant – I’ve forgotten what dish that was here but it was delicious. I want to say it was some sort of oatmeal dish. This place is also a bit on the pricey side when you compare it to the price of pretty much every other place.
- An Unnamed Cliff-Side Restaurant – I’ve looked on the maps but I can’t find an actual English name. It’s on the road up to the big Buddha (on the road Soi Yot Sane 1). There’s very limited parking in the front, but the food was sooo good. And the view was amazing! There’s also random monkeys just hanging out by a tire swing.
- Ali’s BBQ – Pretty much a covered outdoor area, but the food is really good. We went here with a large group from the kickboxing gym called Top Team.
- Baan Chao Fah Fresh Dimsum – No one spoke English here, but somehow they managed to help guide us on what to do. The Thai tea & food was really good! We stopped here on our way to Monkey Hill.
- MOM Restaurant – This is a tiny little place up a small road, but honestly the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life!
Muay Thai AKA GYM Thai Kickboxing
If you know anything about Thailand, then you know that kickboxing is a very big thing out there. My travel buddy was really into it, so we ended up going to quite a few gyms. One of the gyms which was really nice (but also, basically at American prices), and literally just down the hill from the hotel, was called AKA gym. I believe that it’s owned/founded by an American actually. And I guess he was a big deal in the kickboxing world at one point (maybe still is), but he’s a super chill dude. In addition to the gym, there’s a restaurant, restrooms, and showers (which came in pretty handy when the hotel’s water was out).
Everyone there was really nice and helpful. The people there are actually who helped us get the scooter rental.
I ended up signing up for a few Brazilian jiu jitsu classes with a trainer who has a big-name in this martial art. I’m admittedly not an avid follower of any sport, so as it goes, I don’t remember his name. LOL He was really nice though, and very skilled. I did however, during one of the classes, get to experience a surprise visit from Cristaine Justino (aka Cyborg)!
She gave a really inspirational speech to the class about how people always try to tell you what you can’t do, that you aren’t capable of things. People tried to tell her that she can’t fight. That she can’t be a fighter. That she’d never win. But she believed that you can do anything that you want to do if you put in the hard work and keep persevering. Now, she’s one of the biggest names and an absolute beast (in a good way). So that was super cool.
Other Things to Do & Shenanigans
As I already said, there is truthfully a lot to do in Thailand. There’s malls, shopping areas, secret-underground shopping areas, beaches, boats, and so many cool things to see. I loved getting a massage any chance I could get, and there’s plenty of great places. One place I went to regularly was only about a 15 min scooter ride away, called Kim’s Massage & Spa Rawai Beach. Getting a massage there was heaven.
There was also a large indoor mall called Central Festival Phuket and there was a spa on the 4th floor called Montra. The massages there were pretty good as well. And I believe that that mall had a movie theater. I thought I would stock up on makeup supplies while I was there since everything was so affordable, but funnily enough, makeup is the same price as it is in the U.S.! So I gave up on that, and got more massages. lol
One of the days on our trip we pretty much drove around the entire bottom part of the island. Started in Rawai, drove up to Phuket (saw the monkeys) then through Kathu (where we went to tiger kingdom). We followed the main highways, and eventually went through Patong.
We stopped at a huge shopping area called Jungceylon where I tried the fish spa experience. Which is basically where you stick your feet in a tank full of fish that go and suck on your feet. As a licensed cosmetologist, I’m sure it isn’t sanitary, and there’s probably a risk for some sort of fungal infection. But I was living on the edge and wanted to try everything I possible could. It tickled like crazy! And I ended up being just fine. I can’t say it really did a lot for my feet. I guess they did feel softer, but maybe that’s just because I sat with my feet in water for 15mins. (P.S. Make sure you pay attention to where you park your scooter or you may never find it again in that underground parking with one million bikes. lol)
We drove around a little more in Patong and followed the road all the way down to Nai Harn Beach where we watched the sun set. Then we headed back to Rawai. We did that whole trip in a day. Which is why having the scooter ended up being such a good investment.
Due to do the muay thai endeavors, drinking-the-water downtime, and everything else we did, we ran out of time and never made it to the Phi Phi islands or James Bond island. I did go to the booth where they sell the boat ride (and that’s where I took that super cool boat pic) and got a brochure on it all. It does cost a bit more than most things in Thailand, but it would’ve been totally worth it! If I go back, I’m going to definitely make sure I plan better and do that adventure.
Oh! On a really quick side tangent, one morning we rode by that beach with the boats, and the water was super far away & the boats were on the ground! I freaked out, thinking that maybe a tsunami was going to happen. But nothing did. So I still wonder what that was all about.
We were there for three weeks and it seemed like there was still a bunch of cool things that we never got around to seeing.
All and all, Phuket Thailand was a magnificent adventure at an amazing price, and I highly recommend it to all you explorers out there!