Navigating the tourist traps and scams of Phuket Island

If you know where to go and what to avoid, a relaxing holiday is possible in Phuket. Pic: Andaman Ferry Service

A DESTINATION favored by tourists worldwide, Phuket Island is definitely a highlight in Thailand for its beautiful beaches, historical sights, and cultural attractions.

Nevertheless, amid its beautiful shorelines and attractions, it’s inevitable that the island is overrun by camera-slinging tourists, potentially making your trip a little bit less “relaxing”. But here’s how to get on the best side of Phuket.

Go to the (right) beaches

In Phuket, beaches take the spotlight – and for good reason. There are over 30 beaches along the periphery of this 540-square-kilometer island as well as smaller islands off-coast, each offering its own set of attractions.

If you dislike the crowded environment of Patong Beach but still want something similar,

Kata Beach is the ideal option. It has a white sandy beachfront that looks out to the sea and offers a great selection of dining, shopping and nightlife.

As one of the more exclusive beaches in Phuket, Bangtao Beach has luxurious resorts one side and on another there’s Cherng Talay, a rural town where fishermen, farmers and rubber tappers call their home.

It’s rather private and quiet here as the northern part of the beach is still left as is – perfect for those who want to sunbathe away from prying eyes.

Known as the James Bond Island (The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed here), Phang Nga Bay has truly awe-inspiring views that you shouldn’t miss.

Take a day trip out on a boat and catch spectacular sights of limestone karsts that seem to emerge from under the sea. Also go for excursions that include a stop at Koh Panyee, a Muslim fishing village to enjoy a taste of bucolic island life.

SEE ALSO: 5 less-traveled islands to visit in Thailand

Feed on historical attractions

Old Phuket Town is a

By default, tourists will usually end up in Patong if they wish to go to town. But if it’s an authentic Phuket town life you are looking for, don’t stop there.

Find your way to Old Phuket Town for an even better experience. Brimming with historical attractions, this charming town features well-preserved Sino-colonial mansions flanked by beautiful century-old shophouses, museums and charming cafes.

Take a walk down Soi Rommanee and check out the quaint bars and guesthouses that are set within vintage buildings along this street.

Load up on local culture

Tourists can partake in festivals like Songkran. Pic: Lauren Irons/flickr

There’s a different festival going on almost every month in Phuket, making it one of best places to immerse yourself in Thai culture.

In April, get into the groove of Songkran Festival, Thailand’s traditional New Year celebration. It’s also the time of the year when everyone is allowed to splash water on anyone and anything.

SEE ALSO:  A beginner’s guide to surviving Songkran

In June and November, head over to Rawai and Sapam, the sea gypsy villages in Phuket and catch the Chao Le Boat Floating Festival. In this festival, traditional ceremonies that involve releasing tiny boats to the ocean are carried out to bring good luck.

If you happen to be in Phuket in October, you will experience the widely-celebrated Vegetarian Festival in full force. Also known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the Thai-Chinese community will abstain from meat during this month to honor the gods and to obtain peace of mind.

Keep safe at all times

Pic: Thomas Galvez/flickr

Amidst the beautiful sights and scenes of Phuket, there’s a dark side to this island. Patong in particular is notorious for its traps and scams including unscrupulous taxi and tuk tuk drivers, aggressive ladyboys, drink-spikers, bike gangs and more. How do you keep yourself safe from all these?

Firstly, don’t get fleeced by Patong’s tuk-tuk drivers. Bargain with them and write down the agreed fare before you go on your ride to avoid disputes – there are reports that some drivers can get aggressive when tourists hustle with them.

Be wary of spiked drinks. Always get your own drink and never leave it out of your sight.

Don’t walk or wander alone late at night. Keep away from backlanes and dark alleys.

If you would like take a photo with a ladyboy or with an animal handled by a tout, they will demand money from you afterwards. If you refuse to pay, they may gang up to threaten you. Say “no” firmly and walk away if you are pestered.

If you find yourself in a challenging situation, call the Patong Tourist Police (1155) for help.

SEE ALSO: This luxury superyacht resort in Phuket is attracting Instagram’s rich and famous