Phuket's storied beaches and Patong

The many beaches that line Phuket's west cost are bordered by the beautiful, and warm, Andaman Sea.  And whether you are looking to partake in bodysurfing, snorkeling, jet-skiing or just some plain old sunbathing, these pristine strips of sand make for the quintessential beach vacation when set against swaying palms and that stunning emerald and sapphire sea!

True, many of the island's best spots are private, and located in cove settings only accessible by staying at a particular resort.   (We chose Le Meridien Resort on Karon Beach, and could not have been happier with the results.  Seriously folks, this was one of the best beach experiences we have ever had - even considering one of the two days we spent there came complete with billowing storm clouds!  See "digs" for more information.) 

Still, there are literally miles and miles of other worthy shorefront to check out if you happen to be backpacking it.  One of the best known public beaches is Patong, a sprawling crescent-shaped strip of sand surrounded by all the craziness that encompasses a typical "tourist hell" mecca beach town!  We found Patong to be quite depressing and really past its prime.  To be perfectly honest, with drunken whoring masses and motorcycles sputtering by at all hours of the day and night, Patong felt entirely out of place amidst the natural beauty that abounds in other parts of Phuket.  However, if you are up for cheap souvenirs - or cheap ladyboy hookers - Patong Beach may be just what you've been looking for!

Set of Drifters tip: 
Be warned, the greasy-palmed salesmen in the shops and markets of Patong are nothing if not persistent.  They will want to shake your  hand to get a "business relationship" rolling along.  We advise you not to indulge them!  While Thailand is known for offering tourists cheap, tailor-made clothing you cannot find anywhere else, do you really want to be standing in a crowded store getting measured by a stranger while there's so much beauty outdoors?  (See "sips"  and "essentials" for more information on naughty, naughty Patong.)

Oh, and one more thing... Slather on that sunscreen!  Your Set of Drifters thought we were being quite diligent while enjoying two days on Karon Beach, but as it turns out we had left small, awkward and undesirable areas of our bodies out of the equation!  The next few days were painful to say the least! 

Patong Beach - follow the taxis from the airport!

Karon Beach - located along the Andaman Sea about 7 km. south of Patong

Simon Cabaret

One of the craziest attractions we have ever witnessed in all of our travels is located on the southern outskirts of the seedy tourist mecca of Patong.  We first noticed billboards for "The Simon Cabaret" while riding in the taxi from the Phuket airport to our hotel on Karon Beach.  The cabaret spectacle seemed to vying for the same attention (and tourist dollars) shared by a little stage performance called "Fantasea" (also known as the "Ultimate Cultural Theme Park" of Thailand).  We were instantly intrigued, but since we had already witnessed the insanity of the unforgettable "Siam Niramit" show in Bangkok less than a week prior, we were not convinced we needed a second helping.

A few days later, while on a mid-day walk to Patong, we saw the "Simon Cabaret" venue in all its gaudy purple-and-gold glory and stopped in to look at the brochures and other promotional materials.  Touted the "show of all shows," we could not resist the temptation.  We decided to buy tickets for that evening's performance!  Little did we know that this show was going to be an evening we would never forget.

Upon arriving to the evening's second show, we were shocked at the huge crowds of tourists being hustled in through the side entrance.  While sipping a few Chiang beers at the Simon Bar, we were witness to a "Who's Who" list of tourists visiting Thailand.  An entire busload of young Muslim women from Malaysia laughed while posing for a group photo in the lobby.  Meanwhile, German families mingled nearby with the countless honeymooning couples from Australia!  And they were all here for one reason and one reason only - to witness the cast of 20 or so Thai "ladyboys" performing traditional Thai choreography, love ballads, and American disco hits with the accompaniment of highly exotic costumes, robust scenery and pulsating lighting effects!

Perhaps the weirdest thing about the show was the fact that most, if not all, of the zany numbers were lip-synched.  It felt as though you were watching a number performed aboard the Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland, except that it was much closer and... oh, and most of the performers were Thai ladyboys!  (An honorable mention must be made to the four male performers who had the special distinction - or dishonor - of portraying "actual men."  Each of these flouncing lilies were supposedly pursuing amorous relations with the rest of the "katoey" cast.  Our favorite was the "lead singer" who certainly gave it his all - no matter how humiliating the costume.)

Like most cabaret shows in tourist locales, the prerecorded music was dated, yet very energetic.  In fact, the delivery of the recorded vocals was one of the main reasons we enjoyed the show so much, as they contradicted the relatively wan expressions that most of the performers retained throughout the show.  (Was this the less-seasoned second-string cast who played during the low season?)  We had no choice but to to hoot and holler at the strange cavalcade of performers in front of us, many of whom soon became favorites that we would look out for in each number, whether they were dressed in ball gowns, butterfly outfits, or over-the-top "traditional" Egyptian regalia!  We soon dubbed our favorite ladyboy "Joan Van Ark" for the performer oddly personified an Asian version of the Knots Landing actress.

While the production is certainly not as polished as the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris, the Simon Cabaret experience is equally as entertaining, if only for its eccentric cast of hoofers, and truly impressive scenery and costumes.  (There were more sequins and ostrich plumes in that one theater than all of Atlantic City!)

At the end of the show, the katoeys line up outside of the exit to pose for photos and solicit for autographs.  These cost about $6 USD each!  Ouch.  While it is pretty easy to snap a photo or two from afar, please remember that these girls need to make money somehow so try to oblige at least one of them!

The Simon Cabaret offers two shows every day (usually at 7:45 PM and 9:30 PM), but check with the concierge at your hotel to verify performance times.  Prices for "VIP seats" are 800 baht for adults (roughly $26 USD), and 600 baht for children.  Regular seats are 700 baht for adults (about $23 USD), and 500 baht for children.  (Children under 130 cm tall get in for FREE, but just try explaining the show to them afterward!)  Set of Drifters tip:  You can also book a shuttle to and from most hotels on the island at time of ticket purchase.

Phuket Simon Cabaret - 8 Sirirach Road, Patong Beach, Kathu, Phuket, 011 (66) 76-342-0115

Island Tour to Koh Phi Phi or James Bond Island

There is a very slight possibility that you might get tired of your daily beach surroundings on Phuket.  (We said very slight.)  If this ends up being the case, why not inquire at your hotel about day trips to the stunning islands of the Malacca Strait? 

We really enjoyed our day excursion to Koh Phi Phi and surrounding environs.  A shuttle picked us up at the crack of dawn and took us to the aptly-named Asia Marina Harbor (seemingly in the middle of nowhere).  Our boat ride from the seaport included lunch that tasted better than it looked, and an hour-long snorkeling sojourn out on the beautiful blue seas surrounding stunning Khai Island.  Adventurers are given snorkeling wear and are brought to several coral reefs to mingle   with the plentiful exotic fish.  Of course, even on the very tiny Khai Island, there is also     time to shop and spend money! 

Set of Drifters tip: 
Remember, if you sit in a beach chair at one of these small island stops, prepare to pay for the privilege - by the hour!

An hour or so beyond Khai Island lies Koh Phi Phi, and what may actually be the epitome of paradise!  Chosen  by film director Danny Boyle as the real life stand-in for the fictional secluded shangri-la in Alex Garland's unforgettable 1996 novel The Beach, Koh Phi Phi is well worth the trek on its own.  In fact, we would recommend staying overnight at Koh Phi Phi, as the stopover organized by the tour really does not give you enough time to explore the whole island.  (Looking back on it now, if we had more time, we would have stayed at least two nights here.)

Shaped like a butterfly, Koh Phi Phi has tons (and tons) of shopping opportunities, restaurants and bars.  While the main port of the island had almost been completely wiped out after the 2004 tsunami, you can see the reconstruction progress on an almost block-by-block basis.  In short, this spot is hopping! 

Aside from lolly-gagging around "Monkey Beach," activities include parasailing, long-tail boat rides from Tonsai Harbor, snorkeling near the "Viking Cave," and the majestic "Maya Bay" (as seen in The Beach). 
It's rare to see such beautiful places in life like Koh Phi Phi; don't miss this trip!

An alternative to the Khai Island/ Koh Phi Phi day-trip is an excursion from Phuket to Phang Nga Bay, home of the infamous "James Bond Island."  This is a truly stunning location we have only seen in pictures (and in countless movies).  We simply did not have enough sunny days to check it out, and that just means we'll be back!

Nampoul High-Speed Marine Express Marine offers tours from Phuket almost daily.  Prices are 2,000 baht for adults (roughly $65 USD), and 1,200 baht for children (about $40 USD) - well worth it in our humble opinion. 
Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure you slather on the sunscreen -  as you will be out in the sun for most of the day!  And please remember to always tip your guide!!  Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube Channel for video from this event!

Nampoul High-Speed Marine Express Marine - 25/516 Maeluan Road, Tambol Talad Nue, Amphur Muang, Phuket , 011 (66) 76-23-4964 or 011 (66) 85-796-2730