Destination Of The Week: Phuket, Thailand
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This sunny Southeast Asian island playground has a long history of culture and tourism. Devastated by the 2004 tsunami, Phuket spent a decade recovering, and is now back and better than ever, so let’s explore this tropical paradise and all the ways you can use your points and miles to pay a visit.
WHAT TO DO
The most obvious reason most visit Phuket is to relax and hang out on the beaches, of which there are plenty, as Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand, and is roughly the same size as Singapore. If you are looking for a party spot and busy beach, Patong is your spot, as it’s probably the most popular tourist destination on Phuket.
Nai Harn beach on the south of the island is popular as well, but has a more local feel. Karon beach is the second longest beach in Thailand and has lots to do but is still less touristy that Patong. Or, you can relax at Freedom beach, where water sports are forbidden so things are lazy and quiet. Banana Beach is also a low key, more undiscovered spot to relax in.
If you are looking for the opposite, and want an adventure-filled day of water sports, try Surin Beach. If snorkeling is your thing, try Ao Sane or Kata Noi, or if you prefer to rent equipment or have guided tours or diving tours, visit Aqua One or Aussie Divers, two great shops with friendly staff.
Really, the beach scene in Phuket is endless -it’s a tropical island surrounded by the usually placid Andaman Sea, so wherever you go, you will find sand and waves and a place to bask in the sunshine. Just beware of monsoon season, June-October, when heavy rains may affect your plans.
If you aren’t into beach bumming, Phuket does have a lot of other things to do. First off, for a sample of Thai culture visit the Big Buddha in Chalong. The structure cost 30 million baht (over $900,000) to build and is 147 feet high. There are also temples located in the same area called Wat Chalong. In fact, if you want to spend your trip visiting temples, there are actually 29 of them located throughout the island of Phuket, although Wat Chalong may be the most famous of the bunch.
Hiking isn’t super popular in Phuket, although the center of the island is almost entirely mountainous. Most of the land is privately owned and there aren’t many paths or hiking trails, plus it’s pretty steamy most of the year, which tends to discourage hikers from sweating it out up on the mountains. However if you want to take to the trails, try visiting the Kathu waterfall, which requires a 20-minute walk up winding stone stairs. Although it’s slightly touristy, the tropical rainforest foliage along the climb adds to the atmosphere.
If you are feeling crowded on Phuket, consider a day trip or even a few days in the Phi Phi islands, which are located nearby. This archipelago, made up of 6 small islands, was the backdrop for film The Beach. Lest you think this is just a pretty place, though archaeological discoveries suggest the Phi Phi islands are among the oldest-inhabited areas in Thailand, with artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period. On the nature side of things, the Phi Phi National Park is a marine wonderland filled with corals and colorful aquatic life, making it perfect for diving, snorkeling and kayaking. The other great thing is if you are looking for hiking, climbing the islands’ limestone cliffs is pretty common, and several local shops can hook you up with gear.
Back on Phuket, the Old Town is a mix of Thai influence and colonial roots. In the 17th century, the Dutch occupied Phuket and this area grew mainly due to a tin boom. This metal was quite precious at this time and you can stroll around the Old Town, seeing beautiful mansions, Thai temples and the influence and wealth the tin boom once brought to Phuket evidenced by the colorful facades. If you want a tour of Old Town with all the historical stories, try a guided walk with Heritage Tours.
WHERE TO EAT
Old Town is also one of the best places to grab an authentic bite of local southern Thai cuisine. Tons of cute restaurants and shops line this section of Phuket. If you aren’t too concerned about ambiance, try Krua La Poon, famous for their Moo Tod, a delectable deep fried pork, and if you want a little fun after dinner, try Ka Jok See, where dinner service is followed by dancing and entertainment.
For a more tranquil, beachfront dining, try Lotus on Bang Tao beach. This romantic setting is a beautiful place for a leisurely dinner followed by a stroll on the beach. Their seafood selection is know for being among the best on Phuket.
A combination of romantic, sexy, trendy and cool, Joe’s Restaurant is on Patong beach. The restaurant is large with a lounge, ocean-view seating and a downstairs wine cellar. They serve tapas, seafood, and a mixture of Thai inspired international food. Go for dinner, stay for drinks!
If you are looking for fine-dining options, look no further than Breeze at Cape Yamu. This restaurant has been voted the best in Phuket on multiple travel sites, and serves a variety of local seafood and light, gourmet cuisine. Another delicious choice is Boathouse, connected to the Boathouse hotel. Serving Thai-inspired French cuisine, this restaurant also offers beautiful ocean views. The nice thing about Phuket is that food and drinks are quite cheap, so eating well doesn’t cost as much as it might in other destinations.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Getting to Phuket from the United States is long but fairly straightforward. You can’t fly here nonstop from the US, so the best option is to fly into a large hub in Asia and then fly on to Phuket. You could transit through Bangkok, but there are no longer any nonstop flights from the US to Bangkok, so your best bet might be to fly into Seoul Incheon, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Dubai, or Abu Dubai nonstop from a large hub in the US and then connect to Phuket, if you want to have a flight with just one layover.
In SkyTeam, China Southern flies to Phuket via Guangzhou and Korean Air flies via Seoul Incheon. Cathay Pacific flies from Hong Kong and Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur in Oneworld, and in Star Alliance, you’ve got your choice of Air China from Beijing, Asiana from Seoul, Singapore Airlines (Silk Air) from Singapore, and Thai Airways from Bangkok. There are also several non-alliance airlines including Bangkok Airways (which codeshares with a lot of partners), Emirates from Dubai, Etihad from Abu Dhabi,
Once you arrive at the Phuket International Airport (HKT) you may realize that it’s the second busiest airport in Thailand. Over a dozen airlines fly in and out carrying nearly 3 million passengers a year.
When you exit the terminal, if you are looking for a taxi, head to the stand on the right. The average fares from Phuket airport are: Phuket Town 400 THB ($13), Patong 550 THB ($15) , Kata/Karon 600 THB ($18) plus a 100 ($3) baht airport surcharge. The trip will usually take approximately 30 minutes to Phuket, 40 minutes to Patong Beach, and around one hour to Kata/Karon. It’s possible to rent a car and reserve a limousine as well. They also have an airport bus, which is the cheapest option, usually about 90 THB ($3) each way, depending on where you are headed.
Radisson Blu Plaza Resort Panwa Beach Phuket: This resort is just 45 minutes from Phuket International Airport, located on the southeastern coastline of the island. All 211 rooms and villas have private balconies, marble vanities, a work station, armchair, and wood floors, plus the villas boast their own infinity pools. The hotel also has three large swimming pools, a gym, the Sapparot kids club with water slides and the Talay Spa. WiFi is free for all guests in-room and throughout the hotel. The hotel also offers other free activities like beach volleyball, yoga classes, scuba diving lessons, use of kayaks and more. There are options to do an all-inclusive stay, which includes food and drink as well as the room rate. Dining options include Aqua, Azur, Edge, and Octo bar. Room rates in early March start at 5,200 THB ($159) per night or 44,000 Gold Points for an award night.
Hilton Phuket Arcadia: This 75-acre resort is located next to Karon beach, a 45-minute drive from the airport. All guestrooms have a work desk, sea or garden views, and sliding patio doors to access your own patio. The hotel also has a 24-hour fitness center, a whopping five outdoor swimming pools and 15 spa treatment rooms offering Thai massage and other services. Dine at one of the seven restaurants and bars located on the hotel property, with a variety of Thai and international cuisines represented. This is an HHonors Category 5 hotel and room rates in early March start at 7,200 THB ($221) or 30,000 HHonors points for an award night.
Another Hilton option is the Double Tree Hilton Surin Beach.
Hyatt Regency Phuket: Perched on the top of a hill, this resort overlooks Kamala Cove at the southern tip of Kamala Beach. Almost all of the 199 rooms offer unobstructed sea views, balconies with sun loungers, hardwood floors, coffee makers, safes, 40-inch flatscreen TV’s and complimentary internet. There are two pools – a main pool and a children’s pool, a fitness center and the Nahm Spa for treatments at one of the eight spa rooms. Dine at the Pool House, Pool Bar, or Sunset Grill. Room rates start at 4,962 THB ($153) or or 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points for an award night in early March.
Holiday Inn Resort Phuket Mai Khao: Located right on the beach, this resort is on the west cost of Phuket. All guestrooms have a 32-inch flatscreen TV, DVD player, alarm clock, iPod docking station, work station and free WiFi. There is a business center, fitness room, library, outdoor pool, kids club and the Tea Tree Spa. The resort offers activities like cooking classes, thai chi and yoga. For dining, options include J’s Cafe or Pesto. Room rates in early March start at 3,995 THB ($123) or 20,000 points for an award night.
Other IHG options include the Holiday Inn Phuket, Holiday Inn Express Phuket and the Holiday Inn Resort Phi Phi (this one is technically on a different island than Phuket so a ferry would be involved).
JW Marriott Phuket: Conde Nast Traveler readers voted this resort one of the top 20 in Asia for luxury accommodations. It’s located about 8 miles north of the Phuket airport, and offers rooms with soundproof windows, alarm clocks, iron/ironing boards, table seating for 2, complimentary bottled water and coffee and tea making facilities. There is a fitness room that also offers complimentary classes, three plunge pools, a sauna, jacuzzi and the Mandara Spa. You can also take Thai cooking courses at the resort. If you’d rather have someone else cook your food, you have plenty of options: Marriot Cafe, Cucina, Ginja Taste, Andaman Grill, Kabuki, Siam Deli, Sala Sawasdee Lobby Bar, Out of the Blue Drink, Out of the Blue Splash, Beside the Sea Pool Bar and Lotus Pavilion. This is a Marriott Rewards category 6 resort and room rates in early March start at 6,800 THB ($209) or 30,000 points for an award night.
Phuket Beach Club Marriott: Located next to the above JW Marriott Phuket, all the rooms in this hotel are actually two-bedroom villas that can accommodate up to people. They each have two marble bathrooms, as well as a fully equipped kitchen, complimentary water, sofabed, three TV’s and table seating for six. Most rates also include WiFi. There are also three pools, a fitness center, a Kids Club, 10 restaurants (shared with the resort above), and a luxury spa (also shared with above resort). This is a Marriott Rewards Category 6 resort and room rates in early March start at 10,584 THB ($325) or 30,000 points for an award night.
Other Marriott options are the Renaissance Phuket, JW Marriott Khao Lak, and the Marriott Maik Khao Beach. The Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton is another nearby option, though it is not located on the island of Phuket – but more like an hour’s boat ride away on the Krabi coast of the mainland.
Westin Siray Bay: This resort overlooks beautiful Siray Bay. All 257 rooms, suites and villas come with iPod docking station, private balconies with ocean views, Westin Heavenly beds, and free local newspapers delivered daily. Internet access is 470 THB, ($14) per day. The resort has a fitness room, a Heavenly Spa, a water sports program, several pools/jacuzzis and also offers many beach and water activities for adults and kids. A bridge connects this island to the old quarter of Phuket. Restaurants include Daily Treats, EEST, Mix, Prego by the Beach, Seasonal Tastes, and Splash. This is an SPG category 3 resort, and room rates in early March start at 5,250 THB ($161) or 7,000 Starpoints for an award night.
Naka Island Luxury Collection: All the rooms in this luxury resort are villas, each with their own private pool. They also come with free WiFi, indoor and outdoor day beds, Bose iPod sound system, alarm clock, work station, and complimentary water. The hotel also has a fitness center, pool, library, and the Naka Spa. Cooking classes are also available. Three restaurants are located on the premises: Tonsai, Z Bar and My Grill. This is an SPG Category 6 resort and room rates in early March start at 15,750 THB ($484) per night. This hotel has “Limited Participation” in the Starwood Preferred Guest Program, therefore using your Starpoints is not always an option. For more information call the customer center if you would like to reserve this hotel using your points.
Other Starwood options are the Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
Fine Hotels and Resorts is a hotel program specifically for American Express Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders. By booking through this portal, you receive added perks and benefits thrown in with your stay – sort of like you would with elite status or by booking through a travel agent with great contacts at a hotel.
Amanpuri: Located on the west coast of Phuket, Amanpuri features pavilions and villas as its guest accommodations. These come in various combinations of bedrooms and bathrooms, however, all rooms feature Thai style furnishings, and daily newspapers. Most have ocean views. The resort offers a swimming pool, a gallery for shopping, the Aman Spa, a gym (with personal training options), library and tennis courts. Dining options include The Terrace, The Restaurant and Naoki. Room rates in early March start at 34,209 THB ($1,050).
Banyan Tree: The Banyan Tree Phuket was ranked 8th among the Top 100 Resorts of the World by Conde Nast. The resort is situated at Bang Tao Bay on the northwestern coast of Phuket. Here you have a choice of various villas, each coming with a different size and style of private pool or jacuzzi, number of bedrooms and bathrooms. All villas come with a work area and lounge area in addition to bathroom and sleeping areas. The resort offers yoga class and there is a fitness room. There is also a golf course, tennis courts, large swimming pool, cooking classes, library, and activities for children. Dine at one of the six restaurants or enjoy romantic in-room dining. The Banyan Tree spa is perfect for a Thai massage among other treatments. Room rates in early March start at 18,992 THB ($583).
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, Ink Bold, Ink Plus, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Anantara: Situated on Mai Khao Beach, this resort has 83 private pool villas, each featuring a deep terrazzo tub for two as well as both indoor and outdoor rain showers, plus a private pool! Amenities include an LCD TV’s and DVD players with surround sound, an in-room day bed, iPod dock, digital safety box, espresso machine, and personal wine cellar, as well as complimentary WiFi. The resort also offers a spa with a variety of Thai treatments and a large infinity pool. Dine at The Tasting Room, Sea.Fire.Salt., La Sala, The Tree House, or enjoy a cocktail at the infinity pool bar. There is also special romantic in room catering. Room rates in early March start at 19,750 THB ($608).
Paresa: This resort is located in the Kathu district on the west side of the island, known as Millionaire’s Miles. All villas and suites face the ocean and offer unique views of the sea and natural surroundings. They also offer both indoor and outdoor baths, balconies, fully equipped kitchens with wine fridges, Lavazza espresso machines, iPod docks and complimentary WiFi. The resort has a library, cooking school, indoor pool, fitness room, and a beach club. The spa offers a variety of healing and relaxing treatments. There is just one restaurant, Diavolo. Room rates in early March start at 17,127 THB ($526).
Sala Phuket: Just 20 minutes from the Phuket airport, Sala Phuket resort features 79 suites and villas, 63 of which have their own private pools. All rooms come with flatscreen televisions, DVD players, writing desks, in room safe, and coffee and tea making facilities. The award-winning Sala Spa uses Clarins products in all of their treatments. A variety of dining options are available, including beachfront, rooftop or in villa dinners. Room rates in early March start at 8,072 THB ($248).
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