Getting There: After spending two chaotic days in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we were looking forward to the serenity of the beaches of Phuket. Getting from Bangkok to Phuket is really easy. You can fly out of the major Suvarnabhumi Airport or the smaller and quieter Don Mueng Airport, anywhere from $50-$100 RT, depending on how early you book. We chose to fly our of Don Mueng on Nok Air. Don’t expect bells and whistles on this flight. You’ll get a piece of cake and some water, that’s it unless you want to pay for additional drinks. But for an hour long flight, that suits just fine.
Upon arrival in Phuket, you’ll either be whisked away by a flat price taxi charging you 600 THB or more depending on where you’re going on the island, a hotel shuttle bus (free or at charge) or a private driver arranged ahead of time. We opted for a private driver arranged by the owner of the place we were staying at first, which worked out just fine.
Our first destination was Surin Beach, the next door neighbor the more well-known beach of Bangtao. The drive down was beautiful. You’ll almost immediately find yourself driving through the rubber tree plantations, lining each side of the road. Hundreds upon hundreds of trees, in different stages of growth, all waiting for maturity. While the locals wait for the rubber trees, they plant pineapples at the bases to yield more seasonal crops. You’ll then pass through one town after another every five to ten minutes, small, quaint and slightly congested with motorbikes, tuk tuks and buses on their narrow roads. Old mixed with new, each town had it’s own charm and character. We even passed through a predominately Muslim town, where you could see abayas and kandoras hanging in the market stalls and familiar foods on the street grills. The background is lush, green and full of fresh air.
As we neared our abode, we passed through our cute small town of Surin on the 4025 Freeway, which included a high end furnishings mall, some smaller free standing boutiques, high end homes in the hills and resorts dotted along the way. This, all mixed with the local restaurants, homes and culture. We branched off the 4025 onto a two lane road, Soi Ao Bangtao 8. This street has some fabulous massage places, the famous Lemongrass House store, some more high end hotels and what appeared to be western style restaurants. This is the road we stayed on, a little farther up, choosing a condo over a hotel. The condo was perfect for our family. Very spacious, very modern, and views to take your breath away. It came complete with it’s own rooftop entertainment area and jacuzzi, and if you want, a private chef to prepare your dinners on the rooftop. In the lobby, there was a nice little bar and restaurant that was moderately priced, and a small infinity pool. We found this to be the perfect spot for us as it was only a short walk down the road ’till you could cut across on a park pathway (or walk back down to the small road) and find yourself at the beach. We made this walk one or two times a day with our children.
The beach front of Surin was our favorite part of the entire trip. Although on the higher end of prices compared to Karon or Kata, this is an undiscovered little gem with crystal clear water and the softest, almost “spongy”, white sand. A small road creates a board walk of sorts, with a variety of small restaurants and tailor shops. Update: Up to 2014, most of the restaurant seating was on the beach side of the road, while the kitchens are on the opposite side. However, once the government took back its land, the beach side of the road is now just that…beach. But no worries, it’s still said that the small area of Surin houses some of the best restaurants and best selection of food compared to the other beaches of Phuket. Pizza, seafood and traditional Thai food abound here. Even the cheaper market style stalls can be found in the parking lot. You’ll feel your toes in the sand under your table, you’ll hear the crashing of the waves, and the the sunsets will take your breath away. You really do have low end to high end dining here. Take a walk up and down, peruse the menus and see what suits your fancy.
We went during low season, August, and found it to be perfect for our family. There was always plenty of seating, the beach was never crowded and the prices and offers seemed to be lower and negotiable. You’ll get two sun chairs a table and umbrella for 200 THB a day for those who enjoy spending their time on the beach. Be careful of the tide…low season means red flags most of the time, so water activity is discouraged. We dipped our toes here and there, but never made the plunge. Speedboats are rare, as are jet skis, so noise pollution isn’t a problem. Many take up kayaking, snorkeling and surfing here. Update: We also found great pleasure in beach front massages. Our favorite place had a wooden thatch canopy set up, with ladies in green shirts. Now, there’s no wooden thatch canopy, but they are still there, offering massages for 300 bht on mats right on the sand. We negotiated our price down from 400 bht, and cut the kids in half. Needless to say, our kids now beg for massages after this trip. My husband and I had been told that we had to have some custom clothing made, so while at the beach, we poked our noses into a store, and an hour and a half later, we had measurements taken and dress shirts, slacks and skirts on order. In only 24 hours and one fitting, we had them back, perfect.
We spent most of our days walking to the beach, grabbing massages and eating. Taxis anywhere on the island are expensive since they don’t use a meter. So, going places can be cost prohibitive. You’ll spend 600-800 THB to get anywhere close to Patong, Karon or Kata beaches. Luckily, our new tailor friend told us about the blue public fresh air bus, called a Songtaew. We had wanted to visit the large Central Festival Center shopping mall in Phuket Town, so this was the perfect way to do it.
They travel the island on designated routes, leaving the central market area on Ranong Road in Phuket Town every half-hour between 7.00 am and 6.00 pm, and traveling to each of the various beaches. The average cost is between 10 and 40 Baht depending on how far you are travelling, and often less or no charge for small children. We paid 100 THB there and 80 THB back. They do not go to other beach towns from Surin, unless you first go through Phuket Town then to Patong, Karon and Kata and other beach destinations. They are modest buses, with three wooden benches for seating and open air ventilation. My kids thought it was a blast, and my husband and I enjoyed the cultural side of it. The bus stop in Surin is right by the 7-11, you just flag it down and it stops. You can pretty much flag it down anywhere along a road if you see one, same with getting off.
Once in Phuket Town, they’ll drop you off at Phuket Town central market roundabout. Here, you’re in the heart of town, choose your destination and start walking. Markets, coffee shops and food abound in this congested area of Phuket. However, if you want to continue on to Central Festival, you need walk up the street just a bit and look for the large coach buses or micro buses. Just start asking for Central Festival Mall bus and people will direct you. DO NOT take a taxi to Central Festival. They’ll charge you 200 THB for a 5 minute drive, the coach bus charged my husband and I 20 THB each, and the children were free.
Central Festival is a large and very nice mall. It is much like a mall you’d find in Bangkok, with a little bit of everything, high and low end. You’ll find various food courts of local food and Western food, an area dedicated to kids edutainment called Edu Planet featuring places such as Gymboree, a theater and health and beauty services.
All in all, throughout our entire trip, we found Surin Beach to be our favorite hang out spot. The simplicity of life, the small crowds and the beauty of the beach will call us back in the future.
Updated: 22 October, 2014