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Trip Report 15th visit to Phuket: want the inside track on food, transport etc?

There are lots of things to do, based on your interests. A good elephant trek is one at Kata, called Kok Chang - my children loved this! There's also an aquarium which your child may enjoy, and a lovely butterfly farm near Phuket Town. You may also enjoy visiting Wat Chalong - the prettiest temple on the island, where you can pay a small donation and then pay your respect to the Buddha with incense and lotus flowers - a very spiritual experience. There's also the Big Buddha - Thailand's biggest Buddha statue perched high on a hill. I don't find it the most spiritual place, but it has great views and the statue itself is inspiring.

Ive visited 15 times in 8 years and have found lots of 'insider' things to do. I am not a beach fan, so can't recommend anything sea-related, but I am a food writer and there are some real gems to be found on the island. Top picks include: Kan Eang Seafood 2 (off the main road towards Chalong, look for a sign on the left). You eat overlooking the bay, and this is consistently the best fish and seafood in my opinion. Whole barbecued sea bass with a nam jim dressing made from palm sugar, soy sauce and fish sauce; the freshest oysters; prawns fried in batter with local sea grass, squid, prawns in tamarind sauce. Not that cheap but well worth it. Also, wine is very expensive in restaurants in phuket, but you can take your own wine or whisky for a small corkage fee. Beer is the best value option.

Another great restaurant in the south of the island is Mor Mudong - set up by a doctor (Mor) to feed his friends, originally. Ii consists of wooden shacks on stilts in a mangrove swamp (can be a bit smelly at night, so lunch is better). You sit Thai style on mats around a low table, so probably not a good idea for those with knee problems or who have difficultly sitting. THe food is exemplary: again, whole fish in lime sauce is to be recommended, as are all the squid/prawn and crab dishes. You can find mor Mudong by following signs to phuket zoo then carrying on past the zoo and turning right.

Another recent find was on Sakdidej Road in Phuket Town - a restaurant called Ubon, next door to another one called Roi Et. These both specialise in food from upcountry Isan - bamboo salad, tendon soup (not particularly yummy!), catfish, som tam (papaya salad). Also in town there are many coffee shops in the Old Town area - really good places to chill.

And on Sunday afternoons there is a new street market in Thalang Road where you can eat, snack, stroll and enjoy live music and soak up the very friendly atmosphere, as well as buying some great souvenirs, such as ankle bracelets, aromatherapy oils, shoes, bags and quirky clothing. Shopaholics will also love the night market at Wat Naka, near Central Shopping Festival - it's on at weekends, Sat and Sun only 5pm-11pm. Very popular with Thais and excellent prices for clothes, accessories, makeup, homewares and street food. You can haggle here, but not as much as in some other places - and remember that Thai shopkeepers will always give you a good price if you're their first customer!

Getting around the island is expensive if you don't hire a car or scooter. Metered taxis operate from outside the airport - come out on to the street and turn right then walk to the end. They will quote you a fare upfront. Another good option is to hire a local tour guide - if you use taxis, very often you end up in a rundown, dirty car with a dishevelled driver who speaks no English, so I prefer to pay a bit more for a new, comfortable car and a guy who is clean, polite and can tell me about the things we see.

On my recent trip we found a good tour guide called Petch - he took us out around the island and has various itineraries based on people's interests if you don't know what you want to do. Speaks good English and has a comfortable, new Toyota Corolla Altis, which seats 4 passengers comfortably. He also took me to Phang Nga for the day and suggested visiting a cave temple with reclining Buddha and monkeys outside to feed, then a viewpoint restaurant for lunch with stunning views over the local countryside, then a waterfall. He can be contacted direct for airport pick up/day tours etc on [email protected] One good thing for newbies to Phuket is that he offers different itineraries, based on people’s interests, from activities with children (Bird World, Butterfly Farm, elephant trek, zoo etc) to temples and history: Wat Chalong, Big Buddha, Phuket old town with its Sino-Portuguese houses and markets.

Another good way of getting around if you're based in Phuket Town is the local bus service. The timetable is erratic, to say the least, but it's cheap - usually about 30 b per journey. The buses are open-sided so quite comfortable in the heat, although Phuket is quite polluted so you do ingest fumes!

I'd also recommend buying a Thai SIM card while you're there, especially if you have local friends to stay in touch with. You can buy them at any convenience store, such as 7-11, for about 50 b then just top up in the same store as you need to.

For anyone staying in Rawai, try out the new street food stall next to the Stoned Crab restaurant on Saiyuan. They do a whole fish, som tam and sticky rice for 140 b. Also pork and sticky rice, plus some salads. Really good, and the girl who runs it is very friendly.

There’s also a fab café in Rawai, similar to the ones you find in Phuket Town. A spoonful of sugar is just after Banana Corner on the left hand side. Retro, vintage style, it’s a very cool place to hang out with a very relaxed atmosphere. Great range of teas and coffees – and some excellent smoothies and juices. Cakes too!! One of the best things is that they have a laptop which customers can use free of charge, so if you want to do a bit of work, catch up with FB or check your emails, this is a good place to go! Closed Mon. Otherwise open from 10am-7pm.

A few notable places to eat: Mee Ton Poe is regarded as the best place in Phuket for Hokkien noodles. They do a great seafood/pork/baby oyster combo, plus brilliant hor mok and pork scratchings. They also do pork satay – 10 for 50b. Mee Ton Poe is at Clock Circle in Phuket Town – there’s also a lovely café opposite, called Coffee Circle.

Raya is one of Phuket’s top restaurants, also in Phuket Town. We enjoyed a Thai-style omelette stuffed with pork, yummy red duck curry and a whole fish. Not cheap – the bill was over 1000 b but it’s a beautiful building and offers authentic Thai-style food.

Phuket Town is about as far from Patong in every sense as you can get! We loved it for its local vibe. There are many coffee shops to recommend and it’s perfectly possible to spend a whole morning drifting from one to another – From 1892, Kopitiam, etc etc – they’re all good and many offer a quirky, creative atmosphere, with other items on sale.

My final recommendation is for the Memory at On On hotel in Phang Nga Road. This used to be a backpacker hostel, and the opening scenes of The Beach were filmed here. If you book via Agoda, it’s possible to get a double room with breakfast for about 1000 b per night. The hotel staff are lovely and welcoming. The building itself is Phuket’s oldest hotel, built in 1927. Stunning architectural features – stained-glass windows, a central courtyard, shuttered windows, Sino-Portuguese style buildings – combined with the recent refurb mean that it offers a special ambience along with good quality beds, aircon, power shower etc. It doesn’t feature that many facilities – the only meal on offer is breakfast, and there’s no pool – but if you like to stay somewhere with character, this is a brilliant choice.

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