36 hours in phuket and phi phi islands

Some might say that this was a silly little excursion, but I tend to be stubborn. And where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ve always wanted to visit Thailand and eat great food there, but my trip was in and out of Singapore and I only had 2 days to spare. But, I made it work and even spent a half day in Bangkok to make it worth my time. I find it less stressful to have longer layovers where you can hop out of the airport for a bit before going back in. It helps for the flexibility if your budget airline is running late and 6+ hour layovers are better than 3 hour layovers because checking back in, you’ll be there maybe 2 hours ahead of time. I scheduled it such that I would stay 2 nights in Phuket, allowing myself a day trip to the famous Phi Phi Islands. Any less time and it wouldn’t be worth it.

Unfortunately my flight from Bangkok to Phuket was well delayed, such that it was impossible for me to get a bus to Old Town Phuket where I was staying. It was honestly very confusing how to get any transportation, but basically shuttle companies will send you to a shuttle, but they ideally want you to team up with other travelers so you can share a whole shuttle. But I was so fed up that I ended up ordering an entire shuttle van for myself, and they were a tad annoyed. It’s the same price (about 1100 THB) whether you have one or five people in the van, so I thought it was really only a win situation for them.

At Rassada Pier

Anyway, that delayed caused me to lose an evening in Phuket, but you gotta be flexible when city hopping! I had booked one of the earliest ferries to Phi Phi and the latest one back, both on the slower boats since they were quite a bit cheaper, but they just range from about 700-1000+ THB, pretty affordable either way. You can also book them at the Rassada Pier terminal. This is the most popular terminal to get to Phi Phi with plenty of companies to choose from. I walked over from where I was staying, but you could also take a taxi or tux tuk depending on time of day. Strolling along, I took my time to check out the Kaset Market nearby and got a savory breakfast (55 THB or $1.5). I was intending to find a rice porridge at Khao Tom Thanon Di Buk but missed it and went to a shop right before it, which was still quite good.

The slower ferries take about 2 hours to cross the bay instead of the 1 hour on a speed boat. I opted for the slower one for a slightly cheaper price and a smoother ride. You’re allowed to sit wherever and I sat on the top deck enjoying the breeze and got a little too much sun! Make sure you sunscreen enough here because the sun is very strong especially out on the water. On the way to Phi Phi’s Tonsai Pier, we passed a few rock islands and fishing boats.

Pi Leh Lagoon

But the best surprise was a little detour around Ko Phi Phi/Maya Bay. I’m not entirely sure if this is common to all ferry rides, but we got a little loop around this famous island and saw a lot of other tourists there. Obviously this whole area from Phuket to Phi Phi is tourist central, but it was nice to get a free sort of tour of this island I knew I had no time to explore on a one day trip out here.

Once I landed on Phi Phi, I started to roam around town. It’s pretty small and walkable and plenty of food stalls and restaurants. I grabbed a mango smoothie (60 THB) immediately!  It was too hot for me to even want to hike anywhere but there’s 3 viewpoints that would be worth checking out if you had the time. The first view point is just above town, a super short walk. I headed straight to the other side of the island (Tonsai is the thinnest strip of the island). Normally I’m one to check for the cheapest options, but I took the first kayak rental shop I found, which was just 200 THB for an hour. Equivalent of less than $10! They were kind and let me have a dry bag as well. I’ve paddled plenty but it’s great to have a little reassurance if you were to hit a large wave or anything were to accidentally happen, your electronics would be safe.

Lo Dalum Beach and longtail boats

Kayaking was a great way to escape the crowds and find some quietness in such a touristy place. Seemed like most other people opted to get driven around in boats instead of paddling themselves. But I got to go my own speed and revel in the gem green color of the bay. I paddled to Monkey Beach, one of the many beautifully aqua shorelines around these islands. Maya Bay is just a bigger version of this! It wasn’t hard to find the monkeys, they were actually quite cute and small. I’d seen my fair share in Hong Kong before, so it wasn’t as much a novelty but I was happy to meet these cuties! At Monkey Beach, there’s a closed off section for people to snorkel and check out the fish, which were swimming too quickly for me to grab a picture of them. Next up, underwater photography ha!

Having only booked the kayak for an hour, I started to return back and letting myself relax when I knew I wouldn’t be late. I dried off a little and walked along the boardwalk to find a lunch spot. I don’t think you could really find something that’s “local” per say, but nearly everything is Thai food, just often a little fancied up for tourists. So I ended up at the Phi Phi Princess Resort. I didn’t mind that all too much for the beautiful meal I got. I couldn’t resist the blue rice and what seemed like the perfect summer day meal. And thai tea on the side of course! All that cost just 230 THB, just under $7 even for having an up charge on location.

Ferry ride back

I returned on a mid afternoon ferry back to Phuket. When they check your ticket, they’ll ask if you want a shuttle, and definitely take it, it’s only 100 THB. It’s amazing how they run everything there, it’s not electronic at all. Depending on what you booked, you get a different color sticker. And then a worker comes by and checks on you. So if you’ve booked a shuttle for after, they’ll ask where you’re headed and then give you a shuttle number. They have this little notepad where they keep track and sort people into, it’s truly wild to see it happen. And when you’ve landed, you find your group of people and get onto a shuttle waiting for you, tell the driver where you’re headed and it’s like an extremely low cost taxi service. I think the shuttles and ferries have deal of sorts! Oh and on the way back, they were serving fresh slices of watermelon for free, a lovely surprise! Not sure if that’s typical or random, but it was nice to have on a hot day.

Anyway back in Phuket, and after showering, it was time to wander the streets again. Old Town Phuket, though a little touristy, was pretty cute with its colorful buildings. There’s so many food places, I wish I could stay longer. I ended up going to the well reviewed One Chun Cafe. I was so close to getting Pad Thai again, but the crab curry noodles (425 THB) sounded so delicious. It was famous for that, so I had to get it. They ran out of mango sticky rice, but they recommended their sister restaurant around the block at Raya to get my fill of dessert (120 THB).

And with that my time in Phuket was ending. A quick walk through the market again for snacks and I was on my way back to the airport. Highly recommend getting something you don’t know what it is. For me it was these leaf wrapped sticky rice packets with various fillings and mini buns. I took the bus from the one bus station in Phuket east of Old Town and it was easy. You can get change back when you pay for the bus, which is cash only. The airport bus ride is pretty short and easy and takes you through town a bit again for a final look at the area before you fly away. But it doesn’t run too often – check the time table in advance.

I would definitely have spent a couple more days checking out the other beaches and areas around. There’s plenty to explore and relax here, but Old Town Phuket was pretty neat itself and I would highly recommend checking out the islands. There’s a lot of excursions to do, like snorkeling, diving or taking a private longtail boat.

  • Currency exchange is about 100 Thai Baht = 3 USD
  • Ferry to Phi Phi can be bought online or in person. Make sure you get a shuttle ride back from the terminal if you need it and they’ll help arrange everything. Speedboat transit time is 1 hour, normal ferry is 2 hours.
  • If you have extra days, you could do a little triangle from Phi Phi to Railey back to Phuket.
  • Old Town Phuket is quite cute especially down Soi Romanee Street. But honestly they’re all cute anywhere from the North end at Dibuk Road to Ratsada Road and sectioned east and west by Yaowarad and Thep Krasattri Roads.
  • Depending on your flight, the Phuket airport bus is a great way to get into Phuket Town.

Other places that were on my list that I didn’t get to:

  • Blue Elephant Cooking School & Restaurant
  • Three Monkeys Restaurant
  • Khao Tom Thanon Di Buk
  • Ma Doo Bua (the cafe with the floating lily pads you can get a drone pic with them)

Photos taken on Canon 5D Mark IV and iPhone 13

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