Jamie's Phuket Blog

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Hiking to the Big Buddha from Karon Beach

Finally I have done this again! It was back in 2010 that I hiked up to the Phuket Big Buddha from Karon. A hike from nearly sea level up to nearly 400m above sea level. You can find the old blog post here. And since then I have always had the intention to do the hike again, but never found the right time, or just been too lazy. That blog page from 2010 is actually one of the most visited on Jamie's Phuket, and many people have asked me about doing the hike. I often point them in the direction of Steve at the Pineapple Guesthouse in Karon, because he has done the hike again since 2010! Recently Steve told me that the path is now much better, well marked with signs and so I figured it would be time to hike again. Start time was set for 7:30am on Sunday 25th March 2018 and I was joined by Steve, and Lana who is also a long time Phuket resident and runs the GoPhuket website. It was a beautiful high season morning - an early start is absolutely recommended if you don't want to suffer from heat exhaustion on the climb!

The start of the hike is easy. You just cross the road from Pineapple and walk up Patak Soi 14 next to Ice Family Tour. The first kilometer is on this road. Not a busy road. There are a few houses up here, some nice little places for rent and local houses. Easy to follow, not very steep, reaching about 100m above sea level when the road splits. And there is an obvious sign pointing the way.

Buddha Hike Signposts at first junction

So, there have been busy hands at work in Karon recently making this hike easier to follow. You can actually take the left or right road. I was following Steve's advice as he'd done the hike just the week before. We turned right, which leads to a steep path. The left route is longer, but not so steep and we planned to come down that way.

Buddha Hike Signpost

(above) I'd suggest turning right at this point. Only another 1.5km? Sounds easy! It gets steeper! After the right turn you need to keep left and a side road heads more steeply uphill less than 100m after the first right turn. And then a dirt track turns left again and things get steep. I'd carry some water with you, but you can buy water at the Buddha anyway. This hike is not super hard, but you will need to be reasonably fit.

Hike to Phuket Big Buddha - Dirt Path

(above) Start of the dirt track. Things start to climb pretty quickly. After less than 10 minutes we reached a point where the jungle opened up and we got some views back towards Karon beach.

Phuket Big Buddha Hike - View over Karon Beach

(above) Lana and the view after about 25 minutes walk. It's very green up here in the hills. You can see there are condominium developments further down the hill, but nothing once you get above 100m above sea level. I was sweating already, but the really steep walking was just about to start! In the next half kilometer we gained about 150m in altitude and it took about 20 minutes. The steepest sections have ropes to help you. And the ropes were needed! This new path is easy enough to follow, but it's not an easy hike!

Steep Path up to the Big Buddha

(above) On the steep section of the hike up to the Big Buddha. This was hard work for a little while. I'd not want to try in wet weather and was glad I did not wear my usual footwear (flip flops!) - running shoes or walking boots best although something like a decent pair of Teva sandals might be OK.

On the jungle hike to the Phuket Big Buddha

(above) Me and Steve on the way up. Several short breathers were needed. I mean, I am not too unfit these days and was not huffing and puffing too much, but it was very sweaty work!

Finally things flattened off a bit for a couple of hundred meters before the path came out onto the normal road up to the Big Buddha, which starts in Chalong. You could also simply hike up the road, but where's the fun in that! From the upper reaches of the road you get views across the sea with Karon beach way down below.

Road to the Big Buddha

(above) Easy walking for the last half kilometer along the road to the Big Buddha.

Big Buddha Entry Sign

(above) There has never been an entry fee to the Phuket Big Buddha, but there are a lot of donation boxes, and also stalls selling Buddha related items and you still have the chance to write your name on a piece of marble which may be used in construction of the surrounding buildings. A reminder on this sign above to dress modestly. If you have just hiked up in a vest you'll need a sarong or scarf to cover shoulders (Lana brought one with her). Shorts are OK, but please not swimwear or anything showing too much flesh. I last went up to the Buddha about a year ago and was pleased to see some changes. The steps going up look much better now and are being marbled and the viewpoint area looking east to Chalong Bay has been made nice (and the view is great of course!)

The Phuket Big Buddha

View east from the Big Buddha

(above) The Big Buddha and the view east over Chalong Bay. Steve, Lana and I have of course all visited the Big Buddha many times before, but we took a walk around for some photos and to enjoy the breeze which helped dry my sweat a bit! Nice to visit the Buddha early in the day when it's not so crowded and not so hot!

View looking north from the Big Buddha

(above) I have always loved the view north across the hills, along the "spine of Phuket". Up in the hills, Phuket is still so green. The name "Phuket" comes from the Malay word Bukit, which means hill.

View looking south from the Big Buddha

The view south (above) is also pretty great - you can see right down to the tip of Phuket at Phromthep Cape. More green hills. The developed area on the right side of the picture is along the back road behind Kata beach and heading towards Chalong. To the left is Chalong Bay heading down towards Rawai.

And then - time to walk back down again ... back down the road, but passing the steep path where we'd come up. The steeper sections of that would probably see me going down on my backside! If you walk further there's an elephant riding place / ATV place on the left and the path is signposted back to Kata / Karon.

Hiking down from the Big Buddha

(above) Me and Steve at the start of the path down again. There was plenty of easy walking, though the distance is further than the steep path on the way up.

Heading down from the Big Buddha

(above) Lana and Steve on a nice easy path on the way down. There are some steeper sections going down, especially one part with a slippery dirt path, but it's mostly easy going. I would add a couple more photos, but .. my phone battery died - I was taking photos, plus running 2 different apps to track the path (Strava and MapMyWalk) - I think having both of these using GPS plus all the photos drained the battery. I wanted to map the paths up and down. So it looks like I need to do this hike again very soon! For now, you can find the map of the upward path on both Strava and MapMyWalk. For some good exercise, great views and to avoid paying a taxi I recommend hiking up to the Big Buddha!

You can download a .gpx file here - this can be imported into Google Earth (click on File > Import .. then choose the file you downloaded and make sure the file selection is set to "all files". Then you can see the path to the Big Buddha in Google Earth).




Top 10 Trips and Tours from Phuket

Most of the trips we do as a family from Phuket are done "our own way" without joining any organised or paid tour. And for us that's easy enough as we have transport, we know the roads, we can speak Thai plus we enjoy exploring on our own. On many of the pages on this blog about trips such as Phang Nga Bay or visiting waterfalls I will post directions and maps so if you want to hire a car and explore, go for it! For other trips we get help from our friends who have a tour company called Easy Day Thailand - such as when we visited Koh Tachai Island and we've done trips as a group with these guys to Racha Yai Island, Koh Yao Yai Island and more. There is a lot to do here, lots of trips and that does not include local sightseeing to places like the Big Buddha, Cape Phromthep, old Phuket Town. When I stop to think about it, there is way too much to do here! Indeed after so many years here, we still find new places to explore and there are lots of trips and organised tours that we have not done, I guess because we're not tourists!

My friends at Easy Day Thailand started by offering private tours and personal service. The private tours they offer are my recommendation, but they will also sell cheaper group tours and can offer airport transfers plus some tours in other parts of Thailand like Krabi, Kanchanaburi or transfers from Phuket to Samui or Koh Tao. Pretty much anything really, just ask them - contact Easy Day Thailand here and say Jamie sent you!

Easy Day Thailand Tours

I have resisted adding any "top 10 attractions" list on the blog, because I think that depends what you are interested in. There are hundreds of pages on this blog and please do spend an hour browsing for information and ideas. You'll find there's more to Phuket than is shown in travel brochures. A lot more! Rather than "my" top 10, I asked the Easy Day team for a list of their 10 best/most popular/ recommended tours. The list is not in any particular order.

1. Exploring Phang Nga Bay

This would normally be the first trip I would suggest to anyone. We've done Phang Nga Bay trips many times, most recently in 2017 - see here : Phang Nga Bay. Great scenery, several iconic views. You can do trips like we've done by longtail boat in private groups visiting places like Panyee village and James Bond Island (see photo), or there is a very popular (and lower price) tour including sea canoeing around several islands and caves. It's their best selling tour.

Private Phang Nga Bay Tour - More Information

Koh Tapu

Sea Canoes in Phang Nga Bay

2. River Tubing & Jungle Safari at Kapong

Kapong is in Phang Nga province to the north of Phuket Island. We have been in this area for a white water rafting tour, but the trip that is really recommended (and I must do it sometime) includes river tubing, swimming at a waterfall and elephant bathing and trekking .. and yeh, I know elephant trekking is not so trendy now, with concerns about cruelty, but I am assured this place looks after the elephants and they only take small groups.

Kapong Safari - More Information

Elephant Bathing at Kapong in Phang Nga

3. Private Phi Phi Day Trip

I have not been to Phi Phi for quite a long time. It does tend to be rather crowded and most tours are on big boats with maybe 40 or 50 people. So they can be very cheap and that sounds attractive, and yes the scenery is very pretty despite the crowds, but a private tour is the way to go! Actually, it's best to stay overnight in Phi Phi and get a boat either late afternoon or early morning to avoid the daytrippers from Phuket! Easy Day can arrange that, or a private tour for a day from Phuket, so you get your own boat with a private guide in Phi Phi after taking a ferry from Phuket. And yes, this is more expensive that some of the real budget tours, but really worth the extra. Me and the family must go again sometime. Our last visit was years ago on a seaplane!

Phi Phi Private Day Trip - More Information
More Phi Phi Islands Tours
Phi Phi Overnight Tour - More Information

Losamah Bay, Phi Phi Islands from a seaplane

4. Khao Sok National Park

Day trips are possible to Khao Sok, although it's about 3 hours drive from Phuket and it's certainly best to stay a night. We have been many times and Easy Day Thailand use the same hotel that we have used - Cliff and River Resort. Tours include rafting or tubing on the river and/or a trip on the huge Ratchaprapha Lake. We love this area, great scenery, fresh jungle air, a nice change from Phuket!

Read more about the area here :

Khao Sok National Park
Khao Sok Tours with Easy Day

Khao Sok View

(above) View from our room at the Cliff and River Resort in Khao Sok National Park

Lunch stop at Khao Sok

(above) On the lake at Khao Sok National Park

5. Krabi Kayaking and Adventure Day Trips

Krabi is on the east side of Phang Nga Bay, and has some attractions that are a bit too far for a day trip such as the Emerald Pool and the Tiger Temple, plus many small offshore islands. You can also ask Easy Day about tours if you stay in the Krabi area, but some are also available from Phuket. There are various tours available such as a 4 Island Tour, Sunset Cruises, Phi Phi Tours and the very popular Hot Spring Spa.

Krabi Tours Overview
Waree Raksa Hot Spring Spa

Kayaking Mangroves near Krabi

(above) Kayaking in the Mangroves near Krabi

6. Koh Yao Yai and more Islands

This is a new tour based on a trip we did in 2016 - see Koh Yao Yai Island. Day trips are possible, taking a boat from Bang Rong pier on the northeast coast of Phuket, but an overnight is better. Koh Yao Yai is a quiet island and the views from the east coast are great, looking across the bay towards the Krabi coast. Tours will also include stops at Hong Island and others. Some more great scenery here. You can actually do several day trips in different parts of Phang Nga Bay .. and we have!

Contact Easy Day for more info about Koh Yao Yai

Thiwson Resort Pool

(above) View from Thiwson Resort at Koh Yao Yai Island

7. Similan Islands Overnight Snorkeling

The Similan Islands I know very well! I spent many months on dive boats there and I was manager for many years at Sunrise Divers, booking people for diving trips right through the high season from mid October to early May. So please do contact Sunrise Divers for diving trips. Easy Day can book snorkelers on a couple of different trips. Day trips are possible, but are a bit rushed. An overnight trip is much more relaxed. There used to be an option to sleep in tents, but it was not really comfortable and the national park has (since 2018) stopped overnight stays on the islands. But you can stay in aircon cabins on a boat called Pansa Queen :) The Similan Islands really are beautiful!

Similan Islands Overnight - More Information

Similan Islands

(above) Similan Islands "Donald Duck Bay"

8. Surin Islands Overnight Camping

The Surin Islands are quite a long way from Phuket, it's an easier trip if you are staying in Khao Lak. Overnight or 2 night stays are possible, camping in the Surin Islands national park. A day trip is possible too. It's less crowded than the Similan Islands (because it's further away) and there is lots of great snorkeling plus you can visit the Moken Sea Gypsy village. Staying overnight is a real "get away from it all" experience.

Surin Islands Snorkeling - More Information

Moken Village, Surin Islands

9. Racha Yai Island Early Bird

Racha Yai island, also called Raya Island, is a very popular day trip destination from Phuket. There are lots of boats and lots of snorkelers, plus dive boats along the reef and in the bays. I have dived there many times - see : Diving at Racha Yai. A few years ago we joined the Easy Day folks for an overnight trip - see : Overnight at Racha Yai. To beat the crowds on a day trip, the early bird tour is a must. Hotel pick up 6 - 6:30am means you get to the island a few hours before anyone else! Or you can ask Easy Day about overnight options. If you stay on the island and wake up early, you also beat the crowds!

Racha Yai Early Bird Tour - More Information

Siam Bay, Raya Island

(above) Arriving at Racha Yai Island

10. Private Phuket Island Sightseeing Tours

As I mentioned at the top of the page, Phuket Island itself has many attractions and it's a big island! Easy Day do have a few "set tours" (half day, full day, evening weekend market tour), but you can also contact them for a private tour to see whatever you want .. like maybe you want to start with sunrise at the Big Buddha and then visit Chalong Temple, maybe the Botanic Garden, then lunch in Phuket Town, then up a hill, or a stop at the aquarium and catch an evening show at Siam Niramit, the options are more or less unlimited. Just ask!

Phuket Sightseeing - More Information
Weekend Market Tour

Phuket Big Buddha

(above) The Big Buddha

Phuket 3 Beaches Viewpoint

(above) View at Karon Viewpoint

Walking Street Market in Phuket Town

(above) Sunday Market in old Phuket Town

More Services by Easy Day

Airport Transfers
Transfer to Phi Phi Islands
Phuket Cooking Class
Sailing Cruises

Of course, you can't see it all, which is why I do find that many people come back to Phuket. If you have a couple of beach days and a few tours that's a week gone and then you start to realise that there's a lot more here! For trips, tours, transfers, please do contact Easy Day Thailand. The trips above are suggestions, some of their best sellers and trips that get the best feedback. If you have questions you can ask them or you can post a question on my Facebook page. See you in Phuket!




Top 10 Best Phuket Hotels 2019

It's time for the 2019 Top 10 Phuket Hotels list. There are 3 new entries compared to 2018 and a new number 1. For each hotel there are links for checking online rates and availability with Agoda.com. As for all previous year's top 10 hotel lists, I based this on Tripadvisor rankings which may be imperfect and change all the time. You'll find links to reviews for each hotel. Hotels get scores out of 10 on Agoda so you can compare reviews, and importantly reviews can only be made by guests who have actually booked the hotel, so you can see if real hotel guests agree with TA ratings!

1. Ayara Kamala

Ayara Kamala Resort

Ayara Kamala Resort was new in the top 10 last year and now jumps right to the top! Despite the name, the resort is not right on Kamala beach - you'll find it on the headland south of Kamala along with several other very nice resorts and private villas. This stretch of coast has great views and the resort is quite exclusive, with just a dozen or so villas. The area is called Millionaire's Mile. From the resort to Kamala beach is about 2km, so hopefully they have a free shuttle!

Ayara Kamala - Information & Booking
Ayara Kamala - Reviews

2. The Chava Resort (Surin Beach)

Chava Resort

The Chava hit the top 10 in 2015, hit number 1 in 2016 and was number 2 last year too. Surin Beach always has something in the top 10! The Chava Resort features a collection of 2 - 5 room apartments (this seems to be called an "apartment resort"), some are run directly by the hotel, while some on the same property are privately owned and privately rented. Rooms are really enormous, not normal hotel size, great for families and groups. Like Ayara, it's a place with sea views, slightly up in the hills, not right on the beach but just few minutes walk from Surin beach.

Chava Resort - Information & Booking
Chava Resort - Reviews

3. BYD Lofts (Patong Beach)

BYD Lofts

BYD Lofts remains very popular - it's been in the top 5 for the last 5 years. Unlike the top 3 on this list - if you want a room near the heart of Patong Beach, close to the action and in the middle of the busiest beach area in Thailand, BYD Lofts offers serviced apartments with the hotel featuring a rooftop pool (and a view over the beautiful concrete jungle of Patong). There are 1 or 2 bedroom apartments of various sizes. I rarely venture into Patong myself - not my style, but Patong beach is very convenient for visitors, with huge numbers of restaurants plus shops/the big Jungceylon Mall and tour agents near you. And bars and nightlife too.

BYD Lofts - Information & Booking
BYD Lofts - Reviews

4. Trisara Phuket Villas & Residences

Trisara

Trisara has been either 1 or 2 on this list for about 5 years, so a surprise to find it ranked 4th! I would really really love to stay here a few days and do nothing at all! Are you listening Trisara manager?! Trisara offers private pool villas by a private beach to the north of Bang Tao beach in the north of Phuket island. Trisara is what I'd call a "private, luxury, superb view view, relax and unwind" style hotel. Only 48 villas, acres of space, no crowds. There are also "private residences" (houses) with 2 - 6 bedrooms, ideal for families, big groups, or even wedding parties. Or just for a relaxing getaway for a romantic couple. The location - miles from any busy areas, so youll need your own transport or have to get taxis everywhere.

Trisara - Information & Booking
Trisara - Reviews

5. Navatara (Rawai Beach)

Navatara

Navatara first appeared on the list at number 7 in 2016, and has been at number 5 for 2 years. Navatara opened in 2013, but with hotels opening all the time I'd not even heard of it until doing the top 10 list in 2016! Navatara has 37 rooms, built with some "Thai style". Some rooms have pool access, and all rooms look pretty big! This is a smaller, Thai style resort away from the main beaches, but not too far - many people ask me to recommend a hotel like this! Like many of the very best hotels, it's not on the beach. Navatara is about 500m from Rawai beach and a few minutes drive from Nai Harn beach and Phromthep Cape. One of my favourite corners of Phuket.

Navatara - Information & Booking
Navatara - Reviews

6. Avista Grande (Karon Beach)

Avista Grande

The top 10 in the last couple of years has almost entirely been missing hotels at the main beaches, but the Avista Grande at Karon Beach leaps into the top 10. The full name is Avista Grande Phuket Karon MGallery by Sofitel .. bit of a mouthful. Sofitel is a chain, part of the Accor group, with MGallery being a more boutique luxury style of hotel. I worked at Karon beach at the Sunrise Divers shop and we had a fair number of customers staying at this hotel.

Avista Grande - Information & Booking
Avista Grande - Reviews

7. Chanalai Flora Resort (Kata Beach)

Chanalai Flora Resort

And another on a main beach! There are several Chanalai resorts in Phuket (Garden, Hillside, Romantica, Flora) and all are in Kata or Karon. Note - if you stay at one of these, be sure if you book tours that you know which Chanalai you are at! And note that this is not the same place as La Flora, which is in Patong. Chanalai Flora is in a great location just a few minutes walk to Kata beach, and there are plenty of shops and all kind of restaurants nearby. And the price is quite a bit lower than most of these top 10 resorts!

Chanalai Flora Resort - Information & Booking
Chanalai Flora Resort - Reviews

8. The Surin (Pansea Beach)

The Surin

The Surin (formerly called The Chedi) reopened with the new name about 8 years ago, but The Chedi had already been in Phuket for many many years, with it's uniquely excellent location on a "private" beach between Surin and Bang Tao beaches in the north of Phuket. I'd stay here! Another resort that is a little remote but you can get to Surin or Bang Tao for restaurant options. I'd rent a car if I stayed here. And The Surin is not ridiculously expensive compared to the neighbour - the beach is shared with the very very fancy Amanpuri.

The Surin - Information & Booking
The Surin - Reviews

9. Renaissance Phuket Resort (Mai Khao Beach)

Renaissance

Renaissance is one of the various Marriott owned resorts north of Phuket Airport at Mai Khao Beach. Renaissance has been on this blog before as part of the Best Luxury Phuket Resorts list and was also in the Top 10 Hotels for 2018 and 2017. Mai Khao beach is still really quiet and unless you stick to only the various Marriott hotel restaurants you'll need transport or taxis to get to other places. Rent a car, explore, drive just a few minutes from here and you're over the bridge into Phang Nga province. Ideal for a few days of relaxation and a quiet base for exploring the Phuket area!

Renaissance - Information & Booking
Renaissance - Reviews

10. Pacific Club Resort (Karon Beach)

Pacific Club Resort

Pacific Club has been lurking around the top 10 for years, sometimes in and sometimes just out. Located on the hillside above Karon beach near the also-popular Mandarava resort, Pacific Club is a bit off the main strip, quiet at night, great views, has a popular restaurant and various room types including suites and small apartments with kitchens. It's about 10 minutes walk down to the beach.

Pacific Club Resort - Information & Booking
Pacific Club Resort - Reviews


And that's the Top 10 hotels in Phuket as of early 2019. Have you stayed at a hotel that's not listed, but you think it should be? Go and give it a big review and get it's TA ranking up! Phuket has been on the mainstream tourism route for nearly 30 years now, and there is a great mix of old and new resorts (hard to keep up with openings and re-brandings!), big hotels, guesthouses, villas, apartments, hillside, beachfront, busy areas, quiet areas. There is something here in Phuket for everyone. Any budget.

For anyone thinking of coming to Phuket - doing your research is very important especially regarding the hotel location. Look at a map, please! I read too many reviews complaining about location. Check the map! In recent years, as this list shows, many top class resorts have opened in more secluded areas and the trend is for sea view hillside (not on the beach) hotels and villas. Land prices (buying or renting) are so incredibly high that beachfront would be a mega-investment. Although Phuket does get many package tourists these days there is also a big luxury market, and most of this top 10 could be called luxury (by my standards), but at the same time small hotels, guesthouses and "backpacker price" places are also plentiful.

For hotel booking, reviews, information ... check agoda.com or booking.com! See you in Phuket!