Patong Beach isn’t a new travel hotspot. As one of Thailand’s biggest party destinations, it’s seen a fair amount of travellers arrive carrying high hopes and leaving with treasured memories, a raised bar for their next island holiday, and a trademark tailored suit or dress.
Some people fault Patong Beach for only catering to young travellers looking for vodka buckets and pool parties. However, during my time spent at Phuket’s coastal gem, I found it provided an array of possibilities each day, from water sports and market bartering, to wilderness adventures and exotic pampering.
Here are some of my best Patong Beach experiences:
As an avid traveller, I pride myself on getting out and seeing the most I can of each country I visit, so I was of course conflicted when I laid eyes upon the resort’s tropical-style pool complete with swim-up bar and smiling Thai bartender who personified that classic Bob Marley song, Three Little Birds. Many hours were spent lazily paddling around that pool with a drink in one hand and a loose grip on reality in the other.
I came to realise that a hotel or resort on Patong Beach is almost as important as the beach itself. I stayed at the Banthai Beach Resort & Spa, but there are plenty of similar resorts in the area. The best part is you don’t need to splurge to be treated to a poolside bar, daily-cleaned rooms and classic Thai hospitality, which includes a welcome mocktail and the occasional fruit basket in your room.
I have yet to visit a beach that even half resembles the melting pot of Patong Beach. In part, it was a typical coastline with sand and salty ocean, but it managed to fit more activities than I ever thought possible. This started just offshore with an inflatable wonderland of trampolines, launch pads and a towering blow-up pyramid that could be climbed and jumped off.
Back on the beach were a number of water-sport purveyors, offering everything from jet skiing and wakeboarding, to skydiving and parasailing. Wanting to save my money for other endeavours, I opted to kick back on my towel. It only took a few hours for me to get a true appreciation of how many different cultures existed just on that one stretch of sand.
I arrived in Phuket expecting to experience Thai society, and while I was able to do that in copious amounts, thanks to the city’s international appeal I was also able to discover other cultures from all over the globe. The multiculturalism of Patong Beach ended up being one of its most memorable assets.
It’s very difficult to miss the market stalls at Patong Beach, as they occupy most of the beachfront real estate and the adjacent streets. Another reason for this is the eagerness of the stall holders, who do everything to get you into their shop bar dragging you by the shirt.
This is all part of the Thailand experience and I actually convinced a stall owner to swap positions with me for a few minutes to see what it was like on the other side of the booth. It’s a tough gig and the amount of competition around them is a big reason why they come on so strong. This isn’t a bad thing if you’re the one purchasing as it’s easy to find deals and items that don’t exist anywhere else.
What I learned about bartering: Always approach stalls with a positive attitude and a friendly demeanour; if you treat bartering like a fun game and make jokes throughout, you’ve got a better chance of lowering the price; and definitely do not start the bidding by offering a stupidly low amount, because you might make the owner angry enough to ban you from their stall.
During my stay at Patong Beach I was constantly being approached by tour operators attempting to sell their products. In the end I went with someone who was affiliated with the resort I was staying at, because I felt they would be more reliable and safe. I opted for a combination tour, which included an elephant ride, a monkey show and a quad bike tour.
Heading inland provided an excellent way to witness the rural Thai farming lifestyle and the exquisite scenery that often gets lost in the way of flashy bars and restaurants. For me, riding an elephant was an unforgettable moment, especially when I was allowed to slide off the seat and onto the elephants body to ride it in the traditional fashion.