Falling Out of Love With Phuket

Well, I’ve officially jumped on the Phuket haters bandwagon. I really thought all of the negativity towards Phuket was a little over the top about it being “too touristy” and “overpriced” and I never wanted to dissuade anyone from going there. After all, I visited Phuket on my first trip to Thailand almost four years ago and that’s when I completely fell in love with this country. But after paying another visit during our two week Thailand trip when my brother was visiting from the States, I completely get it now. I won’t say I hated it, but Phuket has really changed over the years and not for the better. Or maybe it’s me that’s changed. Either way, I’m not going to say I will never return to Phuket, but I don’t have any desire to return. At least not in the foreseeable future.

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Krabi vs Phuket

Phuket vs Krabi is often the big debate for tourists and travelers visiting the beaches of Thailand for the first time. I couldn’t decide between the two either, which is why I decided my brother just had to see both. Going forward, there is no debate for me. Krabi will win every time, hands down. The strip in Ao Nang is cleaner than any part of Phuket I’ve seen. Although both are pricier than the north, Phuket is still far more expensive than Krabi. And to me, the beaches in Krabi are so much more beautiful and less crowded. Sure, they are both touristy. I’m not usually one to complain of “touristy” places though; I am a tourist myself after all. Railay Beach in Krabi is lined with tourists but it is still one of my favorite beaches in the world. And it still feels like Thailand. Phuket, on the other hand, took the term “touristy” to a whole new level.

2 weeks in thailand itinerary

Phuket AKA Little Russia

You may have heard of the influx of Russian tourists to Phuket? Well…that’s pretty much all it was. No offense to any Russians but if I wanted to go to Russia, I would have gone to Russia. Everyone around me was speaking Russian. All of the signs were in Russian. All of the menus were in Russian. Even at the airport, the gate signs were Russian. I started to question which country I was in! It definitely did not feel like Thailand at all.

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Phuket Prices

Because of the influx of tourists, the prices in Phuket were insanely high. It was nearly impossible to even find simple street food until we got completely away from the beaches. We thought we could at least depend on the Kebab man we ate at several times on our last visit for 50 baht, but as it turns out he has doubled his prices and is now slinging kebabs at 100 baht each! I have never ever seen a kebab in Thailand cost more than 50 baht. Furthermore, we know what the cost of a motorbike rental should be; the price of fried rice from a local Thai eatery; a fair price for a 1 hour Thai massage. It grew really annoying having to negotiate practically everything due to absurd prices the whole time. Even more frustrating was the cost of trying to get back to the airport. Prices were at 1,000 baht for a taxi ride from Kata and it took us a half day to find a mini-bus that would take us for 250 baht/person. This ride ended up taking us 2 hours and we probably should have opted for the 1,000 baht taxi ride in the end…which is still outrageous for Thailand. Sure, these prices might still sound reasonable compared to other parts of the world and maybe we sound crazy for complaining about them. But after living in Thailand for nearly 2 years, I suppose our mentality has changed. Maybe that’s why we enjoyed it so much more the first time around – before we were spoiled by the rest of Thailand and before we learned what the “norm” was. As bad as it sounds, maybe it was one of those “ignorance is bliss” situations?

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Don’t get me wrong. The beaches are still undeniably beautiful. The emerald seas sparkle just luring you in for a dip. There is nothing like motorbiking around sharp curve only to be met with some of the most magnificent vistas and the cliffs plunging into the sea in front of you. Its truly spectacular and reminds me a bit of driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California.

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But the rest of the city just felt rundown. For the same price we paid in Bangkok, Kanchanaburi and Ao Nang, our hotel was much shittier in Phuket – outdated, unkempt and we could barely get lukewarm water in the shower. Also unlike Ao Nang, which has one of the nicest beach strips we’ve been to, the streets were just dirty and filled with trash and rats scurrying around in the rubbish. It wasn’t the most inviting or relaxing vibe.

Scams in Phuket

Scams targeting tourists are prevalent in some areas more than others and Phuket happens to be one of them. Everything in Phuket felt like a scam so you really have to do your research (like we should have done in Bangkok!) and keep your guard up, whether you are renting a motorbike or jet ski, etc. For example, we encountered a massive police check point while motorbiking around the beaches. Although we had no issues since we were wearing helmets and had our Thai motorcycle license with us, there were about 40 other tourists that were not so lucky and that was just what we saw in the two minutes we were driving through. Sure, a lot of them probably deserved whatever fine they were getting, but at the same time these check points are often set up specifically targeting tourists and these “fines” collected are pocketed for beer money later.

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There are many things that lead to my falling out of love with Phuket, but regardless, it just isn’t what it once was. Thailand has so many beaches and islands waiting to be explored. I think we are ready to move on and see something new the next time we take a trip down south for some fun in the sun…

Have You Ever Fallen Out of Love With a Destination?

What Are Your Favorite Beaches in Thailand?

Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Such a shame the way Phuket is developing and turning Russian rather than Thai! It’s always sad when one’s favourite destinations start going downhill… You guys need to head to the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui/Koh Phangan/Koh Tao) if you haven’t already been – I think you would like it, especially the North of Phangan… I spent quite a bit of time there so get in touch if you want some info!

    http://www.camilleinwonderlands.com

    • Charlie and Brittany April 26, 2015 at 4:23 am · · Reply

      We definitely have to explore some other islands! Charlie’s been to Koh Samui a few years back but other than that our time at the beach has been limited. We are definitely ready to see some new destinations though. Will definitely be visiting your website for some info – thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

  2. Can’t comment on Phuket as I have never been there and have no desire to go there either. Everything I have read or heard has just been validated in your article.

    I don’t understand why the Thai government have let the Russians take over to the extent they have. Yes the answer is money but sooner or later it will ruin their tourist destinations. Pattaya is starting to go that way also.

    My favourite beach is Railay Bay in Krabi. I went during the rainy season and loved it. Peaceful, tranquil, beautiful. Forever etched in my memories.

    • Charlie and Brittany May 9, 2015 at 6:50 am · · Reply

      Yes completely agree – we LOVE Railay too! Definitely one of our favorites. Sad what has happened to Phuket and hope the same doesn’t happen to Krabi as well. Thanks for commenting!

  3. This is such a shame! One of my favourite beaches, Boracay in the Philippines, was a paradise five years ago too. Now, the Russian overtaking has occurred — signs, restaurants, hotels, even dive schools are now all Russian! And the prices are insane. Tragic. At least you got to experience Phuket before the beast that is rapid tourism devoured it whole!

    Mel x
    illumelation.com

    • Charlie and Brittany May 29, 2015 at 7:00 pm · · Reply

      Wow I didn’t realize the same thing was happening in Boracay! It is sad to see such beautiful places completely lose their character. We haven’t made it to the Philippines yet but are really hoping to get to there this year. Maybe we should plan to avoid Boracay and stick to some of the less touristy islands?

  4. Wow, Thailand is definitely on our list. I will make sure to avoid Phuket and try some of the other places mentioned. Thanks for the informative post.

  5. Maybe u can pay visit to my lovely country – Malaysia, not far away from Phuket, there are many wonderful beaches from Kemaman to Kuala Terengganu than spans along 170km east cost line…it is peaceful, quiet, serene and not commercialized at all…

    • Charlie and Brittany January 26, 2016 at 4:25 am · · Reply

      We have visited Malaysia in the past (Penang, KL and Langkawi) and loved our visit there. We would love to visit some of the less touristy beaches though in the future. Thanks for the recommendation!!

  6. Phuket was on my list of places to rediscover. As is Thailand. I was there in February 1992 ! having travelled from Hong Kong , Bangkok and returned via Singapore to the UK it was beautiful as were the surrounding islands like Phi Phi which had 0 hotels I recall . I noticed from a recent trip to Sri Lanka in September last year the influx of Russian tourists Unfortunately those at my particular hotel I found to be quite rude and unfriendly . I guess it’s back for a forth trip to Mexico which I simply adore ❤️

  7. We’ve just arrived in Phukt and the first thing we noticed was that everything is in Russian… I still don’t really understand why. Karon beach is pretty nice but the rest of it is nothing special from what we’ve seen.

  8. And you forgot to mention the TuK TuK Mafia.
    I too first fell in love with Thailand based on Phuket but later switched my favorite to Pattaya. It to has now been infested by Russians.

  9. I returned from Phuket 5 days ago, it was our fourth time going there and I have to say we’re not in a huge rush to go back! We have seen a steady rise in the number of Russian tourists and prices had increased year on year. However this year was just ridiculous! The prices have gone up far too much that it didn’t make it much cheaper than eating/drinking here in the UK which was very surprising for us! A lot of the signs have changed to Russian and the amount of people that just assumed we were Russian was actually quite offensive but I guess that’s just what they’re used to! It’s such a shame to see a gorgeous place become as you say, Little Russia. It has completely lost its Thai characteristics and I hope one day it will return!

  10. Have I ever fallen out of love with a destination? Well, sadly, a large amount of my favorites have disappointed me on return trips–I actually cried a couple times. Tourism, greed and globalization is and will continue to be the death knell to the remaining 3rd world cultures and the developing cultures in our world. I live in Isaan, the North Eastern rice basket of Thailand. NO tourists. But creeping Bangkok greed and globalization are here. I do not begrudge the “kebab seller” his price increase from 50 B to 100 B. He both needs and deserves the extra income. I DO begrudge the profits made by a Bangkok Investor group as they sell out another condo to 1/2 Thai growing middle class and 1/2 visitors. I simply cannot believe that the current, globalized price of rice is 14 B a kilo!!! The Military will now be forced to prop up the price…or choose not to so the haves and have-nots continue their respective positions in Thai Society. (If you are curious about what globalization does to farmers read what happened to Jamaica–one of my many favorite destinations.)
    I have been immeasurably fortunate in my life. I was 14 years old and living in Rome, Italy when my parents gave me permission to fly or train anywhere in Europe or the Med I wished! They paid any and all travel and expected me to be on a backpacker budget while traveling on school holidays. They taught me well: I am 57 now and although I am not on a backpacker budget, and I pay all costs, I have never stopped wandering.
    Another unhappy reason I cannot go to my some of my favorites is Religion. The first country I visited after my parents gave me the freedom was Tunisia. The reasons I went to a North African Arab country are multiple and considering the current uneducated beliefs about Muslims I will not be telling you why Tunisia is MY FAVORITE destination. I also spent a lot of time in Egypt. An utterly amazing country and culture. (One visit I went into the big central pyramid with a candle and NO guide and NO tourists!)
    And on and on. Never STOP traveling. The smallest memory can stay with you forever. (Reminded of a good tip: learn when, where, why and how to bribe officials of every kind. Similar tip: Pre-Tipping works wonders in ensuring quality service.)

  11. Hello. I agree with you about Phuket now. I’m here and its just awful. I was wondering about the minibus you got TO the airport. I cant find anything about it. If you could share any information in regards to this, that would be great. Thank you.

  12. I guess everyone has their own opinion but I totally disagree with this article.
    I absolutely LOVE Phuket, and have spent the last 8 summers there. I go for a full 2 months at a time and really get a feel for the place. It’s very very affordable. For example, I rent a 3 room condo right on the beach with an amazing sea view for about 2500 USD/month. Sure, there are cheaper places in the world but when you compare what I would get in Nice, Barcelona, or Sorrento its really a bargain. Also, the Russians are a very welcome addition! To say you don’t like a place because of a nationality is very rude and racist. I am from the UK but its crazy how would you feel if someone else wrote that a place was ruined because of all the Brits there?!?! The Russian girls are unbelievably beautiful and fun to party with. I actually met wife while here. So I invite all the tourists of the world to come to Phuket and have an amazing party!

    • Charlie and Brittany March 16, 2017 at 4:35 am · · Reply

      You’re absolutely right – everyone does have different opinions and different expectations. It also depends what you are looking for. A great party? Then yes I agree Phuket would be a great choice. But a place that is a little more authentic Thailand? There are much better choices in Thailand in my opinion. And I said nothing bad of the Russians. It is nothing against them, as I said in the article, but more about the fact it doesn’t “feel” like Thailand there. And when compared with other beaches and islands we’ve visited in Thailand, Phuket would be at the bottom of the list for us.

  13. I first went to phuket as well as koh phi phi in 1999, at a time when mass tourism from China, korea, japan and the middle east didn’t exist nor had the hysteria for teenagers just looking to get high or drunk in paradise (although there were still some pretty nice parties going on although more “low key” and respectful in my opinion). Those were the days. Nowadays it’s just ruined I think.

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