Nothing could have prepared the world for the challenge of 2020, and one of the industries that have been hugely affected is tourism. Phuket Island has been a popular destination for millions of overseas visitors for the last 30 years. It is not difficult to understand why, the island has large beautiful beaches, lots of inland greenery and plenty to do and see with stunning surrounding islands to explore and a hotel offering like no other destination.
So, it will come as no surprise to hear that Covid-19 has had a negative impact on the people that live here. During our lockdown, which, to be fair was not as harsh or as long as European closures, thousands of Thai workers had to leave their jobs in hospitality and move back to their family homes in the provinces and rural Thailand.
There they have been smart, and some have opened up coffee shops, small restaurants and due to the increased populations of people going home, there is a market to sell to. Many expatriates too have been affected and we have had to wave goodbye to many long-standing families and personalities recently as they have made their way back to their homelands.
With the decrease in people living here and also the lack of international tourism, there have been some really positive impacts. Mother Nature is having a moment to breathe once again and the sea is cleaner, there is more fish as we do not need to cater for the extra hungry mouths, and the reservoirs are full of fresh water. In many ways, the pandemic has given us some cleaner air, with a lot less air traffic buzzing around our skies and fewer coaches and minivans polluting the highways.
So, what is it really like to visit here right now? For Kata, Karon and Patong fans, then a visit back here will prove shocking. These tourist hotspots are spookily quiet, but there are areas here that are really booming.
Phuket Old Town has seen new restaurants and bars opening, some are very swanky, and a lot have the quirky charm you would expect from the creativity of younger Phuket Thais who want to offer something different. In Cherngtalay, the area near Laguna Phuket has also enjoyed serving a thriving community.
New restaurants have opened up including Mrs B Table & Bar, Anise Tapas, Maison Napoleon, Daily Dose and some restaurants have moved from the now quieter areas of Phuket and are now located in Boat Avenue, including Italian much-loved Boccocino.
Bang Tao Beach is quieter but favourites such as Catch Beach Club and Benny’s Cocktail & Grill are still open and serving the locals that are here as well as domestic tourists. Some restaurants and bars have taken the opportunity to reinvent themselves, Palm Seaside has refocussed the menu to offer more authentic southern Thai cuisine, to cater to the existing market – and the results are truly scrumptious!
Out in the surrounding islands, the smaller guesthouses and hotels are enjoying hosting local tourists and getting out on the water is a dream come true to many without the crowds.
Andaman Cruises are offering truly great deals for those who want to enjoy a very quiet experience around Phang Nga Bay and for those who enjoy SCUBA diving, you can end up diving on iconic dive sites with no other groups of divers around.
You won’t be able to resist jumping from the boat into the still waters for a refreshing swim or get your snorkelling mask on and discover the bounty of rich marine life just under the glittering surface.
A crewed yacht charter is an unforgettable pleasure that should be experienced at least once in your life, and where better to explore than the diversity of the Andaman Sea?
Some hotels in Phuket remain closed until travel returns to normal, but there are still many great places to stay and the promotions are really attractive. Twinpalms Phuket near Surin Beach is open, Kamala’s Twipalms MontAzure is also open and offering stays complete with sea views.
Phuket Town is also a great place to explore with cool guest houses to spend the night in such as ‘The Memory at On On’. With quieter roads, a trip up to the rainforest in Khao Sok is well worth it, be sure to drop in and visit the Khao Sok Elephant Sanctuary, as they would really appreciate the support – feeding elephants doesn’t come cheap!