Overland Asia Diary #4 Nai Yang & the hidden treasures of Phuket

There is nothing quite akin to the pleasure of stumbling upon an incredible new destination completely by accident, and with the amount of research I indulge myself in, it’s a rare find to be completely blindsided by somewhere. But tucked away just out of view of Phuket International Airport, Nai Yang Beach did just that.

Phuket is far from what I had imagined. In fact, despite a number of years of travel and time spent in Thailand, I have never before ventured to the south. This is almost entirely due to visions of relentless Tuk Tuk drivers and over-crowded, over-priced tourist nightclubs. Permanently scarred by a rough and budget whirlwind visit to Kuta Beach Bali a number years ago, I’ve been in no hurry to get down to this part of the world.

A beautiful sunset dip at Nai Yang beach - the perfect welcoming back to Thailand
A beautiful sunset dip at Nai Yang beach – the perfect welcoming back to Thailand

 

I have no doubts that parts of Phuket Island, most notably Patong Beach are more like the Phuket I was imagining. However, on my arrival I’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how laid back and incredible this gorgeous region of Thailand really is. In fact, if you do a bit of research there are plenty of tranquil spots to park yourself nestled among the many coves of the island. Despite having lived in Thailand before, coming to the South felt like discovering an entirely new country with a cool, laid back, tropical vibe to it.

Research, however, is not exactly how I stumbled upon Nai Yang. We were simply seeking a quiet place, close to the airport to rest our heads after a day of flying. As it turns out, Nai Yang is right next to the airport, and one of those rarities in Southeast Asia – laid back, small-town, gorgeous beach, exceptional food and plenty of sandy spots to watch the sunset.

Tom Kha Gai
Tom Kha Gai – creamy, spicy, sweet and sharp. The famed coconut chicken soup is my favourite Thai dish.

Phuket island spans 576 square kilometres and is made up of a rather large Island, the largest in Thailand, as well as 32 smaller islands that rest of it’s sandy Andaman Sea shorelines. Don’t get me wrong, this is still not ‘local Thailand’. We still spied & overheard many tourists. We were, after all, literally right next to the Airport. I’ve visited local, small Thai towns a number of times in the past, and it’s not always as fun and romantic and easygoing as it sounds. Language barriers, unusual food and no sense of direction are the first things that comes to mind. It’s an adventure – a crazy, awesome, frustrating, fantastic adventure. But relaxing, beach chill holiday it is not. That is why Nai Yang was so lovely.

Exploring the lush night markets of Phuket Town. <a href="http://19178-km-plus-loin.com">Photo by Flo</a>
Exploring the lush night markets of Phuket Town. Photo by Flo

We spent our lone night in Nai Yang paddling in the clear waters and looking for a tasty meal. After wandering past the decidedly more tourist-orientated seafood joints, we found ourselves at the end of the lane, sitting in a small restaurant looking out to a karaoke bar, over the fence led further afield to derelict condos and overgrown scrub. The super friendly lady with excellent English served up one of the best tom kah gai’s I’ve had to date. Overall, our flying visit to Nai Yang was delightful, and far too short.

The next morning it was time to make our way toward our final destination of Ao Nang, a trip we had to take via Phuket Town. We opted for the cheap and easy government bus to get there. It took a little bit of research to understand this bus system – one that seems to be kept just a little out of reach from tourists. For a start, you can only catch it from the domestic terminal, meaning that any international arrivals will not instinctively see it, and will instead be whisked away into the chariot of a completely overpriced taxi or tour bus service. However, once we found the bus stop our tickets cost figurative peanuts. It took around an hour of driving through gorgeous little Thai villages and tropical forests before we reached our destination: Bus Station #1 in the heart of Phuket town.

Phuket Town
The vibrant streets of Phuket Town by night. Photo by Flo

Much like Phuket region itself, Phuket town was somewhere I had very little previous knowledge of. In fact, simply the word Phuket conjured up images of drunk teenagers of the Australian persuasion and relentless touts pawing at my wallet. And, much like in Nai Yang, I was horribly mistaken. Once again, Phuket town is the central hub – it is a place to transit out to the islands and party beaches of the region. It is not a popular place to hang around and be obnoxious. In fact, Phuket Town is absolutely charming. We found an abundance of excellent, cheap food and interesting markets to walk about. The accommodation was cheap and we scored a spot right next to the bus station, all ready to depart again tomorrow enroute to Krabi.

 

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