We land in Phuket in the late afternoon, a low haze on the horizon greeting us as we landed. Our accommodation is in Kata, a 30 minute drive away from the airport. At first glance, Phuket shows no sign of the hedonistic beach lifestyle it is marketed for abroad – we pass by industrial lots, shopfronts and housing estates on our way to Kata Beach.
There are a few choices on Phuket – Phuket town itself, Kata or Karon. Each has its own distinctive flavour. We chose Kata – away from the wildness of Phuket but with it’s own shops and beach.
Our first day is spent relaxing at the beach. Kata Beach is a white/gold stretch of sand and clear, warm waters, lined with umbrellas and deck chairs. On one end of the beach, colourful longtail boats bob in the tide.
The next two days we spend diving with Merlin Divers, a great little diving centre based out of Kamala. Neung, our guide, takes us through the dive sites – Koh Bida Nai, Anemone Reef, Shark Point and King Cruiser. The visibility is excellent and the water is warm. Our first day we dive off the Latitude, a beautiful, sleek boat with sun decks, a spacious section under the hatch and a kitchen dishing out crepes during breaks. The dives are spectacular – filled with colour and movement.
Our second day we are on the South Siam, a tightly run, extremely well organised little dive boat. The weather is grey and rainy on our second day, which affected visibility, but the soft corals in white and purple, resplendent on the wreck of King Cruiser, more than make up for it. Neung points out dancing harlequin prawns, lined up in a row in a rock fissure and bright yellow seahorses, swaying in the current.
After two days of diving, we take to the umbrellas and deckchairs of Kata Beach with pleasure. They cost THB150 for the whole day, a worthwhile investment as the heat gets really intense during the day. Vendors offer massages, sunhats, sunglasses, beers, and cold, fresh coconuts throughout the day. We eat lunch at Mama Kata’s seafood restaurant, located at the southern end of the beach, then schmoodle our way back to our little shaded spot in the sun for some snoozing.
The days in Phuket start to blur – wake, breakfast, beach, lunch, nap, dinner, sleep. We find our favourite food spots in Kata and stick to them. There is a hole in the wall pad thai place just down the road. We dodge parked cars, motorists and potholes on the way, keeping to the shoulder of the road, where there are no safe pavements. The Pad Thai Shop has been given the Lonely Planet stamp of approval, but the real gem from this place is the chicken feet noodle soup – steaming, rich, dark, delicious.
Our other favourite noms come from Mr Kwong’s seafood shop. The fish, crabs and prawns are super fresh, but we return again and again for the entertainment. Mr Kwong himself works front of house, trying to cajole passers-by to come in to try the produce.
“Come in come in!”
The entire restaurant is a family affair, with Mrs Kwong in the kitchen and various brothers, sisters, nephew and nieces waiting, clearing and taking orders from patrons. One night the service lags behind because of a party, 60-strong, in the backyard. Half the restaurant is waiting for their meals. Mr Kwong changes his tune.
“Come in come in!”
“Great seafood, bad service!”
You have to love the honesty! The food is Chinese-influenced, with stir fries and steamed dishes taking front and centre stage. We order crab, a whole steamed fish, fresh veggies, sticky rice and mango, then roll home full and satiated.
At night in Kata, the bars start to light up and girls, all dressed to the nines come out with their warpaint on. They wait at the tables for someone to buy them a drink – but I’d heard lots of warnings about the “drink scams” that run riot in Phuket, and we stayed well away.
On New Year’s Eve we head to the beach and watch as lanterns are lit and set to floating over the quiet, hushed sea. All around, tiny pin pricks of light are setting off from other points on the island. Fireworks start to go off around 9pm, some almost right over our heads! At midnight the fireworks go off in spectacular fashion to usher in the New Year and we walk home underneath a sky filled with starbursts.