48 Hours in Thailand: Snorkeling, Jungles, and a Party Tuk-Tuk
Whether you are a luxury traveler or a hippy backpacker, Thailand is no doubt on your travel bucket list – and for good reason. 48 Hours in Thailand may sound insane, but when you live in Dubai, everything is close. Turn one way you’re in Africa, another and you’re in Nepal and go a littler further and you’re in South East Asia.
Having so many long weekend holidays living in Dubai, Thailand is always at the top of our list and actually the first place Anne and I ever traveled together – after I pinky promised her on our first date that I would take her to Thailand. And now nearly three years later we are about to get married and just got back from an epic 48 hours in Thailand!
Full disclosure here, I’ve lived in Thailand twice, both in Phuket, and remains close to my heart and one of my favorite places in the world. Since the movie “The Beach” came out, Thailand has certainly lost some of its charm in certain areas, but nothing can take away from the magic that this amazing country still holds on to – you just have to know where to look.
Flying with Emirates allowed us to leave Dubai at 10 pm on a Thursday evening and land at 6 am on Friday morning, which is our absolute dream scenario when we travel, as we both work full-time and often don’t have the time to waste.
If you’re only traveling for 48 hours in Thailand like we were, you’ve got to plan it right to take full advantage of everything. Below is what we did, in no particular order as you can easily mix and match as Phuket is a fairly small island and there is a ton to see.
First off, anyone going to spend 48 hours in Thailand needs to rent a motorbike! No only is it one of the most fun ways to travel (aside from the party Tuk-Tuk – we’ll get back to that in a bit) but it is fast, easy and gives you the freedom to really explore the island and get away from the main tourist areas. In addition to the fact that the Phuket taxi mafia is pretty aggressive in fixing their prices for any trip on the island, and they can get pretty pricey.
Petrol for the motorbike is super cheap, around $3 to fill up the tank which will last you anywhere from half a day to three depending on how much driving you are doing.
The first thing to decide is where on the island to stay, and this totally depends on your style. We decided to stay down in Karon Beach, which is towards the south end of the island and about 45 minutes away from the airport. All of the beautiful white sandy beaches are on the west coast of the island, with the east coast beaches being a bit rockier and with far less tourists and built up areas – mostly just exclusive hotels and resorts.
From the airport heading south you will pass Bangtao (my favorite), Surin, Kamala, Patong, Karon, Kata and then Nai Harn. Aside from Patong, all the rest are fairly quiet, have beautiful beaches, tourist amenities and everything you could need in a beautiful beachside getaway.
Patong sticks out as the crazy younger brother of them all, home to Phuket’s party scene, which gets completely out of control every. Single. Night. We’ll come back to Patong as well, but first things first.
If you dig the beach vibe and just want to relax, eat some delicious Thai food by the beach, visit some small shops and markets and generally dig in for a relaxing holiday, I would suggest either Karon or Kata – both towards the south end of the island with some of the most beautiful beaches on the island but close to everything, including fun nightlife.
If you are interested in being even more removed, the sleepy beach town of Bangtao up in the north is extremely relaxed, laid back and away from the 20-year-old tourist backpacker party animals. It has everything you need, is nice and cheap, friendly and has Nok and Jo’s, the best restaurant on the entire island. If you go tell them Jeff sent you and give them a hug for us.
I know you want to get back to the partying in Patong, but if you only have 48 hours in Thailand there are some things you’ll want to do before you disappear into the nightlife fun and only wake up in time to catch your flight.
On your motorbike, head down to the southern tip of the island and check out Rawai beach and all of the small restaurants set up right along the water. The fishing boats land here each morning with bountiful catches and these restaurants are the first to grab whatever they like and the food cannot be beat.
Then head around to Chalong and follow the signs for Big Buddha. The Big Buddha statue is 42 meters high and is clearly visible from anywhere in southern Phuket. The entrance is free, but make sure ladies wear something to cover their arms and legs. If not, a light sarong will be provided for free. Make sure to head under the statue before walking up the steps and get blessed by a monk who will give you a bracelet. But don’t take it off! They say you must leave it on until it falls off – my last one took 4 years.
After Big Buddha, continue up the east side of the island towards Phuket Town, which far too tourists ever stop and see. A mix of local Thai culture and intricate Sino-Portuguese architecture, Phuket Town is home to many Thais and expats alike, is laid back, so much cheaper than the western beach side of the island and has some great areas to explore. If it is a weekend, ask someone to point you in the right direction to the Weekend Market – the largest in Phuket.
Here you will find anything and everything you can think of. Fake purses, bags, sunglasses, electronics, gadgets, leather, DVDs and of course food, tons of food. Take the chance to try something you wouldn’t. Point at anything and try it once. Haven’t tried jackfruit or durian? No is your chance. Feeling bold and want to try fried insects? Go for it.
After the market, head up to the northern end of the island and head out to the Paklok area in search of the Gibbon Sanctuary and the Bangpae Waterfall, both waaaaaay off the tourist path and home to only the most adventurous explorer and Thai families enjoying a day out.
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project takes care of sick and injured monkeys who have been abused to entertain tourists and given this home to enjoy their days. Just steps passed the sanctuary is the trail head going up to Bangpae Waterfall, about a 20-minute hike through the Thai jungle. While not challenging, make sure to bring bug spray and be prepared to sweat – it gets super steamy and humid in the Thai jungle. But your reward is once you get to the waterfall where you can take a dip in crystal clear waters and watch daring Thai boys scale the waterfall and jump straight in from quite high up – are you bold enough to try it yourself?
No matter how much you fit into your days exploring, no 48 hours in Thailand is complete without a trip to world famous Bangla Road in Patong, the party capital of Phuket, and arguably Thailand.
In the middle of the west coast, Patong is jam-packed with hotels, beach chairs lining the sand, tuk-tuk blaring pop music from 5 years ago, endless restaurants and bars. Lot and lots of bars. And when I say bars, I don’t mean “Ohh hello there, I’ll have a beer please.” I mean “Ohh my hell, where in the world am I and what am I watching right now” kind of bars.
Bangla Road is home to some of the weirdest shows in the world. Let’s just say we’ll never look at a ping pong ball the same way again. Walk through if you’re interested and stop to experience the madness but don’t only go out in Patong, there are endless other much better nightlife options on the island that are much more family-friendly, authentic and less offensive. But as you can see, we had quite a lot of fun and half the fun is driving around in a party tuk-tuk enjoying a cold Singha.
If you aren’t hungover the next day and fancy a day at the beach, jump on your motorbike and head to Bangtao, the sleepy beach town I mentioned earlier. The 1km white sandy beach only has a few tourists on it, small restaurants right on the sand and a handful of the world famous Thai longtail boats dotting the beach.
Make a deal with a local Thai guy to head out and go snorkeling for a couple hours, it’ll cost about $20 and you can extend as long as you’d like. Grab some beers or drinks before heading out and enjoy – he’ll have a cooler with ice already packed as well as snorkels and fins.
And if you’re super adventurous during your 48 hours in Thailand adventure, head out to find a secret beach. If you are down in the south of the island, head to Nai Harn and keep all the way to the right, past the beach with tourists, past the hotels and exclusive million dollar homes and all the way to the end of the road where you will find Ao Sane, an amazingly hidden and secret beach with just a handful of people, a little restaurant and your own little slice of paradise.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of rainy season! We actually prefer to go to Thailand during the rainy season as the temps are a bit cooler, there are less tourists, the prices are generally cheaper and on top of that all, even if it rains for a bit each day, the clouds in the sky lead to some of the most amazing sunsets we have ever seen! To find the best place to watch the sunset, head to a placed called Kata Rocks just passed Kata Beach and you will not be disappointed!
So thats it, enjoy 48 hours in Thailand and see it all! From beautiful beach towns to delicious Thai food, temples and statues, markets, snorkeling, waterfalls and nightlife, you can easily do it all in a short trip from Dubai if you plan it right.
Shoot us an email to [email protected] or on our Facebook page and we’re more than happy to help you our and answer any questions you have. Enjoy!