MARCH / APRIL 2020:
My ‘6 Year Around The World’ tour is complete. We are going back to some of the best Retirement Locations in S. E. Asia.
… we now look at Patong, Phuket, Thailand …
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht (or the ‘THB’). I will refer to them as T$s. At the time of writing, the wholesale exchange rates were:
|Published Wholesale Rate||T$32.16||T$35.62||T$39.81|
|Effective Exchange Rate||T$30.59||T$33.89||T$37.89|
You will NOT get these wholesale rates (read the ‘Money’ section, below); expect to lose 5%. I lost 4.87%.
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
My last visit to Thailand was in Q1 2015. You can read about that here.
In 2015, my main ‘place of note’ was Koh Phayam island where I lived in a Bungalow on a beach.
… I flew to Bangkok for a few days before flying to Phuket on VietjetAir. The price was T$1,116.50 / US$36 including 25kg of checked in luggage.
To get to Patong from the airport, you have 3 options:
- Taxi: T$600-T$800;
- Shuttle Bus: T$180-T$300;
- Phuket Smart Bus: T$150 (but, they will, probably, charge you the maximum T$170).
I caught the Smart Bus which follows the western beach route down to Rawai Beach. Find it by following the Bus Stop signs out of the Arrivals Hall. The bus seems to leave every hour on the hour. The journey to Patong took just over 1 hour. The bus drops you off in the ‘heart of town’ at the Patong Provincial Electricity Authority next to the Jungceylon Shopping Centre.
From there, I walked 500 metres to my hotel.
Backpackers first discovered this sleepy village and beach in the 60s and 70s. But, it wasn’t really until a decade later that the government decided to transform Patong into a tourist destination. Patong became a massive hit among Europeans (especially Scandinavians). Phuket became so popular among the Swedes that, for a while, Phuket was referred to as “Little Sweden”. Things have changed a lot since then.
PLEASE NOTE: Patong has limited capacity to treat wastewater. To avoid paying the municipal wastewater treatment fee of T$5 per cubic meter, many households discharge their untreated wastewater into canals and the sea. As of 2015 the waters off Patong Beach exceeded Thai Pollution Control Department standards for fecal coliform bacteria (FCB) and enterococci bacteria.
Patong has a bit of a ‘reputation’ … just like Pattaya does. Prostitution in Thailand is illegal but it is ‘tolerated’ in Patong and Pattaya. In the past, I have avoided both Patong and Pattaya (they are not ‘my scene’). However, many expats like Phuket and many end up in Patong … so, I came to have a look.
Patong isn’t just about the ‘sexpat’ scene. Many people enjoy what Patong has to offer without getting involved in this ‘seedier side’. Nightlife is centred in two main areas: Bangla Road and the “Paradise Complex”, with Bangla Road being predominantly straight and Paradise Complex gay. Both are lined with many bars, discotheques, and go go bars.
Patong has a well-earned reputation as a party town with a notorious raunchy nightlife. Here you will find hundreds of beer bars, go-go bars, strip clubs, dance clubs, massage places, discotheques, night clubs, and cabaret shows. It does not try to hide its sleazy side. It is all out there in the open, and you can either join in (and party from dusk till dawn) or avoid this side of Patong completely. When walking on the streets, especially around Bangla walking street, you constantly get posters offering sex shows, strip shows, and ping-pong shows shoved in your face.
Patong has no shortage of shopping places. Tourists can go for big Shopping complexes like the Jungceylon (for buying branded goods) or places like Banzaan market (which is a posh local market for buying goods at reasonable prices). The Malin Plaza is best for buying souvenirs, beachwear, luggage, and bags. Paradise night market is good for those who want to buy things at a cheaper price with the good quality, especially for goods like mobile covers, lamps, and beachwear.
Patong is Phuket’s most popular, most famous, and most crowded beach holiday destination. The (2.85km / 1.77 mile) beach offers tourists a wide variety of activities including water sports. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas. So don’t expect to have this wide white-sandy beach to yourself. It gets particularly crowded around sunset.
Patong Beach is not the most beautiful beach in Phuket and (to some) the atmosphere lacks soul, authenticity, and charm. In peak season, you will struggle to find a place on the beach for your towel safe from being stepped on by a tour group walking along the beach shouting and posing for each other to get the perfect selfie.
Slightly red / sunburned eastern Europeans in their white fake Armani t-shirts, tour groups running around with their cellphones & cameras, and western men working through their mid-life crisis with a beautiful young Thai girl bought for a few days, makes for quite the absurd comedy at times.
I arrived in mid March 2020 just as COVID-19 was having major impacts on tourism in the area. Airlines had been cutting back on flights world-wide for a month and less tourists were arriving.
Shops, restaurants, and hotels were starting to struggle with the lack of trade. Hotels were starting to offer significant discounts. Scooter Rental prices were being cut. Restaurants were offering specials (such as any Thai meal for T$79).
In the last week of March, the government put Phuket Island into lock-down. All in & out travel was banned. The beach was closed down. All non-essential businesses were closed. All restaurants became take-away only. Only supermarkets, minimarts, and pharmacies stayed open.
Some businesses went bust and closed permanently. Hotels cancelled bookings and temporarily closed down … moving existing customers to sister hotels. To keep their heads above water, some hotels starting offering discounts of up to 50%.
The streets emptied. Everyone walked around in masks. Everyone stayed home.
WHERE TO STAY:
We start with a quick look around town:
The red zone is also the ‘seedy’ area of town. The blue zone puts you within easy walking distance of the beach and avoids you needing to walk up and down the nearby hills.
Phangmuang Sai Kor street has many GRANDPAcker options. However, I advise you to only look at locations that are close to a direct route to the beach. Some require you to walk 200 metres to get to a beach access road.
PLEASE NOTE: As always, I advise you to book into something reasonable for 2 nights in advance. Then, once here, walk around and negotiate direct monthly deals with the hotel(s) that you like.
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find at short notice for April 2020 (remember that T$7,500 = US$232 and T$10,000 is US$310). With CORVID-19 around, many hotels started to offer deep discounts on the (below) prices:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details. HOTELS competes with BOOKING by selling their hotel allocations well in advance. They do so by offering discounts. At short notice, they tend to have few options left. I, personally, have not found HOTELS to be very competitive in Thailand.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO) are also worth a look. I, personally, am finding AirBnB to be a good option in Thailand. HOWEVER, be careful … the prices displayed are NOT the final prices: ‘service fees’ and ‘cleaning fees’ can significantly increase the final price. ALSO, read the reviews carefully … in most cases the exact location of the property is hard to identify (which is intentional on AirBnB’s part) … looking at the pictures and reviews sometimes helps you identify the name (and, therefore, the exact location) of the property. If you can do the latter, you can check the reviews on the internet more carefully. LASTLY, you pay in advance … so, if you book 1 month and get it wrong, you are stuck there.
GRANDPAckers will easily find accommodation within our price range of upto US$600 / T$19,450 per month. Right now, because of CORVID-19, this is even easier.
I came to Patong to extend my Tourist Visa (see, below) and to find a last minute discount on a SCUBA Liveaboard trip. I, personally, had no intention of staying in Patong for any longer than I needed to.
It was located in a side street off of Phangmuang Sai Kor street. I paid a last minute discounted rate of T$487 per night including Breakfast. I was on the 1st floor (the building has a lift) with a balcony (no view). The room was in good condition. It came with good AC, TV (some English speaking channels), minibar, kettle, daily free water, hot water rainfall shower, daily housekeeping, and good in-room wifi.
My SCUBA Liveaboard plans fell through. I needed time to re-plan and I also needed to extend my 30 Day Tourist Visa by another 30 Days (see, below) … so I looked around and chose another hotel to stay in for an extra week. I used the internet Hotel Search engines to shortlist some hotels. I, then, went to look at each of those hotels. I tried to negotiate cash prices … however, strangely, in the end I got a better price booking through the internet … the hotels were not prepared to match or beat the internet price when negotiating directly (even though they ended up having to pay commission to the booking site).
It was located in a side street off of the southern end of Phangmuang Sai Kor street. I paid a last minute, deep (50%) discounted rate of T$252 per night excluding Breakfast. I was on the 1st floor (the building does not have a lift) with a small balcony (no view). The room was in good condition. It came with a good AC, TV (some English speaking channels), minibar, kettle, hot water rainfall shower, every-other-day housekeeping, and good in-room wifi. Downstairs had a shared kitchen. The NIKA was down a dead end street and very quiet.
After 3 of my 7 nights in the NIKA, the manager asked me to move to his sister hotel: The SK Residence. Due to COVID-19 (and the lack of tourists) he wanted to consolidate his guests into 1 hotel and temporarily close down the NIKA.
I was given an ‘equivalent’ room on the 3rd floor at the same price as I paid for the NIKA. Normally, the SK is more expensive. It came with cold water ensuite, minibar, kettle, cable tv, aircon, double bed, balcony, and good in-room wifi.
The SK is on a busy side street with a lot of traffic passing by between about 8am to 9pm. The balcony during that time could get quite noisy.
All hotels were to GRANDPAcking Standard. I benefited from the COVID-19 price impacts. Under normal circumstances, you will not get rooms at these low rates.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
Almost everything in Patong is 150% of the price elsewhere in Thailand.
The food stalls that set up at night in the popular markets are not as cheap as you would expect. Meals start at T$120-T$150. Small local beers start at T$80.
You find similar prices in the back streets off Phangmuang Sai Kor.
Happy Hour 2-for-1 cocktails can be had for T$100-T$120. A large beer T$120.
Get down the Big C Supermarket and buy 640ml local beers for T$44 (Archa), T$53 (Chang), T$56 (Tiger).
Fresh Fruit drinks from drink stalls can be had for T$50-T$70.
T$100 will buy you a Breakfast with a coffee / tea / juice. T$100 will buy you and average Lunch with fruit drink. Expect to pay T$100 for a simple Dinner (add T$80 to add a small beer). Budget an average of T$380 total per person per day.
It is a small office and it can be confusing. The process is:
- Collect your application form from the table out-tray in front of the main door;
- Fill it in and make sure that you put your cellphone or hotel telephone number on it;
- If you need copies of your passport photo page and/or 2 passport sized photos, join the left queue to get into the small side office;
- Pay T$600 to get a copy of your passport photo page; Pay another T$1,400 to get 2 passport sized photos;
- Join the right queue to get into the main building;
- In front of you are a row of 7 chairs which operate from left to right;
- Queue for the first, left-most chair;
- Pay T$1,900 for your 30 day extension (most countries can get 30 days … some only 7);
- Move right chair by chair completing each part of the process.
This office is ‘efficient’ … they have no time for mucking about and, to some, they can be quite abrupt and/or rude. It is what it is. Watch out for the old man in the middle … he is not a man to be messed with 🙂
Transport is relatively expensive … if not totally over-priced.
From the beachfront road you can catch a Blue Bus to Phuket Town for T$50. To get from there to Bus Terminal 2 (to connect to all long distance buses) catch a Pink Bus for T$15.
A Smart Bus from Patong north to the Airport costs T$170. This bus will also connect you to the western beaches such as Karon, Kata, and Rawai.
Expect to pay T$150 to get to Phuket Town.
A taxi to the Airport will cost T$600-T$800. Expect to pay T$400 to get to Phuket Town.
GRAB Taxis and Motos operate in Patong. I did not use them so I cannot tell you the prices. I suspect that costs are very similar to metered taxis.
In the Tourist areas they rent for T$250-T$300 per day. Get into the back streets (e.g. east of Phangmuang Sai Kor) to get them for T$150-T$200.
Petrol / Gas in the Tourist areas is T$40 per litre … in the back streets T$30.
Usually, to secure your scooter / motorbike you can either:
- Leave your passport with them; or
- Let them take a photocopy of your passport and leave a security deposit (typically T$3,000 / US$100).
You need a valid driving license and, if that is not Thai, you also need a valid International Driving Permit. You are also advised to:
- Keep your headlights on both day and night; and
- If stopped by a policeman who wants to be paid a fine, call the Tourist Police.
RECOMMENDATION: Many tourists rent motorbikes. The Traffic Police know this. You can almost guarantee that the Traffic Police will be there waiting for you somewhere. They set up regular checkpoints. Make sure that your IDP is stamped on the motorbike icon (if you have a motorbike license in your home country). If not, and you are stopped by the Traffic Police, call the Tourist Police: this should help ensure that you pay the correct (un-inflated) fine.
Thailand is one of the most expensive countries in the World for withdrawing money out of an ATM.
Almost every ATM charges a flat-rate T$220 per withdrawal. To keep your ‘cost of money’ to 4%, withdraw the maximum amount of T$30,000 / US$950 (assuming that you are going to spend that much). Some ATMs have a transaction limit of T$20,000 … so shop around for one that allows T$30,000 at a T$220 fee.
SUGGESTION: You may find that you are delivered all of your money in T$1,000 notes. If you need change, ask for T$100 less (e.g. T$29,900).
INTERNET / WIFI:
Do not buy your SIMcard at the airport: the tourist offers are over-priced. For example, AIS were offering a 1 month unlimited data plan with some call-time and texts for T$899.
AIS has the best overall coverage in Thailand. I went to an AIS Store in a shopping mall. I purchased a SIMcard for T$50 and a 1 month unlimited data plan for T$200.
RECOMMENDATION: Get an AIS SIMcard.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
I got online and bought a 1-year WorldNomads Backpacker Policy for US$565. I don’t need all of the ‘bells and whistles’ that go with the more expensive policies. I, fundamentally, just need Medical and Personal Indemnity Insurance. Read more here.
WHEN TO GO
Patong may experience humid weather too at times. February is the least humid month whereas October is the most humid month. The best time to visit Patong is in the Winter and / or early Spring.
Winter (December to February):
Winter months see the heaviest crowds in Patong. The rains reduce to a day or two in the month and the weather has minimum humidity. While the temperature varies between 30c to 32c, tourists can expect beautiful weather.
Spring (March to May):
Tourists will find that the temperatures in Patong are fairly warm during the spring season. In late Spring, one can expect rains for 7 to 10 days of the month. Water activities are in full swing.
Summer (June to August):
While there is not a lot of variation in temperatures between Spring and Summer in Patong, one can expect warm temperatures with occassional showers.
Monsoons (September to November):
You can expect heavy rainfall for 14 to 18 days a month accompanied by cool winds. The flora and fauna are in full bloom during this time. Water activities are avoided at this time.
As aforementioned, many costs are 150% of those found elsewhere in Thailand. Here are some typical costs:
- Laundry: T$50/kg washed. T$100/kg washed and ironed. T$30 per washer in a laundrette.
Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.
My costs are broken down into:
- Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there;
- Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun.
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Effective Exchange Rate: I managed to keep my cost of money below 5%.
I EXISTED to GRANDPAcking standard. My accommodation averaged T$369 / US$12 per night.
I spent nothing on transport.
I purchased an AIS SIMcard with a 30-Day unlimited Data Plan for T$250 / US$7.75 in Chiang Mai; I did not need to top it up in Patong.
I had to extend my 30 Day Tourist Visa by another 30 Days. This cost me T$1900 plus T$200 for copies of documentation. I have pro-rata’d these costs at T$70 per day. I have pro rata’d my 1-Year Travel Insurance costs at T$46 per day.
I spent an average of T$197 / US$6.50 per day on meals and water; this was so low because I was in self-isolation most of the time … I bought in groceries and take-aways.
My COE worked out to be about T$600 / US$20 per day. This was 40% of my daily budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
I LIVED to GRANDPAcking standard.
Drinks / Partying: Averaged T$58 / US$2 per day. I did not go out to bars. I preferred to self-isolate back at my hotel and buy my beer from the local minimart.
Entertainment / Shopping: Totalled T$600 / US$20. I purchased a new suitcase for T$2,650 / US$87.
In / Out Costs: Totalled T$1,391 / US$45. This included getting to Bangkok airport on public transport, my flight from Bangkok (T$1,117), and T$170 for the SMART Bus from Phuket Airport to Patong.
Medical: Totalled T$60 / US$2 for ear drops for an slight ear infection.
My total COL was about T$967 / US$32 per day. This was 65% of my daily budget.
COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:
Again, costs are broken down into Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):
Accommodation: I have booked you into something for the first 2 nights at T$475 / US$15 per night. Once here, you should be able to find something for T$375 / US$12.25. Both exclude Breakfast.
Transportation: I have budgeted a weekly return Blue Bus trip to Phuket Town.
Communications & Fees: I have budgeted a T$250 / US$7.75 AIS SIMcard with a 30 day unlimited Data Plan. I have NOT included the costs of a visa extension: I assume that you will come here for 30 days on your free visa and leave. I have apportioned 1 month of your 12-Month Travel Insurance Plans.
Food & Water: Your budget averages about T$770k / US$25 per day for 2 people. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants. This includes water purchased in 5 Gallon bottles and/or from a T$1 water machine.
Your COE is about T1,238 / US$40 per day. This is 83% of your daily budget.
COST OF LIVING (COL):
This leaves you about T$247 / US$8 per day to LIVE on. If you are a drinker, this won’t last long.
You can be in Patong without seeing or participating in the ‘seedier’ side. It is not ‘compulsory’ … just stay away from the Bangla area.
Patong offers cheaper accommodation than other beach towns in Phuket. Probably due to the number of hotels and the competition between them. Hotel prices are, actually, quite reasonable.
You will pay ‘premium’ prices for food & drink. Expect to pay 150% of what you can pay elsewhere in Thailand.
Patong offers a nice beach but it can get over-crowded in peak season.
Personally, it is not for me. I know many places that are nicer and better priced.
Could you afford to retire here on a GRANDPAcking budget? YES. Would you want to? MAYBE.