I flew into Phuket in October 2018 for my first trip to Thailand, staying for 2 weeks at the Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort. I had some concerns about the weather as it was the end of the wet season but I was incredibly lucky, although there were a lot of storms, every day I'd planned to be travelling was perfect!
1) Phuket Elephant Park & Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Although I wanted to see elephants in Thailand I wanted to make sure I was supporting elephant friendly organisations. After reading about them I chose Phuket Elephant Park and Phuket Elephant Sanctuary as they use no chains and no hooks, there is no riding and elephants are free to bathe on their own. You can visit either park on a 1/2 day tour or both on a full day tour.
It was great to start with Phuket Elephant Park in the morning, a fairly new centre that had 3 adult female elephants at the time of my visit. They have room for 10 and are keen to give more captive elephants a better life as soon as they can.
Hearing about the cruelty young elephants experience to break their spirit so they can be trained to work and interact with tourists was devastating, it was so much worse that I could have imagined, it broke my heart.
It reinforced for me how important it is as individuals and tourists for us to support activities that protect animals to live freely in the wild as much as possible, including protecting them from poachers, and for those that are already captive and unable to be released, to ensure they experience no cruelty, the most natural life possible and the respect and care they deserve.
I was delighted to see Phuket Elephant Sanctuary in the afternoon, it is a fantastic location that had 7 adult female elephants when I was there and they were also keen to take in more as soon as they could.
It was wonderful to be able to watch the elephants enjoying a lot of space and freedom, including a couple of elephants spending some quiet in the hydrotherapy pool :)
2) Similan Islands
The Similan Islands are a group of islands northwest of Phuket and tours only operate there for about 6 months of the year. Due to issues with overtourism there are also limits in place for the number of tourists that can visit per day. I thought there was only access from November but it had opened up not long before I arrived in October.
You need to to be prepared for it to take about 2 hours by bus and 1 hour by boat each way, to get to and from the islands from Phuket, but the islands were so beautiful it was completely worthwhile and I had a great day travelling with Wow Andaman.
Our first beach stop had some of the most beautiful soft sand and the most perfect water I've ever experienced. The water was crystal clear, there was a perfect swell without waves and the temperature was ideal. I could have stayed there all day and been exceptionally happy.
Two snorkelling stops came next and it was a joy to spend more time in the clear, warm water. Unfortunately the coral we saw was predominantly all brown but there was a LOT of different fish to watch swimming around us.
After lunch there was the opportunity to take another swim but by then I opted to stay out the sun. Despite that being a good idea, what was a major oversight is that I'd forgotten to apply any sunscreen to the backs of my legs in the morning, this wouldn't normally be a problem but when you are snorkelling it is, I got so burnt that day that it was extremely painful to sit, stand or sleep for the next few days - do not make the same mistake!
There were a lot of monitors at the lunch spot which were fantastic to watch. I understand tourists wanting to take photos, I did too. It was disappointing though to see how close some people would get to them, completely surrounding them at times and yet they would have been shocked if they got hurt. Monitors have extremely sharp claws and it would be easy for someone to get hurt if the monitor felt threatened.
3) Phi Phi Islands
To the east of Phuket the Phi Phi Islands are one of the areas best known tourist attractions. I chose to do a sunrise tour to avoid crowds and getting to sit at the front of the Club Champagne boat as we headed out to the islands was fantastic.
Closed indefinitely due to overtourism we saw Maya Bay from the boat, we also saw monkeys on the beach at Monkey Beach. There were two snorkelling stops with great water temperature and lots of fish, and a lunch stop at Bamboo Island.
After sunrise the highlight of the day for me was Pileh Lagoon, an emerald green lagoon that forms a natural swimming pool surrounded by high limestone cliffs. After jumping off the boat (when I'd mustered up the courage) I was spellbound. It was the most spectacular location and the water must be extremely high in salt, as it was the easiest location to float in that I've ever experienced. I could have stayed there for hours.
4) Hong Bay
Visiting Koh Hong, Krabi to the east of Phuket I had a great day with Blu Anda, I really enjoyed travelling on the catamaran, it was extremely comfortable with plenty of space, great seats and on the day I toured, we had a very small group.
We visited a couple of swimming spots, a local village and had a very nice lunch at a local fisherman's, before seeing my favourite spot of the day. The water wasn't clear for snorkelling but the location was stunning, beautiful beach, water perfect to swim or float in, hardly any people and at one stage I was the only one in the water :)
Before we left we saw a monitor lizard making the most of the quiet as it wandered into the water for a swim as well. I've since found out that's not unusual, it just would have taken me very much by surprise had I run into one in the water.
5) Phang Nga Bay
Taking another sunrise tour to avoid the crowds involved canoeing and the canoes were rowed for us through some beautiful caves. We visited James Bond Island (Koh Phing Kan & Koh Tapu made famous in an early James Bond movie), had lunch at a local restaurant, saw a colony of flying-foxes and visited another great beach for swimming.
6) Hong by Starlight
This tour by John Gray's Sea Canoe was recommend to me by other travellers. Even though I was aware I'd been in the area doing the Phang Nga tour I decided to book it. I was very glad I did as I got to have a completely different experience, due to the different itinerary, tides and time of day.
We had 3 trips out in canoes (rowed for us) and a lovely dinner. We saw mudskippers which are amphibious fish that are quite remarkable to watch, microbats and monkeys.
Although there are macaques in the area and it's not unusual for them to be seen on this tour, we initially saw one but my canoe was a fair way away at the time. A little later however, at a point in the tour when there was only two canoes (including mine) left in one of the spots, we started to see a lot of monkeys.
One by one different monkeys appeared on rocks and in the trees as the troop were obviously on the move. We saw an infant that was incredibly cute and we saw a monkey go for a swim.
My guide said it was the first time he'd seen a monkey go for a swim during the tour. Unfortunately I was having a fight with my phone/camera and didn't get any good photos, which is a story I'll share another day. Although the video quality also needs a lot of work I was pleased to have some footage of the swimming monkey.
7) Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Visiting the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project would not be for everyone as you can only see a couple of gibbons if you visit. However, I'd read about their work and was keen to find out more so I organised a trip. It was about an hour to get there from where I was staying near Patong.
As he was visiting that week I was lucky enough to meet the owner and hear about the work he and his family have been doing to help wildlife in Thailand for many years. It was extremely inspiring to hear about their dedication, their challenges and their achievements. If you would like to support their work they are regularly looking for volunteers and you can donate via their website.
They have released about 45 successfully into the wild and they are currently releasing about 1 family a year as they need to be thoroughly monitored for months. There are about 60 gibbons waiting to come to the facility and they would love to be able to release more families each year.
View the gallery for more photos of Thailand.