19 January 2015

Khiri Travel shares the secrets of Phuket


In Phuket for business and with a little time on your hands? Gonzalo Gil Lavedra, Phuket branch manager of Khiri Travel Thailand, says that there are great experiences, old town insights and food experiences to be had.

"It's the quiet, unheralded attractions and people away from mass tourism that make me glad to have found a new home in the South," he says.

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre at the Khao Phra Taeo forest reserve is worth a visit, he said, drawing on the company's unusual destinations and innovative itineraries. The centre rehabilitates gibbons that have been used as photo props for tourists. "Here they are gradually re-educated in nature's way and released back into the forest. This is one of the most successful projects in the world with many rehabilitations over the last 20 years," he said.

Hiking in the Khao Phra Taeo forest park in the island's last surviving rain forest can be magical, he added. The forest is home to hornbills, macaques, and snakes. The oldest rain forest in Thailand is in Khao Sok, a few hours' drive away. The highlight of a guided tour by Khiri is Cheow Lan Lake, with towering peaks, green waters and raft houses. 

Source: Khiri Travel. Khao Sok rainforest.

For sand and surf, Lavedra suggests hiring a long tail boat and visiting the island of Koh Yao Noi from the local pier at Bang Rong in northeast Phuket. "The whole magical vista of Phang Nga Bay opens up, with its towering limestone outcrops rising straight from the sea," he said.

If it's just the beach, Lavedra says Thai Muang, one hour north of Phuket in Phangnga province, is your destination. "People always ask for long deserted beaches. This one fits the bill perfectly. It is a protected area. Sea turtles come here to lay their eggs from December to February," he shared.

If you have less time, there's still lots to see in Phuket town. Lavedra says the fresh market in Rassada Road at 7am is bustling with action, while the oldest pharmacy in town, Nguan Choon Tong Herb Shop (look for the sign, "Oldest Herbs Shop") along Thalang Road will customise medicine or tea based entirely on natural products. 

Coffee at I 46.
Enjoy a cup of black coffee, at the family-run cafe I 46 in Krabi Road. "This is the best chance to see a Chinese shophouse from the inside, and to have a chat with the ever-accommodating proprietor, Khun Nong. He will gladly tell you about the adventures of his great grandfather who came to Phuket in the mid-19th century and made his way as a tin banker. The family still lives in the same house after all these years," Lavedra said.

Five great places to eat that most visitors miss include the Arun Roti shop, also on Thalang Road. "It is one of the best places on the island to try some chicken roti. Those with a sweet tooth should try roti with banana and sugar," Lavedra recommends.

Boorat Dim Sum on Chao Fa Road opposite Dao Rung School and behind Rassada market is the oldest place for the Southern Thai Chinese-influenced cuisine. "Come early as they open at 5 am. By 9 am the shop is mostly sold out," Lavedra says.

For dinners, try Ang Sea Food. "The prices and atmosphere are agreeable and nearly all the patrons are Thai. The tom yam seafood is very popular. It's open from 5pm on Phuket Road near the Bang Niew Chinese temple," Lavedra advises.

Bang Pae Seafood, off the road that leads to Bang Rong pier, is another meal possibility. "Imagine sitting in front of a mangrove forest in Phuket with a view of the ocean and a backdrop of casuarina trees. The local seafood salads are unique to this area," Lavedra said.

Last but not least there is the Raya restaurant in New Deebuk Road for the traditional experience. "As you step in to the restaurant you feel transported to a bygone era. The decor has not changed in the last 60 or so years and the recipes are a living example of the best traditional Southern Thai food. Not to be missed is the crab curry," Lavedra said.