A Guide to Patong Phuket
This is the big one. The chances are that if you had any preconceived notions of Phuket as something of a – I’ll say it – ‘seedy’ place, or a party island, they were actually born in Patong. It’s a very different place from what you’ll find elsewhere on Phuket.
Patong is located on the west coast of Phuket, nearly halfway up the island. It’s around a twenty minute drive from Karon – the next-nearest major tourist destination – an hour from Phuket Airport, and a forty minute drive from the bus terminal in Phuket Town.
It’s easily the biggest beach resort on Phuket, and is one of the most famous destinations in the whole of southern Thailand with its own international airport. Patong’s most famous attraction is its nightlife, which is widespread, varied and at times raucous.
If you’re looking for an authentic Thai experience, don’t expect to find it in Patong. This is a town built around, and almost completely focused on, the tourist industry.
All the signs are written in English, there are more restaurants selling western food than Thai food, and there are more travel agencies, hotels and motorbike rental shops than you could possibly imagine. Patong is a pretty crowded place, and when you walk around the busiest areas – those near Patong Beach, particularly – you’ll see more westerners than locals.
Patong has a certain reputation; there’s no getting around it. In certain areas, this is justified. Parts of the town are completely filled with loud bars – both normal and go-go – selling cheap beer and playing loud music. There’s a sizeable population of expats there who, it’s true, tend to be older white men, who have a fondness for Thai ladies. Despite what you may think, they’re generally very friendly guys, who’ll happily help you out with advice they’ve learnt from their time in Thailand. If the whole so-called ‘sexpat’ scene makes you really queasy, however, then Patong might be the place for you to avoid.
If you’re looking to party, whether that be with friends who you came with, or with Thai girls, then Patong is a great destination. It has easily the best nightlife on Phuket. There are more than just go-go bars and beer bars there. There are also quieter, trendier places, and full-sized nightclubs too.
Whether it’s your typical scene or not, being out and about at night in Patong, mingling with the crowds of tourists, and taking in the general energy of the place can always be an exciting experience. I’d also argue that a large part of traveling is getting outside your comfort zone, so even if it’s not your usual thing, you’ll still benefit from the experience of checking it out – just check your prejudices at the door.
WHAT TO DO IN PATONG
This is easily Patong’s most infamous destination. Bangla Road starts just next to Patong Beach, meaning you can basically finish off a day’s sunbathing, take in the sunset, then hit the bars.
It’s an incredibly busy street at night, packed with bars and a few nightclubs. It has a similar feel to Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, albeit with an older crowd. The street is absolutely filled with tourists, expats and reps for the bars and clubs. Loud music pumps out from every establishment on the strip, and every bar boasts of its drink deals on big signs. Thai girls dance on poles in many of the bars, all of which open onto the street, and more wait at the bars to talk to the visitors. The party keeps on going all through the night until sunrise the next day subject to any enforcement of closing times at any given time.
Bangla Road is not for the faint-hearted or those who get upset over seeing bargirls and the odd ladyboy or two. These things are a reality of Patong and getting upset or feeling you have to make a point over something won’t change things and you are better off avoiding the area and enjoy your time elsewhere. Even though a level of decency is kept for the public eye, it’s not really suitable to be taking your own small children along with you for a bit of a sticky beak. But if you’re looking for a big night out, this is the place to head to in Phuket.
Patong Beach is lengthy, running for around 3.5 km. It attracts plenty of visitors every day, but because of its size you should always be able to find a decent amount of space to set up there, even during high season. The middle areas always tend to be pretty busy, but the crowds thin out as you head to either side.
The beach itself is reasonably clean, considering how busy it is. The water, however, is pretty murky. There are a fair number of touts on the beach, selling everything from drinks and ice creams to full-day boat trips. With plenty of fish in their proverbial seas, however, they aren’t too insistent with individual people.
Despite being on the west side of the town, the beach is basically the center of Patong. The vast majority of hotels are within walking distance, meaning it’s always easy to get to. The street behind the beach is absolutely filled with restaurants and bars, and Bangla Road starts right next to the beach, at around the midway point.
Patong Beach isn’t exactly the seaside spot of your dreams. It’s conveniently located, however, with the nightlife right next door, and you can do all your beach basics here: sunbathing, paddling, drinking beers, and so on.
When it comes to malls, you’re spoiled for choice pretty much everywhere you go in Thailand. That doesn’t mean they’re always fun places to hang out in, however; Thailand’s is guilty as anywhere for building endless numbers of uniform, corporate globo-malls. Every now and again, however, you stumble across one that’s a breath of fresh air. I’d say Jungceylon is just such a place.
Mostly, this is due to its layout. Large chunks of the mall are located outdoors, under vast canopies overhead. Strolling around it in the open air feels like you’re simply walking around pleasant streets. Most of the restaurants and bars are located outdoors, and they all have extensive outdoor seating areas, making it a nice place to stay and people-watch with a beer or a glass of wine. There are plenty of places indoors too, including most of the shops and a nice, multiplex cinema, but the indoor sections are similar to most other malls in Thailand.
Jungceylon (which was actually Phuket’s original name) is also ideally located. It’s around ten minutes’ walk from Patong Beach, five minutes’ walk from Bangla Road, and just across the road from the open-air Baan Son night market, which is also worth checking out.
WHAT TO DO NEAR PATONG
Head to quieter beaches
If Patong Beach is too busy for you, or you simply want a change of scenery, you have several options within a short drive.
Paradise Beach – which sits along the cape to the west – is probably the closest alternative, sitting only around a ten minute taxi ride away. It’s not exactly ‘undiscovered’, but it’s definitely quieter than Patong Beach. Slightly further south is Freedom Beach. This is significantly quieter than Paradise Beach, but that’s for a good reason: it’s pretty hard to get to! Make sure your taxi driver knows exactly where he’s headed before you set off. Alternatively, getting a boat over from Patong Beach is a much easier option. This place has a much more undiscovered feel to it, and is definitely worth the trip.
Heading the other way, Kalim Beach is a great northern alternative. It’s only actually a couple of kilometers from Patong Beach, but the water there is so much clearer that it feels like a completely different area. The beach itself is much quieter too.
Simon Cabaret is only a short distance to the south of the town, and it’s definitely one of the definitive Patong area experiences.
Everyone who sees the show has basically the same reaction: it’s weird, but definitely entertaining! Most people would also agree that you get your money’s worth at Simon Cabaret. The shows feature both traditional and modern music, with plenty of big dance numbers and some amazing, colorful costumes. After all’s said and done you can even get your picture taken with the cast, for an extra 100 baht tip.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Putting it simply, Patong isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. If you like places with a big, busy nightlife; places which definitely won’t provide a culture shock, and where you’ll be looked-after as a tourist; or resort towns in general; then Patong is a good place for you to visit. Likewise, if one of your reasons for visiting Thailand in the first place is the ladies (and I certainly don’t judge; this is true for many visitors to the country), Patong is definitely a town for you.
If you like to steer clear of the crowds, seek out more authentic experiences when you visit a foreign country, or are more into taking in art and culture on your travels, then a visit to Patong would probably be a waste of time for you where you may find yourself leaving Thailand with a long list of complaints instead of find momeories.
Call it what you want, but Patong is what it is. Its reputation is somewhat justified, and it’s no secret what you’ll find there. If it doesn’t sound like your kind of place, simply don’t go! If it ticks a lot of your personal boxes, however, there’s a hell of a lot of fun to be had in Patong.