So, after beautiful, peaceful Pai, our first impressions and thoughts of Phuket may not have been the best. The term Phuk-It was tossed around often and the outlooks grim. It's big, it's loud, people harass you on the street all the time to buy their stuff, or see their show, or visit their club. The beach is crowded and not as clean as the pictures made out. It's full of Australians. Everything is 5x the price of Pai. We missed our Pai friends. However, with 5 nights of complimentary luxury accommodation (thanks bro) on our hands, we were determined to make the most of it.... no matter how many topless 70-80year old women and men in speedos we had to endure.
We ended up adopting two strategies. 1) Hide out by the pool of the hotel - leaving only in search of cheap food and 2) if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Instead of getting annoyed, we joked with the stall holders, tour operators and taxi drivers (no you buy from me, oh you want taxi? I'll take you...)- once to the point of the taxi driver getting in the back seat of his car and me in the drivers seat. We spent a day on the beach...well a morning, there was waaay too much octogenarian porn for us to completely relax. We spent a night drinking on Bangla - playing a dice game with the locals, hugged a 'polar bear' in a bar completely made out of ice and smashed our ice shot glasses on the ground as per tradition, laughed, danced and got the hell out. To our surprise we even ended up having fun.
I spent a day diving out at Racha Noi and Racha Yai (with Thailand Divers - good, safe, professional company), including my first wreck dive. It was only then I really saw how beautiful Phuket was. No not because my head was underwater, but because I finally left Patong (read tourist district), lush greenery, white sands, blue water, paradise. Completely unlike the neon lit streets that never sleep in Patong.
My advice would be, avoid Patong unless you are a) 18 and just want to get drunk or b) overweight, aging and want to work on your all over tan.
Sitting on our veranda last night, I found myself looking over the neon streets with a begrudged fondness. It's not what I would associate with Thailand but, as ever, everything is what you make it.