Road trip Bangkok to Phuket

Cover photo: Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villa Khao Lak

Photos and story

Andrew J Wood

BANGKOK: I needed to attend a meeting in Phuket and had time to visit and explore. We decided to drive, a chance to really explore that flying for 75 minutes doesn’t allow.

It’s a journey we’ve done in the past twice before in my 29 years of living in Thailand. Our journey will take us south travelling 864 km from our home in Bangkok to Phuket – Thailand’s famous island playground. The Pearl of the Andaman Sea.

For centuries, the main source of income for the island was tin mining. Now, tourism and rubber have made Phuket the wealthiest province of the country.

On this trip we plan to stay at a number of resorts a few that are very closely linked to the island’s tin mining past.

Leaving Bangkok very early we follow the coast road south-west along the Gulf of Thailand towards Hua Hin and then all the way south to Surat Thani. From there we cross the isthmus east to west before turning south again towards Phuket and the Andaman Sea.

With stops the journey time will take approx 11.5 hours driving. We plan to do the journey in one day, God willing. The car has been fully prepped and recently serviced.

With our early start we arrive in Hua Hin at 6.30am having avoided all the pre-rush hour traffic out of Bangkok. A journey of just under two hours. Normally with traffic it would be three hours. Our early start had paid dividends. We see dawn break as we arrive turning a black sky into rainbow colours that never stops being special.

We continue on Route 4, the Phet Kasem Road, Thailand’s longest (1,274km). Our journey will take us through 12 of Thailand’s 76 provinces – Bangkok, Samut Sakhon, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi, Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Ranong, Surat Thani, Phang-Nga, Krabi and Phuket.

From Hua Hin we head further south along the Asian Highway, hugging the western edge of the Gulf. The kilometres slip-by. We travel on good roads, mostly dual carriageways. The traffic is reasonable and we make good progress. Passing through Pranburi and Prachuap Khiri Khan, we continue leisurely south.

We reach Chumphon – our halfway point. Located on the Isthmus of Kra, the narrow stirp of land connecting the Malay Peninsula with mainland Thailand. With a 222 km coastline and 44 islands, the Chumphon Archipelago is known for it’s coral reefs and a long coastline dotted with peaceful beaches.

At Chumphon we join the A41. It is the main road for the lower southern provinces. We head south-west.

Route 41 is a four lane highway, two lanes in each direction. It is also part of the Asian Highway AH2.

The journey goes surprisingly quickly. Flying from Bangkok to Phuket would only take 75 minutes however you would miss all the amazing scenery. There’s no better way to get a feel for the diversity of this wonderful country and take a sneak peak at daily life as we drive past.

We are on the last leg of the journey. As we pass through Krabi province with its hilly terrain and limestone outcrops. Located in the Strait of Malacca, between Phuket on the west and the mainland on the east. The islands are administratively part of Krabi province.

We pass through Phang-Nga province festooned with dramatic limestone outcrops. We will explore this area on the return leg spending a few days at Khao Lak.

We quickly reach the Sarasin bridge that links the mainland to Phuket island. We pass through an almost deserted police check point. Our journey thus far had taken a little under 11 hours.

We were keen to get to our hotel in time for a swim and a relaxing dinner. It wasn’t far our hotel is close to the airport at the wonderful Nai Yang beach, one of Phuket’s famed sandy beaches.

Photo: Sirinat National Park and Nai Yang beach

We head south to Nai Yang beach and The Slate Phuket, for a much needed rest.

The ‘tin-mine’ vibe of the 5 star Slate Phuket is quirky and unique. I fell in love with the design the moment I stepped into the hotel. It is simply exquisite. The Slate Phuket has been a constant fixture on Phuket’s resort hotel inventory for many years and was previously branded the Indigo Pearl.

Photo: Nai Yang beach

Located close to Phuket International airport the resort occupies a prime space adjacent to the natural beauty of Sirinat National Park and Nai Yang beach, one of Phuket’s best and most beautiful, ideal for swimming and sea sports.

Photo: The Slate Phuket

The designer beachfront hotel was rebranded as The Slate Phuket in 2016. The resort was designed by Bill Bensley in a style that reflects the area’s former tin mining heritage, with several custom-made works of metallic modern art.

Photo: The Tin Mine Restaurant

The rooms follow this theme. Oversized and packed with every amenity imaginable. They are great rooms and you’ll want for nothing! We even had an outdoor bath tub. It wasn’t tin but brass!

Later that evening we had dinner at Black Ginger restaurant. An award winning Thai restaurant it was quite simply superb, the cuisine, presentation and service were top notch.

Photo: Black Ginger Restaurant

To get to the restaurant is a delight, one of those memorable moments – an ‘experience’. A hand pulled raft to cross a smoke filled lagoon lit by flaming torches. Straight out of a movie. Loved it!

Photo: Angsana Laguna Phuket Resort

Sadly it was time to leave The Slate and for me to put on my meeting hat as we headed south to Angsana Laguna Phuket Resort, for my Skål Asia mid-term board meeting. The Angsana was to be our home for the next 3 days.

Located at Phuket’s Bang Tao Bay in the island’s northwest, Angsana Laguna Phuket is a luxury resort, (formerly the Sheraton Grand Laguna), and is central to Asia’s first integrated resort, Laguna Phuket, developed across a former tin mine.

Photo: Great for meetings

Great beaches with lovely white sand and a 300 metre free-form pool that wraps around the resort.

Known for its meeting space, it has its own on-site convention hall, and its impressive grounds makes it an ideal venue for large events. Indeed the resort will be the headquarters hotel for the upcoming Skål Asia Congress 25-28 June 2020 which this year is expected to be the biggest yet, attracting around 300-400 Skalleagues from Asia and around the world. With a strong tourism industry, Asia continues to outpace all other areas in the world of SKÅL.

Photo: Perfect accommodation overlooking the lagoon

The Laguna Phuket houses a number of fine resorts and is a destination in its own right. With restaurants, golf, sea sports and activities aplenty it is just 40 minutes from historic Phuket town and superb shopping throughout the island.

Photo: The Canal Village shopping at Laguna

Sadly there was little time to explore further but we shall return in June!

After the business side of the trip it was off to Patong to have a few days R&R by the pool at the wonderful Holiday Inn Phuket. A perennial favourite in the bustling heart of the island.

We left the Angsana after breakfast and we drove to Patong just 30 minutes away.

We checked into the Holiday Inn Resort Patong and after we were given a brand-new, ground floor pool access deluxe room in the renovated Busakorn Wing – very impressive!

Photo: Holiday Inn Resort Phuket

The central pool dominates the resort. Decorated in a stunning mustard brown sandstone with mythical animal fountains. The pool tiles are sky blue and compliment the sandstone perfectly – most attractive! The greenery and landscaping provide a ‘garden oasis’ atmosphere.

Photo: Holiday Inn Resort Phuket

The rooms, as with all modern Holiday Inns (IHG Group), are stunning. Artful designs for modern comfort. Spacious and generous our deluxe room included a complimentary mini bar with beers, cocktail mixers, soft drinks and water. It was replenished daily.

The location is ideal – just steps away from the beach, Jungceylon and Soi Bangla and its famous nightlife.

Photo: Lots to do and see

Phuket’s most famous and developed beach is here. Patong beach with a 2km long sandy beach located in a bay with warm waters, is ideal for swimming and relaxing in the sun.

Patong is also Phuket’s centre of nightlife. The area around Soi Bangla has more than 200 pubs, bars, go-go bars and discothèques where the action doesn’t stop until very late at night.

Being Patong’s first international hotel, the Holiday Inn Phuket Resort has been serving guests for 32 years (1987) becoming one of the most well-known hotels in the region.

As part of its re-launch, a total of 104 studio rooms, including 17 new poolside rooms, have been renovated. The new refurbishments also offer an adult-only villa area with pool access and pool view rooms, new facilities and exclusive indulgence packages.

At breakfast we had a huge selection and a great dining experience. All the bases are covered – Western, European, American, Vegetarian, Asian, Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern and Japanese.

Good kitchen, good staff, great service and an essential breakfast ingredient – lots of SMILING happy servers.

The Busakorn wing is all new – rebuilt from the ground up at a cost of Bt 240m (US $ 8m).

You are right in the heart of Patong but with its clever design you hear very little of the hustle and bustle going on outside.

Whist there we visited Wat Chalong – Phuket’s finest temple. Wat Chalong was built at the beginning of the 19th century, it is the largest of Phuket’s 29 temples and the most visited.

No visit to the Holiday Inn Resort Phuket is complete without a visit to Sam’s, the island’s famous steakhouse. Located in the main wing it was everything and more. Exceeding my expectations. The interior design is super, leather, glass and floral displays. The restaurant has a walk-in glass wine cellar, temperature controlled, to keep the wines in tip-top condition. A great menu and slick efficient service. A truly fine dining experience.

Sadly it was time to leave the island and to head north to start the long return journey homeward bound. Unlike the trip down we would be making 2 stops.

We crossed the Sarasin bridge that links Phuket with the main land. Our next stop was the Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villa in Khao Lak, Phang-Nga.

The Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villa, is located at Pakarang Beach which is just 90 minutes from Phuket International Airport.

Photo: Apsara Beachfront Resort and Villa Khao Lak

It was late November / early December, the weather was glorious. As you approach the resort you see the wide beach with its beautiful, white sand and clear seas.

The beach is perfect for early morning jogs and evening sunset runs too, never crowded, the ocean was warm and we loved watching the surfers.

The sunsets are out of this world. A great place to chill, just heavenly.

The tide goes out a long way leaving a lovely long stretch of white sand beach. There is a good selection of bars and activities. The resort is popular with European guests. Many are repeat guests. Always a good sign. Being away from busy Phuket there are many good deals to be had. Many guests stay for 2-3 weeks and longer. Barefoot luxury is available and affordable. The resort is a popular honeymoon destination.

Nestled in an area of outstanding natural beauty where the tides of the Andaman Sea flow into a lush lagoon and mangrove forest, against a backdrop of forested mountains, the Apsara can be divided into two zones for accommodation choices.

The Resort Zone (195 rooms) is close to the beach and swimming pools. The beachfront resort zone is perfect for families. It has a lively ambiance while across the lagoon bridge at The Villa Zone (60 villas) the village setting offers privacy and tranquility.

Photo: Apsara Beachfront Resort Pool Villa

We had booked a Pool Villa and it was perfect. Self contained with 100% privacy behind a locked entrance and walled garden.

The pool had a built in Jacuzzi and a shaded outdoor dining area and 2 sun loungers. It was well designed. Its the top category of accommodation, designed in tropical contemporary style covering 180 sqm of living space. The pool villas offer a spacious bedroom, plus living space with large sliding doors that access the swimming pool and sundeck, plus a great bathroom with a rain shower. Its just a short walk to the beach.

What we particularly liked was the Villa Apsara, club like, with its own restaurant, bars and pools. It was delightful and the food and staff outstanding.

We had most of our meals at the club’s Napalai Restaurant it was so good.

The room Amenities across all accommodation choices are extensive including flat screen TV’s and DVD players, Free WiFi, electronic safes and Free drinking water.

There is much to do and see around the resort. Filling your day with activities is easy. We spent most of our time around the pool at the Villa Apsara club, but there are Thai cooking classes, fruit carving, batik painting, photography, bird watching, kayaking, cycling or simply working out at the gym.

Don’t forget a visit to the Apsara Spa. We spent a relaxing afternoon being pampered by their expert team.

For a taste of local life take the shuttle bus to Khao Lak town centre and enjoy exploring the shops, convenience stores and restaurants. For a more cultural experience, there are local markets held during the week selling local food, clothing and other everyday items. Visit Takuapa Old Town, Buddhist temples, play golf or enjoy a day diving and snorkelling.

Our final visit before returning to Bangkok was a stay for 2 nights at the award winning ecolodge, the Anurak Community Lodge.

The 2019 winner of both the SKÅL Asian Area environmental award and also SKÅL’s global sustainable award for rural accommodation.

Anurak Community Lodge is located adjacent to the Khao Sok national park area in southern Thailand and is Travelife certified. The 20-unit ecolodge, which opened in 2016, received its certification after complying with Travelife’s rigorous Gold Certificate criteria.

Photo: Views from Anurak Community Lodge

We accessed the resort from Khao Lak travelling east via a dramatic mountainous drive through the national park. Most guests however would probably transit via Surat Thani. The scenery around the lodge is utterly spectacular.

Photo: The Anurak Trail

The ecolodge focuses very much on minimising environmental impact, reducing energy consumption, respecting labour and human rights, maintaining health and safety standards, encouraging community integration, working with appropriate suppliers, and inspiring guest participation in onsite sustainability initiatives.

Photo: Anurak Community Lodge accommodation, perched among the canopies for treetop views

Anurak has adopted principles of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Key aspects of its sustainability commitment include the banning of single-use plastic and styrofoam and the creation of a recycling station and composting zone. Greywater from the laundry is filtered and used on the ecolodge’s “Rainforest Rising” project, which, over the long-term, will return 3,300 square metres of oil palm plantation to native vegetation cover.

Photo: A great choice of activities

Photo: Bikes for guest use

In August 2019, the ecolodge was listed among 36 of the world’s leading green lodges and hotels in the National Geographic Traveller (UK) invitation-only Earth Collection.

Photo: Near-by caves during the jungle walk

On the edge of Khao Sok National Park, the lodge offers a range of ecotourism packages from two to four nights. Activities include hiking, rafting, kayaking, forest cooking, and boat trips on nearby Cheow Larn Lake, with its spectacular limestone cliffs rising sheer from the water’s surface.

Photo: A local community dance troupe entertain lodge guests at dinner

Located a 75-minute drive from Surat Thani airport and two hours and 30 minutes from Phuket airport, the lodge offers deluxe green, eco double, eco twin, and deluxe jungle tent options.

Surrounded by limestone karst scenery, the lodge is an ideal base to explore.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and hope to return to view its development.

Andrew J Wood

About the author:

Andrew was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skal International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.