Phuket Discovery Tour Review

Radar Hill & Big Buddha Viewpoints, Canoeing Mangroves

Phuket is developing fast. The island has a lot of state-of-the-art luxurious facilities for holidaymakers but if you'd like to get back to the basics and discover the simpler, more down-to-earth side of Phuket, there is nothing that can beat the Phuket Discovery Tour.

Our day consists of driving up Radar Hill in a 4WD, enjoying magnificent scenic vistas before proceeding along the 'spine' of the island to visit the famous Big Buddha. We then kayak into a perfect mangrove forest, stop to chat with local fishermen and visit a fish farm and later sample Phuket's wonderful seafood. What a simple but perfect day out!

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Amazing Viewpoint

After over two decades in adventure tourism, this outfit knows their game well and comes up with amazing programs, including today’s tour. The first viewpoint we're taken to today is over 300 metres high, located near the Royal Thai Air Force’s helicopter pad. It takes us a while to realize that the beach below us to the west is actually Patong Beach.

We have so much fun figuring out the names of surrounding islands that lie to the eastern side of Phuket. With the help of Khun Nong, our wonderful guide, we are able to identify Koh Phi Phi, Mai Thon, Racha, Lanta, Phang Nga Bay, Koh Yao and even faraway Krabi Province because, luckily, visibility is excellent today. Bang Wad Dam looks so impressive from this location.

Cliffs and Back Roads

We continue on to the next viewpoint. This time we go on a rougher road (and it's not clear if it's actually a road or not…) and pass by a temple with a brand-new golf course as a backdrop, drive through local villages, go by fish farms (hillside fish farms!) and rubber and fruit plantations.

Eventually, we stop for a while at a spot with a great view of Phuket Town. Not long after we reach the site of the Big Buddha, a 45-metre high image with a 25-metre-wide base, sitting on top of the Nakkerd Hills in Chalong and visible from all of southern Phuket.

Stephan, our photographer, can’t stop smiling. We're in the middle of the monsoon season, so there was a big chance that he would go home with no good photos at all but so far we've been blessed with clear skies, cool breezes, plus the sun is shining on the face of the Big Buddha. He is definitely a happy man.         

Bangla Mangrove Forest

After 30 minutes on the road, we reach Yamu Pier on the east coast, where a longtail boat is waiting to pick us up and take us to a camp in a mangrove forest.

Cold drinks, coffee, tea and delicious seasonal fruit are waiting for us when we arrive at the simple but very clean floating camp. 

First-Class Seafood Lunch

Attached to the camp are nine 'gra-changs' (large keep nets containing live fish and mussels) so it's good to know just how fresh the food is.

Today's menu consists of seafood spicy soup or tom yam, steamed prawn & crabs, fried mixed vegetables with soy sauce and steamed fish with Thai herbs and spices.

It's all excellent stuff, especially as it's served with jasmine rice. As we all eat together, family style, we learn a great deal about the methods behind this eco-tour from Khun Nong.

Kayaking and Exploring Time

After everyone is full, it’s time for more fun but before heading off, we put on some mosquito repellent. We hear no other sound except the gentle splashing of our paddles and the vista of countless mature mangroves with their massive roots is hard to describe.

There are many types of birds here, including black-backed kingfisher, wood sandpiper, oriental magpie robin and gurney’s pitta. We then hear a creaking noise. "That’s our neighbours," says Nong, "Those are long-tailed macaques nearby in the forest probably looking for something to eat.” Too bad we have shy neighbours; today we can only hear them.

'Good Luck Mr Fisherman'

On the way back to the main camp we pass a few local fishermen who are busy collecting the day's catch from their fishing nets/traps.

It's fascinating to see such items as horseshoe crabs and so many fish; they obviously don't have far to go at all to catch their food. We wish them good luck and move on.

Did You Know?

For more than 10 years, Khun Suwit, the tour manager and a local environmental activist, has set up a project to synchronize tourism and the environment.

He realised that local fishermen and the tourist industry were compatible as long as the environment – especially the mangroves – was respected.

Ironically, the mangroves acted as a buffer against the 2004 tsunami and saved a lot of the area from the destruction that denuded coastlines suffered.  

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