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As home base for the Challenge Laguna Phuket Tri-Fest, the island of Phuket, Thailand has plenty of perfect venues for swimming, cycling and running. But the island boasts much more than an adrenalin fix for endurance athletes. Check out these three must-do’s as you consider planning a future trip to this Southeast Asian paradise.
A lazy day at Bang Tao Beach
The Laguna Phuket Resort (lagunaphuket.com), host to the Challenge Laguna Phuket Tri-Fest, sits smack on Bang Tao Beach, one of the most idyllic waterfronts you’ll ever find. From your room at one of the resort’s seven hotels (I recommend the Dusit Thani, where I’ve enjoyed a luxurious stay the past two years) it’s just few hundred yards to the sand and an ideal spot to while away your first day in Thailand. The gentle waves of the Andaman Sea are sure to wash away any residual jet lag, and the azure warm water is an absolute delight for swimming, bodysurfing or simply floating. After a few hours of playing in the water and lounging in the sun, scoot over to the open air massage tent for an even deeper hour of relaxation. A one-hour “oil massage” employs a blend of Swedish and Thai techniques, perfect pre-race prep or post-race recovery. And after the long-haul flight it’s the best 500 Thai Baht (approximately $15 USD) you’ll ever spend. Rinse off in the ocean again post-massage, then purchase a fresh grilled ear of corn and a fresh green coconut from one of the beachfront vendors for a delicious island-style snack. Keep an eye out for Kandi, the resort’s resident three-year-old baby elephant, who usually visits the beach in the late afternoon and enjoys giving trunk hugs and kisses to everyone she meets.
An afternoon in Old Town Phuket
A 30-40 minute taxi ride from Laguna Phuket resort will take you to Old Town Phuket to experience an afternoon of local culture. Ask to be let out on Soi Romanee, Phuket’s most photographed street where the quaint and colorful Sino-Colonial architecture will draw you in with its charm. Stop into the Art & Culture Gallery Boutique (16 Soi Romanee) to shop for one-of-a-kind handicrafts from around Asia and to pick up a guide book to Thailand or a map of Old Town published by artandcultureasia.com’s proprietor Lori Ashton. Trust in the map’s suggested walking tour to take you on the best possible journey through Old Town’s fascinating streets, replete with architectural highlights, temples, cool courtyard cafes and funky galleries and gift shops. Be sure to make a pit stop for lunch or dinner at The Blue Elephant (blueelephant.com), where you’ll enjoy sophisticated royal Thai cuisine and the feng shui influenced ambience of the Phra Pitak Chinpracha Mansion, a historic 105-year-old landmark housing the restaurant and a cooking school. On the return trip to the resort, ask your taxi driver to detour up Khao Rang (Rang Hill), a scenic viewpoint from which you’ll gain a stunning bird’s eye perspective on the southern part of the island.
A morning on the water
A holiday in Phuket would be incomplete without a boat trip to some of the neighboring islands. Laguna Phuket Resort operates Laguna Tours (lagunaphuket.com/tours), with safe and reliable boat crews offering a huge range of half and full day land and sea tour options. This year a group of pro athletes and media were invited on a special trip to Koh Yao Noi, a tranquil island where we detoured inland by jeep to enjoy a jaunt through the rice paddies and a visit to a local home for a treat of fresh young coconut before being deposited on a dreamy deserted beach to while away some time in the sun. In past years I’ve visited James Bond Island (made famous in the film “The Man with the Golden Gun”) and kayaked through sea caves, both equally enthralling activities. Simply speed-boating through this portion of Ao Phang Nga National Park is a worthwhile venture in and of itself, regardless of any stops, as the views of the limestone tower karst islands jutting straight up out of the water are unforgettable.