Finding a city’s secret spots can only really happen at human speed. In this series, World Running Guide, we’ll provide information to help you discover your next destination through the eyes (or rather, feet) of a runner.
Picture this: You’re Indiana Jones bushwhacking your way through the thick rainforest shrubbery as you fly down unmarked, root-invested trails. You’re soaked in sweat, naturally, because you’re chasing after (or from) something. Your senses snap into focus as you hear high-pitched squeaky cries that grow louder and louder. Afraid to look up for fear of tripping—but too curious for your own good—you look up as the noises intensify. Swinging through the trees appear hundreds of macaques monkeys, wondering who this stranger is, blazing through their territory. Amazingly enough, this is no fantasy—it is real. Welcome to Phuket, Thailand.
Photo courtesy of the Phuket Hash House Harriers’ Facebook
Phuket sets itself apart from any other city we’ve covered on our Running Guide journey. Run Society, one of Asia’s major running magazines, says some consider the southern city as the running capital of Thailand. But, unlike other running capitals of the world like London or San Francisco, the running scene in Thailand is still a new and growing sport. While different in major cities like Bangkok, you won’t be running on asphalt past storefronts in Phuket—unmarked trails, heavy vegetation, and piercing blue waters await, instead. A jog through this Asian tropical paradise is not for the faint of heart or people who are particularly, well, particular. Improvisation is key, along with enough courage to swap away any obstacles that fly your way … including scorpions.
If you’re familiar with Asian climate, you’re probably wondering about wet and dry seasons. The best time to go depends on your preference. If sweating through every single pore in 70-80% humidity gives infinite bliss, then go to Phuket any time March through August. The rainy season is May through September (with a whopping average of 15 inches of rain during September). The high tourist seasons are November through April, so if you want to participate in major local events like the Songkran Water Festival (where everyone dunks each other with water to celebrate the new Thai year), then do as the tourists do. Whenever you go, it’s best to run early in the morning and to drink lots and lots of water. Temperatures of 81-83° F with high humidity get pretty intense so close to the equator.
Photo courtesy of Phuket.com by Hotels.com
Due to the mountainous terrain of the region, Phuket calls for more difficult trails. An example of this is the route up Ngorn Nak Mountain, a four-kilometer hike. Don’t let the short distance fool you. This terrain is steep with a peaking elevation of 1,640 feet. The views when you reach the top, however, are well worth the climb. The park is just under three hours away from Phuket.
Another, perhaps more challenging, example of Phuket’s gradual climbs is the 15-kilometer route along Patong Beach and up Kalim Hill. Just when you’re enjoying the gorgeous seaside views, the Hill takes you up to an elevation of 1,732 feet. The route is difficult for sure, but you can just imagine the breathtaking scenery below (and the bragging rights you’ll have for completing it).
For something slightly less ambitious but visually rewarding, intermediate runners can try the Patong Headland route. For a 10-kilometer distance, you can stay up close and personal with the beach as you meander from the south tip of the peninsula to the north side of town.
As previously mentioned, keep your eyes peeled for indigenous creatures and critters, and not just in the jungle. In Phuket Town on Monkey Hill you’ll find, well, you can guess. Pae Hog, a local who daily visits the hill, claims there are around 400 macaques in the area.
Photo of Thanyapura Phuket’s Facebook
Due to Phuket’s newer running scene, running clubs don’t have an overwhelming presence yet. At least in the southern region of Thailand, you might spot a few runners. Or, you might just have to venture solo. There are, however, a couple of ways to form community through the sport.
“A drinking club with a running problem” is the slogan for the Phuket Hash House Harriers. If you’re unfamiliar with “hashing,” here’s the gist: one runner (or “hare”) designs a running trail for the “pack” to follow. Obstacles and dead ends are included to slow down faster runners and let the others catch up, solidifying the “pack” mentality. The group partakes in all sorts of other shenanigans including drinking games. Participation is incredibly cheap: 100 baht ($2) for non-members and 20 baht (57 cents) for children. After five sessions, you instantly become a member and the price decreases. Goofing off and running, however, are not the sole purposes of this laid-back group. The club supports the Baan Tharn Namchai orphanage, which houses over 70 children.
If you’re looking for something a little more structured and straight-laced, you can pay for classes and training at Thanyapura Phuket, a swanky fitness center just 15 minutes from the Phuket International Airport. A day pass is only 600 baht (just over $17) and programs include training for triathlons, swimming, tennis, yoga and more. There’s also a track for those who are weary of hilly jogs in the rainforest.
Sometimes—most of the time—the greatest adventure remains hidden off the grid and awaits only for curious eyes. Phuket, Thailand is a tropical wilderness that yearns to be discovered by those willing to lace up their shoes and bushwhack through the thickets, thrilled to see what lies beyond.
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Phuket Town and cave canoeing in Phang Nga Bay
Diego Delso, CC-BY-SA
Jeff Gunn, CC-BY
McGee Nall is a freelance writer based out of Athens, Georgia. She was probably eating Nilla wafers and Nutella while writing this.