Port of Phuket, Thailand: tenders to the beach, an aggressive Thai massage and local food

Patong Beach with cruise ships anchored in the distance.

After a day at sea from Singapore, the first stop of our one-month cruise to Europe was Phuket, Thailand. During prime season, ships anchor just off the town of Patong and tenders drop passengers off at floating docks right on a beautiful beach. This is one of those rare cruise ports where tenders are not bad; ten minutes on the tender lands you at a spot you can actually spend the day. (The short distance and smooth water meant that there wasn’t much of a wait for the tenders either as they were able to shuttle back-and-forth pretty quickly.) That said, Patong is a touristy, party town full of restaurants, bars and shops, and isn’t exactly pristine Thailand.

Cruise ship tenders drop off at this floating pier, right on Patong Beach. Nice!

This post is not going to offer anything for cruisers interested in excursions or tours around Phuket. (However, there is some practical info for cruisers at the bottom of this article.) Since we’d spent a few weeks in Thailand less than a year and half earlier and had dove the Phi Phi Islands on the other side of the Phuket peninsula then, we had no desire to make a long, expensive day trip only to compete with hordes of cruise passengers snorkeling and taking boat trips around the Phi Phis or touring the plantations and elephant “sanctuary.” (The Queen Mary 2 was in port the same day we were, so her passengers were adding to the influx.)

Our ambitions for the day were modest: one of those dirt-cheap, vigorous Thai massage sessions, some good Thai food and a little beach time, maybe just strolling in the surf. I did some research pre-trip and settled on Sweet Lemongrass Phuket 2 for the massage. I read good reviews about them in a local publication and was able to make a booking by messaging them on their Facebook page where they post photos of their price list. I booked us two 1.5-hour Traditional Thai Massages for 350 baht each ($10.90 per person). I don’t know that a reservation was essential, but with limited time in port, it seemed like the best idea.

I really wanted David to experience a Thai massage, too. We’d done a side-by-side massage in Chiang Mai, but he’d opted for a more traditional, Swedish-type massage then. I’d gotten the full Thai bordering-on-assault treatment and words just really don’t do it justice. (Even though side-by-side, it’s pretty impossible to see the other person since you’re either face-down or with eyes closed or covered.) David needed to experience it for himself, and I wanted something to compare my first experience to.

An easy 10-minute walk from the floating tender pier found us opening the door to the air-conditioned refuge of Sweet Lemongrass Massage 2. We were greeted with icy water and cold washcloths in the nice front room before being led upstairs to our curtained massage room.

Reception area of Sweet Lemongrass Phuket 2

The last curtain on the right led to our massage “room.”

Our masseuses left us alone to change into the loose-fitting short set favored for these massages. The shorts are huge, but a tie wraps around the waist as much as needed to cinch it in.

Big shorts!

When the ladies returned, the “fun” began. Thai massage is like none other I’ve tried. I’ve been pretty aggressively massaged — and exfoliated to the edge of blood-letting — by hammam ladies in Paris, but Thai massage is a whole different game. There’s the usual kneading and pressing of knots, but it focuses much attention on stretching, and that can push right up against alarming. There’s also a certain amount of light hitting. (Sounds great so far, right?) My diminutive Thai masseuse soon climbed up on the table with me, bending me in half from the waist, as she knelt behind me, one knee tucked under my arm against my side while she put my neck and shoulders in a lock to twist with all her might. Lying on my stomach, she placed a foot behind one knee, then pushed on the raised foot in a move my brother and I deemed “unfair” when wrestling as children. It still hurts!

Back up on the massage table, my masseuse begins a hair-styling finale to my massage.

For an hour and a half, I passed from blissful massage to occasionally painful body locks, stretches, aggressive pressure point moves and jabs. Once or twice I yelped an “ouch!” that caused the masseuse to apologize and ease off. Beside me, I could hear the occasional grunt or “oof!” from David and wondered what he was thinking about this whole business. To top off my massage, my masseuse pulled the clip out of my hair and began a scalp massage that devolved to little snatching motions with her fingers followed by jerking on handfuls of hair. Hard! Ow! I struggled not to laugh at the thought I was paying her (albeit a pittance) to beat me up. Oh well, I was going to see it through to the end and gauge the therapeutic effects of the full package. David hadn’t called “uncle” yet either, so I assumed he was in the same mode. (He later informed me his experience had been similar to mine, but he’d been spared the hair-yanking I was treated to. He was glad he’d tried it, but isn’t going to be seeking out Thai massage back home.)

To wrap things up, my masseuse climbed back up on the table with me and began braiding portions of my hair. At first, I thought she was just pulling it out of my face since the scalp massage and hair-pulling had made a rat’s nest, but she kept going until I had a full French braid as, I don’t know … a peace offering , maybe?

I like my new hair-do!

For all that Thai massage can be excessively “vigorous,” the whole process left us feeling relaxed and “worked out.” I was a little sore later that evening, but by the next day aching neck and shoulder muscles that had been nagging at me for some time were improving.

We went straight from the massage to little Thai restaurant I’d read about as being popular with locals as well as the ubiquitous tourists of Patong. (A short walk of maybe 5 minutes) It was nothing fancy, but it was pleasant, and we had a solid Thai lunch for reasonable prices at S&G Family restaurant, a place that’s been in business since 1985. Like most little restaurants and shops in the area, it’s open to the outside with only ceiling fans for cooling. Service was friendly and prompt.

Our main goals were to get our curry fix. My only minor complaint was that my green curry chicken was lacking those tiny, round and bitter eggplants that are so unique to Thailand and that I’ve been unable to find in the States.

Curries at S&G Family Restaurant

After lunch, it was time for the beach. Feeling lazy and full, we opted to just walk along the lapping surf, people watching and enjoying the scenery. There were plenty of places offering lounge chairs, umbrellas and refreshments if we’d been so inclined. There were also small boats and jet skis pulling multi-person floats on offer. Patong Beach is bustling and lively, but even with two ships in port, it wasn’t unpleasantly crowded.

Patong Beach with two ships in port. Not bad!


Practical info: 

The floating pier for our tenders dropped us off just in front of the Avantika Boutique Hotel which you can find on Google Maps. (There was another floating pier a block or so NE up the beach where tenders to and from the Queen Mary 2 used.) Tenders ran back and forth to the ships regularly throughout the day, so going back to the ship and returning again would have been an option.

Sweet Lemongrass Massage 2 is at 7.884975, 98.293699 on GPS; ถนน ราษฏร์อุทิศ, 200 Pee Rd, Pa Tong, Kathu District, Phuket 83150, Thailand. Phone: +66 76 349 847

S&G Family Restaurant is at  104/2 Soi Post Office Thaweewong Rd, Tambon Patong, Amphoe Kathu, Chang Wat Phuket 83150, Thailand. Phone: +66 76 340 151


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