Phuket & Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
A few friends and I took a Thailand in 2010 to Phuket and Koh Phi Phi. Bangkok and Chiang Mai were initially on the itinerary, but due to riots and uprisings at the time, we decided to scratch those two off the list and spend more time down south.
It was my first time to Southeast Asia, and the biggest recommendation that I can give not just about Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but Southeast Asia in general, is get "dirty." By that I mean check out random eateries, sit down for some street food, take a wooden boat captained by a local who doesn't speak your language. The more expensive, fancy tours may be great for living it up in Thailand, but balancing it with some raw, local life will, I feel, make for a more well-rounded and enjoyable experience.
We stayed at the Deevana Patong hotel in Phuket. It has a nice pool, excellent service and is in a pretty central location for a good price, and it made it easy for us to get out and explore the town. There's an open market nearby that sold all kinds of random goods, nice beaches, and a street food area.
From Phuket, we took the Phi Phi Cruiser to head out Koh Phi Phi. When we arrived at Ao Tonsai pier on the island, we negotiated (somehow!) with wooden boat owners and one of them took us around the nearby islands.
The sights were incredible. Giant rock islands jetting straight out of beautiful light blue waters warm enough to take a swim in. This is an absolute must-do.
The thing about our trip to Koh Phi Phi was that it was a last minute decision and we didn't make any arrangements to stay the night. We ended up walking along the coast until we came across some cheap bungalows. They were less than US$20/night, I believe, so you can probably imagine that they weren't all that luxurious.
A couple memorable moments on Koh Phi Phi was the foot spa done by fish that nibbled at your feet, and a random "restaurant" that we stopped at for food. After ordering our meals, the woman left and bought the ingredients at a nearby market. During that time, we noticed a kitchen area next to us, a bit dirty with flies around it, and were hoping she wouldn't use that space. She did. We managed to block that out of our minds for a while and eat. Luckily, no one got sick!
Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful area. Even though our bungalows only provided the basics that we needed for the night, right next to it was this incredible view. I'd love to visit again sometime.