During the gap between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, we were lucky enough to be in Phuket, the largest and most popular island in Thailand. When luck was being handed out, we must have got some stuck together because not only were we on Phuket, possibly the most welcoming island with equally warm smiles and waters, we were there with very few other tourists thanks to an unprecedented pandemic (which can bugger off now), we managed to stumble (almost literally) across a curious mix of people from several corners of the planet whom it seems Fate decided would be our friendship destiny and we discovered bars that should be on everyone’s Phuket list.
Having survived the crazy time of our lives long enough to leave a written legacy, let us share what made our Phuket adventure so memorable and how you can have a similar experience.
The Chunky Monkey
Photo by: The Chunky Monkey
The Chunky Monkey is a cool little bar that caters for sports lovers and those who need to hit or throw something while they drink. Although it indulges pool and darts enthusiasts, it does this without isolating the rest of the population - those who just like to sit, have a chat and nod their head to a bit of music in between conversations. It has a great modern design that’s pleasing to the eye and, to add icing to this banana cake, the staff are the kind that will bend over backwards to make sure you have a good time. One in particular does this literally - it’s his party trick.
Why is it called The Chunky Monkey? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it’s worth the trip to Bang Tao beach and seeking this place out.
Early in the evening, as the sun set and the night crept in, we were travelling along an artillery road that lead back to Bang Tao Beach. There wasn’t much on it. It’s the kind of road that you go down only if you have a specific reason, like you’re staying at one of the hotels or, like us, you’re making your way somewhere else and the path is facilitating that. As it turned out, it was our very good fortune to have taken this unassuming path.
On this particular ride down Soi Cherngtalay 14, we were attracted by a blue light lining the edges of some kind of bar. In stark contrast to its surroundings, which was a grass field, the accidental find made us wonder - why didn’t we notice this place earlier?! Apart from the crisp light and lines, there were very decent looking blue pool tables illuminated by angelic fluro lights. China in particular goes weak at the knees for a good pool table.
We pulled our scooter right up to the edge of the open-air building. Unsurprising for the current covid situation, there weren’t many people inside. Just a couple of people serving behind the bar, a couple playing on one of the pool tables and a tall bloke in control of the TV remote.
The first thing that strikes you about Chunky Monkey is how clean and modern it is – both in design and hygienically speaking. No detail has been spared – even the blue felt of the pool tables match the bright blue lights of the building. Having an aunty back home that smokes like a chimney from Victorian England, I noticed the quirky ash trays and appreciated how they all matched. The corrugated steel roof is like a huge awning covering the bar and pool table areas, completely protecting all inside from the elements while remaining open to the tropical paradise outside. The bamboo and wicker furniture sitting on some very realistic astro turf gives the industrial look of the building a laid back, island vibe – it’s like Bob Marley wearing a suit.
We grabbed some pool cues and beers and started to have a hit. Their pool tables include one competition sized and two smaller tables. The darts area on the opposite side is cleverly located within heckle room of the seating area, but without any risk of a miss fire hitting the wrong target.
I glanced at one of the three flat screen TVs in between shots and saw what I thought was Australia vs England in The Ashes – that’s cricket for those playing along. I decided I’d show China an example of the world’s most boring sport still somehow capturing the attention of nations and maybe together we could work out why – maybe because it’s a summer sport and there’s no football…?
The next thing that struck me was the attention to detail by the staff of Chunky Monkey. When I approached the bar to top up beer supplies, the tall bloke with no shoes holding the remote apologised because he couldn’t get the cricket that China and I had been watching on the bigger TV. Not having the cricket on a slightly bigger TV didn’t affect my experience of Chunky Monkey, but the attempt was an instant indication that we were in the hands of a skilled host. It’s the little attentions to detail that make a place welcoming, like it could be your home. Actually, discovering that the barefooted bloke was in fact the manager was the thing that enhanced my Chunky Monkey experience, because if that doesn’t make anyone visiting feel like they can relax and just enjoy themselves, I don’t know what does.
A few more drinks in and we’re all watching darts on TV, cheering for the guy competing like we know him personally. Ah yes, the Welshman…he’s good. Before we knew it, all of us - China, me, JP the bare-foot manager and the two bar staff were milling around the bar, talking and laughing like we were old mates. The two behind the bar are very friendly and professional.
Photo by: Chunky Monkey
Maple is Thai and Joe left Myanmar to earn a living in Thailand. They will openly engage in any conversation while keeping things balanced. The only complaint I had at this point in the evening was about my bloated stomach which was courtesy of all the beer I had to drink (why is beer the default choice on an island holiday?). Continuing to air my first-world problems, I mentioned that I prefer whiskey. That was all it took for JP to order the staff to make me a whiskey drink.
“Here, you guys can pick the music”, JP handed us the reigns of the bar’s YouTube Premium before theatrically slamming his empty glass on the bar – “I told you to keep this full!”. A wry smile from Maple and Joe confirmed that the demand was in jest and that they’re used to this kind of fun-loving abuse. Their working relationships really contributed to Chunky Monkey its unique, fun character.
JP is a South African rugby player who found himself Thailand – in more ways than one it seems. It was a bold move for someone who had previously never been overseas, but as it turned out, it was the move that enabled him to flourish in his own skin. On an island that welcomes so many foreign tourists and with competition from a lot of different businesses, his previous managerial experience and personality meant he was the ideal guy to help make an establishment stand out from the crowd. Due to his size and intolerance for unnecessary behaviour, he’s also the ideal guy to quash any problems. Plus, if you ever need a spinal adjustment, he’s the guy that negates the need for a chiropractor – just hold still while he gives you a bear hug. What a masterful bit of planning from the Universe that he should run into a Scotsman that owns a bar that needed managing in Bang Tao beach.
After some impressive flamboyant dance moves, it was time for the other side of JP to make an appearance – the back-side. “Go on, hit it as hard as you can”. At this stage, there were some other blokes in bar too. We all lined up to put JP’s claim to the ultimate test - how hard can it be to make a human flinch? In this case, impossible. One by one we all had our hands broken by JP’s buns. To drive the point home, his face, similarly, remained like stone.
Suddenly, the music was cut by the bar staff and we were all told to be quiet. It was the army coming to inspect Chunky Monkey and make sure that it was complying with the strict covid restrictions which included the closing of establishments by 10pm. Just like that episode of The Simpson’s where Moe’s bar turns into a pet shop in order to evade the city’s new prohibition laws, we instinctively hid our drinks behind our backs and pretended that we were holding some kind of covid safe meeting. We certainly weren’t slapping people’s arses without medical grade gloves officer. Not being the first time since this ingenious idea to stop a virus in its tracks was implemented, the army guys knew JP and the situation was handled.
JP turned to us, “Let’s go to Orange. You guys know where Hugo Hub is?”. In a somewhat ironic twist as far as real public safety is concerned, we all piled on to our scooters and were left to drive our drunk arses the few Ks to Orange Corner. No army is worried about that – as long as it’s covid safe.
Photo by: Orange Corner
Orange is owned by the same Scotsman that owns Chunky Monkey. Why is it called Orange Corner? I’d say there was a sale on orange paint when the place was decorated, but it works. It’s a small island version of a speak easy, with empty liquor bottles making quirky chandeliers over the bar, an impressively well stocked library of drinks behind it and old bicycles hanging on the wire fence it shares with Hugo Hub. There’s a couple of pool tables and a decent number of seats relative to the size of the place – from tall bar stools to café style tables and chairs. The staff here are also very attentive and will remember your usual, making ordering a drink from across the room with just a twitch of your eyebrow a breeze.
By the time we arrived at Orange, the walls open to the outside were shrouded in a black tarp – a measure to make the activity inside more covert. This didn’t stop the army. As soon as we entered the bright orange building and joined the fray in their frivolity, JP grabbed China and I and said with a seriousness in his tone, “Quick, follow me”. Having just been through the incident at Chunky Monkey, we were a little familiar with what was happening. We followed JP to the opposite side of the road and casually sat at a table in the bushes as if we had been there the whole night. We watched as the army went in and patrons went out. “I didn’t want you to be arrested the night before New Year’s Eve!”. Cheers JP.
After New Year celebrations and vowing to begin the year in a healthier fashion, starting with abstaining from alcohol, we visited Orange Corner to wish our new friends a happy new year.
“JP died”, said the Scotsman in his home nation’s usual dry and direct way of putting things. He meant that while he was still stoically celebrating, JP retired at around 4pm. Not a bad innings to be fair. We’d missed him by a couple of hours. We then drove to Chunky Monkey to shoot some pool. Ever the professional, JP along with more people who became our friends eventually emerged. I also broke my alcohol abstinence vow in the most spectacular fashion while simultaneously picking up a new skill - I now know how to skull a beer in seconds using a bent straw. Thank you team Chunky Monkey.
Photo by: Hugo Hub
Since it's next door to Orange Corner, you'll be bound to wander through Hugo Hub. It's a collection of up-market fast food places and bar areas. The vibe is very chill with bean bags, wooden furniture that looks like it conveniently washed up on shore for your use and strings of fairy lights covering the entire establishment. It's a little more expensive to eat and drink here, but considering that the place is parked right on the beach, you're paying for the gorgeous view. Relax with a smoothie or a coffee in the morning and hang with the crowd by the bar at night.
Not only are these bars great places to hang out, relax, play and drink, but they have attracted the most interesting characters over the years. These people own, run and chill here. They are the secret ingredient to making these bars some of the best on the island. If you’re ever in Phuket, do yourself a favour and stay at Bang Tao beach, play pool at Chunky Monkey, prop up the bar at Orange and lose yourself in a beanbag at Hugo Hub. You’ll be glad you did.
Project Goals Recommends:
Bang Tao Beach Bars:
Chunky Monkey: Soi Cherngtalay 14, Cherngtalay, Thalang District, Phuket 83110, Thailand