While I've been in Southeast Asia, I've spent a fair amount of time on arguably the region's top two island resorts: Bali and Phuket. They're like the Mecca of Southeast Asian islands for Western travellers, and it's easy enough to see why: beaches, cheap booze, parties, sunshine — the whole shebang. The fact that these two islands are so popular should be enough to alert tourists of the negatives of each, but still, people flock to Bali and Phuket.
If I'm honest, I'm over Bali. I've been all over the island, from north to south, and the last time I was there — a week ago — I wasn't overly excited about the whole prospect. Traffic is continuously getting worse and the main hotspots around Kuta are all seemingly being demolished and rebuilt at the same time.
You also come across far too many idiots in Bali's busiest areas, especially from July when the high season kicks in and the price hikes come into effect. Drunk, shirtless, shouting tourists love Bali, and they skulk around Kuta like there's no tomorrow.
That being said, Kuta and the surrounding parts are my favourite places for people-watching. There's always a fight or someone running a motorbike into a lamppost. Hilarity often ensues.
I am a pure cheapskate when it comes to hotel accommodation. I hate spending money on hotels. I don't know why, but I've always been like this. I spend the absolute minimum, no matter where I go. The cheapest place I've found in Bali is about $8 a night.
There are plenty of places like this in Kuta in the area fanning out fro the Sky Garden nightclub. Last time in Bali I had to pay $20 to stay somewhere, which I grumbled about somewhere. Most places around Kuta and Legian were full to the brim. Usually, if I can, I try and find a "penginapan". These places aren't hotels, per se. They're more like guesthouses in compound format, but they do the job.
For all my moaning about Bali, it is easy enough to escape the crowds most of the time, but even during high season, places like Ubud are still relatively busy. I've been all over Bali on a motorbike. It's the best way to get around and you can hire bikes for as little as $2 a day. I never pay more than $3, but I've seen people in Kuta paying upwards of $7.
As for Phuket, I love the island as I used to live there, but I would never, ever live there again, if only because it can be such a bitchy, backstabbing place where everybody knows your business and everyone pretends to be best friends with each other while secretly harbouring bad feelings.
If you're travelling to Phuket and you are looking for somewhere to stay, you could book with Agoda, Hotels Combined, Hotel Travel or one of the many other hotel-booking sites, or you could do like I do and stay in a serviced apartment.
The rates are usually cheaper than hotels — from 500 baht a day — and you get an apartment, which is always a winner in my eyes. It beats a sweaty backpacker guesthouse any day of the week. The last place I stayed was Baan Fuang Fah near Phuket Rajabhat University (086-9410008, 076-525684-87).
As for getting around Phuket, a motorbike is still the best way. The going rate is 200 baht a day, which works out at about $6.
If I had to choose between Bali and Phuket, a year ago I'd have said Bali, but now, I'd recommend people go to Phuket instead. Or better still, just go somewhere else, like Koh Lanta.