When the polluted air of Bangkok became so gun-metal gray that no sunbeams could shoot though, the government closed schools and offices, and my family and I decided to escape to blue skies. Competing with everyone else in the city, we booked Phuket in a rush. 

While mainly searching for something not seedy—devoid of professional women and their older clients—I checked out resorts from:

a high-end European chain—E

a high-end American chain—A

a well-known American chain—M

Here are the questions I should have asked:

1. Where is the beach?

A cursory glance at beach photos to determine the most serene and inspirational setting was not enough. Why? Because even the best hotels will mislead you.

The European venue—Resort E—not only has the best photo, but also has “Beach Hotel” in its name. Yet, to reach the beach you have to leave the resort property, walk through a one-block shopping area, walk through a one-block construction zone, cross a busy road and finally arrive at a crowded public beach with rental chairs. Moral of the story: Notice what the reviews omit. When reviewers rave about the pool but not the beach, ask why. Also, trust ads only where the hotel and beach appear in the same photo.

2. How do you access the beach?

Ads for the American venue—Resort A—featured a lovely pristine beach.

However, the resort runs uphill, and our room was at the very top. Fortunately, golf carts made on-demand trips to the beach. Lucked out.

Unlike a few years ago in Cabo, where, unfortunately, the hillside was too rugged to accommodate vehicles, making beach access difficult. We only went once.

Resort M photos show the perfect white sandy beach against blue-green water. Yet this is what we found:

“What is going on?” I asked the manager.

“The tide is out,” he said.

 “When will it be in?”

  “Mid-February if we’re lucky. Otherwise, March.”

We only made one hike out to the water’s edge, stopping at sand bars along the way.

The same thing happened to us in Bali, where we rose early, rushed to the beach, and found mud flats. There, however, the tide arrives in the afternoon.

Moral of the story: pay attention to nuances in the reviews. When a reviewer writes, “the water is shallow for a long way,” read between the lines.

3. How many pools are there?

Resort E only had one medium-sized pool, which felt small and crowded because no one went to the far-away public beach.

Resort A had three pools, which dispersed the population—and the kids.

Pool closest to our room
Another pool at the lobby level

Resort M had a main pool and two lazy-river type extensions.

Main Pool
Pool extension below our room

Very pleasant.

4. Who wrote the reviews?

Sometimes resorts cater to a certain group of people, particularly with its menu. At resort E, we found the food inedible. And in a short while, we realized that we were the only non-Russians tourists around. All of those five-star reviews with “Excellent hotel” and “great food,” were written by people with a different palate than ours.

Resort A caters to the Chinese tourist and offers every possible type of rice and noodle, which we also love, so their outstanding reviews worked for us.

Vacationers at Resort M came from everywhere, a mixed bag. We loved the American breakfast. I’m sure others loved the lunch and dinner. Resorts can’t please everyone every time.

NB: Since Resort E is part of a very exclusive chain, we showed them the photos that misled us, and they kindly refunded our money within an hour of our arrival.

For any resort, study the reviews carefully. Don’t just skim the catchy titles and the numbers. A 9/10 for one family, might actually be a 5/10 for yours.