Phuket is one of the most popular islands in South East Asia. It is Thailand’s biggest island, and is located on the south-west coast of Thailand on the Andaman Sea. Mention Phuket and you’ll instantly think of its crazy party scene, the ladyboys and a-go-go girls. But despite that, the island is steeped in history, culture and religion; and has the most beautiful beaches and marine life. It also offers high-end luxurious living, with its 5-star resorts and swanky restaurants– all within reach no matter how deep your pockets.
With so much to see and discover, it’s hard to decide what to do in Phuket especially when you only have a couple of days, or just the weekend. I’ve visited Phuket a couple of times, and each trip offered me a different experience– I’ve traveled to the island with my family, a bunch of friends, as a couple, for work and solo. There are a few things I did during my visits that I enjoyed immensely, and these experiences I believe, are the best of Phuket. I’ve compiled them into this top 10 list.
1) Fall in Love with Phi Phi Island
Known for its sandy white beaches, crystal clear waters, beautiful coves, sheer towering cliffs and lush jungles– Phi Phi Island is the darling of Thailand. It is loved and made popular in movies; and basks in the fame with the constant arrival of tourists on ferries and long-tail boats. There are tons of day tours from Phuket, which is only about a 2-hour ride away.
Maya Bay is the star of the island and is more often than not filled with sun-seekers and snorkelers; but despite that, it is still possible to find a quiet, laid-back stretch of beach in this largely uninhabited island.
2) Explore Phang Nga Bay on a Canoe
Phang Nga Bay features beautiful limestone karsts that stand out vertically from the sea– its most famous one being the James Bond Island. The bay is located between the island of Phuket and southern mainland Thailand, and is a popular day trip from Phuket.
I had a wonderful time cruising through the dramatic landscape of the bay while looking for a secluded white beach. There are also canoe tours– during my trip, the guide led me through rocky tunnels that give way to circular open-aired lagoons surrounded by towering cliffs. These sea caves and ‘hongs’ (rooms) are a sight to behold, and I was given time to leisurely paddle around on my canoe to explore it.
3) Dive and Snorkel Around the Island’s Reef
I believe that diving is the best way to experience Phuket and its surrounding island’s breathtaking underwater world. Most dive boats leave the pier at Chalong Bay for the many dive sites in the area. You can read about my dive adventures here: Scuba Diving in Phuket and the Phi Phi Islands.
However, the marine life in Phuket is so rich that even when snorkeling– you can still see the colorful reefs in all its glory. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to spot turtles and reef sharks. Most snorkeling day tours will bring you to the popular snorkeling sites.
4) Lounge in Phuket’s Many Beaches
This large island offers an abundance of sandy beaches, and most are easily accessible via their pretty developed road system. There is a beach for almost any type of traveler– busy beaches, secluded beaches, hidden beaches, sandy beaches, rocky beaches; name one and you’ll probably find one that suits your needs.
The most famous beach in Phuket is Patong Beach, which is located in the bustling town of Patong. It is lined with hotels and resorts, and is therefore packed with tourists and beach vendors. Just south of Patong are the Kata and Karon beaches, and are a better choice if you prefer less crowds, but still with lots of facilities and resorts to choose from. For a more quiet and laid back atmosphere, head north of Patong to the Nai Thon and Nai Yang beaches.
5) Explore the Old Phuket Town
Phuket town is the largest town in Phuket, but is often overlooked because most tourists head to the beaches. However, if you have time, do visit the old town with its interesting blend of ancient and modern. It may look scruffy on the surface, but explore deeper and you might find some architectural and cultural gems.
Walking along the streets, I couldn’t help but admire the restored old shophouses, housing a contrasting array of businesses– from old sundry shops to artsy modern cafes. I also made a visit to the Thai Hua Museum, housed in a beautiful Sino-Portuguese building, built by the Fujian Chinese immigrants during the mining era. It showcases the history of the Chinese in Phuket.
6) Get a Bird’s Eye View of Phuket
What better way to see Phuket than from way up high? There are a couple of locations to get a bird’s eye view of different parts of the island, and they all offer equally beautiful views.
The Big Buddha is a religious site and one of Phuket’s most important. The 45-metre tall marble statue is located on Nakkerd Hill and can be seen from most places in the south of the island. Because of that, it is also a great spot to get sweeping views of Chalong Bay and Kata Beach.
Another popular place to get an elevated view of Phuket is the Kata Viewpoint. This viewpoint offers an unbeatable panorama of three gorgeous bays on the west side of Phuket– Kata Noi Beach, Kata Beach and Karon Beach.
7) Visit Wat Chalong and the Temples
Phuket is culturally rich and religious; and its apparent in the many temples that can be found around the island. One of the biggest and most popular ones is Wat Chalong, built in the early 19th century. It is frequented by locals and tourists– locals to pray, and tourists to admire the beautiful temple. Visit the chedi (tower) beside the main temple to see a vile that contains Buddha’s bone fragment.
Other temples that can be found in Phuket are Wat Putta Mongkon and Wat Khao Rang in Phuket Town, Wat Phra Thong in Thalang and Wat Srisoonthorn, just to name a few.
8) Admire the Sunset at Phrompthep Cape
Phrompthep Cape is probably the most famous place in Phuket to catch the sunset. It is the island’s most southern hill and is a rocky headland that juts out into the ocean. The cape offers a spectacular panorama of the ocean– and at dusk, the view of the sun disappearing into the horizon is absolutely breathtaking.
In the evening, people come in hordes to catch the sun set– it is pretty hard to find a secluded spot away from the throng of tourists. However, I got myself a seat in between a pair of lovers, wrapped myself up in a sarong, drowned out the noise and the people, and peacefully watched the sun go down.
9) Party at Patong’s Bangla Road
Patong is the sin city of Phuket, and Bangla Road is the center of it all. The street comes to live at night– and is filled with flashy a-go-go bars, discotheques and live-music pubs. Take a walk down the street and you’ll be greeted by ladyboys dressed up in the most outrageous cabaret outfits, promoters offering the best deals for drinks in town (and Thai Girl shows too), and touts selling everything from souvenirs to flowers and lighted toys.
I always enjoy my nights out on Bangla Road– it’s a great place to party and play; and there’s always something interesting to see.
10) Enjoy Thailand’s Best– the Food and the Massages!
When in Thailand, eat, eat, eat, get a massage, and eat again. These are the two things I have to do when I get into any Thai city– and Phuket is no different. Spas can be found in almost every resort; and if that is too costly, massage parlors can be found on almost every street. Try the Thai massage– they’ll stretch your muscles and crack your bones, and you’ll come out feeling like all tension has been released from your body.
Phuket has fantastic seafood– just choose what you want from the selection displayed on ice, usually placed in front of the restaurants. And don’t forget to order a big delicious bowl of tom yam!