Phuket often gets overlooked by travellers in favour of the islands and highlands of Thailand, and many people see it just as a place for parties, huge resorts and cheap package deals. Yet there are so many things to do in Phuket, even for discerning luxury travellers.
Did you realise Phuket is actually an island? Albeit quite a large one, and certainly bigger than many of the others in the area. Located just off the southwest coast of the Thai peninsula, Phuket enjoys long sandy beaches, lush tropical forests and the glistening waters of the Andaman Sea. The island has it’s own airport which makes it easily accessible, and you can even fly there without having to stop in Bangkok if you want to maximise your time on the beach.
Whether you love lazing on the beach and trying new cocktails, or prefer checking out the culture and exploring the islands, there are plenty of things to do in Phuket to keep you busy. Here are the top 10 experiences you can have in Phuket:
1. Check out some Phuket Beaches
There’s a beach for everyone on the island, and understandably a bit of time on the sand is one of the most popular things to do in Phuket. If you enjoy lively places, you’ll love Patong with it’s nightlife and bustle. For a more relaxed experience head to Kata, Karon or Freedom Beaches, where you can enjoy a peaceful swim and read your book without interruptions. Or if you want to hang out with the locals, check out either Surin or Nai Harn.
2. Explore the Old Town
You’ll find bags of charm in the historical old part of town. The streets are lined with Sino-Portuguese houses dating back to the 20th Century, as well as more modern art galleries, designer boutiques, and enough bars and restaurants to keep you satisfied for weeks. Buildings of note include the Governor’s Mansion, an elegant landmark over a century old, with architecture that follows the art of feng-shui. Today it’s the home of the Blue Elephant Cooking School.
3. Barter at the Markets
You can’t leave Thailand without visiting at least one market to try out your haggling skills and to pick up a few souvenirs. The Phuket Night Market is open at weekends, selling everything from woven place mats to those all important elephant pants for wearing on the beach. Why not make an evening of it and eat at one of the many food stalls there. Trying some local Thai delicacies is all part of the adventure.
4. Indulge in some Fine Dining
Speaking of dining, Phuket has a lot to offer beyond street stall deep fried crickets. For something a little more sophisticated head to one of the many rooftop bars or waterside restaurants, and don’t feel guilty if you fancy a break from Thai menus. There seems to be every cuisine under the sun available in Phuket, with many establishments offering ‘fusion’ and ‘contemporary’ dishes in keeping with the elegant surroundings.
5. Take a Thai cooking class
You’ve fallen in love with Thai food, so why not try cooking it yourself. It’s lots of fun and you can learn how to make your favourites dishes for when you return home. There are several cooking schools to choose from, including Kata Thai which isn’t far from Kata Beach, and Blue Elephant which is grandly housed in the Governor’s Mansion. Some even include a trip to the local market so you can learn about the produce and choose your own ingredients.
6. Have a go at Thai Boxing
If you don’t fancy spending the entire time chilling out on the beach, perhaps think about releasing all that pent up energy with a bit of Thai Boxing. There are classes and courses for beginners available in Phuket, or if that all sounds just a little too scary, you can go and watch a match instead. Boxing is incredibly popular in Thailand so it would be a shame to miss out on such a unique experience.
7. Sleep over in style
One of the best things about Phuket is the wide range of accommodation options, there really is a hotel in Phuket for everyone. In the last decade Phuket has become well known for it’s high end resorts and if you’re looking for a bit of luxury and pampering then you won’t be disappointed.
8. Pay your respects to the Big Buddha
Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the rainforest and the ocean, the 45 metre high Big Buddha is one of Phuket’s most iconic attractions. Dedicated to the Thai king, the monument has wonderful views of Phuket, and if the weather is good, you can even make out the famous island of Phi Phi.
9. Take a boat trip around Phang Nga Bay
One of the most popular things to do in Phuket is explore Phang Nga Bay on a boat tour. You’ll stop at some of the smaller islands, including Ko Tapu, the famous ‘James Bond island’ which featured in the Man with the Golden Gun movie back in the 1970s. Some tours take in Maya Bay, as seen in ‘The Beach’ film with Leonardo DiCaprio. If you’re feeling energetic there are options to go kayaking too.
10. Visit Wat Chalong
There are 29 Buddhist temples in Phuket, and you’ll stumble upon many of them accidentally as you explore the area. The one you shouldn’t miss however is Wat Chalong, the largest and most lavish of them all.
Whether you’re just stopping in Phuket for a couple of days before heading down to the islands, or whether you’re here for a week, there’s plenty to do no matter how energetic or lethargic you like to be. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Phuket is simply a crowded party island. There are also several tropical pockets of peace if you just go and look for them.
Phuket has something for everyone and should definitely make it onto your next Thailand itinerary.