An irresistible blend of breathtaking nature, pristine white sand beaches and turquoise seas – and of course warm Thai hospitality – it’s no wonder PHUKET is one of the most visited islands on the planet!
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island with a rich history dating back to the 16th century when tin was discovered on the island. Situated in the Andaman Sea off the south-western coast of Thailand, it is also strategically located along the trade route between China and India.
Today, tourism has become the main source of income as the island has become known for its beautiful beaches, alluring offshore islands, resorts, spas and a myriad of dining and entertainment options catering to all budget levels.
If you only have a three-day schedule, we’ll show you how you can get the best of Phuket without missing out on the main attractions.
Start your first day early by visiting Phuket's Big Buddha, a revered landmark on the island. As the name implies, the religious site features a huge statue of Buddha in a sitting position on top a hill facing west towards Kata beach. Beside the huge statue of Buddha clad in white marble is a smaller gold statue. If you reach there at their 8am opening time, you might be ahead of the tourist crowds.
From the Big Buddha site, it’s just a 30-minute drive back to Kata Beach where you can have breakfast. If you feel adventurous, visit the Skyline Adventure Phuket (www.skylineadventure.com) to experience their tree-top ziplines. Nearer to Patong beach is another zipline operator called Flying Hanuman (flyinghanuman.com).
If you find ziplines too pricey, just visit Karon View Point or Promthep Cape at the southern tip of the island for a panoramic view of the beaches and the Andaman sea. Besides Kata, the other beaches along the western shore worth checking out are Karon and, of course, the famous Patong Beach. Do take note that these beaches are touristy and crowded while food and drink prices tend to be higher than elsewhere on the island. You can laze around Karon or Patong and have a sunset dinner before catching the Phuket Simon Cabaret (www.phuket-simoncabaret.com), hailed as Thailand's most famous ladyboy show. There are three shows every evening with the last show at 9pm.
If a ladyboy show is not your cup of tea, you can walk from Patong beach to the nearby Bangla Road area instead. At night, the area is closed off to traffic and it becomes an entertainment district lined with bars, discos and night clubs offering cabaret shows and other adult entertainment.
Your visit to Phuket would not be complete without checking out the many exotic islands and bays off the eastern shore. The famous Phi Phi twin islands, comprising Phi Phi Don and the smaller Phi Phi Lee, are star attractions that can reached by a two-hour ferry ride from Phuket. The main Phi Phi island is small enough to be explored on foot and you may want to stay the night there to fully explore the island. Fortunately, there are more than a hundred resorts on Phi Phi and prices are not that expensive. However, you can forget about visiting Maya Bay on the smaller island. Made famous by the Hollywood flick, The Beach, the bay has been closed indefinitely for coral rejuvenation after being trampled by thousands of tourists daily.
Alternatively, you could go island hopping around Phang Nga Bay. Many tour operators offer a tour package which includes James Bond island (Koh Ta-pu) and Koh Panyee, which is a lunch-stopover. Around the bay, you will get up close to some of the spectacular limestone karsts, caves and beaches that the area is famous for. Sea kayaking is also offered as an option on some of the tours.
You can also stay overnight on the bigger islands of Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai in Phang Nga Bay. Between the two, Yao Noi is more developed with the presence of several resorts.
If you get seasick from boat rides, you can still get a panoramic view of Phang Nga Bay from Samet Nangshe Viewpoint, about two hours’ drive north of Phuket town. If you head out there very early before dawn, you may be rewarded with a spectacular sunrise.
After a day of island hopping, head straight to the Phuket Old Town area to explore the vintage shophouses along Thalang Road and Soi Romanee.
If you happen to visit on a Sunday evening, part of Thaland Road (near Phuket Road) turns into a Walking Street (or lardyai in Thai) lined with makeshift stalls selling street food, local snacks and souvenirs.
If you like the old-world charm around the area, you can also book a stay at one of the hotels along Soi Romanee. For dinner, you can opt for cheap street food, a proper meal at China Inn (20 Thalang Road) or fine dining at Blue Elephant (www.blueelephant.com/phuket), a restaurant housed in a grand colonial building. If you’re a couple and you wish to impress your other half with a romantic dinner on a hill-top overlooking Phuket town, head to Tung Ka Cafe & Restaurant at Khosimbi Road, Khao Rang Hill.
If you have chosen to stay downtown and away from the beaches, start your day with local breakfast at Phuket Town Central Market. After breakfast, you can check out some of the attractions around town such as the Thai Hua Museum where you can learn more about the history of the island. If you like old memorabilia, visit the Thavorn Hotel Museum (www.thavornhotels.com/thavorn-hotel) or The Memory at On On Hotel (www.thememoryhotel.com) which became famous after being featured in the movie The Beach. The famous Wat Chalong (official name is Wat Chaiyatararam) Buddhist temple, built in 1837, is worth a visit. It is located just 15 minutes outside Phuket town.
If downtown attractions are not your thing and you can’t get enough of sun and sea, you may have time to check out the islands nearer to Phuket. Koh Khai Nok (egg island) is a hidden gem just 30 minutes’ boat ride away on the east. The tiny island is well-known for its crystal clear waters where you can see the fishes swimming around you.
Another nearby island is Koh Bon off the southern tip of Phuket. You can hire a long-tail boat at Rawai’s jetty to cross over in just 15 minutes. The boat captain will drop you off at Bon Island Restaurant on the island and will return to pick you up at an agreed time. Beyond Koh Bon is Coral island which features two main beaches, Long Beach and Banana Beach.
If you feel like splurging on your final evening in Phuket, visit the family-friendly Phuket Fantasea (www.phuket-fantasea.com) theme park. At the 140-acre park, you can play carnival games, learn about local handicrafts, take selfies with exotic birds, see white tigers, enjoy an elephant ride, watch cultural performances and join in a buffet dinner at a huge restaurant. The main highlight is the spectacular Las Vegas-style theatrical show that starts at 8.30pm featuring a cast of hundreds with elephants and tigers as supporting casts.
Another equally mesmerising evening entertainment is the Siam Niramit Phuket Show (www.siamniramit.com), where they narrate Thailand’s 700 years of history in a spectacular song and dance routine. Before the show starts, you can explore the large park surrounding the theatre, which features traditional Thai villages and makes for great Instagram photos.
WHERE TO STAY
There are more than 2,000 hotels and homestays in Phuket catering to all types of travellers. The Slate (www.theslatephuket.com), formerly known as Indigo Pearl, is a classy yet affordable resort located just four kilometres from the airport. Banyan Tree Phuket (www.banyantree.com) along the popular Bang Tao Beach is also highly recommended.
If budget is not an issue, go upmarket with Keemala Phuket (www.keemala.com) where you can luxuriate in villas designed like cottages and tree houses. At the other end of the scale, Wonderful Pool House (www.facebook.com/wonderfulpoolhouse) located near Kata beach offers exceptional value for money.
WHEN TO GO
Phuket is good for travel all-year round although you may encounter more rain from May to October. Avoid the peak months of December to January if you hate crowds. If you like festivities and noise, visit during the Vegetarian Festival between late-September and October or Songkran Festival around mid-April.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Phuket is a favourite tourist destination in the region with a lot of international airlines flying into the island’s airport from major cities. Airlines such as AirAsia, Malaysia Airline and Malindo Air offer direct flights to Phuket from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
You can get around the island using taxis or tuk tuks. The ride hailing app Grabcar is also popular on the island.
TIPS FOR VISITORS
Most of the smaller islands including Phi Phi and Phang Nga Bay are located off the east coast of Phuket and the place to get a boat ride is at Ao Po Pier (or Ao Po Grand Marina). Do book your ferry ride or boat tours a few days ahead for better deals. These days, you can make bookings online.
At the main beaches such as Patong, Kata, Karon, Nai Han, Mai Khao and Nai Yang, don’t forget to look at the red flag warning before you jump into the waters and be aware of jellyfish. The beaches on the south-western coast are typically more crowded than the ones in the north.
For visits to temples, it is considered disrespectful to turn up in beachwear, shorts and t-shirts. Bring along a sarong to cover up.
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