Phuket, the largest island in Thailand, is commonly referred as the ‘Pearl of the South’ and not without reason. The warm blue sea, spectacular sunsets, stunning natural attractions and exquisite beaches invite you to explore the tropical paradise that is Phuket.
Phuket is an ideal holiday destination to soak up the sun in the palm-fringed beaches or explore its incredibly varied terrain. Indulge in world class diving in the Andaman Sea or enjoy a pleasant round of golf in the world-standard championship courses. Take an exhilarating speedboat trip to the surrounding islands or enjoy the spectacular scenery aboard a cruise ship.
Explore the rocky headlands, trek through the forested hills or discover the beautiful estuaries, lagoons, and tropical vegetation. Visit the exotic Phi Phi islands with their classic beaches, stunning rock formations, and brilliant turquoise waters teeming with colorful marine life. From the triple canopy rainforest of Khao Phra Thaeo National Park to the mud flats and mangrove swamps of Koh Siray, the natural wonders of Phuket are to be seen to be believed.
Enjoy one the most beautiful and scenic drives in the world along the south coast of the island between Kata Beach and Promthep Point or visit the nearby Phang-Nga Bay to appreciate the striking rock and limestone formations and spectacular scenery of the surroundings.
Phuket seduces with a smooth blend of ostentation and seediness. Four of Phuket’s hotels have been named as some of the best in the world. The sandy miles of the coastline fronting the Andaman Sea boast of delectable restaurants and swanky resorts. If the days are full of activities then the nights are more vibrant than ever. Phuket’s nightlife, mainly concentrated in the beer halls and girlie bars of Patong, is loud raunchy and utterly unapologetic. Explore the various facets of the island and you will realize that Phuket is as cosmopolitan as it is colorful and has something to satisfy every appetite.
Things To See
Tourism is the main industry of Phuket; over three million tourists visit the island annually to explore its attractions. The island is well connected by a good network of road allowing visitors easy access to Chalong Bay and Rawai Beach on the east coast, Cape Prom Thep at the southern-most point and the Phuket’s celebrated beaches such as Nai Harn Beach, Kata Beach, Karon Beach, Patong Beach and Kamala Bang Tao on the western shoreline. You can take advantage of the many tours to explore the island.
Phuket Town: Phuket Town, the largest city on the island, is best explored on foot. You can stroll past the Sino-Portuguese buildings or browse through shops selling arts and crafts, hand woven silk and cotton textiles, pewter, and jewelry. There are many restaurants here that have authentic Thai and Chinese cuisine on their menu. There is a picnic part atop Rang Hill (Khao Rang) from where you can enjoy great views over the town and the islands beyond. Phuket Town is also home to the Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village, the Thalang National Museum, the Phuket Butterfly Garden & Aquarium, and the nearby Two Heroines Monument.
Phuket Orchid Garden & Thai Village: The area is home to restaurants and handicraft shops. Daily cultural shows are held in the mornings and evenings. This is a good place to see displays of Thai martial arts and dancing.
Phuket Aquarium: Managed by the local Marine Biological Centre, the Phuket Aquarium is home to a host of marine attractions and colorful freshwater fish. There is a10-metre / 33-foot underwater tunnel which is perfect to view the underwater creatures. On display are large turtles, electric eels, and many other native species. The place is of special interest to the scuba divers who can get an idea of what to expect around Phuket’s many beautiful coral reefs.
Phuket Butterfly Garden: Considered to be one of the finest butterfly gardens on earth, the Phuket Butterfly Garden plays host to hundreds of brightly colored butterflies fluttering around freely beneath a huge dome. Other attractions in the garden include ponds and large fish, waterfalls, and native birds. There is an Insect World nearby which houses an enormous collection of specimen insects and invertebrates, such as giant millipedes, bird-eating spiders, and scorpions.
Phuket Zoo: Located in the southern outskirts of Phuket, the zoo attracts people of all ages. There is a wide array of animals including elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, and tigers. There is a lovely aquarium with an entrance in shape of a giant crocodile’s mouth wide open. Besides, there is also a bird park with many large and exotic birds. The orchid garden with its colorful flowers is truly refreshing.
Simon Cabaret: This all-male show features a number of Thailand’s most beautiful ‘ladyboys’ and transvestites. The show is suitable for the family and includes dancing, singing, and general showgirl-type entertainment.
Thalang National Museum: The museum houses a number of ancient artifacts tracing Phuket’s history as also exhibits detailing the famous Battle of Thalang in which the ‘Two Heroines’ defended the island against the Burmese in the 18th century. Besides there are exhibits that record Phuket’s tin mining history, the indigenous Sea Gypsy culture and the island’s Chinese heritage. A major draw is the huge statue of the Hindu god Vishnu that was uncovered from forest overgrowth in Phang Nga in the early 1900s. The statue dates from the 9th century A.D.
Phuket Sea Shell Museum: The museum has a spectacular collection of valuable seashells from all over the world. Also on display is the world’s largest golden pearl (140 karats). Equally impressive are the large sections of sedimentary rock containing shell fossils that represent the earth’s earliest life-forms and a shell weighing an unbelievable 250 kilograms.
Wat Chalong: The legendary Chalong temple attracts thousands of visitors year-round. In fact there is a saying that you haven’t really visited Phuket until you’ve been to this temple. Wat Chalong is believed to have been built during the reign of King Rama II in the nineteenth century. It was later relocated and since then has been renovated and augmented a number of times with the latest addition being a special chedi, 61.39 meters high to house a fragment of a bone from the Lord Buddha.
Wat Prathong: The area is famous for a half-buried golden Buddha statue called Luang Poh Prathong in its grounds. There is an interesting story that goes that the statue is ‘Untouchable’ in that who ever has tried to dig it out has been cursed. The area also houses a reclining gilded Buddha that is listed as one of the attractions in the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s ‘Unseen Thailand’ programs.
Phuket Island has a host of accommodation choices to offer to its visitors. The island witnesses two seasons, the dry season from November to April and the Monsoon season from May to October. The monsoon season is characterized with tropical rains that make activities along the west coast dangerous so during this season you should plan your stay in the east coast of the island. On the plus side, hotel rates are usually low during the wet season and so you can really take advantage of ‘special packages’ on offer to attract the tourists. No matter what season you are visiting, be sure to book in advance, 2 or 3 months in advance for the low season (May to October) and 4 to 5 months in advance for the high and peak season (November to April).
Most accommodation options are located in the Phuket Town or near the celebrated beaches such as Patong, Kata-karon, Laguna, and Bang Tao. You can choose from a wide range of hotels, bungalows, guesthouses and resorts depending on your budget and taste.
Phuket Town: Phuket Town, the provincial capital of the island, is packed with hotels and restaurants. Top end hotels include the Metropole Hotel, Royal Phuket City Hotel, Phuket Merlin Hotel and the Thavorn Grand Plaza Hotel. The Thavorn Hotel, the oldest in the town, has an interesting collection of historical memorabilia.
Patong Beach: This is the most celebrated beach on the island and accordingly has a number of accommodation options ranging from modest to luxury. The beach area is extremely popular for its attractions as also for its nightlife and entertainment options. At the luxurious end are the Amari Coral Beach Resort, the Club Andaman Beach Resort and the Diamond Cliff Resort & Spa. For middle-range establishments you can check out the Patong Bayshore Hotel, the Phairin Beach Hotel and the Phuket Grand Tropicana. For the budget travelers there are the Baan Lamai Beach Resort, the Deva Patong Resort and the Royal Palm Resortotel to choose from.
Kata-Karon: The beach is similar to Patong but relatively more quiet. You can find a number of high-end hotels in this area. The Kata Beach Resort is an exclusive boutique hotel and the Mom Tri’s Boathouse boasts the award-winning Mom Tri’s Boathouse Wine & Grill. There is also the Kata Thani Hotel & Beach Resort, at the back of which are several small restaurants.
Panwa Cape to Rawai Beach: You can find many upmarket rooms at the Panwaburi Hotel and more moderately priced ones at the Panwa Beach Resort and Panwa House Hotel. There are a number of inexpensive bungalows at the southern end of Chalong Bay for the budget traveler.
Bang Tao Beach and Laguna Phuket: Some of the most luxurious resorts of the island are located here the most famous being the Laguna Phuket Complex consisting of the Banyan Tree, Dusit Laguna Resort Hotel, Sheraton Grande Laguna, Allamanda Laguna Phuket and Laguna Beach.
Phi Phi Islands: These offshore islands are considered to be among the most beautiful islands in the world. You can find both luxury and budget accommodations. On the top-end side there is the Holiday Inn Resort.
Rice is the staple food in Thailand and can be found in most dishes. Besides, the country is blessed with abundant fresh fruit and vegetables so it is very rare that frozen produce is used in the preparation of Thai dishes. Phuket itself is famous for seafood caught fresh from the waters of the Andaman Sea. A typical breakfast in Phuket consists of Khanom Chin – Thai rice noodles with a curry soup made from minced fish or shrimps. Other traditional food includes fried noodles such as Mi Hokkien with fresh shrimp, pork, shellfish and green cabbage and Mi Sapam with seafood and gravy on top. If you want to try local food, you will find the best dining locations in Phuket Town, Chalong Bay and Patong Beach.
Phuket Town: You can savour some great Chinese food at Fortuna Pavilion in the Metropole Hotel. The Metropole Cafe in the same hotel serves popular luncheon buffet comprising a vast array of Thai dishes. For some delicious Italian fare, you can check out La Gaetana.
Chalong Bay, Rawai Beach and Nai Harn: You will find some of the best seafood in this area. Popular eateries include Kan Eang 1 & 2. Then there is the Klaus and Mouse restaurant which is greatly patronized by the Germans. If you are at Rawai Beach, you must dine in the eateries where you can eat sitting on mats at the water’s edge.
Kata: Here you will find the upmarket Mom Tri’s Boathouse Wine and Grill. To dine in informal setting you can head to Gung Cafe.
Patong Beach: Given its popularity as a major tourist destination, there is no lack of eateries here. Sam’s is considered by the people to be the best steak house on the island. For Japanese cuisine, you can check out Otowa and Rengaya, and for Italian food, the popular name is Da Maurizio. Then there is Sala Bua, which boasts a romantic setting by the ocean side.
Kamala and Surin Beaches: For a fine dining experience, you must visit FantaSea, the ultimate cultural theme park. Other popular establishments include the Toto Restaurants and Old Siam Nakalay, which serves sumptuous Thai meals in a beautiful tropical garden setting.
The most exciting place to shop in Phuket is Patong Beach. In the evening the beach transforms into a large night bazaar where you can buy handicrafts, silk scarves, sarongs and a variety of beach clothes, leisure wear, leather goods and luggage, CDs, computer games and electronic gadgets and toys. The streets are clogged and everything is chaotic but fun and more so if you are good at bargaining. Given that Patong beach is a major tourist attraction, the shopping is aimed at the tourist market so prices are a bit higher than you would find in other places in Phuket. The main night market is along the beach road and into small secondary soi (lanes).
Jungceylon Shopping Complex is a shopping centre where you can buy anything that you can think of. The complex is situated on Rat-U-Thit Road diagonally opposite the eastern end of Soi Bangla. The two main stores in the complex are Robinson and Carrefour.
There is a market behind the Holiday Inn hotel which sells high quality local goods plus One Tambon, One Product (OTOP) items. OTOP is a government initiative to encourage self-sufficiency in Thai villages through the development of small-scale manufacturing and design businesses.
For souvenirs, crafts, luggage, tailor made clothes, sportswear and jewelry you can check out specialty stores such as Rosewood Lamps & Seeka.
Things To Do
Cruises: Cruising is a great way to discover the spectacular beauty of the islands. Dinner cruises are especially popular and include refreshments and full-blown meals. The young at heart can enjoy lively party cruises with on-board games and dancing.
Adventure Activities: Phuket’s varied terrain is ideal for a number of adventure activities ranging from river rafting and scuba diving to elephant rides and jungle safaris. There are many experienced tour operators who offer these activities.
Snake shows: Thailand is home to more than 50 species of snakes including some poisonous varieties. You can watch spine tingling snake shows at various places across the island such as the Phuket Shooting Range and the Andaman Cobra Show on Soi Ta-iad.
Beaches in Phuket
The main attractions of Phuket are without doubt its exquisite beaches. The winding coastal roads along the west coast provide easy access to some of the world’s finest beaches. Some prominent beaches include:
Patong Beach: This is the most famous, or shall we say infamous, beach on the island. Promising a wild, unforgettable nightlife the beach is also home to literally hundreds of restaurants, chic lounge bars, beer bars and discos.
Karon Beach: Relatively quieter than Patong, Karon with its long stretch of beautiful white sand, features a full range of facilities including dining and entertainment.
Kata Beach: The beach is popular with surfers and offers facilities for a wide range of water activities. The beach is also popular with families and has a lively but not raucous nightlife.
Kata Noi Beach: Visit this beach if you are looking for some peace and quiet. This small bay of stunning white sand offers spectacular views of the Andaman Sea. Water activities include snorkeling and swimming.
Bang Tao Beach: This is again a very peaceful beach though it has its share of luxurious resorts and villas along its 6km (4 mile) stretch.
Surin Beach: This breathtakingly beautiful beach is known as ‘Millionaires Row’ due the top-end celebrity haunts Amanpuri, Twinpalms and The Chedi as well as luxurious villas that overlook the Andaman Sea.
Pansea Beach: This tiny cove of glittering white sand is only accessible to the rich and famous guests of The Chedi and Amanpuri Resorts.
Kamala Beach: This well-enclosed bay and fishing village is popular with families and has some good snorkeling points at its rocky north end.
Nai Thon Beach: The beach is one of Phuket’s best-kept secrets. You can reach this incredibly beautiful beach with silky white sand through a spectacular drive that takes you through forested hills and a lovely valley.
Ya Nui Beach: The beach is a charming little cove good for snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing.
Rawai Beach: Believed to have been discovered by King Rama VII in the 1920s, Rawai is Phuket’s longest-established beach resort. The beach is dotted with open-air seafood stalls and restaurants and is also popular for being a launching point for boat trips to Racha, Coral and other islands.
Excursions From Phuket
Koh Phi Phi: No trip to Phuket can be complete without visiting the stunning Phi Phi Islands. The sight of the sheer limestone cliffs rising from the calm, clear seas is simply stunning. Phi Phi Don, the larger of the islands, boasts idyllic tropical beaches while Phi Phi Ley, is home to magnificent coral gardens, teeming with fish and perfect for diving and snorkeling. These picture postcard islands are about 45 minutes away from Phuket. You can explore the fascinating coastline by kayak. A stay on the islands is a must to enjoy the scenic beauty and relax in its laid-back lifestyle. The islands are dotted with restaurants and eateries serving everything from Thai to Western. The islands also boast of an interesting collection of pubs and bars that stay open for as long as they have customers.
Khao Sok National Park: The Park is a must visit for the nature enthusiasts. It features giant limestone mountains, cliffs, caves, rivers and waterfalls. It is covered by the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, which houses several species of tropical birds, animals, insects, reptiles and plant life, the most famous being the elusive Rafflesia – the largest flower in the world. Activities in the park include canoeing down the Sok River, elephant riding, and trekking. Eco-tours from Phuket run almost every day.
Phang Nga Bay: You can take a day trip to this spectacular bay, which features the signature rocky pinnacle, James Bond Island, named because the movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun,’ was filmed here. You can also visit Koh Panyi, Sea Gypsy Island featuring a remarkable Muslim village, which is completely built out over the water on stilts.
For many tourists who visit Phuket, the island’s colorful nightlife is the major draw. The main action is concentrated on the Patong Beach though other beaches such as Kata Beach, Rawai Beach, Nai Harn and Chalong have their share of activity. Another popular hub is Phuket Town which has its own bars, pubs and nightclubs.
The bars and clubs around the island range from traditional Thai-style clubs with local bands to Western-style super clubs. In the middle are numerous tourist clubs that play the latest in chart dance hits and provide cheap options for drinks.
Patong Beach: It is hard to resist the pulsating nightlife of Patong Beach. Wander down Soi Bangla and you will be bombarded with deafening music, neon signs and girls vying for your attention. Patong beach is home to at least a hundred bars ranging from beer bars (girlie bars), Go-Go bars, nightclubs, and pubs where the only priority is to party and have a good time. Patong beach is also known for its gay area.
Also on offer is bewildering mix of restaurant-lounges, discos, live music clubs, transvestite cabarets and a lot more. A major attraction here is the Simon Cabaret. Probably the biggest “transvestite” cabaret show in Phuket, it features a spectacular musical floor show performed by the world famous “ladyboys”.
The beach also caters to those looking for a quiet evening out. The beachfront in lined with a number of restaurants for relaxed dining, jazz clubs and Irish music bars. You can also watch an authentic Thai boxing match in Patong.
Kata Beach: The beach, with its village type ambiance, has a number of good restaurants. There is also a small bar beer area. You can also enjoy classical Thai performances and dinner at Marina Cottage.
Kamala Beach: The beach is home to the Phuket FantaSea where you can enjoy an amazing spectacle and theatrical experience comprising Thai legends mixed with pyrotechnics, and also acrobatics. The area also has small low-key and relaxed bars and restaurants. If you are looking for the bright lights, then Patong is just 10 minutes away.
Phuket Town: The area is a must visit for those looking for a more local scene. Famous pubs here include Timber Rock and Jammin’ where you can enjoy good live rock ‘n’ roll and Thai food. You can also check out the Thai-style “coffee shops” – nightclubs where ladies in fancy dresses take turns singing Thai songs.
Bang Tao Bay: The area is home to a number of upmarket and luxury hotels that promise a distinct and low-key nightlife based around fine dining and cocktails. A must visit is the Laguna Phuket complete with classy restaurants, bars, entertainment and leisure activities.
Phuket enjoys year round tropical climate with temperatures around 29C (88F). There are two distinct seasons with a few minor variations in-between. The high season is November to March because of pleasant temperatures, blue skies and low rainfall. The low season lasts from April till mid-May, when it really begins to heat up to around 34C (96F) and there are often heavy thunder-showers in the late afternoons. The monsoon season is from late May until November. Visiting Phuket in the monsoon season has its share of advantages. The weather is usually pleasant and it really doesn’t rain everyday. With less tourist crowds things are also more reasonably priced and you can explore the attractions in peace.
By Air:Phuket has its own international airport located 30km north of Phuket city centre. It serves daily flights to and from Bangkok and is also connected to other domestic destinations. International direct destinations from Phuket include Penang, Langkawi, Kuala Lampur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Sydney, Perth, Osaka and Tokyo. There are several charter airlines flying directly from Europe, Russia, China and the USA.
By Car: From Bangkok, you can arrive to Phuket via Highway No.4 (Phetchakasem Road) which passes through Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani and Phang-nga Provinces. After that you will need to cross the Thep Krasattri Bridge or Sarasin Bridge to reach Phuket Island. The total travel time is around 12 hours.
By Bus: Air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses leave Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal for Phuket several times a day.
By Train: There is no direct train service to Phuket. If you are coming by train, you will need to get off at Phun Phin Railway Station in Surat Thani Province and then continue by regular bus to Phuket.
Motorbikes: One of the best ways to explore the island is by cruising around on a motorbike. But keep in mind that motorbikes are not insured so if it is damaged or stolen you will have to pay for it.
Bus: There is a daytime bus service (songthaew) to most parts of the island. All buses run on a loop route between beach locations and back to the songthaew stop on Ranong Road in Phuket Town.
Taxi and tuk-tuks: Taxis and the three-wheeled tuk-tuks are affordable ways to travel around the island but they rarely travel by the meter and there are a lot of complaints against them by the visitors.
Car rentals: You can rent a car or a jeep from numerous locations around the island. You require a valid international driving license. When renting a vehicle, keep in mind that you will liable for all damages to the vehicle. Make sure you car is insured for accidents caused by another party.
Longtail boats: The ubiquitous longtail boat is an interesting way to travel around the islands and especially if you are going on a sightseeing trip. A note of caution, these boats completely lack safety equipment such as lifejackets so they are not advised for children and non-swimmers.