Phuket is Thailand’s largest island on the country’s west coast in the Andaman Sea. Best known for its beautiful beaches, the island is an ideal destination for those who enjoy water sports and nightlife. However, the island is also home to luxury and family-friendly hotels and resorts, making it a destination for everyone.
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What to see in Phuket
Phuket Island is a popular tourist destination in Thailand for its breathtaking nature, white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Still, the island also has a rich and exciting history and culture. Before the Industrial Revolution, it was an essential destination for Chinese, Indian and Malay traders, who traded spices, wood and rubber. The presence of these cultures strongly influenced Phuket’s local culture, making it unique and fascinating.
The most beautiful beaches and natural parks
Phuket’s beaches are known worldwide for their breathtaking beauty and picture-postcard sea. Patong Beach is the most famous on the island, thanks to its white sand and crystal-clear waters. Still, Phuket offers many other equally enchanting beaches, such as Kata Beach, Karon Beach and Kamala Beach.
Each beach has its unique charm and offers various activities, including water sports, boat trips and relaxing walks on the sand. Phuket is also famous for its natural parks, including Sirinat National Park. It is home to some of the island’s most spectacular beaches, such as Nai Thon Beach and Mai Khao Beach.
Temples and cultural attractions
Phuket Town (the main town on Phuket Island) hosts almost all the cultural attractions on Phuket Island. One of the most representative places of Phuket’s culture is the Old Town. This historical area preserves the traditional architecture and lifestyle of the island’s inhabitants. Here, you can see the famous Sino-Portuguese colonial houses, Chinese-style buildings with European influences, which have become a symbol of Phuket’s culture.
In addition to the Sino-Portuguese culture, Phuket town also has a rich Buddhist tradition, reflected in numerous temples scattered around the island. Wat Chalong is one of the most famous temples, characterised by its ornamental towers and gold Buddha statues. Other temples worth visiting include Wat Phra Nang Sang, Wat Khao Rang and Wat Suwan Kuha. Outside the city, near Kata Beach, is the huge 45-metre-high Big Buddha statue (check the Phuket City Tour with Karon View Point, Big Buddha & Wat Chalong for a comprehensive tour).
Phuket also has some museums that provide an insight into the island’s history and culture, such as the Phuket Thai Hua Museum, which tells the story of the early settlements of the cultures that influenced the island, or the Phuket Mining Museum in Kathu, about the history and technology used to extract minerals on the island. Alternatively, you can visit some fun tourist sites, such as the Upside Down House, a purpose-built house built backwards with the roof down.
Phuket is also famous for its cultural festivals, including the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a celebration where participants follow a strict vegetarian diet to cleanse the body and mind. During the Vegetarian Festival events, you can see the unusual and extravagant tradition of face piercing, during which participants pierce their faces with swords.
On the other hand, the Lantern Festival is a popular festivity throughout Thailand, during which people gather to throw luminous lanterns into the sky. Participating is truly impressive as you’ll see thousands of paper lanterns that light up the Phuket night.
What to do on Phuket Island
Phuket Island is a popular holiday destination in Thailand because it offers many tourist activities. With its beautiful beaches, rich Thai culture, delicious cuisine, water sports, shopping and nightlife options, Phuket is truly an ideal destination for all tastes. In addition, excursions to the island and surrounding islands offer a unique experience to discover the beauty of this region of Thailand.
Beaches and water sports
Phuket is an excellent destination for water sports such as windsurfing and kitesurfing. The island is surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Andaman Sea, with regular high waves. Famous beaches include Patong, Karon and Kata, where you can rent sunbeds and umbrellas to relax in the sun and enjoy various water sports.
Finally, Phuket is also famous for its vibrant nightlife. Patong is the island’s most famous and lively area, with numerous bars, restaurants and discos open until late at night. Personally, I found it far too touristy, but it is very popular with those who like to party and go out dancing. In Phuket, you can also attend performances that are very popular with tourists, such as the famous Simon Cabaret, where numerous female artists perform entertainment, singing and dancing.
Phuket also offers numerous shopping options, from night markets to large shopping malls. Some popular shopping places are the Phuket Town night market, the Kata Beach night market, or the Patong Beach market.
Prices are usually very cheap. However, considering that many souvenirs may be too touristy or quite weird, such as the penis-shaped soaps found in all-night market stalls.
From Phuket, you can set off on numerous excursions on land and water. Some of the most popular tours include visiting the surrounding islands, such as the Phi Phi Islands or Phang Nga Bay, where they filmed a James Bond movie, or Phuket’s temples and historical attractions.
When sifting through the activities, consider that Phuket is a popular tourist destination, which means it can be very crowded during peak season. Also, some parts of the island can seem too touristy, such as Kata Beach, with shops, restaurants and bars exclusively for tourists. However, there are still some parts of the island that retain their charm and authenticity.
Local agencies will stun you to sell you an excursion. My advice about choosing a tour is to sift through the various possibilities in advance to avoid choosing one that is too touristy once you are in Phuket. Check out some of the most popular excursions for travellers in the box below. Booking in advance on Viator allows you to avoid having to haggle or be hassled by local tour operators.
Where and what to eat in Phuket
Along the coast, you can enjoy shrimps, squid, crabs and local fish for little money in many fresh fish restaurants. In Phuket Town you can also find numerous international restaurants for tourists serving burgers, pizza, sushi, pasta and much more.
However, I recommend you take advantage of your trip to sample the delicious Thai cuisine. In addition, night markets offer a wide range of street food at affordable prices. Just be careful to check that the street food is prepared in front of you with fresh ingredients because you might run into a traveller’s diarrhoea (this happened to me in Phuket).
Where to stay in Phuket: one island, several areas
Phuket is a relatively large island, with different areas offering different experiences of staying:
- Patong Beach is the most famous tourist area of Phuket, with beaches, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and shopping centres. Patong’s nightlife is vibrant and offers many opportunities to have fun. Eden Resort & Villas is an amazing resort close to the beach.
- Kata Beach is advertised as a much quieter area than Patong, with a broader and less crowded beach. However, it is still a touristy area. Still, there are great accommodations like Blue Palm Kata Resort.
- Karon Beach is a very popular area for families, with a large white sandy beach and a wide range of activities for children. There are many restaurants, beach bars, shopping centres, and markets. If you travel on a budget, you can save money by staying at the Fishtail Hostel Phuket.
- Phuket Town is the oldest and most historic area of Phuket Island, with many historic buildings and ancient temples. Again, there are many local shops, restaurants and cafes, and a lively nightlife. Still, it is the best choice for those wishing to do cultural tourism. I recommend staying at BAAN 125 STAY Phuket or WOO Gallery & Boutique Hotel, two lovely boutique hotels in the Old Town.
- Bang Tao Beach is more luxurious and quiet, with luxury resorts and private villas. There are many quiet beaches, fresh seafood restaurants and beach bars. An excellent place to stay is The Residence Villa 203, which has a private pool.
- Nai Harn Beach is a more secluded and quiet area with a beautiful white sandy beach and crystal clear waters. Despite that, you will find nightlife, restaurants and beach bars like other locations. The Nai Harn – SHA Extra Plus is a great hotel with a beachfront location.
Phuket offers many accommodation options, from budget hostels to luxury resorts. The choice of area depends mainly on your personal preferences, budget and the type of holiday you want. To avoid disappointment, remember that Phuket Island is a bustling destination. You will not find quiet areas surrounded by nature, but tourists almost everywhere
How to get to Phuket from Bangkok
Phuket is about 850 kilometres south of Bangkok, and you have several options for getting to Phuket from Bangkok. The most convenient and fastest way is by plane, with direct flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Phuket International Airport. Flights take about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can check out flights from Bangkok’s domestic airport, Don Muang, which take about 2 hours. Check your best option from the flights schedule box below.
If you are looking for a more adventurous option, you could also reach Phuket by train from Bangkok and then by ferry. Overnight trains leave from Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok and arrive at Surat Thani train station, from where you can take a ferry to the island. This option takes longer and is more inconvenient, but it also offers a chance to see the landscape of Thailand.
Local transport: how to get around Phuket
There is no public transport in Phuket, like in Bangkok. Theoretically, a network of local buses should connect different parts of the island. Still, I could not figure out the stops and timetables in Phuket. Looking for information online, however, the service is quite limited, with long waiting times.
Unfortunately, you can only choose from some private transport options. One of the most common ways to get around the city and tourist areas is by tuk-tuk, the characteristic three-wheeled taxi. If you rely on a tuk-tuk, negotiate the price in advance as it can be higher than other transport options.
Scooters and bycicles
Since tourist attractions and beaches are in distant areas, tourists usually rent scooters or bicycles. The price varies depending on the model and rental duration. Driving in Phuket, as in the rest of Thailand, can be difficult as not all drivers follow the traffic rules, and you’ll need an international driving licence. There are rental shops almost everywhere on the island, but like for your day trips, you can book a scooter on BikesBooking in advance from the box below, avoiding any pressures from the local travel agencies.
Taxi and minibus
The safest way to get around the island is by private taxi or minibus, which are convenient but expensive. Prices vary depending on the distance and destination.
Regarding the transfer from/to the airport with minibuses, I suggest you calculate the timetables with a lot of elasticity because it happened to me every time the drivers stopped to talk to each other or to change vehicles, to the great confusion of the tourists. The best option is to book a private transfer from/to the airport in advance.
Latest tips for planning your trip to Phuket
Phuket offers beautiful natural scenery, including unique beaches, a delicious culinary scene, numerous activities and several accommodation options. However, the high influx of tourists has also led to challenges such as traffic congestion, commercialisation and rising prices.
Despite these drawbacks, Phuket remains a popular and fascinating tourist destination. Choosing the location that best suits your way of travelling is essential to avoid disappointment, considering the difficulty of moving between different areas of the island without your own transport.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments about what to do and how to organise a great trip to Phuket Island.