Thailand’s largest island, Phuket is famous for its tropical mountains, impossibly blue sea and miles of pristine white beaches. But when you’re staying in Phuket, you’ll be missing out if you spend your entire visit in the sand. From local food secrets to unique Thai sports, Phuket offers a rich culture beyond the coastline. Here are a few top adventures that will help you really get to know this incredible area of Thailand.
Food is an essential part of Phuket culture, and Thai cuisine is one of the most popular in the world. Creating these unique fusions of sweet and spicy, along with sour and salty, requires a delicate hand and knowledge of a few basic methods. Fortunately, the Thai people are generally eager to share their culinary secrets with visitors.
Phuket offers a number of opportunities to learn regional recipes. Sally of Kata Thai Cooking is a very popular instructor who runs numerous cooking classes every week from her kitchen at Kata Beach near Patong. She promises to show students the ingredients and techniques needed to create authentic, everyday Thai dishes. The two-and-a-half hour classes include a trip to the market and cooking three different recipes.
There are several fascinating museums on the island worth exploring, from art and history to modern-day fun. Start at the Thalang National Museum, which was created to commemorate two women who protected Phuket island from Burmese invasion 200 years ago. In addition to the exhibitions of historical artifacts, the building itself is a draw, thanks to is unique architecture.
The Thai Hua Museum is housed in one of the most gorgeous and well-maintained Sino-Portuguese buildings in Phuket with a charming inner courtyard and garden. The exhibits show Phuket’s history, with a particular focus on Chinese immigration and influence.
On the lighter side, check out the Trickeye Museum, an unusual 3D painting museum, or the Sea Shell Museum, which features some of the world’s most sought-after shells, including the largest gold-coloured pearl ever found (140 karats) and shell fossils that are millions of years old.
As is the case throughout Thailand, wats (temples) are everywhere. Everyone who has visited Phuket knows of the renowned Big Buddha, but there are also a number of lesser-known spots that celebrate Phuket’s spiritual side that are well worth a visit.
The large, golden Sitting Buddha at Wat Khao Rang reigns over this hillside temple founded by Luang Pu Supha, Phuket’s most notable monk. It’s a peaceful place without a lot of tourists offering many fine examples of traditional Thai art. Before passing away in 2013 at age 118, Luang Pu Supha established 39 temples in Thailand; his remains were laid to rest at Wat Luang Pu Supha (also known as Wat Sila Suparam), a rather new temple in Chalong.
Chinese Taoist shrines are also very important in Phuket; Jui Tui Shrine is one of the oldest and the most respected spiritual centres here. The beautiful Kiew Tien Keng is the only shrine located near the coastline.
Muay Thai boxing is Thailand’s national sport. To watch the action while in Phuket, you can choose between real competition, as well as staged tourist shows. For an authentic match, check out Patong Boxing Stadium featuring professional boxers from around Thailand and beyond. There are also many places where you can practice and learn this unique sport. Tiger Muay Thai is the biggest training camp, with more than 30 coaches and as many as 400 students per month.
The idyllic setting of Phuket also makes it a serene place to practice yoga. One gorgeous setting is Baan Yoga on the north side of the island, near Maikhao and Sirinath National Park. The tropical garden creates a hidden oasis of a studio where numerous weekly classes are held, along with Pilates, Zumba, meditation and retreats.
If you love exploring the artistic aspect of a culture, you’ll want to visit Phuket Art Village. This creative community was built by the artists themselves who work in a collection of studios and galleries along a small lane.
The traditional craft of batik, a colour resist method using wax and dye, is a big part of Thai culture; and some of the finest batik cloth in the world is made at Phuket. The Art of Batik is a studio that holds classes and workshops for the public to learn this art, located near the centre of the island.
Engaging in volunteer work while travelling can be incredibly rewarding. Soi Dog Foundation, one of the most celebrated rescue dog organisations in Asia, is located on Phuket and offers fun and helpful volunteer activities. Visitors are encouraged to come walk the dogs, as well as help socialise dogs and cats—most of whom have not been indoors or around people very much.
Another wonderful animal organisation is the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where you can assist with various daily tasks around the shelter. A great bonus is that all volunteers are treated to a Morning with the Elephants tour that teaches about these majestic animals and the sanctuary.
Of course, no trip to Phuket is complete with out a trip to the beach. But venture beyond those sandy shores, and you’ll get to know Phuket culture in a more satisfying, unforgettable way. In fact, there’s so much to do there, you’ll virtually never run out of fun in Phuket.