The ultimate guide to visiting Phuket
Often referred to as the Pearl of the Andaman, Phuket is Thailand’s largest island. It’s a popular spot for visitors to southeast Asia – and for good reason too. With an impressive coastline featuring long stretches of sandy beach strung together by dramatic rock formations, it’s been attracting people to its shores for decades. While this means that some parts of this large island can be busy, there is still a traditional and authentic side of Phuket to discover–plus it means there is always something to see and do.
Best time to visit Phuket
If you’re not a fan of crowds, avoid January and February. These are peak travel months for Phuket and much of the rest of Thailand. if you don’t mind sharing your beach with a throng of other people, it’s at least a great time to meet like-minded travelers.
The rainy season in Phuket runs from April through to October. However, many Phuket regulars cite this as the best time to visit, as hotel and travel rates are low and the beaches are much less crowded. There is usually a downpour daily in the early evening at this time, but throughout much of the day, Phuket weather is usually sunny and pleasant.
Getting to and from Phuket
Phuket has the huge advantage of having its own international airport. Direct flights are possible from many major airline hubs, while Air Asia offers low cost regular flights to Phuket from destinations such as Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, and India.
Phuket Town has a main bus terminal that sees buses arriving and departing from just about everywhere in Thailand throughout the day and night. Phuket can also be easily reached by boat from Krabi on the mainland, plus the surrounding islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi.
Where to stay in Phuket
For a base within easy reach of all the main attractions, beach life, and nightlife, the Holiday Inn Resort in Phuket provides a little oasis of calm in the middle of Patong. Just moments from the beach, it’s walking distance to all the main action. Other than that, the choice of hotels in Phuket are endless and scattered all across Phuket, from the heart of its old town right along its coast.
Phuket’s top attractions
You’ll never run out of things to do and see in Phuket. Here are some top attractions to keep you busy on your trip.
At 45 metres tall, the Big Buddha statue (pictured above) is one of Phuket’s most iconic landmarks, and is a huge draw for visitors to the island. This huge monument sits on Nakkerd Hills between Chalong and Kata, and offers some incredible panoramic views of Phuket Town, as well as the beaches and bays of the coast. The road leading up to the statue winds through the ‘real’ Thailand and is well worth taking the trip, if not only for the views when you reach the top.
Wat Chalong is the largest temple in Phuket. This colourful building is elaborately decorated with numerous images of the Buddha, along with imagery from Thai and Buddhist mythology. Wat Chalong houses many Buddhist statues, with the most revered being Poh Than Jao Wat, located in the westerly old hall of the temple.
Khao Sok National Park
For an outdoor adventure, head inland to Phuket’s Khao Sok National Park, where you can get the full jungle experience–complete with elephants, lazy rivers, and tree-house lodgings. This area is said to be one of the oldest rain forests in the world, and it’s certainly one of the most scenic, with its magnificent cascading waterfalls and dramatic limestone formations.
Islands around Phuket
One of the best advantages of Phuket is its proximity to a plethora of other islands to explore.
Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island
A boat trip through the dramatic limestone karsts–jutting out of the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea–is the best way to fully appreciate Phang Nga Bay. James Bond Island and Koh Panyee are just two of the more famous spots in this bay, and it makes for a great day trip, particularly if stopping off at the quieter beaches along the way. The so-called James Bond Island was featured inThe Man with the Golden Gun.
Similan and Surin
Heading northeast from Phuket will lead to the pristine islands of Similan and Surin, where divers are in their element amid clear waters and an array of marine life, including leopard sharks, octopus, and colourful exotic fish.
Koh Phi Phi
Perhaps the most famous of all the islands around Phuket, Koh Phi Phi in fact refers to two islands in this part of the Andaman Sea. Phi Phi Don is the main island where most visitors head to (mainly backpackers) for all night parties and days spent recovering on the pristine beach. Phi Phi Leh is the quieter southern island. This has no overnight accommodation and features a number of coves and caves, as well as Maya Beach–the famous setting for the film, The Beach.
Beaches, beaches, beaches. It’s all about the warm sand and the gentle waves.
Phuket has always been synonymous with beautiful beaches. For those into their nightlife, Patong Beach is the centre of the main action in this department, although it’s surprisingly family-friendly and close to all of Phuket’s main attractions. It’s certainly busy, but the beach has a great atmosphere in the day, and there’s always plenty going on to keep the whole family entertained.
Kata and Karon Beaches
For a more laid back Phuket beach experience, head to the beautiful sands of Kata and Karon beaches. These are some of the best on the island, and there is plenty going on around these bays to keep you entertained, despite being much less busy than Patong. There are also some amazing viewpoints nearby, well worth hiring a motorbike or tuk tuk to go and seek out.
Kalim Bay has recently become the cool place to hang out, with a plethora of trendy bars and restaurants lining the coast here. Surrounded by mountains and protected from the swell, Kalim is also a popular spot for surfers.
Situated a few beaches up from Patong, Cherngtalay caters to the high-end crowd, with Surin and Bang Tao beaches in its domain. It’s a relaxed sort of place with a good choice of international restaurants, bars, and beach clubs.
Best viewpoints in Phuket
Phuket has views for days. Challenge yourself to visit them all.
Leave Phromthep Cape (also known as Laem Phromthep, pictured above) until the end of the day and enjoy a beautiful view over Phuket. Phromthep Cape is a popular and often busy tourist hub–but this shouldn’t distract from the incredible sunset views from Phuket’s southernmost point.
Confusingly named Karon Viewpoint, this viewpoint is in fact in Kata. Those who climb the steps to the top of the pavilion here on a clear day will be rewarded with sweeping views across Kata Noi Beach, Kata Beach, and Karon Beach in the north.
Not far from Phromthep Cape, the Windmill viewpoint in Phuket is located between Ya Nui and Nai Harn beaches. It’s not as busy as Phromthep Cape yet offers similar southwest-facing vistas and is characterised by the tall, white windmills looking out to sea.
Sitting atop one of the tallest hills in Phuket, the Panwa viewpoint is perhaps one of the less-visited viewpoints on the island. Situated in Cape Panwa, its location is certainly less obvious, but the views from here easily rival any other, with 360-degree vistas out over southern and eastern Phuket.
The viewpoint at Rang Hill is located in Phuket Town and offers an inland view of the southern part of the island, including Chalong, Panwa, and the Big Buddha in the distance. A handful of restaurants are situated on Rang Hill, which are perfect for taking in the views while enjoying some local food.
Radar Hill is said to be the highest point in Phuket. This viewpoint is only accessible from the east via a long, steep road that winds up through the Thai countryside. Named after the government radar facility at the peak of the hill, Radar Hill presents dazzling views of Patong, Chalong, and Phuket Town.
Nightlife in Phuket
Phuket has beaches, views, and other attractions. What more could you want? Nightlife.
Hurtling down the centre of Patong, Bangla Road is where all the action takes place after the sun goes down in Phuket. Late-night bars pump out music from huge nightclubs such as Famous, Seduction, and The Factory. Bangla Road–and Beach Road nearby–is truly the beating heart of nightlife in Phuket. This area is always alive with music, girly bars, and clubbers, and while it is of course busy, it’s also a non-threatening place to party the night away.
Beach bars at Kata
For a (much) more relaxed vibe, head to Kata Hill overlooking Kata Noi Beach, where three little bars invite chilled out beach-bum types to sip cocktails while watching the sun go down. The bars here–After Beach, Small Viewpoint and Baan Chom–all play Bob Marley music on loop and have fantastic sunset views.
Located near Patong Beach, the Simon Cabaret hosts the most respected lady boy shows in Phuket, and is an attraction in Phuket in its own right. The show features some impressive sets, even more dazzling costumes, and some of the most glamorous performers in the industry, so it’s not difficult to see why it’s become one of Phuket’s main attractions.
For a family night out, head to the Phuket FantaSea Show, which sits in its own theme park complex. FantaSea features a large cast of circus performers and exotic animals to tell a traditional Thai story full of drama and flair. This large complex also houses carnival games, a shopping village, and a place to enjoy a buffet dinner.
Located on the outskirts of Phuket Town, the Siam Niramit show is another family-friendly show that celebrates Thailand’s rich culture and history. With elaborate sets, astonishing special effects, and a talented cast, Siam Niramit is one of the most popular shows in Phuket.
An authentic Phuket
Want to know what the real deal is? Where the locals hang out? Read on…
Old Phuket Town
For a historic look at Phuket, head to Phuket Old Town. Small enough to explore on foot, the area was built from the riches of the tin mining boom of the 18th century, and so the architecture is heavily European (Portuguese and British) influenced.
Thalang Road is the main hub here. It’s lined with Sino-Portuguese shop-houses and plenty of places to grab a coffee and a spot of lunch. After lunch, head to Soi Romanee (the road that connects Thalang to Dibuk Road, and the former red-light district), and you’ll discover latticed windows and internal courtyards on the quaint old buildings lining the street.
Aside from the shophouses, other architectural highlights within Old Phuket Town are the Sino-Colonial mansions. These stately mansions were originally the homes of the rich Chinese tin barons. The grandest example of these is the Blue Elephant Governor Mansion on 96 Krabi Road.
Food in Phuket
Visitors to Phuket are also spoiled for choice when it comes to food. From tiny hawker stalls and local noodle shops, to seafood restaurants and fine dining establishments, Phuket caters to every taste and budget.
The Natural Restaurant
Talat Nuea, Mueang Phuket DistrictThe Natural Restaurant in Phuket Town is a traditional Thai wooden shack featuring a jumble of plants, waterfalls… and fish tanks made out of disused TV sets! It has an extensive menu of Thai cuisine and is very reasonably priced.
Another great foodie spot in Phuket Town is the small, family-run La Gaetana–it has a fun atmosphere, and serves up some fantastic Italian and international cuisine.
Old Siam Restaurant
For more traditional Thai food, Old Siam Restaurant in Nakalay Bay is a fine choice. With its authentic food and peaceful atmosphere, it’s one of the few restaurants in Phuket where diners can enjoy delicious Thai Royale Cuisine with their toes buried in the sand. Reservations required.
Street food and hawker stalls
In terms of street food, hawker stalls can be found in almost every corner of Phuket, offering up delicious homemade food at minuscule prices. Find them by the roadside, along the beachfront or at Phuket’s markets–the hawker stalls serve up a wide range of food, from spicy salads and fruit, to fried chicken and noodles. Visitors to Phuket needn’t be afraid to eat the local street food. It’s an inexpensive and tasty choice that rarely leads to an upset stomach. 10 Best Street Food to try in Phuket
Markets by day and by night are a way of life for the locals.
Phuket Weekend Market
The most famous market in town, the Phuket Weekend Market (known locally as Naka Market) sits on the fringes of Phuket Town along Chao Fa West Road. It’s a chaotic and atmospheric place, selling everything imaginable–from second-hand clothes to fake designer handbags, and it also has a thriving food section. Visiting the Phuket Weekend Market is an experience in itself, but there’s always something worth bartering for among its diverse and colourful stands.
While prices aren’t as reasonable here as they are at the Phuket Weekend Market, Patong’s Banzaan Market attracts visitors to its modern stalls on Sai Kor Road for its clean and pleasant environment, and huge choice of fresh food. The market is divided into different sections for meat, seafood, vegetables, exotic fruits, and Thai sweets, among other tasty treats.
Events and festivals in Phuket
Festivals and events are always on the horizon: this island never stops.
The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held over a nine-day period, usually in October, and came about due to the Chinese community’s belief that a vegetarian diet during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar enables them to obtain good health and a sound mind.
It’s fair to say that the festival transcends most people’s perceptions of what it entails. Many picture passive scenes of vegetarian food stalls and perhaps some accompanying music. The truth is that it in fact involves some dangerous activities for its participants, including ladder climbing with rungs made of knives, barefoot walks across hot coals, and some extreme piercings with various hooks and skewers. This is all accompanied by rapid-fire explosions and dramatic puffs of smoke thanks to all the Chinese fire crackers.
Celebrated countrywide, Songkran is the ultimate festival in Thailand–a time when people from every walk of life, from the young to the old, come out to participate in what is essentially one giant water fight! It takes place in April, which marks the beginning of the traditional Thai New Year, and Phuket is a great place to celebrate it as the whole island comes alive in celebration.
Loi Krathong is one of Thailand’s most significant festivals. Loi means to ‘float’ and ‘krathong’ is a small lotus shaped carving made (traditionally) from the trunk of a banana tree and decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. Held in November, thousands of these small candles are sent to float gently out to sea so that waters around the whole of Thailand become awash with light. If staying in Phuket or another coastal area, it’s possible to see these for miles out to sea, with reports of sightings close to the Similan Islands.