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Phuket is an all-singing, all-dancing, never-sleeping pleasure palace!
But show a little initiative and Phuket reveals far more – from the relaxed, unspoilt Nai Harn Beach and beautiful Karon Beach where you’ll find most of the high-end resorts popular with European travellers, to the rainforest interior where the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary operates. You can even channel your inner Tarzan (wrong continent, but you know what we mean) and explore the jungle on Koh Yao Noi or Koh Yao Yai islands, both easily accessible from Phuket. Then finish the day by watching the sun set from Phrom Thep Cape.
Despite, or perhaps because of the cheap souvenirs and girlie bars, Phuket is one of the world’s most desirable locations. But it’s when you move beyond the Bangkok-lite façade that the best holidays are found.
Thailand: Best Beaches in Phuket
Phuket: The mere whisper of the word evokes hair-trigger impressions from those who have been and, indeed, from those who have yet to go. Whether pro Phuket or con, the province is a dynamo and, Bangkok aside, the most popular tourist target in Thailand.
Deride the crass over-development and haphazard chaos of Patong, Phuket lures millions of package holiday partisans, moneyed globetrotters, backpacker beach bums, tireless wanderlusters and, indeed, all manner of traveller in between year in and year out. All for good reason too.
Phuket simply has it all. Affordable and a considerable 543 square km, the island has enough heft to herald both the promise of a Full Moon Party-like vibe if you so desire, or, for those in the serenity-now camp, the possibility of a pristine beach and chichi resort.
So whether you want to revel or relax, cavort or catnap, Phuket has a beach for you. With that in mind, discover our top picks in the peerless island province for Andaman Sea bliss.
Phuket’s Top 10
10. Simon Cabaret Show You’re on holiday, remember? Why not indulge in the best lady-boy show there is!
5. Phang Nga Bay Relax among sheer limestone cliffs. Tranquil heaven (or sleep off the hangover!)
9. Wat Chalong and Phuket Temples Phuket’s most important and beautiful spiritual landmarks.
4. Elephant Trek See Phuket from atop your very own living transport. Like in Aladdin – only real! These babies really roll when they walk, so you’ll feel like you’re going to fall off the whole time. Buying a painting by an elephant at the end helps fund the operation.
8. Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) Brutal yet somehow balletic. It’s pugilistic poetry in motion. Watch a fight at night, try your hands and feet at it in the Patong Beach gyms during the day.
3. Big Buddha Seriously, you’ve got to see it to believe it. He really is big! Oh, and you know, really beautiful and everything.
7. Gibbon Rehabilitation Project Small but important. Completely funded by your visits.
2. Jungle Bungee Jump Step up thrill-seekers! Run by Kiwis, indulged in by maniacs. It’s a 50-metre drop.
6. Patong Go Kart Speedway Thailand’s best track. Surrounded by lots of popular hotels and eateries.
1. Phuket FantaSea Insanely popular, which is why this one makes number one. But prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable at the elephants having to act like circus clowns.
- Old Phuket Town – See the history of the Sino-Portuguese influence on Phuket.
- Wat Chalong – This temple is one of the island’s most popular attractions.
- Big Buddha – This 45m-high monument is one of the island’s most revered attractions.
- Two Heroines Monument – Commemorates the women who fought for the island’s freedom more over 200 years ago.
- Heritage House – This former residence of the Thephabutr family is a popular historical attractions.
Phuket Art & Culture
- Talang National Museum – This museum displays Phuket’s rich and sometimes violent history.
- Kathu Mining Museum – This grand museum shows the mining culture of this once-major tin-producing centre.
- Old Phuket Town Festival – This festive held yearly in early February has performances and food.
- Thai Hua School Museum – This is Thailand’s oldest Chinese school and was built in 1934 with stunning architecture.
- Pithak Chinpracha House Museum – This privately run museum set in an elegant mansion has been featured in movies.
- Amulet Market – This market in Phuket Town sells local gems and jewellery.
- Karon Bazaar – This unique market features local handicrafts and souvenirs.
- Central Festival Phuket – The large shopping mall has all of the top designers and name brands.
- Ocean Plaza Patong – This group of stores is a great place to find souvenirs or have a meal.
- Aubergine – This unique shop offers a wide selection of handmade products.
Gay & Lesbian Phuket
- Simon Cabaret Show – The biggest and most lavish show in Phuket and a favourite amongst the gays and lesbians.
- Phuket Gay Pride Festival – This four-night event held in late April draws large crowds.
- Paradise Complex – This complex in Patong Beach features a variety of gay shops, clubs and bars.
- Soi Bangla – All types of adult entertainment can be found on this popular road.
- Tara Gay Sauna – This spa and sauna caters exclusively to gay men.
- Phang Nga Bay – This stunning bay provides some of the best views on the island.
- Rawai Beach – This secluded beach offers a beautiful and quiet place for a swim.
- Nai Harn Beach – The most remote beach in Phuket and the best place to relax and sunbathe.
- Kata Beach – This beach is a destination for fantastic views and lovely scenery.
- Ao Yon Waterfall – This is a marvellous area to take a hike and a swim on a warm day.
- Watch exciting Muay Thai boxing on Patong Beach.
- Play a round of miniature golf amongst dinosaurs at Dino Park Mini Golf.
- Work out among the monkeys at Khao Rang Hill.
- Catch a top contender whilst in Phuket at the Patong Boxing Stadium.
- Hit the fitness centre at Saphan Hin Park.
Phuket LocalOld Phuket Town
Get in your time machine and take a stroll through this historically rich part of town. There’s heaps to check out, from shrines, temples (Buddhist and Chinese), ornate and beautifully preserved ‘shop houses’, quaint cafés, tiny printing shops, impromptu private and public museums and even a mini ex-red light district on Soi Romani.
Smack bang in the centre of it all is Thalang Road, where you’ll find Sino-Portuguese architecture in abundance – a throwback to Phuket’s colonial days. It might sound lame, but it’s actually really cool – especially if you check out the open cooking and bathing areas (don’t get those two mixed up!)
Take a stroll down Dibuk Road to see the famous On On Hotel, which featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie The Beach. Finish the day at the Night Markets, where bargains galore of authentic Thai goods can be bargained for and bought.
This is why Phuket is famous. If hedonism is what you’re after, Patong Beach is truly the best there is. Apart from being super sexy and drawing the hotties from afar, this is place to get amongst all the action. And let’s not forget the shopping and the great nightlife centred on Bangla Road.
But down by the beach is where the action takes off – in and around the water. There’s jet skiing, yachting, para-gliding, surfing, snorkelling and kite surfing. And if that doesn’t float your boat (pun intended) how about stopping by the Aqua Zone Water Park. And if that doesn’t excite you, you could be a little dead inside.
In Patong, you’re not going to find much that’s authentically Thai amid the neon lights and non-stop partying. But chances are you’re going to be having too much of a good time to care.
Quite different from party-central Patong Beach is Kamala Beach.A little more subdued but not quite the nerdy-type, it’s still cool, just comparatively quiet.
Swimming at Kamala is generally safe although surf and swells do occur from May to October, so keep an eye out for red flags. Your relaxation may also be interrupted by beach vendors trying to sell you things. Simply say, ‘No thanks’ and they’ll move on.
Off the beach, Kamala is also where you’ll find great shopping, and on Fridays you can browse the Kamala Friday Market and practise your bartering skills. Kamala Beach is also home to Wat Baan Kamala, one of the region’s most famous and ornate temples. When visiting, make sure you dress respectfully (you probably lost your bikini in Patong anyway). If you’re feeling peckish, you’ll find a variety of the best and cheapest Thai food anywhere in the hawker vans to the north of the beach.
Eat & Drink in Phuket
Patong Municipality Food Court A great place to sample heaps of amazing and interesting Thai food without blowing the budget. Nice views included.
Da Maurizio Tie your tie – it’s posh o’clock. Expensive but well worth it for a one-off splash!
Pizzaro BarIf you’re missing home (or you’re Italian?) this is best pizza in town. Drooling at the memories.
Roadside FoodVendors To get the real experience, you can’t go past the street food. Sample here and there to your heart’s content. Don’t let the plastic chairs put you off. Some of the best food in the city.
Acqua Restaurant The up-and-comer of the food world. Modern Italian by the beach.
Baitong Seafood Select your dinner from the live displays! Always a winner. Nightly live music, so boogie down with pals.
Chez Bernard Dine with your feet literally in the sand. Thai and Western food available, both at a good price.
Grillhutte For big eaters, this German bar and eatery serves up masses of meat for people with big appetites. Wash it down with a big old beer.
The Boathouse Gourmet French and Thai food as well as over 800 wine selections to choose from. Located right on the beach so stunning views.
Baan Rim Pa True fine-dining with great atmosphere.
In of honour the two heroines who fought for peace in the island during the Burmese invasion, the island celebrates the Thep Krasatri and Tao Sri Sunthorn Festivals during March.
April brings around the wet and wonderful Songkran Festival – Thailand’s New Year celebration. This is big one so brace yourself! The locals level to spray tourists (with water, we should add…)
Coinciding with New Year is National Fisherman’s Day in Phuket. Baby turtles set out to sea – enough to make even the most cynical cynic go ‘Awww!’
Adorable little flower boats lit with candles mark the start of October’s Loy Krathong Festival.
Just in case the girls/boys in the bars don’t make you feel welcome enough, November brings the Patong Carnival to mark the start the tourist season. There are parades, food fests and quirky beauty contests (fancy your chances?).
The carnival is followed by the annual Gay Pride Festival. Paint yourself rainbow and get down!
Plus, there’s always the chance to see a fit young thing run past for the Laguna Triathlon on Bang Tao Beach in November. But watching all that exercise may leave you in need of a lie down and/or stiff drink.
On the King’s birthday in December, the aptly named King’s Cup Regatta kicks off at Nai Harn Beach. It’s like England’s Henley Regatta, only with less Pims.
When To Go
Tourists flock to Phuket all year round. It really depends on whether you can stand the heat or don’t mind a bit of rain. Here’s a rough guide:
- Hot and Dry Season (November to May) 25-31°C (77-88°F) – sweltering humidity, little or no rainfall.
- Rainy season (June to October) 26-30°C (79-86°F); occasional heavy rain but the cool sea breezes ease the humidity.
Motorbikes – Fun, cheap and safe (but be careful). The daily rental rate for the small motorbikes is 100-150 baht. The larger bikes rent for 300-500 baht. But be street smart and don’t let anyone charge you more.
Buses – Public buses are the cheapest way to get around. A one-way trip from Patong to Phuket Town costs 15 baht. They aren’t always reliable, though, but if you do get stuck, there’s always another way home!
Taxis and Tuk Tuks – The standard rate for a ride from one point in Patong to another is 20 baht, from Patong to Phuket is 150 baht, from Patong to Karen Beach is 100 baht. If you pay much more, you’re being ripped off.
What To Miss
It might seem obvious but the water is a no-no! You don’t want to be cramped up or over up in the loo for half your holiday. This includes ice in your drink, ice-blocks and freshly made cold drinks like iced tea.
If you’re going diving, be careful. There are some dangerous spots around and the instructors are not always as qualified as we might expect. Pay particular attention to safety around monsoon periods (May/June to October).
In the southern parts of Phuket the beaches can get a bit murky and muddy. Some people don’t mind it, so each to their own!
If you’re out partying, be careful. Buy your own drinks and don’t buy for locals unless you’re sure who they are and what they’re expecting…
Phuket has to be seen and experienced to be understood. Thailand’s top holiday destination lies in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of the country’s southern tip. It may have been overrun by tourism and modernization as hotels continue to spread out like mushrooms and tourists still come in herds, peak season or not. But there is one good reason for Phuket’s fame.
Its natural beauty is known all over the world and the recreational options are endless. White powder-like sands, crystal clear blue waters and a rich ecosystem are enough to keep Phuket on anyone’s list of dream retreats. You can either spend the whole day at the beach or dive and explore the underwater sights. Then for a grand end to a most relaxing day, pamper yourself in any of the fabulous spas. Thus there is no argument that Phuket is still Asia’s most popular leisure destination.
Phuket’s major card is its impressive lineup of beaches. Each has its own character and ambience; some are bustling with energy while others are wrapped in exclusivity. Generally, those at the south and west of the island have better beaches than the ones found in the west, which are more muddy.
One place to find the party crowd is Patong Beach. The area is jam-packed with tourists and further congested by hotels, restaurants and bars. Some may be put off by the polluted beach but the energetic vibe is definitely irresistible.
The second largest beach is Karon Beach, well-liked for its powdery sand and clear waters. The atmosphere here is not as chaotic as in Patong. The long strip allows you to choose your own secluded spot and laze around. Another plus would be the lovely coral reefs which encourage good snorkeling options. Right next to Karon is Kata Beach. This compact-sized beach is a hit among families. Though it has seen a lot developments, the beach is very pleasant with the mountains as backdrop.
Other beaches found in the north end are Kalim Beach and Kamala Beach. Rugged Kalim offers a good distance away from the bustling centre while Kamala beach is a peaceful spot further up the hill.
On the South end, Cape Panwa is a beautiful serene beach huddled by a thick forest. Resorts are built far from each other thus giving a bit of privacy for visitors to fully enjoy the calm beach. Same goes for Nai Harn Beach, utterly quiet and less developed.
Posh fills the air at Laguna Phuket in Bang Tao Bay where a group of upscale hotels hold fort. Its palm fringed beaches, though a bit narrow, provides a relaxing seclusion from the more vibrant areas in the north.
What else can you enjoy doing in Phuket? Watch the sunset from Phrom Thep Cape. Keep in mind though that there are others like you gathering around to view this spectacular sight so it’s pretty much a public affair.
Phuket’s biggest cultural attraction is Phuket Fantasea, an amusement park for both kids and adults. Visitors who have seen the 45-minute cultural show about the story of the magic elephant only have high praises for it! Intricate costumes and amazing acrobatics add up to the entertainment. For more fun with the animals and if you have time to spare, do drop by the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project near Bang Pae Waterfalls, an outreach project which aims to nurture abused gibbons.
On March, the island celebrates Thao Thep Krasatri and Tao Sri Sunthorn Festivals to honour the two heroines who fought for peace in the island during the Burmese invasion. The monument in Thalang District is adorned with colorful garlands.
It’s a wet and wild affair during the Songkran Festival in April, a nationwide event to welcome the Thai new year. Here in Phuket, it coincides with the celebration of National Fisherman’s Day with baby turtles being set out to sea as a form of thanksgiving.
Patong Carnival brings out the fun in November to welcome what else? The tourist season! There are parades, food fests and quirky beauty contests. A more rambunctious mood emanates when Gay Pride Festival sets in every year.
Another major Thai festival is Loy Krathong in October. Cute and lovely flower boats lit with candles are set adrift into the ocean. In fact, expect all of the waterways in Thailand lit up during this festival.
There are sporting events in Phuket as well. In November, triathletes converge for the Laguna Triathlon in Bang Tao Beach. Then on the King’s birthday in December, the King’s Cup Regatta gets underway at Nai Harn Beach with trendy boats coming in from all around the world.
- Hot and Dry Season (November – May) 25 - 31oC; sweltering heat, little or no rainfall
- Rainy season (June – October) 26 - 30oC; occasional heavy rain but the cool sea breezes ease the humidity and high temperatures
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