Phuket is Thailand’s largest island and the jewel in the crown of the country’s massive tourism industry. With a very highly developed scene catering towards foreign visitors from around the globe, you can find all kinds of restaurants, bars, nightlife and enough activities to make your head spin. Phuket Town, the administrative capital of the island, is reminiscent of a dusty provincial town on the mainland, the main hotspots for tourists are Patong with its notorious nightlife on Bangla Road, then Karon, the second most developed part of the island, and then the quieter beaches of Kamala, Kata and Surin.
Arguably over-developed in places, during peak season Patong and Karon can get very busy with huge throngs of tourists, however, there are still several much quieter spots such as Nai Thon and Nai Yang, where you can relax on the beach in peace and not be pestered by people offering drinks, massages or trinkets. You can find almost any cuisine on the island, from Greek to Russian, Japanese or even Afghan cuisine, you will be spoilt for choice. And there is a huge range of accommodation from backpacker hostels for only a few dollars a night, to up-market boutique guesthouses, luxury 5-star hotels and everything in-between.
In addition, you’ll find a vast range of fascinating and exciting things to do, from beautiful beaches, amazing viewpoints, water sports, museums, zoos, a butterfly and insect world, numerous fascinating temples, an elephant sanctuary, huge shopping malls, buzzing nightlife and more courses, classes and workshops than you can count. So let’s take a look at some of the best things to do in Phuket.
Discover the Best Beaches
Undoubtedly a major draw for tourists, Phuket has many spectacular white sand beaches, with crystal clear azure waters teeming with tropical marine species. The beaches vary from very popular, busy and noisy, the busiest being Patong beach where you will be pestered by hawkers and Thai massage ladies, to secluded, quieter beaches where you might not see another person, such as Laem Singh Beach, which is nestled between Surin and Kamala beaches.
You can read a book, have a massage and top up your tan all at the same time, and the waters are excellent for swimming or water sports such as jet-skiing, scuba diving, kitesurfing, wakeboarding and many more. You’ll find vendors selling a range of food and drink on the more popular beaches, including Thai staples such as som tam with fresh crab, pad Thai fried noodles, and pancakes topped with fruits and chocolate sauce. Don’t forget your sunscreen or you will almost certainly get burned! To find out more information checkout our guide on the best beaches in Phuket.
Visit the Best Temples
If you’ve spent any real time in Thailand, you’ll be well aware that there are temples everywhere, however, no two temples are the same and it’s always worth going to see the biggest or most spectacular ones in the area when travelling the country. Wat Chalong is the island’s largest temple, just 8km from Phuket Town and has some spectacular sights including the Grand Pagoda, the largest structure in the complex, which is said to contain a genuine fragment of bone from the original Lord Buddha himself.
Another must-see is the Phuket Big Buddha, an incredible 45 metre high white Buddha built on the top of a hill a couple of kilometres inland from Kata Beach. Wat Khao Rang is also worth a visit to see the enormous gleaming golden Buddha, just north of Phuket Town. In addition to these temples, there are at least 20 more dotted around the island, and you will be welcomed at any of them, so feel free to stop and have a look around, just remember that there is a dress code for Thai temples, men must wear a shirt or t-shirt, no vests, and women must have their knees covered.
Go Island Hopping
It would be a shame to spend your entire vacation just on Phuket itself, as there are several much smaller, quieter and spectacular islands within the vicinity, the most well known being the beautiful Phi Phi islands which were ravaged by the tsunami in 2004. There is a vast range of trips and tours available, taking in sights such as the Similan Islands, James Bond Island, Phang Nga Bay, Maya Beach and some smaller island such as Koh Rok and Koh Ha, more information can be found here. Spending a night or two on the Phi Phi Islands is a fantastic idea, no motor vehicles are allowed on the islands, so it is a completely different feel to Phuket and plenty of bars to visit in the evenings.
The Similan Islands are in a Thai national park and are extremely popular with scuba divers because of the incredibly clear waters and the wealth of marine life, expect to pay a 500 baht ($16) entrance fee. Full-day boat tours start from around 900 baht ($29), depending on which package you choose, and prices increase dramatically if you want a private tour, expect to pay 9000 baht ($290) and up.
Tours & Activities Recommendation: In Phuket you’ll find travel agents and tour companies all over the place offering excellent tours and activities! whether you are staying in Patong, Karon, Kamala or even the less populated of the island such as Kata, Surin, Nai Harn, Rawai, Bangtao and Phuket Town. However if you want to plan ahead, you can conveniently book these tours online with Get Your Guide and Viator. Both of these tour companies have excellent customer service and we highly recommend them. Perhaps the best reason to booking online is that you can look at previous customer reviews and experiences to give you a good idea of what to expect! Both Get Your Guide and Viator also offer free cancelation, in case your travel arrangements change or change your mind.
Go on a Snorkelling Trip
If you’re not up for the hassle and expense of a scuba dive, then snorkelling is the next best thing, cheaper and more relaxing but still a fantastic experience. The warm waters around Phuket are teeming with a vast range of beautiful aquatic wildlife and coral formations and there are many locations in the vicinity well suited to snorkelling and swimming.
A full-day snorkelling trip, including visits to some smaller islands and bays with incredible coral formations, will cost around $90 (2800 baht) and includes hotel pick-up, use of equipment, lunch, snacks, water and insurance, for more information and to check availability or book a trip, click here.
As usual, many tour operators are offering various packages at different prices, if you want a private tour with a speedboat this can also be booked, but expect to pay more. The cheaper tours will usually be on a large, double-decker boat that will have a kitchen on board and will usually sell beers and soft drinks.
Thailand is well-known as an excellent place to do some diving, whether you’re a first-timer or a certificated and experienced veteran. The combination of the warm, clear waters, the vast abundance of various marine species and coral formations that you’ll encounter combined with very low prices make Thailand an ideal diving destination.
There are dozens of reputable dive shops around the island, offering everything from a single first dive for newbies, to several day packages including accommodation and opportunities to get your PADI certificate.
There are several excellent dive sites around Phuket, mostly located at some of the smaller islands, where you’ll find the coral reefs to be in a very healthy condition and you’ll get the chance to see species such as turtles, moray eels, octopus, cuttlefish, leopard sharks, seahorses, barracuda and many more brightly coloured and fascinating species.
Expect to pay from 2000 baht ($62) for a single first dive, to 3500 baht ($108) and up for a day trip including two dives. These prices include all tuition, gear hire, insurance, drinks and lunch, and often hotel pick-up too. For a PADI certificate, which takes around 4 days, expect to pay between 8000-12000 baht ($246-369) which will include everything you need as well as accommodation.
Spend a Day at the Spa
Phuket has some amazing spas where you can have all manner of massages, facial treatments, body treatments, reflexology treatments or any combination in a package deal. Spa treatment prices are much lower than similar services in the West, so a day of pampering and luxury won’t break the bank.
A very popular spa is the Raintree Spa in Phuket Town, for more information including prices click here. You can expect a 3-hour spa package to cost 3-4000 baht ($96-128), but many offer promotions so check out the spa’s website beforehand. You can find a list of the spas around the island along with contact details and customer reviews here.
Make sure you have at least one authentic Thai massage during your vacation, they are extremely good value and can make you feel fantastic for the rest of the day, expect to pay around 300 baht ($10) for a one-hour massage in a massage parlour or on the beach, but significantly more at an upmarket spa or resort.
Kayaking in Phuket is a great way to spend an afternoon and get some good upper body exercise in the sun. You essentially have two choices, you can hire a canoe and paddle and go exploring on your own, or you can go on a guided tour, which is probably a wiser solution if you’ve never done it before. On most beaches, you can find kayaks for rent for a few hundred baht and some beach-front resorts will have their own kayaks which you might be able to use for free if that’s where you’re staying.
Places such as Phang Nga Bay are very popular with kayakers because of the stunning and striking karst formations jutting dramatically out the sea, and you’ll find numerous operators there offering kayaks, snorkels, surfboards etc. for rent. For a guided tour, you’ll find several operators including PaddleAsia, a full-day tour will cost 4450 baht ($143), and includes all gear hire, insurance, lunch and drinks and transfer to and from your hotel.
Go Hiking in the Jungle
For many visitors to Thailand, a jungle trek has turned out to be the highlight of their holiday. A jungle trek is a guided hike of a few hours through the jungle, often visiting many interesting sights such as waterfalls, zip lines, temples, caves, hot springs, ancient ruins or even a tribal village. Your English-speaking guide will know the best routes and keep you safe from any dangerous wildlife or creepy-crawlies, you can expect to see crabs, tarantulas, freshwater shrimp, snakes, iguanas, frogs, many species of brightly coloured birds and even gibbons that live in the trees.
Again, because Phuket is so big, there are dozens of operators, and your hotel will be able to help you, or you can book online. Feel Phuket offers 3.5km, 2-hour jungle treks for 1600 baht ($51) and 4-hour jungle treks for 2300 baht ($74), which includes hotel transfers, fresh fruit and water, insurance and the Khao Phra Taew national park entrance fee which is normally 200 baht ($6.50).
Spend an Evening at Bangla Road
Bangla Road is notorious for its raucous nightlife and is one of Asia’s party capitals. Every evening, the road slowly gets busier until it’s packed with throngs of tourists from all part of the globe. The road is lined with dozens of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, massage shops and food vendors, however, it’s not really a family-friendly atmosphere as there is a very visible red light economy.
As soon as the sun goes down, this short, 400m stretch of road becomes a booming, buzzing place to come for a cheap beer and relax and meet like-minded travellers, and you’ll find live music bars, Aussie and Irish bars, go-go bars, Thai-style beer bars and modern nightclubs, Bangla feels like a cross between Khao San Road and Soi Cowboy.
On Bangla Road, you’ll also find plenty of places to shop for clothes, shoes and souvenirs, as well as some Western chains such as Starbucks and McDonalds, and many food carts serving fried noodles and other popular dishes to weary revellers.
Go Shopping at Jungceylon
Jungceylon is arguably Phuket’s biggest and best shopping mall, with a very decent range of shops, bars and restaurants including a Big C supermarket, many popular Western brand names as well as some Thai shops, a bowling alley, cinema and children’s play area. It’s a clean, modern and upmarket mall, you can easily spend a day wandering around and browsing the shops, before retiring for a meal and a drink at one of the many restaurants. They have the usual fast food culprits as long as well as an Aussie bar and grill, a fantastic steakhouse, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese sushi bar, a brewpub offering small-batch craft ales, and many, many more besides.
You’ll find Jungceylon about 10 minutes walk inland from Patong Beach on Rat-u-tit 200 Pee Road. Incidentally, the name “Jungceylon” is the old name for Phuket Island and comes from the name that the Portuguese traders used to use on their maps hundreds of years ago.
Accommodation Recommendation: You really are spoilt for choice when it comes to great places to stay in Phuket, from budget backpacker hostels, guest houses, beachfront bungalows, mid-range hotels to plush high end resorts. Whether it’s high or low season it’s always book your accommodation online before you go, our first choice booking provider is Agoda.com and Booking.com is also very good. Both of these booking sites offer free cancellation, just in case your travel arrangements change and customer service has always been excellent. To find the perfect place that suits you best, be sure to checkout customer reviews and experiences of other people before you make your booking!
Visit the Soi Dog Foundation
If you’re a dog lover, then a trip to the amazing Soi Dog Foundation, about a kilometre inland from Mai Khao Beach, should definitely be on your itinerary. It’s a non-profit organisation that takes care of more than a thousand homeless dogs and cats and was started by a British couple in 2003. It’s amazing to learn about all the good work that the foundation gets involved with all across Thailand, including a mass sterilisation program in an effort to reduce the number of stray dogs around the country.
They operate tours of the vicinity twice a day at 10:00 am and at 1:30 pm, but the shelter is closed at weekends. If you have a bit more time to spare, you can even volunteer, as they are very short-staffed at the moment, and always looking for people to help feeding and exercising the dogs. Entrance to the site and the tour itself are free, however, you would be expected to give a small donation, without which they wouldn’t be able to operate. For more information, checkout the Soi Dog Foundation website here.
Go to Monkey Hill
Monkey Hill is a spectacular viewpoint a couple of kilometres north of Phuket Town with an observation platform offering amazing panoramic views of the island. However, the main draw is the hundreds of monkeys that live there, and they are comfortable enough with people so that they will come right up to you and take fruit from your hands. It’s a great experience, especially if you’re travelling with children as the monkeys are living “wild” unlike the monkeys you’d see at the zoo. Just be careful with your belongings, as the monkeys can easily snatch a mobile phone from your pocket if it’s exposed. There’s no charge to visit the viewpoint, although note that there is nowhere at the hill to buy food so you’ll need to bring your own. On the way back down the hill, there are some restaurants and cafes where you can stop for lunch.
The SF Strike Bowl is found at the Jungceylon mega mall, a short walk from Patong Beach. They always seem to have the air-con cranked right up at the bowling alley, which offers some welcome relief from the oppressive heat during the daytime and the bowling alley itself is what you’d expect from one in any Western country. However, there is the added bonus of being able to order a range of delicious local dishes which are brought to your lane, highly recommended is “goong che nam pla”, which is a dish of raw shrimp served in a powerful mixture of lime juice and fish sauce, not something that you’d find easily in Thai restaurants abroad. And of course, a range of cocktails and beers are available including beer towers. You’ll also notice that there is a cinema adjacent to the bowling alley, so you could make a day of it if the weather is bad.
Take a Course, Class or Workshop
Phuket is a well-heeled tourist destination, and as such there is a vast array of interesting things to do during your holiday. From the more usual suspects such as Thai cookery classes, yoga workshops, Thai language classes, meditation and massage classes and Thai boxing sessions to the more obscure such as archery lessons, flying trapeze lessons, cocktail making sessions and yachting tuition, you’ll be certain to find something that interests you. You can even find painting and pottery workshops, motorbike and ATV off-road training sessions and even a basketball academy. For a comprehensive list of everything that the island has to offer, click here.
Visit The Karon Viewpoint
Located between the beaches of Nai Harn and Kata Noi, the Karon viewpoint is the island’s most spectacular and most popular viewpoint. Always busy with photographers trying to capture the beautiful north-facing vista which includes Phuket’s westerly beaches and the island of Koh Pu, you will also be able to see out across the island itself, most of which is still covered in a dense tropical jungle.
You’ll find the viewpoint a few hundred metres from Kata Noi beach, there are food and drink vendors and a gazebo to hide from the midday heat. The combination of the three beaches of Kata Noi, Kata and Karon, an island and the dense vegetation makes it arguably the best viewpoint in Phuket, however, if it’s too far out of the way, or you’ve been before, there are several other viewpoints around the island.
Windmill viewpoint, also known as Ya Nui viewpoint, is located between Ya Nui and Nai Harn beaches in the very south of Phuket, and offers beautiful views out across the Andaman Sea, although not as spectacular as the Karon viewpoint.
Khao Rang Hill, located just north of Phuket City on the edge of the Phuket City Fitness Park, offers excellent views out across the city primarily, but you can just about see out to sea on a clear day.
Radar Hill viewpoint is about 2km inland from Patong Beach and gives you amazing views of the developed area of Patong, as well as its beach and out to sea, and this viewpoint is, strangely, less well-known so you might be the only foreigner there.
The Kata Noi viewpoint is another good one, between Kata Beach and Kata Noi, only 2km down the road from the Karon viewpoint, so you could easily combine the two into one trip.
Watch a Sunset at Promthep Cave
Promthep Cave, on the southernmost part of the island, is a beautiful little spot known for its incredibly pretty sunsets and stunning views out towards the island of Koh Man.
Popular with tourists, it’s one of the most photographed spots on the island. There is a lighthouse, which is also a maritime museum, a few vendors and a small shop selling handicrafts and souvenirs, as well as a very reasonably priced restaurant that has a terrace with several tables in the perfect spot to see the sunset.
If you’ve arrived early and are particularly able-bodied, you can even make the steep trek down the promontory that juts out into the Andaman Sea. You’ll find Promthep Cave about 1km or just a few minutes drive south of Ya Nui Beach.
Visit the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
There are many elephant sanctuaries across the country but this one is the first ethically run one, so they do not force their elephants to participate in shows, nor do they allow riding on or crowding around the elephants, their well-being comes first here.
They offer several tours to visitors to help cover their very steep running costs, which mostly focus on education and allows you to see the elephants behaving as they would in the wild.
They also offer a one-week volunteer program for people who want to help out and have the time to spare. The sanctuary consistently receives rave reviews on various travel websites and is arguably one of the best things to do on the island, especially if you are travelling with children. For more information or to make a booking, click here.
Visit the Night Markets
Thailand’s night markets are fantastic for tourists. Bustling, noisy and chaotic, but with low prices on many items, including clothes, shoes, handicrafts, souvenirs or jewellery, and usually with a vast range of food and drinks to try without breaking the bank.
Phuket has many such markets, and any visitor to the island should make sure they visit at least one before heading home. The biggest night market is the Phuket Weekend Market, it has a vast array of goods available, everything from mobile phone batteries to second-hand shoes, and a huge choice of delicious foods to choose from. It is located on Chao Fa West Road, just outside Phuket City.
Chillva Night Market operates every evening except Sundays along Yaowarat Road and is a more trendy alternative with brightly coloured shipping containers and lots of interesting pubs, cafes and street foods.
Others worth a visit are Phuket City Walking Street Market every Sunday evening, Malin Plaza Patong, Phuket Indy Night Market and OTOP Night Market, but you’ll find several other smaller ones around the island.
Have a Night out at Simon Cabaret Show
Located in the Kathu Beach area of the island, the Simon Cabaret Show is famous for its glamorous performers, with lavish, over the top costumes and a high-tech light and sound system. Probably one of the best known “lady-boy” shows in Thailand, the show lasts just under an hour and is likely not something that you will forget in a hurry.
With incredibly detailed sets, the show features a lot of singing of well-known anthems, choreographed dancing and some tom-foolery in between and unlike many other shows of this type, is entirely family-friendly. Unless you visit Thailand it’s unlikely you’ll get the chance to see anything like this again.
Plan to pay around 500 baht ($15.40), with a small reduction for children. Two key points if you visit; the VIP seating is not really any different to the regular seating, it just costs more, and after the show, you’ll be mobbed by the performers to get photos with them, be warned that this is not free.
Visit the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
The Gibbon Rehabilitation project is located on the east of the island, about 2km north of the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. They are open every day from 9 am to 4:30 pm (except Thursdays) and entrance is free although there is a charge of 200 baht ($6.15) to enter the national park area.
Since 1992, the organisation has homed and cared for hundreds of unwanted gibbons that were rescued from tourist shows, the pet trade and poor quality zoos, with the aim of reintroducing them into the wild to build their numbers back up, as 40 years ago gibbons were poached almost to extinction in Phuket.
Fantastic for children, the centre is open 365 days a year, and although you can’t get up close to the gibbons, you’ll see and hear a wide variety of species and learn about how they rehabilitate the animals. You can combine your trip with a visit to the Bang Pae waterfall, which is only a few minutes walk away from the centre.