Things to do in Phuket | Travel Guide for Phuket
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Thailand's largest island is also one of its most popular destinations — and for good reason. Phuket has a staggering array of beaches, cultural sites, dining options, nightlife, natural beauty, activities, and much more, so however you want to spend your time, and whatever your budget, you’ll find plenty to see and do. To give you some inspiration, here's Travelzoo’s guide to where to go and what to see in Phuket.
Hit the beach
Tropical Phuket has plenty of beaches to choose from, and because the best ones are on the island's west coast, you can stick around and watch the sun setting over the Andaman Sea. Patong, Kata, and Karon are among the most popular, thanks to their size and proximity to facilities, but if you're looking for somewhere quieter, Kata Noi, Nai Thon, and Surin — known for its celeb-spotting opportunities — are good alternatives. Uncrowded Bang Tao is also a hit for its long stretch of white sand, as well as its restaurants and shops.
Explore Phuket Town
For a change of scenery from the resorts, head to the island's capital, Phuket Town. You can stroll down streets flanked by Sino-Portuguese architecture and sample local cuisine with its heavy Chinese influence in Michelin-rated restaurants. You'll also discover museums including the Thai Hua Museum, which has exhibitions on the island's rich history, and the Phuket Trickeye Museum with its large trompe l'oeil paintings, plus Taoist shrines, Buddhist temples, and an abundance of night markets (see below). Added to the mix are coffee shops, galleries, boutique hotels, and reasonably priced guesthouses.
Get into the festive spirit
Thailand is known for its lively, colourful celebrations, and Phuket is no exception. During the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, also known as the Vegetarian Festival (taking place this year in October), people visit Chinese temples and feast on vegetarian food from street stalls. Events take a somewhat eyewatering turn when some participants pierce their cheeks with sharp objects and thread all kinds of items through the resulting hole — which might put you off eating meat anyway. Loy Krathong, taking place on 19 November in 2021, sees people heading to the nearest body of water and floating away offerings for good luck. Other annual events include Chinese New Year in January and Songkran (Thai New Year), in mid-April.
Take a trip to the Phi Phi Islands
Phuket is surrounded by many beautiful smaller islands that are popular for day trips. These include the Phi Phi Islands, the largest of which, Koh Phi Phi Don, is home to one of Thailand's most famous views. Climb up to a viewpoint and you'll see how the two parts of the island are joined together by a low strip of land flanked by beaches. Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Leh island, gained fame as the main location of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, "The Beach". This popular beach is sometimes closed to visitors to allow the coral to recover.
Discover James Bond Island
Staying on a film theme, you can also take a trip from Phuket to Ao Phang-Nga National Park, with its wonderland of karst limestone islands that rise out of Phang Nga Bay. One of these, Koh Khao Phing Kan, is known as James Bond Island, thanks to its appearance as Scaramanga’s hideaway in "The Man with The Golden Gun"; 007 fans will recognise the tiny mushroom-shaped Koh Tapu island, nestled in a spectacular bay. Kayaking tours are a great way to get up close to the national park's islands.
Hang out with the animals
There are many opportunities to encounter Thailand's diverse wildlife in Phuket. The Green Elephant Sanctuary Park is home to Asian elephants rescued from abusive situations. Visitors can learn more about this magnificent creature, and can even help feed and bathe them (riding them is strictly forbidden). You can see more of the conservation work that goes on in Phuket at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which works to reintroduce gibbons into the wild. Acquaria Phuket, meanwhile, offers you a glimpse into Thailand's undersea world without getting your feet wet. You could also walk up to Monkey Hill viewpoint — the origin of its name will become apparent when you see the macaques that roam around this beauty spot above Phuket Town.
Grab some me-time
Phuket is an ideal destination if you're after some serious holiday relaxation. The island is full of spas and wellness centres that offer a variety of treatments from a quick beachside massage to a full day's pampering complete with scrubs, massages, sauna, and aromatherapy, and there are spas for all budgets. It’'s the perfect place to try out a Thai massage, during which you'll be stretched and kneaded into a state of deep relaxation. Many spas also offer yoga and meditation, or there are several retreats on the island, some offering 30-day courses.
Browse Phuket's night markets
If you're looking for souvenirs, clothes, accessories or just a bite to eat, spend an evening in one of Phuke''s night markets. Phuket Town has the widest selection, including the Sunday Walking Street Market along Thalang Road — it's full of stalls selling food, gifts, second-hand items, and handicrafts. Also in Phuket Town, the Phuket Indy Night Market features fashion and crafts from young designers, plus food and live music. Away from the capital there are plenty more night markets, including in Bang Tao, Patong, and Kata on the west coast, and Rawai in the south.
Play spectacular golf courses
With its stunning courses, Phuket is a popular destination for golfers. Perhaps the most striking is Red Mountain Golf Club. Built on a former tin mine in the island's centre, the course winds its way through jungle, past lakes and between spectacular outcrops of red rock, and is challenging for all abilities. Among several other courses on the island are Mission Hills Phuket Golf Resort in the north — which is fringed by rubber plantations and mangrove forests — and Phuket Country Club, close to Phuket Town, with its pretty landscaping.
Try some watersports
Surrounded by warm seas, Phuket is an ideal watersports destination. There are many scuba diving centres, and popular dive locations include Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands, while liveaboard trips take you to sites further away like the Similan Islands, Koh Phi-Phi, and Koh Lanta. If you’d prefer snorkelling, you can rent or buy equipment in many resorts. Surfing is popular in low season (May-October), when surf schools open and the waves are ideal for beginners — Kata, Kata Noi, and Kamala are popular spots. Alternatively, you can ride an artificial wave at flowboarding centres in Patong and Kata. Other watersports offered in Phuket include wake boarding, kite surfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, windsurfing, and hobie cat sailing.
Learn to cook Thai Cuisine
Whether you want to try well-known dishes like pad thai, som tam, or tom yum goong, or learn important techniques like making coconut milk and curry pastes, there are plenty of cookery courses on offer in Phuket. Naturally, it’s important to find the best ingredients, and Blue Elephant Cooking Class is among schools that include visits to a local market as part of their courses. Phuket Thai Cooking Class by VJ in Kata Beach is ideal for the whole family as children are welcome to take part.
Take a hike
Head to the interior of Thailand’s islands and you’ll usually find waterfalls, and Phuket is home to several. Khao Phra Thaeo National Park in the north has the island's last significant tract of virgin rainforest, and contains the Bang Pae and Tonsai waterfalls (note that these are best seen in the wetter low season), which are linked by an 8-kilometre walking trail. For a shorter walk, there are several viewpoints on the island that are well worth visiting, including Karon View Point, where you can look out along the coast and see a series of bays. For great views over Phuket Town, head up to Rang Hill — you can reach the top within 30 minutes’ walk from the city.
The "infamous west-coast sin city of Patong, home of hangovers and go-go bars" (Lonely Planet) might not be to everyone’s taste, but plenty of people head there for its long stretch of beach and its neon-lit nightlife. During the day, you can laze on a sunbed, or do some watersports. You can also watch Thai boxing (Muay Thai) — there are regular fight nights at Patong Boxing Stadium featuring fighters from around the world. Nightlife centres around Bangla Road, home to a multitude of bars, loud music, street entertainers, and much more. Competition between bars means it can be an inexpensive place for an evening's drinking.
Find spiritual enlightenment
There are many shrines and temples among Phuket's cultural sites. The popular Wat Chalong has a lot to see, so start your visit early to avoid the crowds. It is said that the site's Grand Pagoda contains a fragment of one of the Buddha's bones, while you can also gaze up at the tall chedi (stupa), count the 36 golden Buddhas, and stroll by the lotus pond. Other sites include the Jui Tui Shrine with its statues of Chinese gods, and the Taoist Shrine of the Serene Light, known for its etchings and vaulted ceiling. Another important religious site, the Big Buddha, is a 45-metre-tall white-marble statue on a hilltop from where there are panoramic views of the surrounding coastline.
Try something new
Phuket offers many opportunities to try out a new activity. Among the options is Flying Hanuman, where multiple ziplines stretch between the trees in a stunning jungle setting. At Footballcrazygolf, you can swap your golf clubs for trainers and play a round of footgolf — an ideal activity for all the family. For a bird’s-eye view of Phuket’s best sights, you could take a helicopter tour taking in the island’s beaches, Phang Nga Bay, James Bond Island, and Koh Panyi Floating Village.
Nick Elvin contributed to this post.