Phuket is a stunning island located off the western coast of Thailand in the Andaman Sea. With miles of beaches, numerous luxury resorts and tourist-friendly bars and restaurants, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the country’s most popular destinations. To ensure you have the best getaway on this tropical island, we’ve outlined the nine best things to do in Phuket.
1. Lounge on the beaches in Phuket.
If you’re heading to Phuket, it’s almost undoubtedly to take advantage of the beautiful beaches found throughout the island. From bustling stretches of sand near bars to secluded, peaceful coves, there’s a beach for every type of traveler. Arguably the most popular beach is Patong Beach, a tourist-heavy area packed with bars, shops and nightclubs. Other popular beaches with lounger and umbrella vendors, food stalls, and gorgeous vistas are Kata Beach and Karon Beach (the third-longest beach in Phuket), where travelers can also parasail. Less-frequented beaches near Phuket International Airport include Mai Khao Beach and Nai Yang Beach, but the sea can be rough here during certain times of the year. For a truly secluded feeling, head to Freedom Beach, a small, crescent-shaped stretch that lacks sunbeds and has only one restaurant. Reaching it requires either a pricey long-tail boat ride or a mix of driving and hiking.
2. Tour ornate temples in Phuket.
While Phuket lacks the plethora of temples (wats in Thai) found in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, there are still some that are worth visiting. The largest and most famous is Wat Chalong (also known as Chaithararam Temple), which opened in the early 19th century and has a stunning ornate exterior, tons of gold Buddha statues, and firecrackers for good luck. Locals and visitors come here to pray and meditate. The oldest temple is Wat Phra Nang Sang, which is in north-central Phuket, an 18-minute drive south of the airport. Its elaborately decorated and colorful exterior is striking, and interiors have vibrant paintings alongside statues. A small reclining Buddha statue is also found outside, while a huge one can be found at the nearby Wat Sri Sunthon (Wat Lipon). There’s not a ton to see at Wat Sri Sunthon, but it’s worth a quick visit. Several other temples of varying sizes and levels of extravagance are scattered throughout Phuket.
3. Shop the street markets in Phuket.
Street markets in Asia are ubiquitous and revered for their plethora of cheap eats, handicrafts, and souvenirs. Phuket has a few shopping destinations, but there are two standout street markets. The Phuket Weekend Market (Talad Tairod) and Phuket Sunday Walking Street Night Market (also called Lard Yai) are both excellent. The Phuket Weekend Market takes place just outside of Phuket Town, every Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. Numerous vendors sell local foods — noodles, fruit and fish cakes among them — as well as an array of clothing and trinkets such as jewelry and Buddha statues. A bit more fun and unique is the Phuket Sunday Walking Street Night Market, which takes place in a picturesque part of the Old Town where old Sino-Portuguese houses line the street. Visitors can sample Thai sweets, chicken, pork ribs and more, or buy souvenirs such as indigo dresses, ceramic elephants and woven purses.
4. Revel in Patong nightlife.
If you’re looking to experience nightlife in Phuket, there’s really only one area to visit: Patong. The tourist-packed area has a popular beach, tons of budget-friendly hotels and numerous bars, nightclubs, and eateries. Most of the action is centered on Bangla Road, including Tiger Nightclub, Seduction Nightclub and Illuzion Phuket nightclub. Other nightlife options in this area include go-go bars, bars with live music, cabaret shows, muay Thai boxing matches and gay-friendly spots. Vibrant around the clock, this area is best for people looking to take advantage of all Patong has to offer.
5. See wildlife in Phuket ethically.
Travelers to Thailand often have visiting an elephant sanctuary on their bucket list, but the ethics of many can be questionable. Fortunately, there’s one spot where tourists can see those magnificent animals without guilt. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, located in the northeastern area of the island, claims to be the first and only ethical elephant sanctuary in Phuket, offering a hands-off experience. They rescue sick, injured and old elephants and let them roam free around the 30-acre property with water features. Visitors do not ride elephants or give them mud baths like at other so-called sanctuaries, but they do take part in feeding them fruit like bananas and pineapples.
If you’re looking for another wildlife experience, the nearby Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is an ethical center that rescues and rehabilitates gibbons to eventually be released back into the wild. The organization rescues gibbons that are being used as props for tourist photos or as pets, and rehabilitating them so that they can be reintroduced into their natural habitat. Visitors can learn about gibbons and the work the center is doing, as well as see some from center viewing areas, but they do not interact with the animals.
6. Go on a boat tour in Phuket.
The beaches and views from Phuket are undeniably lovely, but some truly spectacular sights can be found off the island’s coast. Several boat tour operators in Phuket offer day trips to the beautiful Phi Phi Islands, Khao Phing Kan (known as the James Bond Island for appearing in the film), and Koh Phanak. Most tours offer either snorkeling or kayaking in beautiful caves and lagoons, time on the beach and a hot buffet lunch. Additionally, most include transportation to and from hotels. Pro tip: Bring a waterproof phone case and/or GoPro to take advantage of the sea life.
7. Eat local Thai food in Phuket.
This perhaps goes without saying, but it would be a shame not to try all types of Thai food when in Phuket. From spicy curries to chicken pad Thai to papaya salad, there are so many delicious eats found throughout the island. Whether at cheap food stalls in markets or five-star hotel restaurants, tourists will undoubtedly see Tom Yum Goong (a shrimp and lemongrass soup), Gai Pad Med Ma Muang (chicken with cashews), and fried rice on menus. Don’t skip the fresh flavorful fruit such as mango, pineapple and papaya, plus more interesting options like mangosteen, pitaya and rambutan.
8. Take in the sights in Phuket.
Aside from pretty beaches and temples, Phuket has a couple of other sights worth exploring. Certainly the most famous is Big Buddha, a 148-foot marble statue just east of Kata Beach. The buddha is in the Maravija position, and given its position on Nakkerd Hill, it offers sensational vistas of the surrounding area and ocean beyond. There’s no fee to enter and visitors should wear something to cover their shoulders. For more scenic views of Phuket, head to Karon View Point (formerly Kata View Point). About a five-minute drive south from Kata Beach, this viewpoint provides a gorgeous outlook of the Andaman Sea and nearby beaches.
9. Get a massage in Phuket.
Thai massages are well-known around the world, and Phuket visitors and locals can get one throughout the island. Massage parlors are inexpensive and offer treatments such as traditional Thai massages, aromatherapy massages, coconut oil massages and body scrubs. Price points vary by location, and the cheaper they are, the more basic the facilities (an hour massage is typically around $10). Massage vendors are also along most beaches for those who enjoy oceanfront breezes and the sound of crashing waves.
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