Make the most of your trip to Phuket
Phuket amongst travellers brings mixed feelings and mixed emotions, and I wanted to really give you a taste of what to expect if you do decide to visit Thailand's biggest island.
Firstly I think you should absolutely, 100% visit Phuket. It is an island that offers everything to everyone, and if explored in the right way you will fall in love immediately and want to return again and again.
Peoples general perception of Phuket is Patong beach, famous for ladyboy bars, sex tourism, and infamous for one of the worst places hit by the 2001 Tsunami. Patong Beach is a mix of Khao San Road and Soi CowBoy in Bangkok, with white sand beaches thrown in. Travellers flock there in their thousands every year, but my advice to you would be to skip it; or maybe stay a couple of nights just to experience it, then get the hell out of there.
Hire a car or a motorbike and explore the island. Visit the incredible beaches that decorate the coastline of Phuket. Snorkel and scuba dive in the crystal clear waters that surround the bays. Ride the quintessential Thai longboat over to nearby Krabi or Railay Beach. Shop till you drop at the famous markets based in Phuket Town and Katon Beach. Do all of these things, away from the heavily commercialised Patong Beach (it has a Starbucks & KFC, enough said), and see the real beauty and uniqueness of an island that many expats call home.
Why travel to Phuket?
One of the great things about Phuket is that it is a real mix of luxury hotels that line the beaches on the western coast, and really quaint, charming, budget accommodation, spread throughout the rest of the island. I've visited Phuket twice. The first time I was a young, naive traveller staying in Patong Beach, and the second time I travelled all around the island with my partner & fell in love with it, and our adventures. I almost didn't return back the second time, which is why I urge you to give Phuket a second chance, if like me you were put off by the first.
Things to do in Phuket:
Visit Nai Harn Beach:
We stayed here and it was so beautiful. White sand beaches, crystal clear & beautifully blue, warm water to swim in. And to make it even more appealing - it's not a busy Thai beach, so you don't feel swamped by the crowds.
Visit the temples:
The Big Buddha pulls the tourists in on Phuket, and if you look up when walking/driving you can see it sat ever so comfortably on the Big Buddha Hill. Head up there for a culturally, spiritual experience, not forgetting to be respectful with what you wear and where you take photos.
Wat Chalong should be next on your list, and is probably the most famous out of 29 Buddhist monasteries on the island. It has an association with what you might call "famous" monks and because of this many Thai people visit this temples from all across Thailand to be blessed.
Check out Phuket Town market:
Known as Naka market, this weekend shopping fest is a travellers dream, with so many different and unique things to buy & take home. Fashion in Thailand is so mixed, and you can pick up so many great purchases to take on the road with you, to make your travel fashion that little bit more exciting.The food market is a foodies dream, and you can pick up Thai delights from each stall, for as little as 50 Bhat each (£1/$1.50)
Visit the viewpoints:
Phuket is very hilly, & because of this you are blessed with many viewpoints (around 10), spread all across the island. So get your camera and selfie stick ready, for some seriously awesome "Instagram worthy" shots. Travel photography at its best. Below is a list of some of the best ones:-
- Promthep Cape (the most popular)
- Big Buddha HIll in Chalong
-Rang HIll in Phuket Town
- Windmill viewpoint
- Karon viewpoint
- Wat So Siray on the East coast of the island
- Khao Khad viewpoint
Rent a motorbike:
Always give yourself the freedom to explore an island, and on Phuket that freedom is best delivered in the form of a motorbike. It'll set you back around 200/250 Bhat a day, which is around £5 (English pounds).
Avoid Patong Beach:
To repeat what I said earlier, if you must visit, only give yourself a day or so. You don't want this to be your Phuket experience.
Eat street food:
This one speaks for itself, and should be done wherever you are in Thailand. Street food is always the tastiest, most authentic and cheapest. Dinner and mixing with the locals - perfect travelling combination.
Learn to cook some Thai dishes:
Visiting Thailand must always be accompanied by learning to cook a Thai dish, and more often than not it will be a Pad Thai or a Green Thai Curry. There are so many places to choose from on the island of Phuket, and there wont be much difference between them in terms of price, and quality. So embrace your inner Jamie Oliver/Gordon Ramsey and get cooking.
Snorkel and Scuba Dive:
Snorkelling/Diving on & around Phuket is an underwater dream. Check out these places for the best spots:
- Paradise beach
- Nearby islands (Similan Islands/Koh Lanta/Koh Phi Phi
- Banana beach
- Ao Sane Beach
- Laem Singh Beach
Kitesurf at Chalong Bay:
From November through to April this is a great kitesurfing spot, and there are many schools that line the beach there. It's not really a sunbathing beach, but I managed it whilst my partner was out on the water. I've put some links to some schools below:-
Also check out Nai Harn Beach for the other half of the year, where the kitesurfing spots switch across, so theres always the ability to kite surf on the island.
Take a day trip to nearby Krabi:
Krabi is a beautiful island, and if you can get over to the unbelievably stunning Railay beach, it will more than make your trip. You can reach Krabi by private taxi, mini bus or ferry. I would always recommend the ferry. It's cheap and only takes 2-3 hours. Plus you're out on the water, not cooped up inside a vehicle, and you get to see Thailand from the sea.
Be cultured & visit the Thalong National Museum
Learn about the history of Phuket & see some of the items that were used in the war against Burma. 30Bhat (75p/$1) entry.
Visit Ao Chalong & Rawai beaches:
These beaches are authentic and rustic, with long tail boats docking in at the shores, and surrounding restaurants that cook exceptional well flavoured Thai food.
Go to a Muay Thai fight
A huge tradition in Thailand and a sport they pride themselves on. It can be very entertaining to watch, and many people from all over the world visit Phuket to train in their Muay Thai centres.
Visit the nearby islands
There are so many islands close to Phuket. If you're feeling really adventurous you can even go as far as, to cross over into Malaysia, and visit the breathtakingly beautiful Langkawi island. If that's a little too far afield, I would definitely recommend Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi, Similan Islands, Racha Islands, Coral islands and the Koh Khai islands.
Checkout the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
Gibbon monkeys and waterfalls, what more could you want? Very informative centre, that shows you how they have rescued and cared for these Gibbons, that now roam freely through the grounds. Very cute!
Avoid Tiger Kingdom
Don't be naive enough to think that you should be able to get up close and personal for a photo with a beast as big as a tiger. It's not fair, it's not right and it will just make your experience a little tarnished. That said if it's what you want to do, who am I to stop you.
Take a boat trip to Phang Nga Bay
Revel in the huge limestone cliffs, collapsed caves and emerald green waters as you cruise through Thailand's waters and enter a world that will leave you with your mouth hanging open the entire time. Truly awe inspiring and unbelievable to see with your very own eyes. A must.
Visit Karon & Kata Beaches
Great for families, these beaches are big and have all the facilities you will need to enjoy your days in the sun. It can be quite touristy here, but the beaches are exceptional and worth a visit.
Flights to Phuket are cheaper than they ever were, and from the UK you can secure an indirect flight for as little as £295 return. My partner and I travelled Air China, via Beijing and even though the flight time in total was 18 hours, it was so worth it, and full of adventure. I urge you to do the same. Phuket is an island that you will love. If you give yourself the chance to see the real Phuket, its energy, essence and beauty, than it will live on in your memory as one of the best trips you've taken.