Phuket, Thailand's largest island and premier resort area has been built up in recent years with with a large amount of haphazard development. However, the picturesque white sand beaches, and lush islands remain, and renowned resorts provide an escape and tranquility. To the east, stunning Phang Nga Bay offers newer, exceptional properties such as the Six Senses Yao Nai. A multitude of world-class diving is just off shore and other activities, including golfing, wind surfing, kayaking, and mountain biking can be arrnged. If you're on a honeymoon, anniversary trip, or looking to play golf during your vacation, Phuket should be at or near the top of your list in the region.
Thailand’s southern island of Phuket ("POOH-kett") is the legendary destination of picture-perfect islands and beaches. Fringed with long sandy beaches licked by the turquoise and emerald-green waters of the surrounding Andaman Sea and covered in rubber tree plantations, fruit orchards and patches of untamed rain forest, the island also boasts an exciting nightlife and restaurant scene, as well as terrific shopping, whether that may be in traditional markets or hyper-modern malls. Sports enthusiasts can engage in a wide variety of activities from scuba diving and snorkeling to yachting/sailing, deep sea fishing, cycling, jet skiing, hiking, rock climbing, paragliding or kayaking – and anything in-between. World-class health and wellness resorts provide an extensive range of services from spa treatments to yoga and meditation classes to those visitors who prefer pampering their body and soul.
Due to its modern infrastructure and convenient location, Phuket also makes for an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding areas. Easy day-trips (or even over-nighters, if you have more time) allow visitors to discover the magnificent, almost other-worldly limestone formations dotting nearby Phang Nga Bay (including the world-famous ‘James Bond Island’), as well as other tropical islands in the Andaman Sea, such as Koh Phi-Phi, the Similan and Andaman archipelagos (both designated as marine nature reserves) or the tranquil islands of Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai with their quaint traditional fishing villages. On the mainland (to which Phuket is connected by a long causeway), the much less-developed beach resort town of Khao Lak beckons just as much as sprawling Khao Sok National Park with its excellent wildlife spotting.
Although Phuket is about popular beaches and islands, you may escape the crowds in places such as Nai Han near the southern tip and Kamala on the western coast, are relatively quiet in spite of major development across Phuket. Ao Nai Thon, Hat Nai Yang and Hat mai Khao, to the north, also remain quieter.
South Coast Beaches
Experience the ultimate Phuket serenity, visiting Hat Nai Harn and catch the sunset. Immerse yourself in the warm sea, sheltered by two long, jungled granite arms, and play in the waves or the tidal lagoon on the southern end if you have young children. Look out past the sailing yachts, rising and falling with the swell, and watch in awe as the sun creates a deep-orange streak in the sky. This is just one of many breathtaking moments awaiting you on one of the outstanding beaches in the Rawai region, often overlooked by tourists who flock to Patong, Kata, and Karon. If you're willing to take a short 10-minute car ride south, you'll discover three remarkable beaches that most visitors miss out on.
While Hat Nai Harn is the most well-known and arguably the most stunning beach in Phuket, there's another gem just north named Ao Sane. It can only be accessed by a road that runs beneath the yacht club and features only one snack shack and a small stretch of boulder-strewn white sand, making it a well-kept secret among locals. If you venture further south towards the Laem Phromthep lookout point, you'll come across Hat Ya Noi. Although it's a bit rocky, making your entrance to the sea less graceful, it's sheltered and surrounded by a rock reef that provides excellent opportunities for snorkeling or kayaking. This peaceful place provides a break from the glitz of Kata and to connect with nature.
Kata Noi beach is a small picturesque bay just a short drive from Kata beach, only a small beach but the scenery is breathtaking. From the viewpoint above Kata the bays of Karon, Kata and Kata Noi are visible.
Ko Phi-Phi Ko Phi-Phi, the jewel of the Phuket area comprises Phi-Phi Leh and Phi-Phi Don islands, is the epitome of Thailand’s most stunning islands and a popular feature of postcard perfect photos. Ko Phi-Phi is located 23 miles southeast of Phuket and is part of the Hat Noppharat Thara/Ko Phi-Phi National Park. The island's stunning scenery, consisting of picturesque hills, magnificent limestone cliffs, long beaches, crystal-clear waters, and diverse sea and bird life, is breathtaking. However, expect the uncontrolled over-development of Phi-Phi Don island is endangering the island's beauty and ecological richness.
Koh Yao Noi
From the northeast coast of Phuket lies one of Thailand's hidden treasures, the tranquil rural island of Ko Yao Noi, Thailand’s least developed. A relatively large island nestled in the middle of Ao Phang-Nga, the island is surrounded by towering limestone karsts with steep mountains draped in rubber trees and seemingly endless white-sand beaches. Our top luxury choice in Phuket is also here, the Six Senses Hideaway Yao Noi.
Kayaking Ao Phang-Nga
Enjoy a dusk paddle away from the crowds, embarking on an unforgettable kayaking adventure through pitch-black bat caves, leading to a hidden lagoon sheltered by colossal limestone cliffs towering above the sea. A tableau of a diverse array of wildlife including monkeys, sea eagles, orchids, and monitor lizards appears. Cruising these "hongs" (semi-submerged caves) during low tide is something extraordinary, while learning about the bay's fragile ecosystem and the effects of environmental threats. Admire the bay's remarkable translucence, a luminous display inspired by plankton that occurs around the full moon. Despite the threats to the ecosystem, Ao Phang-Nga has countless natural treasures that are impossible to ignore, particularly while gliding through the glassy lagoons at sunset.
Phuket's newest monument, this massive, alabaster stone Buddha was completed in 2010. An inspiring sight, with a spiritual energy and spectacular views to match, it’s set upon a hilltop just northwest of Chalong circle and visible from almost half of the island, featuring the best views in Phuket. Of course, you’ll be forgiven if you disregard the view for a few minutes to savor the silence, the soft wind and the rituals of the resident monks who stream around the revered property in saffron robes. And if you’re really ambitious, you don’t have to leave at all. Just check in to the free retreat center, live with the monks and meditate in the big guy’s holy shadow for as long as you like.
Wat Putta Mongkon is a convenient stop in Phuket town, Wat Putta Mongkon (also spelt Wat Buddhamongkol) has beautiful architectural features. This includes a yellow chedi (pagoda), a small bell tower and a Sino-colonial mansion used as a dormitory for the temple monks.
Cooking in Phuket
Learning to cook is one thing, but being taught by Tummanoon Punchun, an award-winning Executive Chef at The Boathouse, Phuket's renowned kitchen, takes it to a whole new level. Chef Punchun, who even travels to Europe to teach Thai cooking to acclaimed chefs in Switzerland and Germany, has been imparting his knowledge to hotel guests through weekend cooking classes for over a decade. These classes are held just off The Boathouse dining room, offering breathtaking views of Hat Kata. During the classes, you will not only be introduced to the herbs and spices that are the foundation of any Thai kitchen, but also how to use them without making the dish feel heavy. Chef Punchun claims that with the right technique, your curries can even help reduce fat and lower cholesterol levels. The best part? You won't have to do any prep work as the Chef's line cooks will handle the chopping. All you need to do is pay attention, learn, and enjoy the delicious food.
Reviving Body and Soul
Phuket shas the highest concentration of spa resorts and day spas in the whole of Southeast Asia. This doesn’t surprise so much when one is aware that Thailand is well-known for its centuries-old tradition of pampering body and soul. Thai massage (and we mean the purely therapeutic kind here, mind you) relaxes, soothes, rejuvenates and allows you to emerge as a “new person”. It is perhaps not overstated to claim that Thai spas are among the best in the world. Here’s a random selection of the crème-de-la-crème of Phuket’s spas:
After having passed through an opulent reception hall, visitors to Cheraim Spa Village encounter a charming village of yesteryear made up of single-storey Thai-style teakwood pavilions complete connected by cobbled pathways and interspersed with gurgling fountains and plenty of shady trees. Besides communal treatment rooms, private and luxuriously appointed suites are also available, and guests are offered different massage styles and can use the on-site sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi facilities. Meanwhile, the cluster of pavilions that makes up Tarntara Spa lies on the shore of a serene lake, the result of an abandoned open-pit tin mine that eventually filled up with rain water and is now inhabited by various fish and different species of water fowl. Among the day spa’s signature therapies are herbal body scrubs and hot stone, pebble or even sand treatments applied to relieve muscle tensions and stimulate the body’s energy flows.
But as far as spas go, nothing can challenge the position of palatial and unbelievably delightful Sukko Cultural Spa & Wellness Resort, whose stunningly beautiful buildings emulating the architecture of the ancient Siamese kingdom of Sukhothai are nestled between two densely wooded hills. Besides serving as a day spa, Sukko also provides a couple of dozen of opulently furnished teak bungalows for guests who wish to spend a few days at this little paradise, each of them equipped with its own private steam sauna, Jacuzzi and treatment room. Apart from a wide range of massage styles designed to achieve a specific effect (e.g. detoxification, re-energizing, relaxation, etc.), Sukko also offers a variety of classes like yoga, aqua yoga, meditation and even an age-old technique of self-acupressure and –stretching known as Rue Sri Dat Ton that is almost impossible to find anywhere else.
Thanyapura, Sports and Spiritual Wellness
Type A traveler? If your not just interested on Phuket for lazing in alounge chair or spending nights in the crowded dance clubs, then Phuket’s highly acclaimed Thanyapura may be to your liking. It’s claimed to be Asia’s very first and only integrated sports and leisure facility catering to both professional athletes as well as amateur sports enthusiasts. Situated on a huge 57-acre plot just about 15 minutes drive from the international airport, the super modern facility comprises the dedicated Thanyapura Sports and Leisure Club (TSLC) with an award-winning organic food restaurant and a 77-room sports hotel, the Thanyapura Mind Centre (TMC) encompassing a secluded and very quiet 38-room retreat hotel, the Thanyapura Integrative Health Centre (TIHC), and Phuket International Academy Day School (PIADS) attended by the offspring of Phuket’s wealthy expatriate community.
TSLC has an Olympic-size swimming pool, a training pool, several tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, a stadium for field games like soccer, rugby or football complete with a surrounding soft-surface running track, and of course a fully equipped fitness room with all the latest training machines. Thanyapura currently also is the only facility in Southeast Asia offering a hypoxia chamber for altitude training sessions. A team of professional coaches are at hand providing cutting edge programs in their respective fields: triathlon, Thai boxing, suspension training, competitive swimming and any other sports discipline you can imagine. The lush and peaceful countryside surrounding the complex invites to bicycle tours, whether those might be for the purpose of pure leisure or competition training. It is not without reason that Thanyapura regularly hosts national sports teams and individual athletes from around the world, and chances are that you’ll be running into a famous face or two when spending your own vacation here. Meanwhile, the Mind Centre offers a slew of mind training and health programs designed to detoxify your body and restore its natural balance. All in all, Thanyapura is a heaven for anyone seeking a more active and healthy lifestyle while on holiday.
Sail the crystal clear blue waters off Phuket through Phang Nga Bay Marine Park with the famous "James Bond Island," any other strikinging karst formations and islands on day charter trips to multi-day liveaboards. World-class diving, snorkeling and kayaking.
Phang Nga Bay is a marine paradise of over 40 islands covering more than 240 square miles in the Strait of Malacca just off of Phuket. Originally a limestone range of hills that was in pre-historical times flooded by rising sea levels. The results are vaulting cliff spires called karsts, caves, and rock pillars in abundance. A sailing and kayaking are the ideal ways to experience it’s quiet waters and stunning views. Both forests and waters support an almost uncountable variety of wild life and many ocean species visit the plankton rich waters to spawn.
One of the most amazing helicopter tours in the world, viewing the striking karst scenery off shore from Phuket from the dramatic vantage point of a helicopter. Phuket helicopter flights from a half-hour or longer can be arranged, swooping over the massive mangrove forests along the coast, shrimp farms – flying over, through, and around the toweringrock formations – deserted beaches and famous sights, such as James Bond Island.
Yet Phuket is of course not exclusively a sports and meditation retreat, but thanks to an incredibly broad array of interesting tourist attractions does cater to any type of vacationer for spending those few precious weeks in a meaningful manner. We’ve already mentioned the beach and water-based activities, but as a fully fledged international travel destination, the island of course has a lot more to see and do.
For a good 20 years now, the dazzling Las Vegas-style show of Phuket Fantasea has been an absolute tourist magnet. Yes, it’s wacky and not very accurate in presenting an authentic picture of traditional Thai culture, but it never has claimed to do so. Its sole purpose is to entertain through a mind-boggling procession of garishly costumed acrobats and plenty of native wildlife performing awe-inspiring acts (ever witnessed a conga line of elephants?) on the backdrop of fantastic stage decorations and supported by generously applied pyrotechnics effects. Phuket Fantasea’s extravaganza certainly is one of the top-10 things you should do while visiting. But if you dislike the idea of having to mingle with hordes of package tourists arriving by the busload, you might instead opt for one of the many smaller and more private cabaret venues around the island, often featuring transvestite performers. The most famous of those is Simon Cabaret Show in Patong Beach.
If that still isn’t your thing, you can just as well check out Phuket’s exciting restaurant scene. The island is an international holiday destination, and it clearly shows in the sheer spread of cuisines available. Whether you fancy Italian, Indian, Tex-Mex, German, Spanish, Greek, Turkish, West-African, Ethiopian, Korean, Japanese, British, Chinese, French, Russian or any other type of cooking, you can be sure that you’ll find it in the vicinity. But since you are in Thailand, why not try out the extraordinarily delightful local cuisine? There is a saying that claims that Thai cooking is so varied that it is possible to enjoy a bombastic meal every single day of the year – and still never be served the same dish twice. Phuket naturally features an enormous array of Thai restaurants, and since this is an island, the focus often is on fresh seafood. Nothing brings out the tropical atmosphere better than indulging in a mouth-watering seafood dinner in a cozy restaurant right on the beach, listening to the surf and gazing at an impossibly large and bright moon. After dinner you may want to hit the nightlife, with the raunchy bars and discos of Bangla Road being the nocturnal destination of – so it sometimes seems – half of the island’s tourist population. But then again, if you yearn for a quieter evening, there still are plenty of alternatives. Many hotels have sophisticated bars that more often than not feature soothing live jazz and lounge music over expertly mixed cocktails or excellent international wines by the bottle or glass.
During the day, you’ll be hard pressed to choose from an enormously large range of sightseeing options and activities. The streets of the old part of Phuket Town, the island’s capital, are lined by wonderful examples of Sino-Portuguese architecture, with the majority of the buildings being well over 100 years old. Many of them nowadays accommodate art galleries, souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants, so that wandering the warren of tiny alleys and small lanes makes for a very worthwhile excursion. Also popular is Phuket’s most prominent landmark, the so-called Big Buddha, a gigantic, white-washed statue almost 150 feet high and perched on top of Nakkerd Hill, from where you’ll have a stunning 360-degree view across the island. And if its breathtaking views you’re after, also visit the viewpoints of Kata, Nai Harn or Cape Panwa. Phuket also has no shortage of museums and other exhibition venues in case you need to spend an occasional rainy day indoors.
Some suggestions warranting a visit would be: Thalang National Museum (for history, archeology and anthropology buffs), Kathu Mining Museum (Phuket used to be a major global tin supplier), the Phuket Aquarium displaying countless native marine species including manta rays, sharks, colorful coral reef fish and even bioluminescent jellyfish, or Phuket Butterfly Garden & Insect World, where you cannot only literally walk among swarms of brightly colored tropical butterflies, but also observe close-up yuckier creatures like tarantulas, scorpions and giant centipedes. Once the rains have subsided, it’s of course time to hit the outdoors again, and if you’re adventurous and intrepid enough, check out places like Xtrem Adventures Phuket, a vast rope and tree climbing park where you also can zip through the tree canopy hanging from a flying fox. Another ziplining park would be Flying Hanuman in Kathu district.
There is so much to do and see in Phuket that this article could continue indefinitely. While we have tried to introduce some of the highlights this amazing tropical island destination has to offer, it’s simply impossible to achieve more than just scratch the surface. However, if you’re intrigued by the myriad of possibilities that await you in Phuket, please feel free to talk to one of our consultants, who will be delighted to assemble a program that suits your needs and requirements.
Snorkeling and Diving
The Thai islands are a world-class diving destination, with over 2,170 kilometers of tropical coastline on the Gulf of Thailand (Samui side) and Andaman Sea (Phuket and Krabi), featuring one of the richest marine faunas in the world. A tropical climate ensures year-round diving conditions in pristine waters with varied terrain and wide abundance of marine life.
For children, there are always snorkeling options right from the resort, or by short boat hops. There is also "snuba diving," a hybrid between snorkeling and scuba that does not require thorough dive training.
For diving, PADI certified dive centers are numerous and most offer children's specific training and certifications, including Seal Team. Ask for dive operators in Samui, Koh Tao, and Phuket.
Jungle Mountain Bike, Horse and Elephant Treks
Travelers often think of Phuket as white sandy beaches and not lush jungle, but the island features broad swaths and mountains of thick jungle canopy.
Our favorite family elephant encounters are in Luang Prabang and Chiang Rai, but no-riding elephant treks as well as horseback riding or cycling through the jungle can be organized with others or privately in nearby Khao Sok National Park.
READ ABOUT ETHICAL ELEPHANT CAMPS IN ASIA
There are also wide variety of wildlife and the island is a nesting ground for several rare species of birds. The Phuket Butterfly Garden and Silk Museum is located on the east side of the island. There is a huge collection of different butterflies, some nearly a foot wide. Visitors can also enter the insect museum nearby to see a variety of rare bugs and a bee house.
Kid's Clubs and Parks
Splash Jungle Water Park Mai Khao Beach (From 4 years old). Splash Jungle Waterpark covers 6,400 square meters of land. Located inside West Sands Resort on Mai Khao Beach, this attraction was designed by the Canadian company Whitewater Industries – one of the world’s leading water equipment makers - with parks at Disneyland and SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida and thousands more. Splash Jungle Waterpark features numerous waterslides of varying heights and speeds as well as a 335-metre ‘Lazy River’, ‘Boomerango’ rides and a spectacular wave pool.
Most larger resorts, including Le Meridien and Marriott, and offer children's clubs with broad activities far beyond day care. Programs typically run from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and children two to twelve are supervised and instructed in arts and crafts, Thai cooking lessons, sand castle building, as well as cartoon and movie time.
Samui also offers bowling, miniature golf, volleyball and other children's sport and arcade activities.
Kayaking, Sailing and Boating
Phang Nga Bay, northeast of Phuket Phang Nga Bay is an unforgettable ocean paradise. A distinctive feature of the bay is the sheer limestone cliffs that jut vertically out of the emerald-green waters. These islands are home to sheltered fauna that are possible to observe on certain tours. James Bond Island and Koh Panyee are just two of the more famous spots in this bays.
Catamaran charters can also be organized, gliding through the small island peaks of the park. Sunset cruises, half day charters, day charters and overnight trips to the neighboring islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Tao are also offered. Full-day deep sea fishing featuring coral fishing, trawling, and sea bed fishing is also available. Catch includes snapper, squid, mackerel, shark and barracuda.
Shows and Entertainment
Phuket Aquarium and Butterfly Farm Cape Panwa & Phuket Town (From 4 years old). Over 30 tanks bursting with freshwater and saltwater creatures give smaller visitors lots to reasons to point and say, “Mom, look!” The fascinating weirdness of the undersea world cannot be overstated: cuttlefish hover like spaceships, razorfish look like sinking sticks, and the so-ugly-you-can’t-help-staring stonefish could go by no other name. The diverse selection includes eel, crab, shrimp, sharks, and fish that range from brilliantly coloured to the cleverly disguised.
Phuket FantaSea is the island's biggest show. With trapeze artists, a cast of hundreds, performing elephants and other animals and an exotic storyline that blends tradition with fantasy you'll have a wonderful evening out here. But the extravaganza doesn't stop there as FantaSea is set in a theme park that offers carnival-like games, lots of shopping opportunities, a Palace of the Elephants, a Similan Adventure Centre several other food oulets. It's spectacular and extravagent.
Thai Boxing, or Muay Thai, is one of the most popular spectator sports in Thailand, and now gaining world renown. Exciting enough on TV with the boxers dressed in colorful gear sparring and circling with punches, strikes, sweeping kicks and artful feints are even more riveting when seen live.
Elephant Rides Chalong Area - From 4 years old Go trekking on an elephant in the hills above Chalong with panoramic views over the east side of Phuket Island. Meet young elephants and see how they are trained. The experience of riding on an elephant through the jungle is unforgettable as these giant creatures are unbelievably gentle and graceful as they make their way across difficult terrain. The elephant camp and trek are on top of a mountain in a superb natural setting.
Diving on day trips, charter, and liveaboard boats can be arranged in advance through Indochina Travel. If you prefer to keep your plans more open, arrangements can be made easily through your resort's dive center, activity desk, or nearby dive centers such as Dive Asia.
Koh Phi Phi
We recommend a speedboat trip out to explore the picturesque Phi Phi Islands. Day trips can be arranged through us or your resort.
Sirinath National Marine Park
A marine protected park has scenic beach and mangrove forests and some of the most pristine coral reefs found in the area.
Liveaboard cruises are active on the west coast of Thailand around Phuket, offering multi-day trips diving at beautiful dive places including the Similan Islands, Richelieu Rocks, and many other spots such as Koh Bon and Koh Tachai.
A Phuket holiday is popular not only for the bucolic secenery, but the world-class luxury resorts. It is particularly properties of this latter type that generally provide such a comprehensive range of services and facilities (they more often than not even have their own private beach) in a secure and safe environment that it’s basically unnecessary to leave their premises at all. Yet if you are keen on exploring the rest of the island, appropriate transportation can be easily arranged.
Amanpuri, an Aman resort, the Trisara, and Six Senses are top choices in Phuket. Anantara has a newer resort here (2008) and the Banyan Tree is also noteworthly. For family-friendly accommodation, we recommend the JW Marriott, located on the desolate Mai Khao Beach.
Opened in 2010, the Six Senses "sanctuary" provides a compelling alternative to the Amanpuri. On the rural island Koh Yao Noi (an hour off shore from Phuket) is now the most exclusive resort on the islands. The wellness theme permeates the resort and is the ultimate stress escape as one of our clients noted: "days quickly fell into a rhythm of treatments, organic food, workout sessions and alternative therapies from iridology to blood analysis...
The day is followed by perfect rest and deep, deep sleep. It can be hard to get to early morning yoga or kayaking because the bed is so comfortable." The rooms feature signs made with coconut husks, sugar palm leaf thatching, earthy tones, textured walls and natural light. There are 61 villas and two ubervillas - the Enclave and the Retreat on the Hill that are palatial compounds.
Miss the world famous "lady-boys" in Bangkok? You're in luck, Phuket is home to the famous Simon Caberet just off Patong Beach. "You will arrive relaxed but will leave confuses as our performers is more of a man than you will ever be and even more of a woman too."
Although Phuket has a tropical monsoon climate and is warm all year long, ideal weather falls from February through March. The rainy, or monsoon season is from September until October. During this time it is wet and very hot. April, May, and June are off-peak season months, best for avoiding the crowds. During January to April, there's not a big difference between the weather in Koh Samui and Phulet, but from May to September, Koh Samui and the Gulf of Thailand is a drier alternative to Phuket which sees heavier rain (about double than Samui on the Gulf of Thailand in some months). In November and December, Phuket is the drier alternative to Samui (see annual rainfall chart below).
Remote escape? Consider Koh Yao ("Thailand's secret island") and hour off the coast of Phuket by speedboat, but world's away in terms of development and crowds. If you're traveling during the summer, also consider Bali, which is enjoying its rain free dry season.
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