Surrounded by islands, Phuket is a launch pad for the region’s best diving. Indulge in other water sports like fishing and cave canoeing.
Phuket is a launch pad for some of the region’s best diving, surrounded by islands, both buzzing and tranquil. There’s also big game fishing and canoeing through rock caves to hidden lagoons and plenty of opportunities for water sports including paragliding, windsurfing and yachting.
On land, the glorious bays of the west coast offer luxury seclusion in the north and raunchy nightlife at Patong where beach parties draw crowds for some of the world’s finest DJs.
But the island also has a gentler side. The warren of small lanes in Phuket Town displays beautiful Sino-Portuguese architecture, a legacy of the island’s position on historic east–west trade routes. The temples are centres for the famous Vegetarian Festival, when people skewer their bodies with metal objects from knives to bicycle spokes. The local markets are good for bargain clothes, souvenirs and tasty streetfood.
North of town are spectacular themed culture shows, national parks with waterfalls to splash in, and thrills galore with bungee jumping and other sports.
Phuket, ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, has charmed people for centuries. Today it’s a pleasure island, and more popular than ever.
The best time is November to March, for sunny skies, low humidity and little rain.
Nationals from most countries are granted a visa on arrival, which is valid from 15-90 days. Details are at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Singapore nationals are entitled to 30 days. All foreign nationals need six months' validity on their passports. Sixty-day tourist visas are available from Thai embassies before leaving. All can be extended by 30 days at the immigration office.
The baht is the principal Thai monetary unit.
Metered taxis take 30 minutes from the airport to Phuket Town (around THB400). There are also buses leaving the airport for different parts of phuket, making several stops on the way (THB100).Small blue songthaew, which do a similar run for B30-40 (6am-6pm), are slow and infrequent. Phuket tuk-tuks are bright red four-wheeled minivans that you can hail anywhere. Bargain the fare before climbing aboard (the journey from Phuket Town to the beaches costs from B300)
No vaccinations are required to enter Thailand. Hospitals are good, but there are no reciprocal agreements with other countries, so arrange health insurance. There are 24-hour pharmacies across Phuket. Tap water is not safe to drink, but ice is generally fine in reputable restaurants.
|How are you?||Bpehn yahng-ngi?|
|Fine, thanks||Sah-bie dee korp-kuhn|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past)||Kor-toet|
|What's your name?||Kuhn chuee ah-ri?|
|My name is…||Pom/chahn chuee…|
|Nice to meet you||Yihn dee tee die roo-jahk|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Kuhn l`ehn fes-buhk/tah-wiht-ter mi?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Ihn-dter-neht kar-fe yoo tee-ni?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Pom/chahn jah reark tak-see die tee-ni?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Sah-tar-nee kon-song/rot-fi yoo tee-ni?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Dtoar teaw deaw/bpi glahp bpi…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Kuhn mee hohng sahm-rahp kon deaw/sorng kon mi?|
|When's check out?||Dtorng chehk-ou gee moeng?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Kuhn choary na-nahm rarn ar-harn/bar dee dee hi nohy di mi?|
|A table for two, please||Kor dto sahm-rahp sorng kon|
|A menu, please||Kor me-noo nohy|
|The bill, please||Chehk bihn doary|
|Where's the toilet?||Hohng-narm bpi tarng ni?|
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Kata Hill Viewpoint
At the peak is Kata Hill Viewpoint, from which the three bays of Kata, Karon and Patong spread out in one stunning panorama. This famous scene appears on postcards island-wide. A couple of small bar-restaurants on wooden platforms jut over the hillside towards the sea – good places to watch the setting sun to a soundtrack of reggae and soft rock. A little further on the road is Kok Chang Elephant Camp, where you can feed the giant beasts or book an elephant trek.
For Phuket’s busiest action – day or night – people flock to Patong. The beach heaves with sunburnt bodies, the seas are a blur of banana boats and jet-skis; malls full of shops stretch the wallet. At night take your pick of beer bars, pubs and hot DJs at clubs like Seduction Beach Club & Disco. Patong is also naturally beautiful, with crystal-clear waters that are good for swimming or snorkelling. Which, of course, is what drew everyone here in the first place.
Phang Nga Bay
The 40-plus islands here are formed of colossal limestone pillars rising from the water. One of the most popular is Ko Ping Kan, better known as James Bond Island because it was featured in the 1974 Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. John Gray’s Sea Canoe will take you there, and also into sea caves that lead to hidden lagoons.
On the outskirts of Phuket Town there’s a version of Bangkok’s cultural attraction Siam Niramit. There’s a replica floating market, restaurants selling Thai and international food and tableaux of village life, including houses representing Thailand’s four regions. End with a spectacular 80-minute show at 8.30pm highlighting aspects of Thailand’s history, mythology and culture.
The Big Buddha Statue
One of Phuket’s most impressive viewpoints is Ko Nakkerd, home to the Big Buddha Statue. The outlook towards the small islands clustered in Chalong Bay shows dramatic contrasts between the turquoise Andaman waters and the dense green island interiors. Fabulous breezes sweep the hilltop, which many people climb to see the 45-metre high Big Buddha statue at the peak.
Wat Chalong is the best-known and among the largest temples on the island. It is incredibly popular, and fills with coach loads of visitors, so it's best to visit in the early morning or evening to avoid the crowds. Built in 1837 during the reign of King Rama III, it houses the statues of three monks, two of whom are revered for nursing people during the 1876 Miners Rebellion. The temple also contains the Holy Phra Borom Sareerikatat relic, a piece of Buddha’s bones flown over from Sri Lanka.
Start the day at the Thalang Museum which documents Phuket’s past with historic exhibits and also honor Thao Thep Krasattri and Thao Si Sunthon, two sisters who played the big roles during the Battle of Thalang.
Later, visit the Sea Gypsy village at Koh Sirey, a small island east of Phuket Town. This fishing community is part of a traditional ethnic group who live by the Andaman shores or on boats wandering the waters.
Next morning, head to Put Jaw (Ranong Road), Phuket Town’s oldest temple, at more than 200 years, which is dedicated to Kwan Im, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Get your fortune told here using several traditional methods. Beside it is Jui Tui which is where the festivities of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival take place.
In the afternoon, explore the restored Sino-Portuguese buildings of Phuket Town’s old quarters. The beautiful Phra Pitak Chinpracha Mansion is now a branch of the international Thai restaurant chain The Blue Elephant and a good place for lunch. Later, visit the Thai Hua Museum which has exhibits on traditional local ceremonies, architecture and cuisine.
The China Inn (20 Thalang Road, tel: 66 7635 6239) has an antiques store, restaurant and garden café, while the Thavorn Hotel Lobby Museum (Rassada Road, tel: 66 7621 1333) has historical items ranging from tin-mining paraphernalia to toy trains and opium beds.
To get the morning adrenalin flowing, start the day off with Patong Go-Kart Speedway (118/5 Vichit Songkram Road, Moo 7, tel: 66 7632 1949). Their karts reach speeds of between 40 and 110km per hour, and there’s a good 750-metre racetrack, so there's plenty of room to build up speed.
And if that doesn’t do it for you, right next door is Jungle Bungy (Thanon Vichitsongkram, tel: 66 7632 1351), which allow daredevils to leap from a crane overlooking a beautiful wooded area towards the waters of Kathu Lake. It’s a breathtaking site – if you can keep your eyes open to enjoy it! They're fully licensed and insured.
Shake off lunch with an afternoon visit to Tiger Muay Thai (7/6 Moo 5 Soi Tad-ied, Ao Chalong, tel: 66 7636 7071). This well run training camp has various programmes for men and women of all levels. If you’re any good, they may get you a fight at Bangla Boxing Stadium. Apart from Muay Thai they also teach mixed martial arts, wrestling and yoga.
End the day relaxing over a spot of night fishing with Phuket Fishing Charters (48/12 Soi Sunrise, Chalong, tel: 66 81 370 3181). They have a good choice of boats and a strict catch-and-release policy for big-game fish.
Kids love the butterflies that flit magically around the natural rainforest environment of the Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World.
Later, head to northeast Phuket and enjoy a picnic lunch at Bang Pae Waterfall, in Khao Phra Taew National Park. A path from there leads to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. This non-profit organisation aims to stop the poaching of gibbons for tourist attractions and the pet trade. The animals are housed in large enclosures before being released into the wild. Although located within the national park, the centre receives none of the money from park fees and relies solely on visitor donations.
In the evening, bring the kids to the award-winning Phuket Fantasea. Here they can ride elephants and watch the nightly circus show, which combines acrobatics, pyrotechnics, illusions and performing animals.
Next morning, hire a boat from Rawai, in south Phuket and head for the islands. There are several to choose from, such as Ko Hae, Ko Bon and Ko Racha, and you can hop between them in half an hour or so. While there, do a bit of snorkelling.
If you have the energy when you get back, Dino Park, on the hill between Kata and Karon beaches, is prehistorically themed, with stone tables, jungle vines, and staff dressed in Flintstones costumes. Players on the mini-golf course pass bellowing dinosaurs breathing smoke from their nostrils.