Phuket

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.

 

When to go

The best time is November to March, for sunny skies, low humidity and little rain.

Visa requirements

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.

Money

The baht is the principal Thai monetary unit.

Transport

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)

Health and safety tips

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.

Emergency details

Singapore Embassy:

129 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok (tel: (66) 2286 2111 or 66 81 844 3580 outside office hours, www.mfa.gov.sg).


Police:

Tourist Police National Hotline: 1155 (anywhere in Thailand), thailandtouristpolice.com

Basic greetings
English Thai
Hello Sah-waht-dee
How are you? Bpehn yahng-ngi?
Fine, thanks Sah-bie dee korp-kuhn
Goodbye Sah-waht-dee
Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past) Kor-toet
Thank you Korp-kuhn
Yes Krahp/kah
No Mi
OK Dtok-long
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?
Help! Choary doary!

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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.

Patong

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.

Siam Niramit

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

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.

Shop

Central Festival

74-75 Wichitsongkran Road

The 120,000-sq-metre Central Festival mall just outside Phuket Town is operated by Thailand’s biggest retailer. You will find big brands such as Body Shop, Dorothy Perkins and Toys R Us among shops selling chic fashion, beauty products, home decor, electronics and anything else you can imagine. Add the department store, restaurants, cinemas and a bowling alley, and there’s something for everyone.

Budget $$

Jim Thompson

390/44-47 Moo 1, Srisontorn Road, Chenglalay, Thalang

Jim Thompson is synonymous with quality Thai silk, and stocks a wide range of fabrics, clothing, accessories and home-decor items. Materials are usually sold by the metre, but items are also available off the rack. From its small beginnings in 1950s Bangkok, the company now has stores around the world, including six in Phuket and three in Singapore.

Budget $$$

Jungceylon

Rat-u-thit 200 Pee Road, Tabol Patong

Jungceylon is a cavernous lifestyle mall in the heart of Patong divided into themed zones, so everything is easy to find. Some 200 stores cover all the bases from fashion to sport and souvenirs, in addition to a Robinson’s department store and a large supermarket. To relax after a fruitful day of shopping drop into the cinema, spas and bars, a restaurant zone, a nightclub and a rooftop 'beach club'.

Budget $$

Lotus Arts de Vivre

Amanpuri Resort, Hat Pansea

Run by the von Bueren family, Lotus Arts de Vivre crafts collections of exquisite, mostly one-off pieces. They are particularly strong on jewellery, objets d’art and lacquerware, but also do a range of lifestyle and interior items such as sunglasses, furniture and carpets. There’s an Asian slant to much of the design. The prices are high, but so is the quality of the materials and craftsmanship.

Budget $$$

Ocean Bangla Patong

Thanon Bangla, Patong

Although Ocean Bangla Patong is an indoor mall with air conditioning it operates in many ways more like a market. Prices are not fixed and bargaining is the order of the day. Cheap clothes, mobile phones, cosmetics, handicrafts and cameras are just some of the items on sale here. But it also has a supermarket and a bowling alley. There are other branches in south Patong and Phuket Town.

Budget $

Phuket Weekend Market

Thanon Chao Fa, Phuket Town

You can pretty much find anything at the Phuket Weekend Market on the outskirts of town. Clothes, DVDs, watches and 'antiques' are among the more popular items, but you’ll also find toys, books and musical instruments. The market kicks off in late afternoon and runs till 10pm. And always haggle from the original asking price.

Budget $

Dine

Boathouse Wine & Grill

182 Koktanode Road, Kata Beach

The Boathouse Wine & Grill, a romantic beach-facing restaurant, has an extensive wine list with 24 labels by the glass. Upmarket yet casual, there’s a choice of indoor tables or alfresco decking and French and Thai degustation menus. The former has items like lamb loin, green asparagus, cepes, celery mash and vegetable tian. The latter has dishes such as the poached seabass fillet with lemongrass, chilli, lime juice and kaffir lime leaves.

Budget $$$

Da Maurizio

223/2 Thanon Prabaramee, Patong

Da Maurizio is one of Phuket’s finest restaurants, with waves breaking on rocks close to tables and flickering candlelight bouncing off the interior walls. The delicious Italian food includes dishes like Parmesan with eggplant and scamorza cheese, home-made pastas and beef Rossini. Advance booking is essential.

Budget $$$

Kata Mama

40 Thanon Kata

A popular family-run operation serving home-style Thai dishes and seafood, Kata Mama has been around for over 35 years. It serves favourites such as fried fish with garlic and pepper, and barbecued prawns with chilli sauce. They also have a place in Karon.

Budget $

L’Orfeo

95/13 Moo 7, Sai Yua

L'Orfeo is a wonderfully romantic spot with amazing sunset views, if you manage to get a table. Sirloin tips are a house speciality, served on wooden chopping boards with a choice of sauce. Desserts change regularly, but keep an eye out for the zesty lemon mascarpone mousse.

Budget $$

The Red Room

258/12 Moo 5 Bangtao beach, Srisoonthorn Road

Red walls and candles create a seductive ambience at The Red Room, owned by the Residence Resort. Sample starters like Caesar salad, dig into a choice of pastas and mains including roasted lamb rack. If you're craving for some local flavours, order the spicy seafood salad and chicken massaman from the selection of Thai dishes.

Budget $$

Tung-Ka Café

Rang Hill

Perched on the peak of Rang Hill, the popular Tung Ka Café has been in operation for more than 30 years. Plaa nueng menao (steamed lemon fish) is particularly good, and although the wine list is limited, there is no corkage fee if you bring a bottle. It is most impressive at night, when Phuket Town becomes a mass of twinkling lights.

Budget $

Stay

Amanpuri

118 Moo 3 Srissunthorn

One of Phuket’s most exclusive retreats, Amanpuri attracts A-list celebrities for the seclusion of its location, a private beach and a fleet of luxury boats. It is all under-stated elegance in its traditional Thai-style villas and among its several restaurants is Naoki, serving contemporary French-Japanese kaiseki.

Budget $$$

Angsana Laguna Phuket

10 Moo 4, Thanon Srisoonthorn, Bang Tao

Angsana Laguna Phuket is a large and luxurious resort on its own small island in the centre of a lagoon, with Bang Tao beach at the front and forests at the back. Lagoon-style pools wind through the property, while facilities incude seven restaurants and bars and the huge Xana beach club, which attracts international DJs like Paul Oakenfold and Frankie Knuckles.

Budget $$$

Boomerang Village Resort

9/11-13 Soi 10, Thanon Patak, Kata

Situated in the hills above Kata, the Boomerang Village Resort has tasteful room in low-rise chalet buildings amid gardens with a swimming pool. There are bicycles and motorbikes available for hire and a shuttle service to the beach. The restaurant serves Thai and Italian food and all rooms have free Wi-fi.

Budget $

Burasari Resort

18/110 Soi Ruamjai, Patong

The decor at Burasari is a smart blend of contemporary and Thai styles, and the grounds are a maze of exotic plants, flowers and waterfalls around a swimming pool. The resort is only a minute’s walk down a quiet street to the main beach road, keeping it secluded yet close to the action.

Budget $$

Expat Hotel

163/17 Thanon Ratutit, Patong

Lots of repeat guests testify to the appeal of the Expat Hotel. It’s situated on a back road near the mayhem of the central street of Soi Bangla, and just a five-minute walk from the beach. The rooms are clean, service is friendly, and there’s a large swimming pool. The old-style decor keeps prices lower than many Patong hotels in the same price range, making it great value for money.

Budget $

Kata Beach Resort and Spa

1 Pakbang Rd, Tambon Karon

A prime location on Kata Yai beach and good facilities make the Kata Beach Resort and Spa an excellent family choice. Couples also benefit from an adults-only swimming pool and a romantic sea-facing restaurant.

Budget $$

Laguna Phuket Triathlon

Date varies in November

International competitors – some of them world class – line up for a punishing 1.8km swim, 55km bike-ride and 12km run through the tropical scenery.


Phuket Bike Week

Date varies in April

Patong roars with motorbikes and bands in this week-long event dedicated to life on two wheels. Customised choppers, tattoo exhibits and lots of beer draw big crowds year on year.


Phuket King’s Cup Regatta

5 December - 11 December

Thailand’s best-known regatta is held in honour of the King’s birthday. It attracts sailors from around the region and beyond.


Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Date varies in October

A Chinese Taoist festival in which adherents abstain from meat and sex and perform religious rituals that involve walking on coals and driving sharp objects through their bodies.


Songkran

13 April - 15 April

Nationwide festival with a party atmosphere and big water fights based on traditional water sprinkling rituals for merit-making in temples.



Culture

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.

Adventure

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-friendly

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.