Watching the sun set at Kata Beach in Phuket
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Phuket is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand, known for its gorgeous white sandy beaches (check out 11 of Phuket’s most beautiful beaches here), stunning sunsets and abundance of shops, bars and restaurants.
For some, Phuket is the ultimate holiday destination in Thailand - its history of welcoming tourists means that getting around in Phuket is very easy and many of the local Thai people in Phuket speak a good level of English too. However, Phuket is often overlooked by some travellers, deeming Thailand's largest island as too 'touristy', but they would be missing out because Phuket is beautiful and whether you enjoy a party atmosphere or are looking for a more peaceful break, there are so many great things to see and do in Phuket!
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Whether you're looking for a relaxing holiday, spent lying on a beach, or are in search of some great nightlife, Phuket has something for everyone! Here’s 15 great things to see and do in Phuket, Thailand.
15 Great things to see and do in Phuket in 2022
1. See Phuket’s famous Big Buddha
One of the most well known sights in Phuket is the Big Buddha. There are several Big Buddhas in Thailand, including the big white Buddha in Pai, but Phuket's Buddha is one of the largest. The 45m tall white marble statue sits high on a hill in Karon and can be seen from almost anywhere in the south of Phuket. It is a steep drive up to the Big Buddha and when you get there, you will have to walk up 94 steps to get to the statue, but you will be rewarded with stunning views over Phang Nga Bay, Kata Bay and Kata Noi Bay. When visiting the Big Buddha in Phuket, make sure that you are dressed appropriately with your knees and shoulders covered (if you forget you can buy cover-ups when you arrive). Also, watch out for the monkeys! Never feed them and hold onto your belongings as they have a habit of stealing things! Building work only began on the Big Buddha in 2004 and some parts are still under construction, however despite this, it still remains one of the most popular things to see in Phuket.
2. Visit Phuket’s stunning sandy beaches
Phuket is blessed with soft, white sandy beaches and clear, calm waters, which is why some of the best beaches in Thailand can be found in Phuket. The majority of Phuket’s most beautiful beaches can be found along the west coast, and there are plenty to choose from! If you are looking for something more lively, with plenty of bars and water sports, head to Patong beach. If you prefer something quieter, the secluded coves of Freedom beach and Kata Noi are perfect, Nai Harn beach is great for families and for long stretches of quiet sandy shoreline, Karon beach is your best bet.
Nai Harn beach
3. Watch the sunset at Promthep cape viewpoint
Thailand is well known for its beautiful sunsets and Phuket has some of the best! Promthep Cape is the most southerly tip of the Island and is one of the most photographed locations in Phuket. Located on a small peninsula between Nai Harn beach and Raiwai beach, it's one of the best places in Phuket to watch the sunset and visitors arrive here by scooter, car or taxi every night.
4. Watch the sunset at Windmill viewpoint
Windmill Viewpoint is another well known spot in the south of Phuket for watching the sunset. Located between Nai Harn beach and Yanui beach, you can reach the viewpoint either by car, scooter, or a short 20 minute uphill walk from Nai Harn beach. From Windmill viewpoint you can see across into both Nai Harn and Yanui bays, and watch the boats bobbing on the water as the sun sets in front of you. You might also find people paragliding from this spot too.
Watching the sunset from Windmill Viewpoint
5. Visit Karon viewpoint
Karon viewpoint sits inland, high above Kata Noi beach and can be accessed directly from the main road. It is sometimes known as ‘Three Bays viewpoint’ because of the gorgeous views down to Kata Noi bay, Kata Bay and Karon Bay. The view here is beautiful, with glistening blue sea, golden beaches and lush green forest. There’s no entry fee to see this viewpoint, simply park up and enjoy the view!
The Three Bays seen from Karon viewpoint
6. Party on Bangla road
Bangla Road is Patong’s famous walking street. Known as the ‘party street’, it is the liveliest walking street in Phuket and one of the island's top nightlife spots. Along the 400 m Bangla Road, you’ll find live music, rooftop bars, nightclubs and Thailand’s famous go-go bars! It opens from 6pm, but get’s busier as the night goes on. Note: At the time of travelling to Phuket in February 2022, covid restrictions were still in place and there was a lack of tourists. Businesses in Bangla Road (like everywhere in Thailand) have been heavily impacted by the pandemic and are still recovering, meaning that some bars were closed and some were much quieter than usual.
7. Stroll around Phuket Old Town
Phuket Old Town is an area in the centre of Phuket Town, known for its Colonial (Sino-Portuguese) architecture. The buildings in Phuket’s Old Town are beautifully painted in bright colours and a walk down the main Thalang Road is a must when visiting Phuket Town. Walking down Thalang Road made me reminisce of the colonial town of Galle Fort in Sri Lanka. Here you will find shops selling fabrics, clothes and gifts, as well as cafes and restaurants. The prices here are more expensive than elsewhere on the Island, but a short detour down the side streets and you can find something to fit your budget. To find out more about the Chinese history and culture in Phuket, visit the Thai Hua museum.
Colonial-style buildings in Phuket Old Town
8. Shop at one of Phuket’s night markets
Did you even visit Thailand if you didn't go to a night market?! Night Markets are all over Thailand and it’s a great place to sample local street food, get a massage or purchase some local crafts. Phuket’s biggest night market is the Weekend Night Market, or Naka Market, just on the edge of Phuket Town. At Phuket’s weekend market, you’ll find lots of clothes and trainers (including fake designer and high street brands) as well as live music and a big street food section. This market is loud but a lot of fun!
Another of Phuket’s most popular night markets is the Sunday Walking Market on Thalang Road in the centre of Phuket Old Town. This market is much smaller than the Naka market and sells more local, authentic Thai goods. The setting of this market is really pretty as well, with colourful colonial style buildings lining either side of the street.
Chillva Market, located about 10 minutes drive outside of Phuket takes place every weekday evening, which is a great option if you are not in town for the Phuket weekend markets. Old containers have been repurposed into small shops, bars and street food stalls, creating a really cool vibe. You won’t find many knock off clothes here, it's more local fashion and accessories, but it's a great place to get a bite to eat and enjoy a night out.
If you don’t want to make the trip to Phuket Town, then many of the smaller towns in Phuket have their own, smaller night markets, which are a great place to do a bit of shopping and grab something to eat without breaking the bank!
9. Check out the views from Rang Hill, Phuket Town
The leafy, hilltop neighbourhood of Rang Hill has one of the best viewpoints in Phuket Town. From the Khao Rang Viewpoint you will get sweeping views over Phuket Town and across to the other side of the Island! On a clear day, you can see the bays of Kata and Karon, as well as the Big White Buddha, near Kata. There’s also a small park at Rang Hill and two restaurants, one of which is the Khao Rang Breeze restaurant. Come here for drinks early in the evening and enjoy one of the best spots in Phuket Town for watching the sunset.
At Rang Hill viewpoint (L) and enjoying a cocktail in Khao Rang Breeze restaurant (R)
10. Take a boat tour to Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay is a group of small islands located between the mainland peninsula of southern Thailand and Phuket. One of the most popular day trips from Phuket is a visit to Phang Nga Bay, and it's not hard to see why! The Phang Nga National Park is known for its rugged limestone rock formations, underwater caverns, small lagoons and mangroves, and not forgetting the beautiful turquoise blue-green water of the Andaman sea surrounding the area. The most famous little island in Phang Nga Bay is Koh Tapu, known to most as James Bond island after it was featured in the film ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, but there are several little islands and coves within the national park to explore.
Arriving by boat to the islands of Phang Nga Bay
There are a number of tour companies who offer full day and half day trips to Phang Nga Bay - I would recommend a full day trip as the boat journey from Phuket to Phang Nga Bay takes 1 hour. Choose a company that has a smaller boat, or uses kayaks as the larger boats won’t be able to get as close to the islands and explore the caves. If you enjoy getting out on a kayak, I would highly recommend the full day Hong by Starlight tour by John Gray Sea Canoe. They are not the cheapest Phang Nga Bay tour, but the experience was incredible. Whichever company you decide to book with, this is without a doubt one of the best activities to do in Phuket.
Kayaking around the caves, island and mangroves of Phang Nga Bay
11. Go kayaking
One of the best ways to explore the beautiful coastline of Phuket is to explore by kayak at your own pace. You can hire kayaks from most of the beaches in Phuket either for a couple of hours or a full day. Make sure that the kayaks come with life jackets (most of them should), and don’t forget your camera! I would highly recommend taking a dry bag with you to store your phone and camera, if you don’t already have one, then nearly every market stall in Phuket sells them, so you won’t have to look far for one! This is a great, inexpensive way to explore Phuket from the water and a must-do for any visitors to the island!
12. Enjoy brunch in Phuket Town
Phuket Town has quite a thriving expat community and it shows in the number of Western style cafes and restaurants. One thing I craved a lot when travelling in Thailand was a good healthy breakfast and English tea! (I know, stereotypical English!) There are so many great cafes and coffee shops in Phuket Town serving Western breakfast and brunches. One cafe I would particularly recommend is The Tent, just on the edge of Phuket Old Town - great pancakes and Yorkshire Tea! (If you know, you know!)
The Tent cafe in Phuket Town
13. Visit Chalong temple
Whilst Chiang Mai is known as the 'temple city' in Thailand, Phuket has 29 temples of its own. Wat Chlalong is the largest and most visited Buddhist temple in the whole of Phuket. Wat Chalong is located inland, between Phuket Town and Kata Beach and to get there, you will need to hire a taxi or tuk-tuk, or if you have your own scooter, you can ride there (parking is free). If you are taking a taxi, combine it with a trip to the Big Buddha to save money on two journeys. Entrance to Wat Chalong is free, just make sure that you are dressed appropriately with knees and shoulders covered and remember to remove your hat and shoes before stepping inside the temple building.
14. Take a boat to the famous Maya Bay
Maya Bay is one of the most well known beaches in Phuket (and one of Thailand’s most famous attractions). Maya Bay is a beautiful, secluded cove, which was made famous as the setting of the 1999 film, ‘The Beach’ with Leonardo DiCaprio. The Thailand government closed Maya Bay in 2018 as over-tourism had caused environmental damage to the area. After a period of ecological recovery, Maya Bay was reopened to visitors in early 2022, but with restrictions. If you want to visit the famous Maya Bay, you need to book a tour. The boat is not allowed to park directly on the beach, and you are not allowed to swim in the sea, however you can walk along the soft white sand and take photos.
15. Visit the Phi Phi Islands
The Phi Phi Islands are a group of 6 small islands located between Krabi and Phuket. The two main islands of Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh are the most visited and when people say they are going to the Phi Phi Islands, they usually mean Phi Phi Don, which is the main island for staying overnight.
Phi Phi Don had a reputation for being a party island, however visiting the island post-pandemic in February 2022, it was much quieter and had a more laid back feel, though this was largely due to the lack of tourists and also the number of businesses which had sadly closed. Phi Phi Don is a great place to spend a couple of nights and is easily reached from Phuket by speedboat or ferry.
Phi Phi Leh (along with Maya Bay) was made famous by the film ‘The Beach’ and many boat tours will offer day trips from Phuket to the islands of Phi Phi with Phi Phi Leh and Maya Bay as highlights of the trip. Whether you choose to stay overnight, or just visit for the day, the Phi Phi Islands are a must-see when in Thailand, the beaches and crystal clear water here is just beautiful.
Koh Phi Phi Don
Now we've covered 15 of the best things to see and do in Phuket, here's some useful information about planning your trip to Phuket, Thailand:
Is Phuket expensive?
Phuket has an established tourism economy and visitors have been coming to Phuket for years, which means that businesses have been created to suit all budgets. If you are on a tight, backpacking budget, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many great hostels all over Phuket as well as plenty of night markets where you can grab some local street food which is not only really tasty, but also friendly on your wallet! If you have a little more to spend, there are numerous 5 star resorts, usually nestled in the hills, or tucked in a secluded little cove offering a little piece of luxury and privacy. As you would imagine, going from one end of the budget scale to the other, there’s lots of options in the middle too, with mid-priced restaurants and bars as well as hotels and apartments. Booking.com and Agoda.com are my favourite websites for searching for accommodation in Thailand.
Where is the best area to stay in Phuket?
This really does depend on what kind of trip you want. If you like loud nightlife, and lively bars, then Patong would be your best option. A great location for couples visiting Phuket is Kata beach as you have a great mix of bars, restaurants, markets and gorgeous beaches. Families may want to choose something a little quieter such as the area around Nai Harn beach, but the resort hotels behind Karon beach could be a great option too. If you are a long term traveller or digital nomad, then Phuket Town is a great choice, although it doesn't have a beach, there are plenty of cafes to work from and apartments set up for longer rental.
How to get to Phuket?
By plane - Phuket has a large international airport, with many direct flights from all over the world, meaning that getting to Phuket for a shorter holiday is really convenient.
By boat - There are many ferries and smaller boats which run between Phuket and the smaller surrounding islands, as well as to Krabi, which is perfect if you are doing a bit of Island-hopping in Thailand!
By car or bus - If you are coming from mainland Thailand, then you can reach Phuket by private car or minivan. I used 12go to book 90% of my transport in Asia. It's super easy and great value.
What’s the best way to get around Phuket?
Public buses - Public transport in Thailand is not always the most reliable and definitely not the quickest way to get around. The majority of the buses (or Songthaews) in Phuket connect Phuket Town to the beaches on the west side of the island. The Songthaews are the cheapest way to get around, but there are no designated stops, you simply flag one down in the street and press the buzzer when you want to get off, so don’t rely on them if you need to be somewhere at a certain time!
Taxis - Taxis are a great way to get around Phuket, and you can either hire an air conditioned taxi, which you can pre-book either via grab or ask your hotel or hostel to arrange it for you, or simply flag down a Songthaew taxi - just be sure to negotiate a price before setting off! It’s also worth noting that most of the drivers use WhatsApp or Line, so if you’re not sure how long you will be before getting picked up, ask them for their number and text them when you’re ready to be picked up. They might not always be free, but it's worth checking.
Hire a scooter - Many tourists will hire scooters, as this is cheaper than using taxis, however just be aware that the roads in Phuket can be busy and are also very hilly! If you have never used a scooter before or are not confident on one, it might not be the best option to try for the first time in Phuket! If you are an experienced scooter rider, here’s a few tips:
Never leave your passport with a rental company, ask them to take a photo of it instead
Make sure you thoroughly check the scooter before hiring it for any existing damage and film it. This includes the fuel levels too
Make sure that the hire includes a helmet for you and any passenger
Test the brakes beforehand
Be careful of other drivers! The majority of accidents on scooters happen because of other drivers weaving in and out, so you need to have your wits about you and pay attention all the time
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