The Best of Phuket
Phuket is a favorite of many backpackers and tourists for good reason – it’s a destination that has a lot to offer a traveler, whether it’s your first time or not, and whether you’re staying for just a week, or exploring the islands long-term.
If it’s your first time and you’d like to see the best of Phuket, take your pick from these must-see places and must-do activities. For sure, your trip won’t just be an ordinary beach holiday!
There are over 30 beaches in Phuket alone. With such an abundance of sandy beaches and clear waters, it can be difficult to choose where to lay your beach towel. Here are the best Phuket has to offer:
party & Play
Now, most tourists and locals would say that this is the beach to avoid – it happens to be the busiest spot in all of Phuket. While they may be right, adventure seekers will find everything they need here. For party and play, visit Patong first.
Your first sight upon stepping onto the sand are beach chairs and umbrellas that stretch across the beach as far as your eyes can see. When you do get to the shore, you’ll be among swimmers and paragliders. Farther along, jet-skis rip through the water.
In town, there are literally hundreds of restaurants, beer bars, and of course, nightclubs. You’ll find the shops along Thaweewong beach road, restaurants and the Jungceylon mall close by at the end of Soi Bangla. Nightlife is centered around Soi Bangla or Bangla Road.
What Patong lacks in serenity, it makes up for in activities.
If you dig a more cosmopolitan vibe, Surin is the place to be. The small, relatively quiet stretch is more of a coastal town than a beach resort town, and for this it attracts the high-profile crowd.
Surin is known as ‘Millionaire’s Row’ because of the high-end haunts and luxury resorts there, including the world renowned Amanpuri and Twin Palms. They stand alongside the US$ 1 million+ houses that dominate the prime spots on top of the hills overlooking the Andaman Sea.
Being awash with luxury hotels and prime real estate has created opportunities for high-end restaurants and wine bars along the coast, so dress your best when in this part of Phuket.
Kata Beach for Surf and Sand
The beaches of Kata would be perfect for those who crave action, but find Patong a little too rowdy for their taste.
Kata Yai is Phuket’s prime spot for water sports. It’s the only beach in Phuket that has coral spots on both ends of the bay, making it a best snorkeling and diving spot in the island during high season. The waves are also decent enough for surfing, and it hosts the annual Kata Surfing competition.
Kata Noi is a small bay found at the end of the beachside, a few minutes’ drive from Kata beach. There aren’t activities offered here, so many come simply to admire the wonderful scenery.
At sunset, hike to the popular Kata Viewpoint, which has a stunning vista of the three bays of Karon, Kata and Kata Noi.
for peace and reverie
Banana Beach is perhaps the most secluded island in all of Phuket, having only one small bar and restaurant. It’s closest to the renowned high-end resort, Trisara, which stands on its hillside.
The beach is about 400 meters from the Trisara entrance, and if you’re driving from the south, you can see the small beach through the trees. An orange “Banana Beach” sign nailed to a tree on the left marks the spot.
The beautifully clear water and relatively secluded beach makes this one of Phuket’s glittering gems.
Bang Tao for Rest and Relaxation
The sands of Bang Tao also attracts many upmarket tourists. The beautiful stretch of sand is best known for being home to the massive Laguna Phuket complex, which has a cluster of boutique and high-end hotels such as Banyan Tree, Angsana, Dusit and Outrigger. The complex is pretty much self-contained and far from everything else, so tourists can find everything they need by the resorts – including spas and shopping plazas.
It is also a study in contrasts, for beyond the hotels are small fishing villages where locals still make a living the traditional way – through fishing, farming and rubbing tapping. Because of this, Bang Tao is home to good seafood restaurants that are more affordable than those in resorts.
Koh Phi Phi
Most famous for being the site of The Beach, it’s the place in the quintessential tourist photo of a beach cove with outrigger boats and a young, stylish and energetic crowd. Beyond the islets, there are good times to be had in the island, with the myriad of activities it offers – go diving, snorkeling, cliff-jumping; you can even live aboard a boat with other tourists for a few days.
Locals say Koh Samui was the original Thai tourist destination. It has cleaned up its act after a few decades, and lost its rowdy, rough-around-the-edges atmosphere. Today, it’s home to world-renowned luxury resorts and hotels (such as Four Seasons and Anantara) and first class spas (like Kamalaya).
Best for: families, honeymooning couples, and wellness aficionados. Koh Samui is an ideal introduction to Southeast Asian islands.
Best for: single or solo travelers. There is a good chance you will leave Koh Phi Phi with new friends.
Koh Phang Ngan
World famous for its full-moon parties and dreadlocked regulars, the beach is ideal for partygoers and hippies. During peak season, the beach is packed with guests dancing and drinking under the full moon. On other days, there are still half-moon and black moon parties, and everyday action can be had at the island’s cocktail bars.
Post party, you can recover by signing up for a Thai massage under a coconut tree.
Best for: hedonists and party animals. Phang Ngan’s got the best of the party and pleasure scene.
If you’re an avid diver, Koh Tao is the island for you. The island is one of the best places to learn the sport, and the demand for dive shops has made it one of the world’s cheapest. New to the sport? Get your PADI or SSI certification here in about 4 days. Experienced diver? This island is probably already in your bucket list. Go learn advanced courses like night diving, wreck diving, shark diving or Nitrox diving.
But it’s not all about diving here. It also has an excellent nightlife scene.
Best for: divers and water sports aficionados. Koh Lanta is a grown up but still fun alternative to its neighboring Koh Phang Ngan.
Krabi is the new darling of backpackers in Thailand. Famous for its angular limestone hongs scattered among mangroves, it has plentiful natural attractions, including white sand beaches, coral reefs, caves, waterfalls and over a hundred islands.
Being a key transport hub to other islands within the Andaman coast, Krabi town is well-equipped with hostels and guesthouses, travel agencies, Western restaurants and even free wi-fi. Within the town’s cracks are shops selling local ware, if you ever need to bring something home.
Should you want to explore islands of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta or the premier rock climbing destination that is Railey Beach, Krabi is the best entry point.
Best for: island hoppers and nomads. Krabi is equipped with creature comforts, yet allows you to be one with nature.
Out of all of Thailand’s islands, Koh Lanta is the most versatile. About an hour via boat ride from Krabi, Koh Lanta has several little islands, with something for each type of traveler. The waters are calm and safe, making it ideal for children and elderly, and it’s also got accommodations that range from high-end and swanky, to backpacker hostels.
Beautiful beaches, world-class diving and snorkeling, active nightlife, and natural attractions – Koh Lanta has a little bit of Thailand’s best.
Best for: those who want it all on a holiday. Krabi is equipped with creature comforts, yet allows you to be one with nature.
Phuket is a paradise for water sports lovers. The warm, tropical waters make it ideal for all sorts of activities at sea.
Calm season from November to April is perfect for snorkeling, while the waves from May to October make it ideal for surfing. The island is well known for these two activities, but there are lots more to enjoy:
Jetskis are available for hire in most of the island’s main beaches. It is one of the most popular activities, but for busy beaches like Patong, they can come dangerously close to the shore. For your safety, always look out for registered and licensed operators – they should have an Insurance Jet Ski mark on the side of the vehicle. Lastly, agree on the length and rate of your ride before you take off.
Best done in: The beaches of Patong, Bangtao, Kamala, Karon and Kata beaches.
The waters of the Andaman Sea are perfect for snorkeling. Warm, calm and teeming with marine life, they’re conducive for the sport all year long, but the best time is still November to April when the sea is at its calmest. Take extra care during the rest of the year though, as the currents can be strong, especially along the West coast.
Best done in: The island of Phi Phi, Racha, Khai Nok and Similan.
Kayaking, or canoeing on the sea, is especially fun in Phuket and in the surrounding islands as there are many areas to explore. The “hongs” or collapsed cave systems serve as a unique ecosystem for monkeys and various flora and fauna.
Best done in: Phang Nga Bay and Krabi.
Both newbies and experienced divers will have their fair share of fun in Phuket. It’s a great place to get your PADI or SSI certificate, or move on to advanced courses like night diving, wreck diving, or Nitrox diving.
Best done in: Koh Tao, Phi Phi, Racha for day trips; Similan and Surin for live aboards.
Phuket may not be one of the best surfing spots in the world, but it’s still a sport worth checking out while you’re here. For one, Phuket’s surfing season starts as the peak tourist season ends, so you’ll have more of the island to yourselves. For another, the waves are just the right height for riding.
Best done in: The beaches of Kata, Karon, Surin and Kamala.
Shopping and attractions
No trip would be complete without exploring the culture of the place, and bringing a souvenir back for posterity.
Away from the beaches, Phuket has rich culinary and traditional history to be explored.
Make a stop at the following landmarks to see the other side of Phuket:
This historically rich part of Phuket dates from the end of the 19th century, as you’ll gather from the Sino-colonial mansions and beautifully preserved shophouses that stand on its streets to this day. Though compact, the neighborhood is peppered with various temples (both Buddhist and Chinese), batik shops, quaint cafes, printing shops and impromptu museums — adding to the neighborhood’s personality, and making it perfect for a stroll.
If you stopped over at Bangkok, this weekend market will remind you of the capital’s Jatujak, only smaller (and that’s a good thing). While it’s the most accessible shopping place for tourists, it carries more than touristy items – think antiques, secondhand and vintage items, and homeware thrown in with locally made food and clothing.
Phuket Indy Market
Established in 2010, the Indy market is where young, enterprising locals sell their wares, and music upstarts play for the crowd. Shop for clothing and crafts from independent labels, secondhand stuff, handmade art, and of course, food. Open only on Thursdays and Fridays, it’s along Dibuk Road, and is hard to miss – just look for the beer garden with live music!
The Big Buddha
Phuket has temples and mosques aplenty (as you’ll discover once you stroll), but none would top the Big Buddha. Standing 45 meters high, the white marble statue towers over southern Phuket, and looks like it’s gracing the entire island with its big smile. Once you get there, climb up the stairs to see fantastic views of the islands. Drive toward the Chalong Circle and head up to Chaofa West Road to get there.
If you don’t have much time in the island, we suggest you learn about Thai culture through the world-class stage show Siam Niramit. Phuket’s biggest performance show, it features elephants, trapeze artists and dancers and depicts the historical and cultural heritage of Thailand. Before the show, sample Thai cuisine through the buffet that’s on offer (it’s one of the biggest in Asia).