Phuket Activities & Travel Guide

Phuket Sailing, Cruises & Tours



Phuket Overview

Phuket Sailing, Cruises, Sight Seeing and Tours

Located around 540 miles to the south of Bangkok in the Andaman Sea, Phuket is hands down one of the most popular travel destinations in the region. Its tropical appeal, supported by substantial infrastructure, has seen the island's visitor numbers increase exponentially over recent years. With the growth in arrival statistics, more activities are being offered with a wide range of leisure choices for visitors to her shores. 

Phuket Province, which includes the main island (the largest in Thailand), as well as 39 other small islands, encompasses around 230 square miles. White sand, blue lagoons and fiery sunsets make the beaches of Thailand’s largest island its greatest assets.

Read a travel writers blog post about 5 ways to go offshore sailing, boating, diving or kayaking when in Phuket. 

 

Never ending beach at Hat Mai Khao

Dubbed the Pearl of the Andaman Sea

Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Andaman’, Phuket is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. With some glorious beaches, vibrant nightlife and a wide range of accommodation choices, Phuket has much to offer visitors. Most of the beaches and the majority of the tourist accommodation on Phuket can be found on the west coast. Whilst it is the beaches that draw many visitors to Phuket, the island has an interesting history that can be explored with a visit to Phuket Town. Located towards the south-east of the island, Phuket Town (Muang Phuket) is the main urban area and administration centre for Phuket province which also encompasses a number of the offshore islands.

There’s also as much to do in Phuket as there are natural wonders to see. From paddleboarding and scuba diving to ziplining and golfing, Phuket is the definition of a vacation in paradise. The island's lush interior is also home to waterfalls and opportunities for a forest trek. After a day of excursions and activities, guests can avail themselves at the island's countless luxury spas or beachfront massage with the sound of serenading waves.

Phuket is an excellent base to explore the numerous nearby islands and attractions. Many of these make for perfect day trips from Phuket. Tours to Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island are easily arranged and if you’ve seen the Leonardo Di Caprio movie, ‘The Beach’, you might want to retrace his footsteps by heading to Phi Phi island and Maya Beach. Phuket is also a good jumping off point to explore other parts of southern Thailand including Krabi, Ko Lanta and the Trang islands.

One of the more interesting scuba diving experiences are the 5 day liveaboard diving tours to the Similian Islands or north to the Mergui Archepelago region in the Andaman Sea. For advancers divers click this link to know more and see prices and photos. 

Phang Nga Bay and James Bond Island

Phuket History

For a dose of culture, the old Phuket Town, with a few streets lined with two- and three-story shophouses, their Sino-Portuguese architecture indicative of the Peranakan settlers that once worked the tin mines on Phuket. 

It might not be immediately obvious to the tourists soaking up the sun on Phuket’s many beaches, but this part of Southern Thailand has a history dating back more than a thousand years. Ancient mariners sailed the route between China and India passing close to the island in an area which was then known as ‘Jung Ceylon’ Cape.

Over the years, Phuket formed part of a number of kingdoms and was given different names which still live on in street names and districts such as ‘Thalang’. During the Ayutthaya period (14th - 16th century) the Dutch arrived on the south of the island and built storage facilities to enable them to use the island as a trading point. In the late 1700s an attempted invasion by the Burmese was rebuffed thanks to the efforts of two local women who rallied forces to defend the island. The bravery of the ‘Heroines of Phuket’ is recognised with a monument and a festival in their honour.

Old Town Phuket

Geography and Weather

Phuket is the biggest island in Thailand measuring in at nearly 50km long and 21km wide. Much of Phuket island is made up of hills and mountains which form a spine running from north to south. According to folklore the mountains form the shape of a dragon and it is this dragon which protects Phuket. The rest of the island is mainly plains with the western coastline characterized by the beautiful bays and sandy beaches which attract visitors from around the world.

The weather in Phuket is warm all year round. Humidity and rainfall patterns vary depending on the monsoon winds, but Phuket has two main seasons. The rainy season or green season runs from May until November. It doesn’t rain every day and can still be a good time to visit, but the seas can be rougher. Hot season or summer is from December until April.

Phuket is home to more than 20 great beaches from deserted to developed

Economy

The days of the tin mining industry in Phuket have long gone. The rubber industry still plays an important role for some islanders, but it is tourism which really drives the modern-day Phuket economy. Thai and overseas investment have seen world-class hotels, restaurants and spas established on Phuket.

It was during the 19th century that Phuket boomed on the back of the tin mining and rubber industry. Chinese and European merchants made their home in Phuket and the shops and houses they built can still be seen in the well-preserved parts of Phuket Old Town. In 1933, the island was formally named ‘Phuket’.

 


Phuket Culture

Culture & Attractions

Needless to say, Phuket's main attraction is beaches, of which there are easily over 20. The majority of beaches are located on the west coast, and can range from the busy Patong to the quiet Mai Khao and little snorkeling bays such as Ya Nui. Before the tropical enchantment was cast on tourists, Phuket was a center of tin mining, with Peranakans (Straits Chinese) settlers immigrating to the island to work in the industry. They brought with them their culture, which can still be seen in the lovely Sino-Portuguese shophouses in Old Town, as well as the numerous Taoist and Chinese shrines that dot the city. Kathu Mining Museum and Thalang National Museum are good places to learn about this page of the island's past. In addition to the Chinese shrines, there are 29 Buddhist temples on the island – the picturesque Wat Chalong is one of the most popular ones. The island has a few well-known viewpoints that, while not an attraction in itself, provide welcome picturesque pitstops.

Scuba diving, a popular activity in Phuket

Religions, Temples and Shrines

Phuket is a mix of religions and culture. The bulk of the population are Thai Buddhists, but Phuket is home to Chinese Thais, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians. Phuket province is also home to the ‘Chao Ley’ (‘Fishing People’).

Phuket is home to a number of Buddhist temples, mosques and religious shrines. Whilst they might lack the beauty and history of the temples found in other Thai destinations like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, they are important to local people. Visitors should always dress and act appropriately when visiting any of these sites.

Temple Wat Chalong

Beaches

The soft sandy beaches of Phuket and the warm waters of the Andaman Sea entice visitors from all over the world. And with a wide variety of beaches to choose from, on Phuket itself and on nearby islands, there is something to keep most people happy during their trip to this lovely part of southern Thailand.

Patong is the most popular and most developed beach on Phuket. Patong Beach itself is an inviting expanse of sand that curves around the bay. No matter what time of year you visit you’re never going to have the beach here all to yourself, but it’s wide enough to deal with the crowds of visitors which can descend here. The built-up resort area of Patong can be a love it or hate it place. Nightlife can be brash in the area around Bangla Road, but beyond the noise and neon lights Patong is also home to some wonderful hotels, excellent restaurants and chilled-out bars.

Whilst Patong is the most popular resort on Phuket, it isn’t to everybody’s taste. Fortunately, there is much more to Phuket than Patong. For somewhere quieter but still with plenty going on, the beach resorts of Kata and Karon are good options. Natural more quiet beaches like Surin, Kamala, Nai Harn, Bang Tao and Rawai provide a more laid-back experience.

When you want to get away from it all, kayaking is a great way to island hop to some of the more remote beaches. A longer boat trip is rquired to get the better islands. But, such high quality tours do exist and they are expensive but very good. A lot goes into the planning and preparation of an overnight kayaking trip to secluded beaches, not just great food and experienced guides. You can read more about it by clicking here. Personal safety and tour quality is taken seriously. 

Between Bang Tao, to Surin to Kamala are many quiet natural lovely beaches

Islands, Viewpoints and Waterfalls

A number of small islands are a short boat trip away form Phuket. Bon Island, Lohn Island, Coral Island, Racha Yai, Racha Noi and Coconut Island are just some of the easy to reach islands which make for perfect day trips from Phuket. If you are interested in snorkelling or diving, there are some superb underwater sites close to Phuket.

As tempting as it can be to spend your days on Phuket stretched out on the beach or sitting by the hotel pool, there are some delightful viewpoints and waterfalls which are worth exploring. The classic Phuket picture-postcard view of three bays can be seen from the viewpoint known locally as ‘Khao Sam Haad’ (The Hill of the Three Beaches) with views of Kata Noi, Kata and Karon Beach. For stunning sunsets head to Promthep Cape on the south of the island. Phuket has a couple of attractive waterfalls. They aren’t spectacular, but trips to Bang Pae and Ton Sai waterfalls can make for a relaxing alternative to the beach. Bang Pae is also the location for the ‘Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre’ which does excellent work caring for captive gibbons and preparing them for a return to the wild.

 

Tonsai Waterfall

Activities for the Family

There is plenty going on in Phuket to keep all members of the family entertained. Phuket Fantasea is regularly voted as one of the best attractions on Phuket with a spectacular evening show combining dancers, comedy, magic acts and pyrotechnics. For daytime fun, the impressive water park and rides at Splash Jungle have proved to be a hit with all ages. Other recommended family attractions include Dino Park mini-golf, Go Kart racing and the quirky Upside Down House. There are also zip lines in Phuket and popular jungle theme parks that will keep your kids busy all day. Some elephant farms are located off the winding coastal road between Patong and Kata Beach just past Nai Harn Beach. 

A terrific popular day trip for families at Sea is on board the June Bahtra Junk Rigged Schooner. Hotel pick up and drop off is included and they serve up a delicous lunch. Click here to read more about this. 

Fantasea Culture Theme Show

The Heroines of Phuket

In the late 1700s, the Burmese invaded Siam. When they reached what was then know as ‘Thalang’ (now Phuket) the Burmese fighters probably expected an easy victory. The ruler of Thalang had recently died but the late ruler’s widow, Khun Ying Jan, was to prove a formidable opponent. Together with her sister, Khun Mook, the two women raised an army and fought off the invaders who were forced to retreat. In 1785, the two women were formally recognised for their bravery and awarded honorary titles by King Rama I. In the 1960s, the Thao Thep Karsasatri-Thao Si Soontorn Monument was built to commemorate the two women.

 

Festivals

There are a number of interesting local festivals held in Phuket. The most famous is probably the Vegetarian Festival which takes place in September/October. Other notable festivals in Phuket include the Turtle Release Festival, Chinese New Year and the Hungry Ghost Festival. An annual festival also commemorates the Heroines of Phuket.


Health & Wellness

Health Care & Medical Tourism

Take a day for personal health. Thailand is world renowned in medical tourism as a global leader. Phuket is home to a number of superb spas and relaxation retreats. Take the opportunity during your vacation on Phuket to get a full health check-up. Discerning visitors from around the world travel to Thailand to take advantage of the facilities available at hospitals in Bangkok and Phuket.

If you would like to learn more about health care check ups in Thailand and see prices, click this link to view  the 4 different health care check ups with different test options offered by Bangkok Hospital in Phuket. Tests are results are the same day. 

 

 


Top Daytrips Around Phuket

For Families

Family-oriented activities include Splash Jungle Waterpark on Mai Khao, with plenty of exciting rides to keep the kids entertained, or edutainment at the Phuket Aquarium on Cape Panwa. Older children can learn to ride the waves at Phuket Surf House, or cable-ski at Anthem Wake Park. There are lots of options for family-oriented activities in Phuket. Your full day at the Splash Jungle Waterpark will keep children of all ages entertained. For more water-based fun explore small beaches after you have learned to ride the waves at Phuket Surf House or cable-ski at Anthem Wake Park. For great photo opportunities, pay a visit to the Phuket Trick-Eye Museum and Baan Teelanka (The Upside Down House). Visit and elephant farm, feed the  babies or go for elephant trek in the jungle. 

Feeding a baby elephant

Golfing

Whether lazing away a care-free day under the shade of a graceful casuarina tree on a white sandy beach, diving around Phuket’s offshore islands, partying the night away at a Patong club or playing an early round of golf on Phuket’s premier golf courses, the island has attractions to satisfy every appetite for adventure both on- and offshore. Phuket has four 18-hole golf courses that offer enjoyable play in picturesque settings. The Blue Canyon Country Club has two award-winning 18-hole courses. Phuket Country Club and the Loch Palm Golf Club, are both 72-par courses located in Kathu. Located near Bangtao Beach, the recently-upgraded Laguna Phuket Golf Club is a resort-based 18-hole par-71 course designed by Max Wexler and David Abell.

The Blue Canyon Country Club has two award-winning 18-hole courses whilst the Red Mountain course provides a real test for experienced players. Loch Palm is a good choice for golfers of all levels and enjoys a convenient central location. Phuket Country Club was the first golf course established on Phuket and the international standard curse has played host to many tournaments. Award winning Laguna Phuket is rated highly by keen golfers and has some excellent facilities. Mission Hills is the only seafront course on Phuket and if you’re having one of those off-days on the course, the stunning views of the Andaman will more than make up for it.

 

Blue Canyon Golf Course

Waterfalls

Cascades provide a refreshing option from the traditional sea-sand-sun combo. Ton Sai Waterfall and Bang Pae Waterfall are both situated in Khao Phra Thaew National Park. Visitors en route to Kathu Waterfall can also stop off at the Flying Hanuman to zipline across the rainforest canopy.

Island Hopping

Phuket is a wonderful base to explore the surrounding islands. From longtail boats to luxury yachts, it’s easy to hire a boat on Phuket and go island hopping in the Andaman Sea. If you feel like a challenge, taking a tour by sea canoe is one of the best ways to experience the stunning seascape of Phang Nga Bay. Whether you want a relaxing cruise, a day on an island beach or a day spent snorkelling and diving, there is something to suit everybody with a day-trip from Phuket.

There are plenty of options to charter a luxury yacht or a traditional long-tail boat to visit the surrounding islands either for a leisurely snorkel or SCUBA dive. Nearby island destinations for cruising, snorkeling, or diving include Koh Racha Yai, Koh Racha Noi, Shark Point, Koh Hae, and the two Koh Yao islands. Overnight or longer trips to the Phi Phi Islands, Phang Nga Bay, and the Similan Islands are also popular.

A popular and a very good quality cruise with a terrific crew that really looks after you (which other other guests have loved) is this 4 day /3 night cruise right here. https://www.tourchoice.com/tour/sailing-cruise-phuket-to-phi-phi/

If you would love some time on the water but only have one day to spare, here is a highly recommended one day cruise on a junk rigged schooner, the June Bahtra . Hotel pick up and drop off is included as is a delicous lunch. Go swimming and enjoy!  Click here to read more

Sailing and boating off the coast of Phuket in Phang Nga Bay


Overview

Markets & Shopping

Shopping on Phuket range from seaside shops to massive malls and weekend markets. The center of all tourist activity on Phuket is Patong, a beach which purists might cry foul for its over development, but nevertheless a shopper's delight. Every evening a night market sets up along beach road, with vendors plying a range of standard tourist fare. The beach is also home to a few shopping centers, namely Jungceylon and Banana Walk Phuket, as well as newer and smaller additions including Patong Promenade & the Sixth Phuket right behind it. On the Bypass Road just outside Phuket Town, visitors can make a dedicated trip to Central Festival shopping center and Premium Outlet, the latter a collection of factory outlets from Nike, Lacoste, Levi's, golf accessories, and a few other recognizable brands. 

 

For a more local experience, visitors can spend hours browsing hundreds of stall at the Weekend Market, which happens every Saturday and Sunday on Wirat Hongyok Road. A similar shopping market, albeit quite small smaller and catering mainly to younger locals, is Indy Market, which sets up every Thursday and Friday evenings on Dibuk Road in old town. However big or small, all other beaches will have some sort of shop or boutique catering to tourists, where guests can pick up a painting by a local artist or clothing from a Phuket-based designer. There are also other smaller shopping clusters that serve mainly the visitors on that same beach, including Turtle Village on Mai Khao, Laguna Village in Laguna Phuket on Bangtao, and The Plaza Surin on Surin.

Jungceylon Shopping Centre


Phuket Overview

Phuket Old Town and Walking Streets

Phuket Walking Street Market sets up every Sunday along Thalang Road in Phuket Old Town. The ‘Lard Yai’ market as locals tend to call it has proved to be very popular since it was first introduced in 2013. The market sets up late afternoon and continues through until around 10pm at night. The market is well attended by Phuket residents and it’s a pleasant place to stroll and sample local food and enjoy the atmosphere.

There is another Phuket Weekend Market (known as ‘Talad Tai Rod’) which is located further out of town close to Central Festival, but the Walking Street Market is a better option. Definitely worth a visit is the ‘Indy Market’ where young designers and entrepreneurs gather to sell their creations, It’s a young, vibrant crowd that come here and the market can be a lot of fun to experience. Indy Market sets up Thursdays and Fridays from late afternoon until late evening in a location just off Thalang Road in the heart of Phuket Old Town.

Markets and shopping at Patong Beach


Restaurants & Nightlife

Nightlife

The undisputed ground zero for nightlife is along Patong beach. Centering around Soi Bangla, the area is home to thumping nightclubs, bars, and go-go joints, with men, women, and all genders in between thronging to take part. While Patong will appeal to some, those seeking a tamer atmosphere should check out the island's many beach clubs. Casual sandy affairs in the morning, when the sun goes down, beach clubs transform into restaurant-slash-bars for a relaxed way to spend an evening, serenaded with DJs spinning chill-out lounge tunes. 

Phuket’s many beach clubs. Serving cool drinks and cocktails on the beachfront during the day, the beach clubs take on a new look in the evening when the sun goes down. They can be a great place to wine and dine and as the chefs serve up the food, international DJs serve up a menu of chilled-out tunes.

All of the bigger resorts and hotels on Phuket have multiple restaurants serving a wide variety of food. This might be more expensive compared to eating at local restaurants, but they can be convenient. Many of these resorts are also located on prime locations on the beachfront so the setting and sea views can be worth the extra expense.

 

Sundowners Beach sunset at Kamala Beach

Restaurants

Favored by local expats and Thais (and thus tend to have a more relaxed vibe), Phuket Old Town is home to some of the island's best restaurants and well frequented bars. Raya has long been touted as one of the island's best eateries, while Ka Jok See and Sanaeha are both restaurant-bars that have been entertaining the local well-heeled set for years. Also in Phuket Town, Blue Elephant serves traditional Thai cuisine in gorgeous settings in a former governor's residence – if you like what you eat, they also offer cooking classes. 

All of the five star resorts on the island have multiple restaurants serving varying cuisine. While this might be the more expensive option, many of them are offer either stunning seaview or beachfront settings, and their beverage options will be wider than the standard restaurants. 

For no-fuss dining with a sea-view, there are a number of seafood restaurants dotted all around the island. Laem Hin restaurant on the east coast (adjacent to the pier for Coconut Island) is one of the best on Phuket. Close by are some floating restaurants such as Kru Suwit, which can only be reached by longtail boat. In Chalong, Kan Eang 2 is one of the longest established seafood restaurants on Phuket with a very good reputation amongst locals and expats. Some of these best-known seafood restaurants can be difficult to get to if you haven’t got your own transport, so you can always ask your hotel for local recommendations.

 

Popular dish served on Koh Lanta

Fresh Seafood & Markets

A handful of raft restaurants including Kru Suwit float just offshore from the pier here, with the quick jaunt across the waters adding to the anticipation of some of the most succulent seafood available around the island. Travel tip: Beach clubs not only make a great base for a day spent on the water's edge, but come evenings, a relaxed dining and wining spot with a view.

The main pier in Rawai Beach has a great daily fresh seafood market. Buy fresh seafood in the market, its fresh  off the boat and then bring your fresh catch to many of the close by restaurants waiting to prepare your bounty. The fresh seafood market in Rawai offers a broad selection daily if you go anytime after 4:00 pm, you will find everything you could want for attractive prices. 

You may click here to read this blog post and learn more about fresh seafood markets in Phuket. 

Fresh catch of the day from the main pier on Rawai Beach


Overview

Taxis

Phuket is larger than many first-time visitors realize so allow plenty of time for transfers to or from the airport or bus terminal. Roads on the island are mostly very good, but depending on where you are staying in Phuket the public transport options from your hotel to other parts of the island can be limited.

Due to the lack of a mass transit network, traveling around Phuket is not as straight forward as it is in the capital city. With trial and error, plus plenty of patience, navigating the island might be pricey but on the bright side, relatively convenient. Taxis in Phuket are much more expensive than in Bangkok. 

Taxi in Phuket

Around the Island

With metered taxi practically non-existent, getting around the island can be trying and tiring. For maximum convenience, it is advisable to rent your own car. For larger groups, chauffeured private mini-vans hired through car rental companies are a good option, with costs ranging in the THB 2,500-3,000 (~US$78.60-94.50) per 8-hour day range, exclusive of petrol. If you're brave enough to give the local transportations a go, local “buses” radiate out from Phuket Town to the beach areas (not intra-beach). A good place to catch these blue-colored open-air songtaews (converted pickup truck with two row of benches at the back) is from the market on Ranong Road in town – the furthest Naiyang Beach should cost approximately THB 30 (~US$1). These buses come by every half-hour or so during daylight times with the destinations displayed prominently, and can be flagged down on the road.

What's referred to as a “tuk-tuk” on Phuket are red colored, open-air vehicles that resemble what is known as a “songtaew” in other parts of Thailand, albeit shorter in length. They are easily found in front of the standard tourist places for both inter- and intra-beach jaunts. This is where your haggling skills would come in handy. If all above fails, there are plenty of private “taxis” identifiable by handwritten signs that simply say “taxi”. Motorbike rentals are also popular, but due to high road accident rates especially on Phuket's hilly roads, perhaps best kept exclusively for short runs within town or along the same beach only. Another scenic (but also pricey) option to get between beaches is via long-tail boat on the open waters. Again, as there are no set fees, prices would have to be negotiated and re-negotiated and negotiated one last time for good measure.

Longtail boats are always a good option for island or beach hopping. 

The omni present long tail boat, a good way to do island hopping


From the Airport

From the airport, travelers will have a few choices, with pre-arranged hotel pick up by far the most hassle-free but most expensive. A metered taxi stand outside the arrival hall may or may not turn on his meter (so insist he does) – as of July 2013, rates are about THB 600-700 (~US$19-22) to get to Patong, while private “limousine taxis” cost slightly higher at approximately THB 800 (US~25.30). A shared mini-van is THB 200 per person for the same route.

Do be aware that limousine taxi and minivan drivers have a less-than-stellar reputation on Phuket, with reports of drivers stopping off at tour companies for hard sells or attempts at convincing travelers to make another hotel booking as the one they have booked is closed, etc. If you find yourself in this situation, just decline firmly but stay polite and smiling. 

The government also recently launched an official airport bus that shuttles between Phuket bus terminal (platform 7) in town to the airport. The first bus leaves the airport at 9 a.m., and the last at 8 p.m., stopping off at just a few places in between with a maximum fare of THB 90 (~US$2.90). This is the cheapest option, but perhaps the slowest, and with limited schedules, not the most convenient.

If you plan to be visiting a lot of places while on Phuket, hiring a rental car would save you a lot of hassle (keeping in mind that Phuket is not a small island). Avis, Budget, Sixt, are all present on the island, along reputable local firms such as David Car Rent and Pure Car Rent. Depending on length of rental, a normal sedan should cost approximately THB 1,200-1,500 (US$38-48) per day exclusive of petrol, and they should be able to drop off and pick up the car from the airport.

Getting In and Out of Phuket

By Air

Phuket International Airport (HKT) is the country's second busiest airport, with several daily flights from Bangkok via Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways. Low cost carriers serving this route include Nok Air and Air Asia, the latter also offering a direct flight from the northern city of Chiang Mai.

The island is also well connected to international destinations with direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Mumbai, New Delhi, Penang, Perth, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore,  Sydney, Taipei. Seasonal direct flights add London, Russia, and a handful of Scandinavian destinations to the list.

By Train

Phuket is not served by a train station – the closest is in Suratthani on the east coast. A train ride from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong station to Suratthani takes over 8 hours, and Suratthani to Phuket an additional 4 hours by bus.

Travelling by train is slow and since the train only goes as far as Surat Thani on the east coast before transferring to buses for the trip across to Phuket. from Surat Thani most people just decide to fly. 

By Bus

Phuket is connected to the mainland at Phang Nga province by two road bridges. From Bangkok's Southern Terminal Station (Sai Tai Mai), VIP buses cost less than THB 1,000 (~US$31.50) for a 12-hour journey to the island's bus terminal in town.