Phuket is probably the most touristy island in Thailand and the one with the longest tourist history. We avoided it for many years, but destiny gave us the cheapest flight tickets over New Year’s for Phuket, so we decided to give it a try. And oh boy were we surprised.
Phuket definitely IS touristy, but you can find true Thailand and local life as well. It has a great mix of the comfort of the west and the exotic feeling of the east. It made a very positive impression and hands down I can say that we would visit Phuket again.
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Ok, now let’s see what you can see and do here
I think we all heard about the beach in St. Thomas in the Carribean, where planes land just behind the beach and you can take crazy photos. Let me tell you that this is also possible on Phuket. You just need to head to the southern part of Mai Khao beach. But be careful – the airplanes have big turbines and can blow sand into your eyes, mouth … But it is still a fun thing to experience.
Phuket has some fine beaches. Really. We were surprised by the water quality, visibility and what they have to offer. In general you have to know that Patong is the busiest and most crowded beach. Futher north or south you’ll go, less people there will be. We especially liked Bang Tao, Surin and Kata Noi beaches. Almost all the beaches have parking spots for motorbikes, on some you can rent sunchairs and umbrellas, almost all have some restaurants or street food stalls with delicious food, some have massage huts and water sports. So it is up to you, what you want and are looking for.
3. Café del Mar
One of the most famous beach clubs on the island is Café del mar. With lush interior, open spaces, white curtains and a swimming pool in the middle situated right on the beach it is a great vacation hang out. But the prices are more European than Asian.
The main party town on the island is definitely Patong. And the street you are looking for is Bangla right in the heart of the town. Bangla is filled with bars, night clubs, street food and other (unusual) free time activities. Also be advised that around Patong there is a lot of police, especially if you’re on the road with a scooter. Patong also has malls, many shops and restaurants and a very busy beach.
5. Karon Viewpoint / Karon Hill
If you’re driving around in this part of the island, stop here for the views over the beaches. You will be able to see Kata, Karon and all the way to Patong beach. But I still prefer the view from the next viewpoint 😉
6. Big Buddha
This 45-meter high white marble Buddha sits on top of a hill and can be seen from many parts of the island. Once you parked your motorbike, you’ll enter the temple grounds and you’ll come to a big terrace like space. From here you already have a great view over the southern part of the island. From here you have to climb the marble white staircase up to the Big Buddha. You can walk around the statue and learn a bit about Buddhism if you’re interested. The atmosphere here is really nice and the views breathtaking. You can donate a small amount, take a tin leaf, write down a nice thought and hang it on one of the trees or fences. I think it’s a nice gesture and pays some respect to the local religion. Btw. don’t forget to dress properly.
7. Windmill viewpoint
Honestly, I expected a real windmill, but we found just a wind turbine. Nevertheless, the viewpoint is worth checking out as you can see the nearby beaches and I would say it might be a good spot for a sunset.
8. Wat Chalong
This is the most famous temple on the island of Phuket. There are 2 beautiful buildings, you can enter both and also climb the one with the 60 meters high stupa (or chedi) on top. It has 3 storeys and in all of them are golden Buddha statues and other relicts. If you climb to the top, you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view over the temple ground. Once up there don’t miss the glass display with fragment of Buddha’s bone. Now and then you’ll hear loud fire crackers exploding – this is how the locals show gratitude, when a wish came true. Just look for a brick oven-like construction, where a man waits to lit the firecrackers for you (for safety reason obviously). Please don’t forget to dress properly.
9. Phuket town
Phuket town will surely impress with its architecture, especially on Thalang Road and around – the colorful houses remind a lot of a Portuguese colonial era (yes, the Portuguese were here). The architecture style here is called Sino-Portuguese, since it’s a mixture of Portuguese and Chinese. Don’t miss the lovely Vanich walking street, which will take you into a small alley filled with shops and cafes. Not to forget – the whole Thalang Road is full of cafes and shops and you can easily spend a few hours here.
10. Sunday walking street in Phuket town
Again on the previous mentioned Thalang Road there’s a big Sunday walking street market – on this day on early afternoon the street is closed and repurposed into a big two way market with stalls in the middle. Here you can buy souvenirs and almost everything one desires, eat delicious local food, listen to local bands and even paint. This was really one of my favorite experiences on Phuket.
11. Jui Tui Shrine
While in Phuket Town this is another sight you shouldn’t miss – you might think you entered China as this is a Chinese temple, but with its colors and forms it would be a shame not to see and admire. There’s no entrance fee, just remove your shoes when entering.
12. Wat Sri Sunthon (Wat Libon)
This is a temple with a big golden reclining Buddha. As it’s not very known among the tourists and not very near to the main tourist spots, it’s really calm and relaxing.
13. Daytrip to Phi Phi
Who hasn’t seen The Beach, the iconic movie with Leo DiCaprio taking place in Thailand at the Phi Phi islands. If you are not familiar with these islands – there are Phi Phi Don, which is the bigger inhabited and where you can spend your holiday at, and Phi Phi Leh the smaller one. The government closed Phi Phi Leh because of over-tourism and to help the environment to recover and as for now it is still closed (January 2021). But you can go on day trip to Phi Phi Don where you’ll have lunch and some free time (go to the viewpoint!), you’ll see Phi Phi Leh’s famous Maya bay from far, say hi to some monkeys at Monkey beach and snorkel at Koh Khai.
There are some great diving spots around Phuket, the most famous probably King cruiser wreck and Shark point. We dove at these two spots and at the end also at Koh Doc Mai. The dives were excellent, we saw a leopard shark, turtles and a crazy amount of fish and schools of fish. The diving boats are at Chalong pier, which is on the eastern side, but usually the diving schools offer transportation to the pier. Of course we made a vlog about this marvelous diving day, you can watch it here.
15. Phantasea, waterparks etc.
Phuket has numerous entertainment options, among them are also shows like Phantasea. At first I wanted to see this Las Vegas style cabaret/show but when I found out about elephants participating in the show, I decided not to go. Same for all the elephant camps, tiger kindoms etc. Please, if you love animals, don’t visit places like this. We rather spend that money at the numerous night markets for food and drinks.
16. Night Markets
Please don’t miss the night markets on the island. Almost every town has at least one once a week – just ask at your accommodation where and when it’s taking place, some have night markets every evening. We went to the night markets in Patong and Bang Tao (different ones) and we were always happy with the food there.
17. Porto Phuket
This is not traditional Thai, but if you are looking for a supermarket like at home but with Thai groceries and other stuff to cook, this is your place. Here you can also buy normal bread (in case you’re in a serviced apartment and would like to have a breakfast familiar to home). We bought the best knife here for instance (we needed one for all the delicious fruit). For fruit and veggies, I would rather recommend buying it from local people at a market.
18. Local food
One of the reasons why we always return to Thailand is its food. We absolutely love their curries, all the noodle and rice dishes and desserts. We found a local restaurant run by a friendly girl and her boyfriend, who previously cooked at the big hotels on the island before starting their own business. We ate there almost every day and tried different vegetarian things, but as we could see at the other tables they were specialized in seafood very much. I would definitely recommend going there (here’s the link to their Facebook page, where you can find a map, FYI they are situated near Bang Tao).
Phuket is definitely a party Mecca, with the most going on in Patong. Honestly, we didn’t come to the island to party, but since we were there over New Year’s, we included a party night in our vacation. We decided to spend it on Bang Tao and it was a great decision – there was a great mix of locals and tourists, lanterns were ascending into the sky, beach clubs opened up, had DJs on the stages and everyone was just having a great time. Our NY’s Eve looked like this 🙂 .
20. Checking out the area
Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore the area around the island more. In case you do (we will definitely come back for this), think about visiting Phang Nga bay (we would like to stay on the island there for a few days – Koh Yao Noi and Koh Yao Yai), also Ao Phang Nga National park is worth visiting in our opinion. Another thing we are looking forward to is staying on Khao Lak and diving on the Similian islands.
I hope I could give you a slight idea about what to see and do on Phuket. This list is of course far away of being complete, but we managed to see all this in a week. I’m a bit sorry for avoiding Phuket for such a long time, as it’s really a great destination, especially if it’s your first time to Thailand or Asia. If you are looking for local life and off the beaten path destination, this island is not for you, but otherwise it is a great escape with beautiful beaches and everything what a tourist’s heart desires.