Hidden Phuket: an alternative travel guide

Phuket's beautiful beaches are not to be missed, but there is so much more to do in Thailand's biggest island.

Phuket lives up to its island paradise reputation
  • Pilar Mitchell
  • December 2018
Brought to you by Tourism Authority of Thailand

Phuket may be famous for its idyllic beach lifestyle but there’s a whole other side to this magical island. Take a look.

Relax your way

It might feel impossible to pick just one spa for your massage or treatment but prices in Phuket are so affordable you can give them all a go. Try the outstanding Thanyapura for a decadent spa experience complete with a pool and garden.

The Slate resort is a stunning place to relax and focus on your wellbeing, offering outdoor yoga, a stretching class or a deep-tissue massage in the Coqoon Spa. For spa purists, the elegant Six Senses awaits.

Take in the town

Back in the city, the streets of Old Phuket Town are lined with ornate Sino-Portuguese shophouses that have been converted into colourful cafés, restaurants and galleries, giving the area an East-meets-West vibe. Learn about the history of the district, which built its wealth on tin mining and trade in the last century, and take in the many shrines and temples on the streets.

Phuket Old Town is a historic treasure trove
Phuket Old Town is a historic treasure trove.

Hidden beaches

Part of the Sirinat National Park, Mai Khao Beach holds the title of Phuket’s longest beach, stretching 11 kilometres and as far as the eye can see. A person can walk for kilometres without seeing a fellow wanderer, making this secluded beach delightfully tranquil.

Layan Beach, a little further south, is another uncrowded slice of heaven. It’s a sheltered patch of sand that enjoys calm waters thanks to the natural island barricade provided by Koh Kala.

For something between deserted and party central (it’s whatever you want to make it), visit Khao Lak. The picture-perfect beach is the launch point for the Similan Islands – one of the best diving sites in the world.

Surrounding Phuket there are idyllic islands only accessible by boat. Banana Beach on Coral Island is renowned for its spectacular coral reefs and snorkelling but gets busy during the day. The once-secret, still-secluded privately owned Maiton Island is a more chilled choice. Accessible by catamaran, the island’s pristine beaches and waters are home to beautiful species of birds, dolphins and tropical fish.

Maiton Island is one of Phuket's most pristine beaches
Maiton Island is one of Phuket's most pristine beaches.

Best eats

On the weekend, the famous Thalang Road (Old Town’s main strip) turns into a market but during the week, the small restaurants of Thalang, Yaowarat, Dibuk and Phang Nga roads shine. If it’s time for dessert, pay special attention along Dibuk Road as it’s a well-known spot for sweets and breads. The Lock Tien Local Food Centre, at the corner of Dibuk and Yaowarat roads, is a must-visit for unique local versions of Thai fare such as fresh spring rolls, noodles, deep-fried sausage and curried fish mousse steamed in banana leaves.

Sample unique local fare at the many street food stalls
Sample unique local fare at the many street food stalls.

Sampling the intriguing street food in Phuket is a must but the famous island also has plenty of fine dining. In 2019, Phuket is slated to be included in the prestigious Michelin Guide with some incredible eateries earning the coveted Michelin stars. Until then, visit Black Ginger, a Slate Resort eatery that’s set on an island in the centre of a lagoon. On the menu, traditional Thai delicacies sit comfortably alongside modern takes on traditional dishes.

There's no dearth of fine dining options on the island either
There's no dearth of fine dining options on the island either.

Renowned Thai cooking school Blue Elephant has an outpost in Phuket’s Old Town where you can learn to make traditional Thai dishes. Ingredients span from accessible chicken mince through to harder-to-find green papaya but those going home to a big city should be able to source everything at an Asian grocery store.

Shop 'til you drop

Phuket’s quaint, shop-lined streets are the antithesis of Bangkok’s busy mega malls. Weekends are the best time to hit Phuket’s numerous markets where street-food stalls combine with street performers, dancers and vendors selling clothing, trinkets and antiques.

Open every Sunday, the Phuket Walking Street night market is one of the town’s most popular attractions. Running the length of Thalang Road, the market showcases the multiculturalism of the area with Baba Chinese, Thai Muslim and Indian shops. Young stallholders flex their creative muscle, making T-shirts featuring the unique Sino-Portuguese architecture, custom-made flip-flops, knitted dolls and jewellery. And, of course, there’s plenty to eat.

The Walking Street night market is a must-visit
The Walking Street night market is a must-visit.

Chillva night market has a fun, youthful vibe with plenty of original wares made by young local creatives – think clothes, jewellery, shoes and accessories. The market is also a good place to sample all kinds of exotic Thai snacks, including deep-fried insects.