Family fun in Phuket: offbeat things to do with the kids

There's more to a family holiday in Phuket than the beach! Here are some of the Thai island’s more unexpected kid-friendly activities.

The Big Buddha statue lives up to its name
  • Kerrin O'Sullivan
  • February 2019
  • Updated November 2021

When thinking about a holiday in Phuket, most people imagine long lovely days spent on sandy beaches, but there’s so much more on offer in this Thai province. Keep the kids entertained with animal encounters, cooking classes and even a few deeper cultural experiences.

Check out Big Buddha

The gleaming marble Big Buddha, propped benevolently on the top of the Nakkerd Hills, impresses with its sheer size (it’s a staggering 45 metres tall). With tinkling bells, fluttering prayer flags and the chanting of orange-robed monks, it’s a serene place to enjoy 360-degree vistas of the island. To beat the crowds, it’s best to get there early in the morning but it’s also an idyllic spot to watch the sun setting over Chalong Bay. You can contribute to the statue’s maintenance by buying a marble tile, on which you can write a message to be placed inside the Buddha.

Discover the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

The island’s only genuine shelter, the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary rescues and rehabilitates sick, injured and old elephants that have been mistreated while working in Phuket’s logging or tourism industries (while many operators still offer elephant rides, treks or shows, training these majestic creatures to “perform” or “work” is often harsh and cruel). The whole family can learn about elephants while watching the herd bathe and socialise – you can also feed the majestic creatures.

The ethical sanctuary offers a guilt-free elephant experience
The ethical sanctuary offers a guilt-free elephant experience.

Go zip-lining

Zip-lining through the lush rainforest area around the Kathu Waterfall guarantees beautiful views and an adrenaline rush for all ages. Flying Hanuman offers eco-sensitive flying fox adventures for the whole family – you can even opt to be filmed so you can re-live the experience back home. BYO sense of adventure.

The Big Buddha statue lives up to its name
Phuket's tall forests makes for perfect zip-lining.

Take a cooking class

There’s a smorgasbord of cooking courses that offer hands-on tuition in Thai cuisine but an excellent option is the Phuket Thai Cooking Academy, which hosts children’s classes. The day begins with a trip to Kathu Market to shop for fresh ingredients such as rice noodles, lemongrass and mangoes that will be used to cook up a wide range of dishes (think pad Thai, massaman curry and mango with sticky rice). Chop, simmer and sizzle at your individual cooking stations while taking in stunning views, then share the meal you cooked together.

Meet gibbons

With their big eyes and furry faces, gibbons are undeniably cute. Sadly, poachers keen to make quick tourist dollars often remove them from their rainforest homes, exploiting baby apes as photo props for tourists. Once mature, the adult apes are abandoned and replaced by more photogenic baby gibbons, leading to the species becoming endangered. In Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project rescues abused gibbons, nurses them back to health and releases them into the rainforest. The GRP sanctuary is not a petting zoo – so no cuddling, feeding or flash photography – but it is a great place for kids to learn about conservation and spend time in nature.

Thailand's gibbons are full of personality
Thailand's gibbons are full of personality.

Access the Upside Down House

Head to the quirky Upside Down House of Phuket located on the northern outskirts of Phuket Town. The inverted three-storey house rests on its roof, with furniture nailed to the ceiling. A wander through its rooms promises an illusory experience plus goofy photo opportunities. Fancy a family brainteaser? Also on-site is The Chamber of Secrets with two escape rooms – using teamwork to solve puzzles and break out of the room is a fun and challenging way for everyone to bond. When the rain stops, tackle the hedge maze outside or climb up to the teak tree house for a bird’s-eye view over the grounds.

Visit a temple

To add a dose of spirituality to your trip, seek out one of the 40 Buddhist temples on the island – some more than a century old. At Wat Chalong, set in manicured gardens about 10 kilometres south of Phuket city, the inspiring architecture, beautiful murals and sacred relics, such as a walking stick with healing powers and a splinter of bone from Buddha, will have the whole family intrigued. It’s just as interesting to watch local worshippers make offerings of lotus flowers and pay their respects by sticking gold leaf on the idols.

The Wat Chalong temple is an inspiring cultural site
The Wat Chalong temple is an inspiring cultural site.

Learn about turtles

Each year, sea turtles leave their Andaman Sea home to lay eggs on Mai Khao Beach, in Phuket’s north-west. While habitat loss means their numbers are declining, turtles still return here during nesting season (October to March) to hatch their young. The Mai Khao Marine Turtle Foundation, located on the grounds of JW Marriott Phuket Resort, holds free information and feeding sessions (donations are appreciated).

Eat and drink at Phromthep Cape Restaurant

Shake off the sand, scrub up and head out for a sunset cocktail at Phromthep Cape Restaurant. Located on Phuket’s southernmost promontory, the open-air restaurant offers lovely views and balmy ocean breezes. Try the local prawns with an ice-cold beer while the kids tuck into a seafood basket with fresh coconut water. For anyone after a slightly more upscale experience, several resorts dot the coastline boasting to-die-for views.

Surf an artificial wave

On days when the wind is whipping up the Andaman Sea with gnarly waves, you can head inland for a surf. Across the road from Kata Beach, Surf House Phuket offers gentle sloping artificial waves for both stand-up flowboarding and bodyboarding. Parents can surf or just chill poolside with a snack and a Singha beer from the Wipeout Bar while cheering on the kids as they hang ten, perform tricks or learn the basics. Surf sessions run hourly and it can get busy so book early.

Master your surfing technique at Surf House Phuket
Master your surfing technique at Surf House Phuket.

Visit a market for dinner

When dinnertime rolls around a feast for the senses awaits at the island’s night markets. One of the newer options is the open-air Chillva Market in Phuket Town. Created from shipping containers, the market has a cool vibe with artisan clothing stalls, live music and the mouth-watering aromas of local delicacies wafting from the grill. Get a dragon fruit juice to wash down kai jeow (omelettes over rice) and klnay tod (deep-fried finger bananas). Feeling adventurous? Try the fried grasshopper or red ants.

Explore history

Give the kids an old-fashioned paper map of Phuket’s Old Town (find one at the tourist information centre on Thalang Road) and let them lead the way. Check out the Shrine of the Serene Light, note Thai Hua Museum’s striking Sino-Portuguese architecture and learn about Phuket’s tin-mining history. Walk Thalang Road, which, at 4pm on Sundays, becomes Phuket Walking Street with Lard Yai market offering amazing food. Stop for a coffee at one of the area’s many cafes, then grab a pa thong ko (doughnut) from a street stall. When everyone’s tired of walking, head back in a tuktuk.

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