The tropical beach getaway of your dreams
Phuket’s reputation as Thailand’s premier leisure playground is well founded. Distinguished by lush, jungle-clad mountains, gorgeous beaches and turquoise waters, the island’s geographical wonders are backdrops to a world-famous pleasure zone.
Most holidaymakers head to the west coast for the photogenic and super-popular beaches of Patong, Surin, Kamala, Kata and Karong. Further north is Bang Tao beach, the stunning setting for the Laguna Phuket complex. This cluster of resorts, restaurants and leisure attractions is ideal for families and travellers who like everything at their fingertips. For a more laid-back destination with an authentic local vibe, venture south to Cape Panwa.
Old Phuket Town, with its beautiful heritage architecture, vibrant Thai-Chinese-Indian-Malay population and flourishing dining scene, is a pleasant cultural diversion from the sand and sea. And of course, no trip to Phuket is complete without an excursion to the spectacular Phang Nga Bay, with dramatic limestone outcrops and aquamarine waters that will send your Instagram followers into a frenzy.
Things to do: Phuket
Find your perfect beach
Phuket’s glorious beaches are, without doubt, its top drawcard. And there’s one for every type of beachgoer. Patong is long, beautiful and crowded, with a buzzing party scene that extends well into the night. Next to it is the heavenly (and much quieter) Freedom Beach, accessible only by boat or via a very steep hill. In the south, Ya Nui is renowned for great snorkelling, while Kata and Kamala host a burgeoning surf scene from May to October. At 11 kilometres, the pristine Mau Khao is the island’s longest beach and far from the madding crowds.
Image credit: Tee11 / Shutterstock.com
Set sail for water world
Phuket is your launch pad to Phang Nga Bay, a marine wonderland that will leave you breathless. James Bond Island (Ko Tapu), which featured in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, is just the start. Expect sensational diving and snorkelling, surreal rock formations and limestone cliffs, islets and caves, and even a fishing village (Koh Panyee) built on stilts over the water. There are many ways to explore Phang Nga, from traditional longtail boat and kayak tours, to charter yachts and leisurely cruises.
Feast on architectural eye-candy in Old Phuket Town
If you can drag yourself away from the beach, Phuket’s Old Town is well worth a wander. Characterised by bright colours, ornate detailing and old-world grandeur, its historic Sino-Portuguese architecture is one of its most charming attractions. Some mansions are abandoned, others (such as the celebrated Baan Chinpracha) have been converted into museums, while several house cafes and restaurants. Try the Blue Elephant for exquisite Royal Thai food and cooking classes, or Endless Summer for coffee and pastries.
Meet the gentle giants of Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Phuket’s first ethical elephant sanctuary provides a safe haven for sick, injured and aged elephants who’ve survived a life in the logging or tourism industries. Here, these gentle giants can be themselves: socialising together, enjoying mud baths and roaming freely through hectares of unspoiled rainforest. Fall in love with these fascinating creatures as you hear their stories and observe them in their natural habitat, following them as they wander around the grounds. You’ll also have a chance to help feed them. Who knows? You might even be inspired to join their volunteer program!
Get set for sunset at Windmill Viewpoint
Skip the tourist buses at Cape Promthep (Phuket’s most famous sunset viewpoint) and opt for the western-facing hilltop between Ya Nui and Nai Harn beaches in the south of the island. Known as Windmill Viewpoint, due to the tall wind turbines facing out to the sea, this is the spot for panoramic coastal vistas and spectacular sunsets without the crowds.
Distance to Phuket Town 32km (approximately 50 minutes by taxi)
Distance to Patong 37km (55 minutes)
Distance to Kata/Karon 47km (one hour)Back to top
When to go
Phuket is a year-round destination, although March–April is extremely hot with temperatures shooting up to 40°C, while September and October are often subject to heavy rainfall. The cool season between November and February, with its blue skies and breeze is the most enjoyable – and most popular time to visit.
There are 18 public holidays a year in Thailand, during which most businesses close, but shops and restaurants in tourist areas stay open. Songkran – the Thai New Year and the biggest holiday – falls mid-April. Phuket is famed for its lavish celebrations of the Chinese Vegetarian Festival, which falls late September or early October.Back to top
Flagging down taxis in Phuket is easy, though it can be tricky to find a driver who will use his meter. Metered fares start at THB 50 for the first 2 kilometres, THB 12 per kilometre for the next 15km and THB 10 per kilometre after that. Price boards give maximum rates for fixed-fare journeys; you can negotiate down.
Three-wheeled tuk tuks are everywhere in Patong and Phuket Town – negotiate the fare before you get on. Songthaews (converted pickup trucks that seat several passengers) run between the main resort areas and Phuket Town; they’re cheaper but slower, worth doing once just for the experience.Back to top