There’s no shortage of things to do and places to go in Phuket. And rightly so since this island is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. This roundup includes a bit of everything: places for singles or families, from free things to do to splurge-worthy activities, as well as lesser known sites to high-end touristy destinations.
Our adventure began by flying into Phuket International Airport (HKT). Rather than succumb to high taxi fares or the questionable safety of a riding a motorbike on Phuket’s major highways, we rented a car throughout the length of our trip. We paid around 1,200 THB per day and it was money well spent.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Peaceful Seaside Experiences
Go island hopping on an iconic longtail boat
One of the coolest things to do in Phuket (or anywhere in southern Thailand, for that matter) is island hopping. There are plenty of tour companies that zip visitors around to the big-name islands in a speedboat. However, if you want to get away from the overly touristy activities and don’t mind a little adventure, then try exploring a few smaller, quieter islands on your own private longtail boat.
Just off Phuket’s southern tip in the Chalong Bay are Koh Hae (Coral Island), Koh Lone, and Koh Bon. These three islands are your classic tropical getaways. They are peaceful, secluded, and have just enough basic needs (all have at least one restaurant and facilities to use once you’re there) to make the trip endurable.
Starting at 1,000 THB (roughly 28 USD) per person, rent a longtail boat from one of the dozens lined up along Rawai Beach, Chalong Pier, or Cape Panwa. Keep in mind that there may be a bit of a language barrier, haggling is required, and tickets can’t be pre-booked (at least, as far as we could tell). Also, longtail boats are not exactly glamorous (the engines are loud and the seats are wood), but the trip is inexpensive for an entire day and great for photo ops.
|TIP: Pack a beach bag with your own beach mat or blanket, a big bottle (or two) of water, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a cover-up (sarong, t-shirt) for the day trip. We’d recommend tossing in a bag of wet wipes, too.
Listen to waves on a quiet beach
Patong, Karon, and Kata Beaches are arguably the most well-known beaches in Phuket and are popular with tourists. If you rather not visit these, there are over 30 other beaches. Many have a comfortable number of restaurants and resorts without being overcrowded, some are ‘working’ beaches (used solely by the local fisherman), and others are very quiet.
The quiet beaches usually have a simple restaurant or two serving up snacks or smoothies and basic bathroom facilities. Some are rocky under the waterline (they’re better for lounging and building sand castles) while others have soft sand underfoot and are good for swimming.
Good for beach lounging:
- Hua Beach
- Rayee Beach
- Yae Beach
Good for swimming:
- Ao Sane
- Banana Beach
- Freedom Beach (longtail boat required)
- Layan Beach
- Mai Khao Beach
- Nui Beach (350 THB entrance fee for visitors over 12 years old)
- Sai Kaew Beach
|TIP: If you’re really looking for peace and quiet, go to these beaches during the middle of the week to avoid the weekend crowds.
Take the kids to Kamala Beach
Contrary to this island’s stereotypical images of adult entertainment and crazy nightlife along its shores, there are fun things to do in Phuket with kids. During our two-week trip, we came across several fantastic family-friendly beaches. Our favorite stretch was Kamala Beach, which is located halfway down the island’s west coast. This is why it’s so great:
- plenty of natural shady spots; umbrellas and mats available for rent
- restaurants along the beach (i.e., easy accessible bathrooms)
- small walking street with beach paraphernalia, cafés, restaurants, and parking
- soft, clean sand; small waves
- spacious enough so it wasn’t crowded, small enough where you can see end to end
We also ate several of our best meals at two restaurants along Kamala Beach: Hae Ha Bar & Grill and Bua. If you’re looking for good looking Thai seafood in Kamala, go there!
Watch airplanes fly over Mai Khao Beach
It was our last day on the island when we remembered about plane spotting near the Phuket International Airport. Too bad it was raining, but on our next visit to Phuket, we’d like to watch airplanes landing over Mai Khao Beach.
Mai Khao Beach is Phuket’s longest beach and there’s a particular area where you can spot the planes soaring in overhead from a great angle: the strip of beach between the Centara Grand West Sands Resort & Villa and the airport. You can park at the hotel and then take a short walk to the beach for the best views.
|TIP: Don’t forget to check flight schedules before going (so you don’t go during a dry spell). And even though this is a public beach, be sure to be respectful of the hotel’s and airport’s private property.
Go All Out
Party it up on HYPE Luxury Boat Club
Phuket isn’t exactly a place that caters to budget travelers, so we have no shame including one splurge-worthy activity on this list: HYPE Luxury Boat Club.
Surprisingly, HYPE was not mentioned on other ‘things to do in Phuket’ articles we browsed. It turns out that the company is still fairly new and we first learned about it thanks to a Canadian expat’s suggestion.
The trip starts at the Yacht Haven Marina on a big, stylish catamaran. Our trip to Hong Island with several friends was made complete with fancy cocktails, a fantastic live DJ, and beautiful sea views. We were impressed by how attentive and professional the staff was and the quality of the boat. The food served on the boat was satisfying, too.
HYPE Luxury Boat Club offer day trips (1 pm to 7 pm) to several destinations:
- High Season (November 15 to April 15): Racha Island, Nui Beach, or Waeo Island
- Low Season (April 16 to November 14): Hong Island or James Bond Island
Catch the sunrise or sunset at a private villa
Islands are the best places for sunrises and sunsets. Amiright?
We’ve had the pleasure of watching the several sunrises in various provinces recently, but it was really nice to watch the sunrise in our pajamas, coffee in hand, at Eva Villa. No rushing to get dressed. No driving in the dark. We just climbed some stairs to our rooftop balcony in Rawai and watched the sun come up over Coral Island.
And then there are days where catching a sunrise around 6:30 am is out of the question. Not to worry, though. Phuket has plenty of beaches along its west coast that are perfect for strolling on and watching the sun disappear in a spray of fiery oranges and hot pinks. The most memorable sunset we had in Phuket was at the waterfront Cape Kata Villa while being served a few beers and a home-cooked Thai meal.
Savor craft beer and fusion cuisine in Phuket Old Town
Yes, do walk around this downtown area and admire the Sino-Portuguese style (pronounce seeno). But better yet, go to Phuket Old Town for the craft beer and fusion Thai food.
For us, the main appeal of going to Phuket Old Town was the chance to savor craft beer and fusion cuisine in one of the many trendy establishments. This is the place to go if you want to treat yourself to an upscale meal (whether Thai, Western, or other Asian cuisine) as well as a glass (or two or three) of imported wine and beer.
We had a delicious meal at Surf & Turf, enjoyed the ambiance at Prohibition, and had our stout beer cravings satisfied at CRAFTs & Co. The next time we visit, we’ll make sure to give Tu Kab Khao a try.
Hand-pick dinner from the Rawai Seafood Market
Now this was our kind of seafood experience! Just east of Rawai Beach near the southern tip of Phuket is a huge seafood market where fishermen sell their day’s catch. There’s no shortage of fish, crabs, clams, mussels, shrimp, squid, and even a few unfamiliar sea creatures on display.
The novelty of the Rawai Seafood Market is that you buy fresh seafood and then take it across the street to one of the local restaurants where they cook it up for you. The chefs charge a small price to prepare your meal (based on the protein’s raw, unprepared weight) and then grill it, steam it, or smothered in a Thai curry. You can’t get fresher seafood than that.
Test your bravery on Bangla Road
Personally, we aren’t fans of Phuket’s seedy red light district. But if you’re curious, you can be thoroughly wowed by the neon lights, elaborately dressed ladyboys, and crazy bar scenes along Bangla Road. Try walking down it if you dare – it’s 100% possible to enjoy the evening without any undesirable side effects.
Three tips to make your Bangla Road experience memorable:
1) Don’t go to a Ping Pong show. It’s vulgar and you won’t be able to forget what you’ve seen. Drink prices are shockingly high, too.
2) Expect to pay a few hundred baht for a picture with a bedazzled ladyboy. They won’t do it for free – and why should they?
3) Only buy drinks from establishments where the prices are clearly displayed on the menus. Otherwise, you risk getting an outrageous bill at the end of the evening.
Have fun on Patong Beach
For as much bad press Patong Beach receives, we had a good experience there. The beach was very clean, we had easy access to unlimited restaurants and bars along the main road, and umbrellas and beach mats were available to rent for only 100 THB a pop. The parking was a bit tight, but that’s the only negative thing we have to say.
As for the hawkers, they weren’t out of control. There’s at least one permanent sign on the beach’s entrance that marks where they can and cannot go. North of that sign, several hawkers approached us with offers of jet skiing and parasailing starting at 1,500 THB and 1,200 THB, respectively. Surprisingly, we saw no vendors walking around selling snacks, sarongs, or other beachy trinkets. South of that sign we weren’t bothered at all. We appreciated having both options and were pleasantly surprised that the hawkers didn’t linger and instead quickly bounced to other potential clients.
|TIP: Around the halfway point of Patong Beach’s main road, keep your eye out for a red building with a yellow sign that says ‘Arabia Restaurant’. Just north of this landmark, you’ll find parasailing, jet skiing, and rentable umbrellas and mats. South of this is where you’ll find a beach without hawkers.
Experience panoramic island views from an overlook (or two or three)
Chances are you’ve read about Phromthep Cape during your time researching things to do in Phuket. If you’re interested in something like this, there’s good news: there are a number of equally gorgeous viewpoints (if not better than Phromthep Cape) dotted all over the island’s bottom half.
- Karon Viewpoint
- Khao Khad (Panwa) Viewpoint
- Koh Si Rae Viewpoint
- Monkey Hill (Khao To Sae) Viewpoint
- Phromthep Cape (Laem Phromthep)
- Radar Hill
- Rang Hill
- Windmill (Wind Turbine) Viewpoint
Some viewpoints are on the highest hills within the island and overlook the town and distant coastline. Others are on cliffs right along the water’s edge with gorgeous views of the Andaman Sea.
Although we explored several of these viewpoints in Rawai on our own one morning, the more popular viewpoints (Phromthep Cape; Big Buddha; Panwa or Karon Viewpoints) are often included in the private or group tours of the island.
Pay respect to several big Buddha statues
We can’t write a ‘things to do in Phuket’ list without including one of the island’s most popular attractions: the Big Buddha. As in, THE Big Buddha.
This huge white statue on Mount Nagakerd is the island’s iconic structure and overshadows a half-dozen other big Buddha statues on the island. Some of them are in pretty spectacular places, too, such as a cave or a hilltop that doubles as a viewpoint.
- THE Big Buddha
- Reclining Buddha at Wat Sri Sunthorn
- Seated Buddha at Wat Khao Rang
- Reclining Buddha at Wat Si Rea
- Big Buddha at Koh Gaew Yai
- Reclining Buddha at Wat Phra Nang Sang
That wraps up our favorite things to do and places to go in Phuket – at least for now. We were really impressed with the island and can’t wait to go back and experience more activities and visit more sites.
If you’re hungry for more beaches, check out Koh Lanta and Ao Nang, two places we’ve enjoyed and are just a speedboat ride away from Phuket. If you need help planning your trip around southern Thailand (or anywhere in Thailand for that matter), just ask!
If you’ve ever been to Phuket, what was your favorite part of your trip? Where do you recommend that we go on our next trip there?
Disclosure: We were grateful guests of several activities during our time on the island. The opinions of all sites, stays, restaurants, and general things we did in Phuket are our own.