Things to Do in Phuket
A starring role in the 1974 James Bond movie “The Man With the Golden Gun” put the towering limestone islands of Ko Khao Phing Kan and the 66-foot-tall (20-meter) islet Ko Tapu firmly on Thailand’s tourist trail. While boats are forbidden from getting too close to the islands, opportunities for sightseeing abound in the surrounding area.
From the emerald waters of the Andaman Sea, the jungle-shrouded limestone cliffs of Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands rise majestically, giving way to white-sand beaches and lush green jungles further inland. Longtail boats putter between the islands, collectively known as Koh Phi Phi or Ko Phi Phi, surrounded by turquoise waters and colorful marine life.
The stunning Maya Bay (Maya Beach) became a major tourist attraction after the 2000 film,The Beach, was filmed here. It’s situated within Thailand’s Phi Phi Islands, off the coasts of both Krabi and Phuket on the mainland, and is distinguished by its beautiful white-sand beach sheltered by limestone cliffs on three sides.
There are in fact several beaches here, but most are small and some only exist at low tide. The main beach, where most boats drop passengers just offshore, is a 200-meter long strip of silky white sand. It’s surrounded by clear waters filled with colorful coral and an abundance of exotic fish, making it an absolute haven for snorkelers. Walking inland is also a treat, with a path that winds through lush greenery and reveals some simply spectacular scenery.
It’s true that Maya Bay’s popularity has taken a certain degree of the shine from this once little-heard of slice of paradise. It’s become so well-known that its shores are filled with hoards of boats dropping visitors off and picking them up throughout the day, particularly in peak season. Visitors should arrive early in the morning to avoid the larger part of the crowds.
Please note: Maya Bay (Maya Beach) is closed indefinitely due to overtourism.
With limestone rock formations jutting out of the emerald green sea, Phang Nga Bay (Ao Phang Nga) in Thailand is famous the world over for its natural beauty. Many visitors to Thailand will find themselves crossing the bay on the way to popular tourist spots, such as Phuket or Krabi, but this place deserves some dedicated exploration time of its own.
The Big Buddha Phuket is hard to miss. Built on a patch of virgin rain forest on Khao Nakkerd Hill high above Phuket, this gigantic 148-foot (45-meter) statue is one of the island's most prominent landmarks, easily seen from most places in the south. From the statue’s base, visitors enjoy panoramic views of Chalong Bay and Phuket town.
The prominence of Phuket’s beaches and out islands mean that Phuket Old Town is often overlooked. Yet, it offers a wealth of 19th-century architectural delights and fantastic photo ops. Beside the latticed windows of Malay-style shop-front buildings on Soi Rommanee, Old Phuket Town boasts temples, museums, and restaurants.
Known for its limestone rock formations rising out of the turquoise Andaman Sea, the protected Ao Phang Nga National Marine Park covers a large swathe of water in southern Thailand. Many visitors come to the area to enjoy the scenery and take part in watersports.
As the most significant of Phuket’s 29 Buddhist temples, Wat Chalong attracts hundreds of visitors daily. A mountain backdrop emphasizes a golden spire, while wall paintings inside each temple depict vibrant Buddhist images. The main stupa, known as the Grand Pagoda, is said to harbor a splinter of the Buddha’s bone.
Big, brash, and bold, Patong is a high-energy resort on the west coast of Phuket, Thailand. Patong Beach, a deep stretch of white sand on a crescent bay, holds natural charms. But many head here for the restaurants, cabarets, dance shows, Thai boxing matches, and the loud and lively nightlife that draws travelers young and old alike.
Situated at Phuket’s most southerly point, Promthep Cape (or Laem Phromthep) is the rocky headland than juts out into the sea here, offering incredible views over the east and southeast of the island, particularly at sunset.
Promthep Cape is a popular spot with ample parking and a large open space on top of the hill from which to enjoy the views. There’s also an elephant shrine plus a lighthouse with historical maritime artifacts on display for those interested in the history of the area. If you go up to the viewing balcony of the lighthouse, you will be rewarded with some spectacular views of the surrounding islands – on a clear day, you can even make out the distinctive shapes of Koh Phi Phi, Koh Racha Yai, and Koh Racha Noi.
Every evening, tour buses and other vehicles arrive at Promthep Cape full of tourists and locals looking to catch the sunset. As a result, an inevitable series of stalls selling the usual tourist fare have been set up on the hill. After the rush at sunset, a sudden peace descends on the area, and those who like dining with a view can enjoy a peaceful dinner overlooking Nai Harn Beach at the Phromthep Cape Restaurant.
A trip up to Promthep Cape can be combined with visiting Phuket’s other viewpoints and attractions on a half-day Phuket city tour or a full-day island and city tour from Krabi. Those into their motorbikes will love exploring the island’s most scenic parts on a ‘big’ motorbike day trip.
More Things to Do in Phuket
As one of the most glamorous cabaret shows in southern Thailand, the Simon Cabaret is a must for fans of glitz and drama. Shows are a flamboyant combination of costumed transgender performers, traditional Thai dance and music, and comedy routines. After the show, you’ll have the opportunity to meet the stars and take photos.
Racha Island (Raya Island) is, in fact, two islands—Ko Racha Yai and Ko Racha Noi—both known for their excellent snorkeling and diving. Whether for day-long underwater exploring trips or stays of a few days to relax on the unspoiled beaches, the southern Thai islands are popular with water sports enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
Sister island to Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai (also written Ko Yao Yai) is an unspoiled gem that sprawls amid the karst seascapes of Phang Nga Bay (Ao Phang Nga). The coast offers white sand beaches, fishing villages (many on stilts), and mangrove forests; inland are timeless landscapes of orchards, rice fields, and rubber plantations.
This eclectic strip of bars, discos, shops and attractions is the epicenter of entertainment in Patong. It offers a taste of some local traditions, as well as near unlimited access to plenty of western amenities. Travelers can shop for high-end fashions, flashy new swimsuits or local souvenirs at the massive Bangla Mall.
Bangla Road (Patong) is also a popular drinking destination. Beer bars serving ice-cold Thai brews ice cold entice passersby with aircon and open tables filled with favorite board games. But perhaps Bangla Road is best known for its evening entertainment. Stop by Rock Hard—one of the street’s oldest institutions—for live go-go dancers, center-stage pole dancing and strong drinks, or grab a ticket to the popular Simon Cabaret in Patong’s Paradise Complex. The famous ladyboys put on one of the largest transvestite shows in all of Asia.
Sold around the globe, Chalong Bay Rum is Thailand’s best-known rum brand. At the Chalong Bay Rum Distillery in Phuket, travelers can go behind-the-scenes to discover how the facility uses centuries-old French distillation techniques to transform freshly pressed sugarcane into smooth white rum.
One of a number of stadiums in Patong dedicated to the martial art of muay thai (Thai boxing), the 350-capacity Patong Boxing Stadium offers fights three nights a week. Fighters come from all around the globe, and the stadium hosts men’s, women’s, and junior bouts, including title matches. Drinks, french fries, and popcorn are for sale.
Splash Jungle Water Park's exhilarating rides, including Boomerango and the Superbowl, and six-level wavepool attract hundreds of visitors to this coastal Phuket destination every day.
Themed rides give a nod to the ancient Mayans, lush landscapes of Turkey, old-world architecture of Northern Europe and the culture and colors of Africa. This continental vibe means that travelers will find thrills beyond just the rides. Splash Jungle Water Park has something for the less adventurous set too, with quiet play pools for kids, soothing hydrotherapy springs and a lazy river perfect for floating the day away.
Kata Beach is both the name of a small town on Phuket’s west coast and its popular beach. The mile- (1.5 kilometer-) long, picture-perfect crescent of sand is lined with shade-giving trees and seafood restaurants and is a go-to spot for sun worshippers, families, and water sports enthusiasts.
The Trickeye Museum in Phuket is situated in Phuket Town in the building that once housed the Pearl Cinema and then the Fantasia Entertainment club, before becoming the first Trickeye 3D museum in southern Thailand.
It’s a fun and interactive museum with around 100 different paintings and sculptures depicting all kinds of scenes for visitors to interact with, with its trompe-l’oeil (‘deceive the eye’) techniques creating some truly unique photo opportunities.
Visitors could find themselves sharing a train carriage with a zombie or seemingly running from bulls along a Spanish street. There are interactive scenes that see visitors walking the length of a rickety bridge above the clouds, of coming up against Mike Tyson in a fight, and of hanging onto a rope pulled by a helicopter in front of a large waterfall.
The volunteer-run, not-for-profit Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Phuket rescues gibbons (a type of ape) that have been poached and held in captivity (a serious problem in Phuket). The staff then rehabilitates them before safely reintroducing them to their natural habitats, when possible.
Nestled amid jungle-covered mountains, Nai Harn Beach (Naiharn Beach) is a favorite among locals. Its crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches, freshwater inlet and spectacular ocean views make for one of the most relaxing beaches in Phuket. Active travelers can log miles on the l.5 mile lap around Nai Harn Lake, surf some of the areas spectacular waves, rent kayaks and paddle into the sea or play a game of pick-up beach volleyball on the sandy shore’s court.
Located midway between Phuket and Krabi in Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay, Koh Yao Noi (Ko Yao Noi) is replete with mangrove forests and white-sand beaches. While the primarily Muslim island is home to a few high-end resorts and restaurants, it offers a much more relaxed alternative to its rowdy neighbors.
Opening its doors in 2012, the Phuket Botanic Garden offers a collection of rare and exotic plants, with everything from tropical palms to colorful orchids, presented over a series of 12 landscaped gardens. Highlights of the small garden include the paddy field and the koi pond, where visitors can purchase pellets and feed the fish.
Whether it’s traditional Thai crafts, inexpensive shoes or street-fried crickets and crispy silver fish, the Phuket Weekend Market (also known as Naka Market or Phuket Town Night Market) is home to all of the energy, smells, tastes and sounds that make this province one of the most-visited in the country. In a region full of vibrant life, the night market is where travelers can really feel the energy of the place.
Spend the evening sampling the best of Thai street food: refreshing papaya salad, sweet slices of toast with thick condensed milk, authentic pad Thai, or one of the flash-fried insects some would only eat on a dare. Then wander through the hundreds of tarp-covered stalls selling handmade jewelry, locally woven fabrics, statues of Buddha or discounted clothing.
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