The 8 Best Things To Do In Phuket, Thailand
Phuket is the largest island and arguably the most popular destination in Thailand. Its beautiful beaches, turquoise waters and warm climate attract visitors from all over the world. Away from the beach, Phuket also offers excellent food, unique culture and adventure activities.
Unfortunately, Phuket’s popularity has come at a cost with overdevelopment being rife in certain parts of the island. Thankfully, you can avoid it by heading to places that are not on the tourist radar. If you’re prepared to get off the beaten track, you can still find many unspoilt areas that will give you a glimpse of a wilder Phuket.
This guide will give you an overview of the best things to do in Phuket, so you can start planning your own trip.
- The Best Things to Do in Phuket
- When is the Best Time to Go to Phuket
- How to Get to Phuket
- How to Get Around Phuket
- Where To Stay in Phuket
- Final Thoughts
- Related Reads
The Best Things to Do in Phuket
Visit Phuket Old Town
The Old Town area of the city of Phuket, the capital of the Phuket province, is the cultural heart of the island. This is where you can experience its unique history. For centuries, the island’s rich natural resources, especially tin, attracted people from different parts of the world, from China to Europe, who hoped to make their fortunes. This melting pot of cultures produced a unique community that left their mark on the town’s architecture and cuisine.
The streets of Old Town are lined with distinctive Sino-Portuguese shop houses. Many of these colourful buildings have been converted into cafes, restaurants, hotels and boutique shops. Apart from admiring the town’s elegant architecture, you can also check out a number of Chinese shrines, museums and street murals.
Phuket Old Town is also the culinary capital of the island, famous for its fresh seafood and delicious curries. From street food stalls to upmarket establishments, there is lots to try. Some local eateries, including Raya and Khao Tom Thanon Di Buk have even been featured in the Michelin Guide. Another opportunity to enjoy delicious food is the Sunday Walking Street Market. That’s when the central Thalang Road comes alive with street food stalls, live music and street performances.
Phuket Old Town deserves at least a day trip, but if time allows, it will be worth staying there for a couple of days to explore it in more depth. We only did a day trip there, but I would definitely love to come back and stay for longer.
Head to the Beach
Incredible beaches are one of the main reasons travellers flock to Phuket. From busy beaches brimming with activities, bars and restaurants to remote stretches of sand to get away from it all, there is something for every taste.
Patong, Kata, Kamala and Karon are some of the more popular beach towns. As a result, they are also busier. If you’re after a high end experience, head to Surin or Mai Khao beaches that have a concentration of luxury resorts. Mai Khao is also part of the Sirinath National Park and it’s much quieter than many other beaches in Phuket.
Phuket also has plenty of wild beaches on offer. To reach some, you might need to rent a car or a moped. Others are accessible only by boat. For a less developed side of Phuket, we visited Freedom Beach near Patong. Surrounded by lush greenery, it boasts soft white sand and crystal clear waters. It’s absolutely perfect for a swim.
There are two ways of getting there. The easier option is to get a long-tail boat from Patong. The other is to drive there and then walk down a hill for 15-20 minutes to the beach itself. The walk is steep, uneven and has a few steps, so be very careful if you do decide to attempt it.
You might also bump into locals who will charge you 100 baht for entry to the beach. I’m still wondering if this is actually a scam, but we ended up paying as we were not sure what the alternative was.
Party in Patong
Patong is the main tourist hub in Phuket with hotels, restaurants, shops and bars for every budget. It’s the party capital of the island, so if you’re looking for wild nightlife, Patong will deliver.
Bangla Walking Street, lined with bars, clubs and go go bars, is the heart of it all. Even if you’re not planning on partying, people watching there can be quite fun. After a big night out, you can relax at the Patong beach, a 3-km stretch of golden sand that can get incredibly busy during the high season.
We visited Patong in January 2022, just as Thailand started opening up post-pandemic. As a result, many places in the town, including major shopping malls, were closed. The beach was relatively busy, but not as crowded as it would have been before the pandemic.
In normal times, I imagine, Patong might feel too crowded. It’s also a place where overdevelopment rears its ugly head with its negative effects on the local communities and the environment. However, I believe it’s important to form your own opinions. If you’ve never been and would like to have a memorable night out, it’s still worth a visit.
Do a Thai Cooking Class
If you love Thai food, you should add learning the secrets of local cuisine to your list of things to do in Phuket. There are a few different schools scattered around the island, so you can choose a class that works best for your location.
A typical cooking class is a small-group activity that takes 3-4 hours. A friendly instructor will introduce you to the principles of Thai cuisine and popular local ingredients. Then you will get to try your hand at a few different dishes. Some classes, normally the morning ones, include a visit to a local market.
We did a cooking class at Pum’s Cooking School in Patong. We selected 3 dishes (Pad Thai, Green Curry and Tom Yum) and Pum’s excellent team has shown us all the ropes. Needless to say, we were very happy with the results. Pum focuses on simple and healthy food which is easy to replicate at home. We also got to go home with a little cookbook by Pum so we can relive our memories of Thai cooking.
Thanks to the school’s relaxed atmosphere, Pum’s great humour and, of course, delicious food, this class was a highlight of our trip to Phuket. The class that we took is called ‘Pum’s Little Shoes’ and costs 1,500 baht (43 USD) per person. The price includes a hotel transfer.
Cruise Phang Nga Bay
Phang Nga Bay is a natural wonder just off the coast of Phuket, famous for its dramatic limestone formations towering over calm turquoise waters. Sections of the bay have been incorporated into the Ao Phang Nga National Park.
The best way to explore the bay is by boat. We did an Early Bird James Bond & Beyond tour and it was one of our favourite activities in Phuket. There are, however, many tour operators offering similar itineraries. They can vary by the number of islands visited, start times and luxuriousness of the boat.
We selected our tour because of the earlier start to make sure we can beat the crowds at one of the most famous spots in the bay, James Bond Island (Ko Tapu is its original name). You might recognise its unique shape from ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ James Bond film. We arrived there quite early and there were not that many people there, so we had this beautiful spot almost to ourselves. More boats started arriving as we were leaving.
Other interesting stops on the tour included a visit to Koh Panyee, a unique over-water village built on stilts. It was an opportunity to get a glimpse of a very different lifestyle. The guide showed us around the village and told us about the people living there. I believe that on some other tours you can have lunch at one of the restaurants there, so you can enjoy a longer visit.
Our tour also included a lunch at Koh Yao Noi, a much less developed island with just a handful of resorts. Despite its proximity to Phuket, Koh Yao Noi isn’t plagued by the same mass tourism issues. In addition to that, we also got to explore the caves on the Koh Phanak island, did some canoeing in the mangroves and had a stop over on another island for a swim.
All in all, it was a day packed with fun activities and I would definitely recommend it.
Enjoy Island Hopping
Phuket is the perfect base for exploring other islands in the Andaman sea. In fact, you will be spoilt for choice. From busy party hubs to uninhabited slices of paradise, there is something for everyone.
Getting to those islands is pretty straight forward. You can opt for an organised tour, hire a long-tail boat or, in some cases, take a ferry. Organised tours are great if you would like to visit multiple locations in one day. Hiring a boat would give you the most freedom though.
One of the most popular island destinations from Phuket are Koh Phi Phi islands. The islands are famous for their natural beauty, but also their party scene. The place can feel like it’s overrun by tourists, but you can still find quieter areas away from the crowds. There are a couple of resorts located on the island if you would like to stay there for longer.
If you’re into snorkelling or diving, Similan Islands should be at the top of your list. This archipelago is actually a national park and famous for its rich marine life and crystal clear waters. These are best reached with an organised tour, either for a day trip or a multi-day adventure.
See Phuket Big Buddha
Perched on a hill with sweeping views of the beautiful surroundings, the Big Buddha is one of the most well-known landmarks in Phuket. It is an impressive 45-meter tall statue of the Buddha in a sitting position, covered in Burmese white marble. Although its construction began in 2002, it is still ongoing.
Phuket Big Buddha is located in the south of the island. You can actually hike to it from Kata Bay. The trail is 8 km long and takes about 2 hours to complete. It is challenging, so only attempt it if you have a good level of fitness. Alternatively, you can opt for a taxi that will take you up the hill.
The entry to the site is free, but you can leave a donation that will go towards the completion of the site. As this is a place of religious significance, you need to dress appropriately. Make sure to cover your legs and arms. There is an option to borrow a sarong if required.
Watch the Sunset at Baba Nest
Baba Nest is a luxury rooftop bar that sits on the southern tip of Cape Panwa, a quiet area with a handful of resorts just a 30-munute drive from Phuket Town. It is part of the high-end Sri Panwa resort, but you don’t have to stay there to book a table at the bar.
Baba Nest features a stunning rooftop terrace with a wraparound infinity pool. Guests can enjoy incredible 360-degree views over the Andaman Sea and southern Phuket’s coastline. You can even spot the Big Buddha from there.
The bar serves up cocktails and a small selection of Mexican tapas. The drinks and the food are on the pricey side by Thai standards. Remember, in this case you mainly pay for the views and an exclusive setting.
The bar is open daily between 5pm and 8pm, so you can first enjoy a stunning sunset and then get dinner elsewhere.
The bar only has a dozen or so tables, so reservations are essential. Email the bar directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a table. To avoid disappointment, try to book about a month in advance, as this is when the new dates get released.
There is a minimum spend of 2,000 baht (US $60) per person. You will need to make this payment to confirm your booking.
When is the Best Time to Go to Phuket
Phuket has a tropical climate, so the temperatures are warm all year round. November to early April is considered the best time to go. These are the driest and sunniest months. This is the perfect time to make the most of Phuket’s beaches. However, this is also the high season meaning that flights and accommodation prices are higher.
The rainy season in Phuket is between May and October. You will still get plenty of sunshine overall, but the weather is more unpredictable. Tropical showers are common, but they often last for just a few hours in the afternoon. This is the time when the island is quieter, and the prices are lower.
How to Get to Phuket
Phuket is home to an international airport connected to major European, Middle Eastern and Asian cities.
There are a handful of bus routes that will help get you to the most popular areas of the island. The Airport Bus Phuket connects the airport to Phuket Town. The Phuket Smart Bus route goes all the way to Rawai in the south of the island with stops at the likes of Kamala and Patong.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi to your destination. If you would like to book a private airport transfer in advance, you can use the Welcome Pickups service. This way you can reduce the hassle and waiting time when you arrive in Phuket.
If you are travelling to Phuket from other parts of Thailand, you may be able to take a coach. You can use the Easy Book website to check coach routes, timetables and prices, as well as book your tickets.
How to Get Around Phuket
Getting around Phuket is not always easy. The public transport system is limited. There is a bus network that connects Phuket Town with popular beach destinations. These buses (blue songthaews) are not particularly luxurious but are the quite affordable. It’s important to note that there are no set schedules for these.
Other options for getting around Phuket are taxis and, for shorter journeys, tuk-tuks. Foreigners are charged a tourist rate for these, but there might be room to negotiate a slightly lower price.
Renting a car or a scooter offers the most flexibility. The latter seems to be especially popular among tourists and many bloggers recommend it as a “local” experience.
However, driving not just in Phuket but in Thailand in general is dangerous. The country has one the highest rate of road fatalities per capita in the world with around 20,000 preventable deaths a year. The majority of deaths involves motorcyclists and pedestrians. There are many reasons for this tragic statistic, from weak law enforcement to careless driving.
I would personally recommend staying away from hiring a car or, especially, a scooter. The costs of taxis and tuk-tuks add up, but it is a safer option as the drivers are more used to the local road conditions.
If you do feel that having your own transport is the best option for you, make sure you have insurance. If you are renting a scooter, wear a helmet.
Where To Stay in Phuket
The choice of where to stay depends on what you’re after. If you’d like to be close to nightlife, Patong is the place to be. If you’re after a quieter place away from the crowds, check out Rawai or Mai Khao. Another popular option is Kamala, especially for families. It’s not as busy as Patong, but still has a good choice of eateries and activities. If you’d like to spend some time exploring Phuket’s heritage, make sure to spend some time in Phuket Old Town.
We stayed at Phuket Marriott Resort & Spa, Merlin Beach near Patong. We wanted to be close to different activities, but at the same time have a relaxing experience. Marriott Resort & Spa is located a 20 minute drive away from Patong and has regular daily shuttles into town. Getting a taxi is also quite easy there. There wasn’t much around the resort in terms of dining and shops though. If you want to be within walking distance from these, I would recommend staying closer to Patong.
Phuket truly does offer the best and the worst of Thai travel. Despite this area’s challenges with mass tourism, it is a stunning part of the world which deserves a visit. In the end, it’s up to us to decide what we want to experience as part of our trip.
Enjoyed this guide to the best things to do in Phuket? Bookmark or pin it for later.
I’ve always wanted to see Thailand. This is a great post. Thsnks for the info.
Thanks Margarita, glad you’ve enjoyed the post!