With more than beaches to keep visitors occupied, Phuket offers a bit of fun, sun, and relaxation on a Thailand vacation.
I don’t think it would be wrong of me to assume that most visitors to Phuket are attracted by the sun, sea, and sand on offer. I quote the local tourist board, “Spectacular scenery, stunning tropical sunsets and warm blue sea await you at Thailand’s most popular beach destination.” All this is true. However, as we all know, after a while, we start to look for alternative attractions. Well, Phuket has so much else waiting for you.
First of all, let’s look at the size of Phuket, or to give it its correct geographical name, Phuket Island. This destination in the Andaman Sea, off the west coast of Southern Thailand, is 48 kilometres/30 miles long and 21 kilometres/13 miles wide. It is almost as big as Singapore in area. Seventy percent of Phuket is covered with mountains which stretch from north to south. It is connected to the mainland by two bridges in the north of the island.
Which Beach is for You?
Before getting into the various other reasons to go to Phuket on a Thailand vacation, we should have an idea of the different beaches available, as there are several to choose from. The majority are on the west coast of the island, stretching north to south, and each has its own individual characteristics. Hopefully, the following will give you some idea of the type of beach that might suit you.
Patong is, without doubt, the most famous beach in Phuket. It is also the busiest and most commercial. It is the centre of activity and not for those looking to stay somewhere quiet and serene. It is made up of hotels, good restaurants, bars, and entertainment centres, and offers a very lively nightlife scene. It is also a good place to purchase your souvenirs.
Karon is the second largest of Phuket’s beaches, at 3 kilometres/2 miles in length. It is located between Patong to the north and Kata to the south. Not many hotels have direct beach frontage and most are across the road (which is not a busy one). Therefore, practically the entire beach is public. The sand is very white and the beach is rarely crowded. There is a wide pedestrian/ bicycle path on the beach side of the road. This beach has good choices for dining, shopping, and nightlife entertainment opportunities as well as a beautiful Buddhist temple hosting a weekly market.
Once a village, now a resort, Kata Beach (which has two parts, Kata and Kata Noi) is not very far south of Patong and offers a full range of hotels. It is popular with families due to its peaceful and safe palm-lined white sandy beach, which is a kilometre/ half a mile in length. There is a coral reef that goes out to Poo (Crab) Island. Sitting on the beach and looking to the right, you may see local fishermen on the rocks trying to catch their dinner. Kata has its own nightlife and selection of restaurants as well as gift stores.
Kamala Beach lies just north of Patong and is a quieter stretch of sand with a more relaxed feel in a well-enclosed bay. Originally a fishing village, it is surrounded by forested hills and arguably one of the most beautiful places in Phuket. It attracts longer-term visitors who stay in small hotels, villas, and apartments. The beach is nice and not too crowded. In the afternoons, the water spectacularly recedes, leaving a blanket of rocks at the end of the beach for local fishing. Again to quote a local source, “we like it just the way it is, don’t tell anyone as they’ll all come and spoil it.” I guess that sums up Kamala Beach adequately.
Surin Beach still has a small village atmosphere and offers clear turquoise water and a beautiful picturesque white sandy beach. It is north of Kamala Beach and is one of the quieter beaches. It is also known as “Millionaires Row,” due to the number of celebrities who choose to stay here in one of the luxury resorts or at one of the luxury homes on top of the hills overlooking the beach. This is the place for high-end restaurants and bars.
Bang Thao Beach
Bang Thao Beach, north of Surin Beach, is situated in an open bay and is one of the longest beaches in Phuket. Most of it is occupied by the Laguna Complex, a massive five-star hotel development with a golf course. This is very self-contained but guests from local hotels are welcome to use the facilities such as the restaurants, pools, spas, and golf course.
Other Attractions and Activities in Phuket
Phuket is, without doubt, the centre of diving on a Thailand vacation. Most dive sites are off nearby islands but the distances are fairly short and there are dozens of dive shops and boats to cater to divers’ needs, mostly based near Chalong Bay, on the south east coast. The reefs around the area are in a healthy condition with both solid hard corals and colourfully soft corals. There is also an abundance of marine life. Most of the dive locations are suitable for all levels of divers but there are also some that are quite deep. The best-known dive site is Racha Yai, with its sloping rocky reefs and its solid coral forests. You can also discover an exciting wreck here at Ter Bay. Just off Phuket is the limestone island of Ko Doc Mai, which rises vertically from the sea and is home to a diversity of fish. It also offers the opportunity to view leopard sharks, moray eels, octopus, and turtles.
Snorkeling can be enjoyed in the sheltered bays all around Phuket on a Thai vacation. With some of the clearest waters around, Phuket has some incredible snorkeling conditions. Banana Beach is a well kept secret in Phuket, offering great snorkeling in crystal clear waters alongside large palm trees and excellent sand. Ao Sane Beach is another hidden gem that offers great snorkeling, with rock formations dividing it into three coves, creating an underwater paradise for marine life.
Phuket is one of the most popular spa destinations in the world, and should be enjoyed on your Thailand vacation. You can usually find a spa in your hotel or you can choose one of the dozens of independent spas and massage parlours dotted around the island. Many of them have received international acclaim and awards for their spa services.
Phuket’s Amazing Viewpoints
I mentioned Phuket’s mountain backdrop. There are also a number of rocky promontories which give the opportunity to view the island from above and enjoy wonderful panoramic views, and to realize what a beautiful island Phuket really is. Here is a rundown on the principal viewpoints.
Promthep Cape is the island’s most photographed and perhaps best-known location. In the evening, people gather to watch the sunset, nature’s free show for all. The spectacular views you can see include the distinctive shapes of the Phi Phi Islands, along with others on a clear day.
The Karon Viewpoint, located just to the south of Kata Noi Beach, looks directly out onto the Andaman Sea, with an impressive 8 kilometre/5 mile vista of 3 west coast beaches – Patong, Karon, and Kata Beaches.
Panwa Viewpoint stands on top of one of the highest and most remote hills in Phuket. Maybe because it is a little off the beaten track that its solitude is striking. There is a massive stairway leading to a large tower. What is special about this particular viewpoint is you can have a 360-degree panoramic view of the island.
Khao Rang Hill is situated in the northwestern part of the island. From here, you can have a view of Phuket Town as well as some of the outer islands. Besides being a hill, there is a garden here and a good restaurant. You might want to consider dining here in the evening and take in the panoramic view of the town that is beautifully illuminated by the sunset’s rays.
Windmill Viewpoint is close to Cape Phromthep and got its name from the fact that there are windmills up here that look like airplane propellers. It is also a meeting place for model airplane enthusiasts as well as hang gliders who ride the tropical thermals, eventually coming to a graceful landing down on the beach.
Radar Hill Viewpoint has some amazing views of Phuket Town, Patong, and Chalong Bay. The views are exceptional, which isn’t surprising, considering it is the highest point on the island.
Where Else to Visit in Phuket on Your Thailand Vacation?
Let’s keep going. You will hopefully have time, on your Thailand vacation, to take in some of the following:
Sirinath National Park
The Sirinath Marine National Park extends all the way from Ao Bang Beach to the northern tip of Phuket. It consists of a mangrove forest and saltwater swamps supporting unique eco-systems. There is a nature trail with an 800 metre/ half mile wooden walkway with signs indicating and explaining the various species of plants and animals you might encounter. The 13 kilometre / 7 mile coastal front has a number of peaceful and secluded beaches. It is also home to wonderful sea turtles, and there is a sea turtle preserving event held annually.
If you have an interest in Buddhist temples, there are 29 of them on the island. Head to Chalong Bay to see one of them, Wat Chalong. The Grand Pagoda dominates the temple and contains a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone. The pagoda is decorated with wall paintings depicting Buddha’s life story and also features various Buddha images, along with antique Thai furniture.
Phuket Town, situated on the eastern side of the island, is well worth spending time in. In the historically rich part of the town you will find shrines, temples (Buddhist and Chinese), ornate and beautifully preserved “shophouses,” quaint cafés, and private and public museums. The town is compact enough to stroll around in. A lot of its character comes from the many mixes of nationalities that make up the inhabitants. The core of the Old Town is basically made up of five roads and small streets. These include Phang Nga Road, with its Shrine of Serene Light, built in 1889. It also features The Memory at On On Hotel, a Phuket institution and which played the part of a Bangkok flophouse in the film, The Beach. Then there is Thalang Road in the heart of Phuket’s Old Town, a street teeming with history and atmosphere. The names of the shops and businesses say it all, with Sin & Lee, Sin Yoo Chang, etc. Phuket’s Oldest Herbs Shop mixes Chinese and Western herbs and supplies many of Phuket’s spas. Dibuk Road features some excellent examples of well-renovated Chinese-style houses. A must here is a visit to the night market, with its hundreds of stalls selling clothes, shoes, crafts, and everything you’ll want to shop for on your Thailand vacation.
Bang Pae Waterfall and the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park
Bang Pae Waterfall lies within the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, a protected virgin jungle covering a large area. The park is home to several species of wildlife and plants. You will certainly see bamboo shooting up at impressive heights and enough exotic-looking jungle plants that, along with the steamy humidity, will make you feel well immersed in the tropics. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project within the park is a tiny sanctuary which adopts gibbons that have been kept in captivity, in the hope that they can be reintroduced to the wild.
Phuket Aquarium has thousands of tropical, colourful and exotic marine creatures and is always a big hit on a Thailand vacation. Enjoyed by both young and old, it features more than 30 tanks of freshwater and saltwater creatures. The diverse selection includes eel, crab, shrimp, sharks, and fish. Floor-to-ceiling wall displays go into great detail about the marine life, habitats, and conservation issues.
Phuket FantaSea has been referred to as the “Disneyland of Southeast Asia.” It is a large theme-complex with lots of activities and entertainment which include games, shops, a 4000-seat restaurant, and a Las Vegas-style theatrical show.
At this point, I have run out of space to include everything else that you can see and do in Phuket on a Thailand vacation, such as cruises to nearby islands, or tours to Phang Nga Bay to view the extraordinary limestone karsts that jut vertically out of the emerald-green water. In Phuket, you will never run out of fun things to do.