Phuket: The Ultimate A to Z Guide
In this series of city guides, we highlight the top spots in each destination, from the most iconic landmarks to the least-known hidden gems, with a sprinkling of survival tips from A to Z.
Stepping into this teardrop-shaped island, you’re greeted with its calming tropical air and amicable residents, a quaint, idyllic image that shifts by nightfall when its more raucous personality emerges. Phuket is at once a paradise of pristine beaches (with more secluded spots along its southeastern shores), as well as an infamous place of hard-partying that has just begun to rebrand itself. Swiftly getting back on its feet after the 2004 tsunami, it’s since introduced a variety of upscale hotels, grown its local art community, and even secured a coveted title as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Here’s your ultimate to-do list for the best experiences in Phuket.
Admire the multi-coloured sunset from above
One of the top spots to watch the glowing sun dip into the sparkling sea, while the sky turns into all shades of purple, pink and orange is the Promthep Cape. It is an extraordinary lookout point in Rawai and a halcyon picnic spot for lovebirds if you don’t mind the occasional crowd.
Revel in the ivory glory of this 147-foot tall Buddhist statue (officially named Phra Phutta Ming Mongkol Akenakiri), which rests at the top of Mount Nagakerd. Carved out of white jade marble, the Great Buddha of Phuket overlooks the Andaman Sea, a majestic vantage point for all who seek some form of spiritual enlightenment.
The Tent features a quirky, yet adorable concept for a cafe where patrons dine under indoor tents. Visitors are also treated to an equally charming menu of sweet treats such as the Campfire S’mores (a mini spread including hot chocolate, marshmallows, fruits and graham crackers), and a thai tea-flavoured bowl of shaved ice embellished with a pair of googly eyes.
Dive into the world of water sports
From the iconic banana boat rides to the more challenging water sports varieties such as flyboarding, kitesurfing, wake boarding and parasailing, Phuket has it all (and in abundance, considering its smorgasbord of beach venues).
A multitude of elephant trekking camps in Phuket uses inhumane practices to train the elephants that tourists then get to ride. Rather than sit on the back of one of these gentle giants while a mahout (an elephant trainer) controls them, opt for a more ethical experience at the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary, where rescued pachyderms are taken care of.
First Michelin restaurant
The first and only Michelin-starred fine-dining joint in Phuket, Pru (located in luxury resort Trisara) serves gourmet gastronomy crafted from locally sourced ingredients, some of which come straight from the resort’s sprawling 16,000sqm farm. Established in 2016 by Dutch chef Jim Ophorst, its unorthodox dishes (which feature sea grapes and pine needles) are sure to impress.
Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project is a non-profit situated near the Khao Phra Thaeo Wildlife Sanctuary that, as its name suggests, cares for sick, injured and vulnerable gibbons until they are ready to re-enter their natural habitat. Get to know this species of primates, while savouring a cuddle or two.
Hop between neighbouring islands
Koh Phi Phi, a pristine island getaway made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach (2000). James Bond Island, a similarly legendary destination known for its limestone karst towers. Koh Racha, where the ocean is as pure as its soft, white sand. Scratch your snorkeling and scuba diving itch at these fan-favourite pit stops.
Illuzion Show & Discotheque
Dial up your night out at Illuzion Show & Discotheque, a next-level nightclub and the only one on the island that features a line-up of European dance acts (ranging from aerial performances to tribal shows). What’s more, entrance to this glamorous venue is free.
Jump into the Bang Pae Waterfall
Hike up the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, a thriving rainforest where creatures such as barking deers, sun bears and Asian fairy-bluebirds live, to reach the Bang Pae Waterfall. It is the largest of the rainforest, spanning a height of 10m, a tranquil spot for a swim or picnic.
At Kruvit Raft, you’ll get to dine on a floating wooden platform surrounded by the emerald sea under a quaint thatched roof. A rustic seafood restaurant that is only accessible by boat, its lobsters and blue crabs are as fresh as they come, rivalling that of posher addresses.
Laze in luxury treehouses
Keemala is a lavish hideaway that offers luxury contemporary treehouses (designed like bird nests), each equipped with a full suite of amenities, as well as a private pool. These individual treehouses perch atop the forest’s canopy of trees, providing peaceful solitude and a killer view to unwind with.
Mai Khao Beach
The aureate shores and cerulean waters of Mai Khao Beach, situated near the international airport, are some of the most uninhabited, bucolic and serene of the land. As part of the Sirinat National Park, it boasts colossal trees by the beach, providing plenty of natural shade at sunset.
Night market gems
Whether you’re heading to the Chillva Market or the Weekend Night Market, Phuket proves to be teeming with affordable shopping haunts, selling quirky trinkets, funky shades, vintage accessories and on-trend fashion at dirt-cheap prices. Artisanal wares by local designers are also available, if you’re looking for more one-of-a-kind finds.
Old Phuket Town
Phuket Town is the cultural heart of the island, where a motley crew of Arabian, Chinese, Indian and Portuguese folks once congregated. Now, amidst classical Sino-Portuguese buildings and Taoist temples, the town is transforming into a gentrified stomping ground for millennial creatives, musicians and artists.
Peer into the Sin City of Thailand
Patong has long been considered the ultimate land of debauchery not just in Phuket, but also the entire country. Its reputation is enough to warrant a visit, even if it’s just to see what the fuss is all about. Filled with go-go bars and ladyboy cabarets, it promises a dazzling night of indelible memories.
Too lazy to hike or hoof it through rough terrains? Hop on a quad bike, an alternative, adrenaline-fuelled way to rip through the jungle. It doesn’t matter if you’ve no experience driving an ATV. This thrilling, family-friendly activity welcomes seasoned riders and newcomers alike.
Rawai’s art village
This bohemian art enclave, perched at the southern tip of the island, is where you will meet the creme de la creme of Thai contemporary artists. One of the more intriguing art spaces, Prasopuk Gallery, exhibits one-of-a-kind art pieces made from plastic waste.
An indigenous community of inhabitants known as Chao Lae people constitute about 0.005% of the entire Thai population, many of whom reside along the eastern edge of Phuket. These culturally distinct early settlers, also known as sea gypsies, typically survive on natural resources and live by the ocean.
Toh Sae Hill
More commonly referred to as Monkey Hill, this is one of Phuket’s most popular spots—a place where there are probably more wild macaques than pigeons. Considered the highest hill in the city, it also houses a handful of local TV and radio stations.
Upside Down House
This quirky attraction intrigues right from the get-go, with a facade designed to look exactly like a house that’s been flipped over. From the outside, it appears like it came straight out of a storybook. Inside, you’ll have plenty of space to flex your creative, photography muscle.
This one’s not for the faint-hearted. The name of this annual festival in Phuket sounds innocuous enough, but you’ll soon realise it looks more like a parade of mind-boggling sights, where brave souls attempt to fit as many sticks, knives, even umbrellas into their mouths (or rather, the slits in their cheeks) as they can.
Something Phuket has in abundance are temples (wat). Pay your respects by dressing appropriately in covered garments, and swing by some of the city’s most well-loved landmarks, including Wat Chalong, Wat Khao Rang, and Wat Phra Thong.
Xana Beach Club
Xana Beach Club, managed by Attica, is Phuket’s answer to Bali’s Ku De Ta. Situated at Angsana Laguna Phuket along the coast of Bang Tao Bay, it features a snazzy swim-up bar, a 35m pool, private cabanas that can accommodate as many as 14 people, and a menu of east-meets-west treats from tapas to crispy noodles. By dusk, it turns into an alfresco nightclub for a rollicking beach party.
Yummy Phuketian delicacies
Introduce your taste buds to dishes unique to Phuket, such as O-Tao, an omelette made of flour and taro with oysters, clams and eggs, Bua Thod, a shrimp recipe cooked with deep-fried waterweeds, and Loba, a stewed and fried plate of pork ears, tongues and intestines.
Zip through traffic
Skip the taxis and tuk-tuks for a more expedient mode of transportation—scooters. As your driver zig-zag effortlessly through traffic, allow the tropical breeze to flow through your hair, helmet-less, and take you to the heights of bliss. If you’ve got a licence, you can also rent a moped of your own.
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