Thailand’s largest island attracts one million tourists a year, thanks to its idyllic sandy beaches, luxurious hotels, indulgent spas, top-class golf courses, vibrant nightlife, and some of the best diving in the world.
The most developed resort is Patong – perhaps becoming seedy and overdeveloped – while quieter resorts include Karon and Kata.
Getting there/around Phuket
Depending on the season, some charter flights go direct, but you’ll most probably fly via Bangkok (one hour, 20 minutes away by air). The transfer to the biggest resort, Patong, is about 45 minutes by road. It’s best to take a metered taxi or your hotel’s transfer.
If you’re brave enough to rent a motor bike or jeep beware – the accident rates are lethally high. Local forms of transport include tuk-tuks (three-wheeler taxis); songthaews (vans with two rows of seats in the back); and samlors (rickshaws). They are common but not comfortable.
Beaches on Phuket
The west coast on the Andaman Sea boasts long sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and some of Thailand’s finest hotels. The most popular and developed beach is Patong, offering excellent watersports and dive sites. Three miles south lies less crowded Karon beach.
If you’re seeking peace, head to the north west coast for Mai Khao, Nai Yang, Nai Thon and Kamala. Giant marine turtles lay their eggs between October and February on Mai Khao.
To the south, Nai Harn is one of the prettiest beaches, close to the Cape Promthep beauty spot, which attracts busloads of tourists for scenic sunsets.Cape Panwa has hosted celebs such as Pierce Brosnan and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Sightseeing on Phuket
Soak up Phuket’s history and spirituality by visiting its tranquil Buddhist temples and shrines. One of the biggest and most beautiful temples is Wat Chalong, while one of the more unusual sights is the half-buried Buddha at the Wat Phra Thong temple in Thalang. Legend has it that those who try to dig it up will die. Thalang also has a museum, featuring displays about Phuket folklore.
Many temples and shrines are found in Phuket City, and you will see plenty of activity during Chinese New Year and the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
Family attractions on Phuket
More adventurous families can explore rainforests on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) – or on the back of an elephant and teens can enjoy bungy-jumping, paintballing, bowling and rock-climbing.
The Thai Village just north of Phuket City has a Thai cultural show featuring elephants, Thai boxing and traditional dancing. There’s also the Phuket Butterfly Farm and Aquarium; the Sea Shell Museum, Rawai Beach; Phuket Zoo near Chalong to see crocodiles, monkeys and camels.
Day trips on Phuket
There are two national parks – you will find a gibbon rehabilitation project in the Phra Taew National Park, which also has two waterfalls; and you can follow the Thachatchai nature trail in the Sirinath National Park.
The blue waters surrounding Phuket offer everything from deep sea fishing to sea kayaking. Some of the most popular day trips are cruises around the mangroves and lagoons of Phang Nga Bay; or a speedboat to the tropical paradise Phi Phi island, where the ‘The Beach’ was part filmed.
Eating on Phuket
If you’re wary of local cuisine, there’s various fast food and western restaurants – like KFC and Starbucks – in resorts such as Patong. Kids will also relish the chance to dine at the Horror House theme restaurant. Italian, Portuguese, Japanese and Korean food are available.
But it would be a shame to miss out on Thai dishes. Rice and noodles are the staples while Phuket offers some of the best seafood in the country. You should try papaya salad, green curry and tomato soup. The national dish is Phat Thai, rice noodles with bean curd, vegetables and dried shrimp.
Many hotels also offer Thai cookery classes if you fancy a day away from the beach.
Nightlife on Phuket
Patong is Phuket’s liveliest, brashest, loudest resort, where you’ll find a chaotic mix of Western and Thai entertainment. Clubs blare out disco, garage and techno like any mainstream resort in Europe, but for a bit of local colour, opt for an evening dinner cruise on a junk.
One of the most famous shows is the Phuket Simon Ladyboy Cabaret – a transvestite troupe – just south of Patong. The bright lights of the strip along Soi Bangla offer sometimes sleazy go-go bars, and the Paradise Hotel area is home to the gay scene.
The Phuket FantaSea near Hat Kamala is a Las Vegas-style complex of attractions featuring shows with trapeze acts, pyrotechnics, comedy and dance.
Shopping on Phuket
Phuket offers everything from bustling local street markets to Western department stores. You’ll be able to buy silks, traditional handicrafts, jewellery, antiques, pearls and ceramics.
Some of the more unusual local specialities include pewterware and nielloware – where a black metal alloy is used with silver to create beautiful jewellery.
Phuket City stocks Thai cotton and silk clothes, while at its daily market you can buy herbs and spices. In Patong, tailors will whizz up a suit or dress for far less than you would pay in the UK, and you can buy souvenirs at the resort’s night market. For an air-conditioned browse, try the Ocean Plaza mall.