Thailand’s largest island is also one of the most popular destinations for tourists. Here’s why.
Adecade or two ago still an untouched island, Phuket has become one of Asia’s most prominent stops for discerning travelers who love the boating life, water sports, fine dining, and good fun.
Thailand’s largest island offers a myriad of possibilities for all types of travelers beyond its world-class white sand beaches, internationally acclaimed gastronomy, and well-known local hospitality:
Land-based tours and activities, such as strolls through the historic Old Town featuring Sino-Portuguese architecture and Chinese shop-houses; a visit to its most famous landmark, the 45-meter Big Buddha on a mountain that offers scenic views over Chalong Bay, Kata Beach, and out into the Andaman Sea; an immersion into Thailand’s culture through visits to Wat Chalong, and many other temples around
Unique sunsets from the southwestern tip of Phromthep Cape
Ocean and island tours to Koh Phi Phi National Park, James Bond Island, Phang Nga Bay, and island-hopping to the many “paradise-like” tropical islands around
Elephant trekking; exploring one of the world’s best preserved rainforests, at Khao Phra Thaeo National Park, one of the oldest rainforest habitats in the world—with a diverse range of plants and animals such as tigers, deer, elephants, bears, gibbons, squirrels, and macaque; and discovering the Phuket of yesteryear at Sirinat National Park
Scuba diving at Similan Islands National Park, an archipelago consisting of nine small islands ranked as one of the top 10 dive sites in the world, located 100 kilometers northwest of Phuket in the Andaman Sea
Shopping and eating at Jungceylon Shopping Complex, Central Festival, Jatujak Weekend Market
Enjoying the nightlife and entertainment at Patong Beach, Phuket FantaSea, Simon Cabaret, and Muay Thai boxing
Because in Phuket’s early days there was a prohibitory duty of up to 220 percent on yachts imported into Thailand, the island wasn’t a place for wealthy boat-owners to go and enjoy its beauty and possibilities. Hence, Royal Phuket Marina was created in 2003, and today it is the center point of several prominent sporting and social events, including the annual Phuket King’s Cup Regatta.
With the marina, Phuket also saw the development of an upscale marine lifestyle, similar to the one in places like Marbella (Spain), St. Tropez (France), or the Caribbean.
In the following pages, you’ll find more reasons why you should visit Phuket.
Holidays are not complete without delicious food. Offering everything from simple yet tasty street food to sophisticated dishes prepared by Michelin-starred chefs, Phuket is arguably one of Thailand’s most important foodie destinations.
After being in Phuket for about one year, these are places that I’ve tried and that rank high with locals and expats alike.
– Junious Dickerson, Executive Chef at Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa
Bliss Beach Club (202/88 Moo 2, Tumbon Cherng-Talay, Thalang District, 081 956 2742, www.blissbeachclub.com) Relaxed atmosphere. Simply prepared delicious food, great wine list, water sports and siren views of the beach, with a awesome DJs spinning tunes.
Indigo Pearl (Tambol Sakhu, 116 Moo 1, Thalang, 076 327 006, www.indigo-pearl.com, www.indigo-pearl.com) The best brunch on the island, with an endless selection of local, international, and freshly cooked seafood. The environment is fresh, clean, and with awesome service to complement the free-flow of wine.
Boat House Wine and Grill (182 Koktanode Road, Kata Beach, 076 330 015, www.boathousephuket.com) Refined French-influenced cuisine and a good wine selection with sharp service and staff who attend to all your needs.
Thai Thai (333 Patak Road, Karon Beach, 076 396 433, www.hilton.com/phuket) It’s located inside the Hilton Phuket Arcadia Resort & Spa, and I recommended it not only because I’m the chef, but because the menu has just been changed. It basically offers a marriage of cultures, where the very best in traditional Thai flavors are centered on modern techniques and presentations, offering interesting flavor profiles although staying true to the local traditions of the Thai table. The environment is relaxed, semi fine-dining, with views of the lakes and occasional ostentations of peacocks strolling by.
| Aziamendi (●Iniala Beach House, 40/14 Moo 6 Baan Natai T. Khokkloi A. Takuathung, Phang-Nga, 076 451 456, www.iniala.com)
| SALA (●Sala Phuket Resort and Spa, 333 Moo 3, Mai Khao, Thalang, Phuket, 076 338 888, www.salaresorts.com/phuket)
| RE KÁ TA (●184 Koktanode Rd, Kata, Phuket, 076 330 421, www.rekataphuket.com)Italian
| Acqua (●324/15 Prabaramree Rd, Kalim, Patong, 076 618 127,
| Salvatore’s (●15 Ratsada Rd, Phuket, 076 225 958, www.salvatorestaurant.com)
| Da Maurizio (●223/2 Prabaramee Rd, Patong, 076 344 079, www.baanrimpa.com/italian-restaurant)
| Baba Soul Food (●Sri Panwa Phuket, 88 Moo 8, Sakdidej Rd, Phuket, 076 371 000, www.babaphuket.com)
| Kan Eang @ Pier (●44/1 Viset Rd, Rawai, Phuket, 076 381 212,
| Baan Rim Pa (●223 Prabaramee Rd, Patong, Phuket, 076 340 789,
| The 9th Floor (●Sky Inn Condotel, 47 Rat-U-Thid Rd, Patong, 076 344 311,
| Brasserie (●16/18 Ratsada Rd, Phuket, 076 210 511, www.brasseriephuket.com)
| Mom Tri’s Kitchen (●112 Kata Noi Road, Kata, Phuket, 076 333 569, www.momtriphuket.com/mom-tri-kitchen)
Phuket Mini Guide
by Dave Stamboulis
Phuket, Pearl of the Andaman. While the famed beaches of Phuket might not be the empty hidden paradises as they were once known as, there are still plenty of gorgeous locales and enough fun things to do to make the peninsula an excellent spot for a vacation. Contrary to popular belief, Phuket is neither a single beach nor only the infamous nightlife spot of Patong. What it is, is a huge peninsula that is home to both heavily built-up beach resorts (Patong, Karon, Kata), far quieter strips of sand with great resorts (Nai Harn,Nai Yang, Surin), as well as a main city, the architecturally elegant and stylish Phuket Town, which is a major destination in its own right and home to one of Asia’s wildest and wackiest festivals.
Phuket may be expensive and crowded, but there is a reason why this Andaman hotspot is so famous. The beaches here are some of Thailand’s, if not Southeast Asia’s best, with plenty of gorgeous white sand and emerald water out in the Andaman, a real sun worshipper’s paradise. While Karon, Kata, and Patong beaches are packed with beach umbrellas and tourists, some of the lesser known spots like Surin Beach, Bang Tao, or Nai Harn in the south have plenty of space for your beach chair and open space for the kids to run around. Phuket Town is well worth a day or two for its Sino-Portuguese architecture and Chinese heritage, and if you happen to be in town during the Vegetarian Festival (annually in September/October) you are in for a wild experience, as thousands of devotees go into trances and perform acts of self-mutilation, all in the name of ensuring good luck for the year to come. The festival is celebrated with plenty of color, fireworks, and parades.
What To See
You won’t ever run out of sights in Phuket. Top draws include the Phuket Aquarium (076 391 126, www.phuketaquarium.org) at Cape Panwa with thousands of fish and glass viewing tunnels, and the Phuket FantaSea (076 385 000, www.phuket-fantasea.com), known as the ultimate cultural theme park, combining tradition, costumes, acrobatics, elephants, and much more. For nature lovers, a trip out to the Phromthep Cape at Phuket’s southernmost point to watch the sunset is well worth it, as is a visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (www.gibbonproject.org) in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. Don’t forget to set aside time for exploring Phuket Town and its Chinese mansions and atmospheric architecture, along with plenty of quaint cafés and artsy shops.
Sri Panwa (88 Moo 8, Sakdidej Rd., Cape, Panwa, 076 371 000, www.sripanwa.com) offers some of Asia’s swankiest digs and prime real estate, with huge pool villas that command 300-degree sea views perched atop panoramic Cape Panwa. Much further north, the unique Indigo Pearl (116 Moo 1, Thalang, 076 327 006, www.indigo-pearl.com), designed by renowned architect Bill Bensley, recalls the era of the Phuket tin mines and is awash in upscale luxury. For a real Robinson Crusoe fantasy, The Naka Island (32 Moo 5, Naka Yai Island, 076 371 400, www.nakaislandphuket.com) is located on pristine Naka Island, which sits off Phuket’s northeast coast. You get here with a private speedboat and will get a glimpse into what Phuket was like 20 years ago. For another tropical paradise, try the private pool villas next to Sirinath National Park at Anantara Phuket Villas (888 Moo 3, Mai Khao, Thalang, 076 336 100, www.phuket.anantara.com), located on beautiful Mai Khao beach. Another great escape from the crowds is the Westin Siray Bay (21/4 Moo 1, Rasada Rd, 076 335 600, href=”http://www.westinsiraybay.com” target=”_blank”>www.westinsiraybay.com), hidden away on Phuket’s eastern coast.
If you prefer to have more independence and privacy, you might want to choose staying in properties that will make you feel more like you are at your beach house rather than a hotel. Good examples of this are Phunawa Phuket (16/1 Patak Road Soi 24 Amphur Muang, Phuket, 076 363 000, www.phunawa.com) which offer 1, 2, and 3-bedroom deluxe suites with en suite bathroom, living room with cable TV and DVD player, a fully equipped kitchen, and an exclusive private rooftop garden with circular Jacuzzi, Sala with sofa, and sun lounge area. There are also companies like Luxury Sight (www.luxurysight.com), which offer luxury villas and apartments for short, mid, and long-term rental.
What To Do
Besides being a place to just hang out in at the beach or by the pool, Phuket is well known for its water sports in, on, and above the sea. The Andaman offers some great snorkeling and diving opportunities, and it is easy to head out to the famed Similans for a day or two of live-aboard courses and dives. Siam Dive n’ Sail (www.siamdivers.com) can get you outfitted. Parasailing gets you above all the action, and plenty of operators can be found in Patong and Karon. Jet skis are also popular, but cannot be recommended due to the numerous operator scams claiming damages. If you must, only go with an operator you trust. Make sure to do a spa treatment while here, as Phuket offers some real pampering. The Cool Spa (076 371 000, www.coolspaphuket.com) at Sri Panwa has well recommended treatments.
Eating and Drinking
The Natural (“Thammachat” in Thai) (62/5 Soi Phutorn, 076 214 037) is a longstanding unpretentious eatery in Phuket Town famed for its great inexpensive food and unique décor, ranging from old aquariums to antique bicycles, fishing rods, and other bric-à-brac that adorns the wooden walls. Highly recommended. Kru Wit Seafood (front of Maphrao Island, 086 687 0892, www.kruvitraft.com) is a one-of-a-kind place where you are taken out to a mini-isle by their free speedboat and then served up ultra fresh seafood at the water’s edge on their floating raft house as you enjoy stunning sunset views. Acqua (324/15 Prabaramee Road, Kalim Bay, 076 618 127, www.acquarestaurantphuket.com) is Phuket’s premiere Italian eatery, run by a Sardinian chef and set in the gastro-paradise of Kalim Beach. Lowbrow Krajok See (26 Takua Pa Rd, 076 217 903) is the best place for partying in Phuket Town, and is a restaurant that turns into the best dance-and-drink bar around after 10 p.m.
How To Get There
Phuket can be reached by just about every airline from Bangkok, as well as from Chiang Mai and other points. The airport is at the north end of the peninsula, a good 45-minute drive from most of the beaches. Overnight buses make the arduous 12- to 13-hour trip from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Station. There is no train service to Phuket. Taxis are notoriously expensive in Phuket and public transportation is limited to services running to and from Phuket Town during daylight hours. Renting a car or scooter is a great alternative.