The biggest attractions in Phuket are, of course, natural. The lovely beaches and lush hilly landscape, along with some pretty seascapes nearby, all combine to offer a postcard perfect venue that brings people back time and again. And when they do return, they’re usually surprised to discover an ever increasing choice of manmade attractions that include museums, monuments, shows and well preserved historical buildings.
For starters, the series of near perfect crescent shaped beaches along the west coast are a prime attraction, and a day spent touring the island to experience the individual character of each is highly recommended. Many visitors never make it past the headlands of their particular beach area, but this large island has some surprises. It’s easy to escape the built-up touristy areas and discover a near exclusive little bay to picnic on. More on Phuket attractions.
The best place to get a perspective is from the viewpoint at the southern end of Kata Noi, which offers stunning vistas of Kata, Karon and Patong bays. If you continue south, you will stumble upon the lovely undeveloped and uncrowded Nai Harn beach before reaching Promthep Cape, which is a popular place to witness the sunset. See our guide to beaches in Phuket.
Heading north from Patong, the road meanders over several headlands to reach Kamala, Surin and Bang Tao beaches. Kamala is a large sweeping bay of natural beauty, while Surin is small and exclusive. The real attraction at Bang Tao is the many pretty lagoons that have resulted from a deceased tin mining industry, but the Laguna complex has turned this into a bit of an exclusive domain.
To escape the tourists, head northeast to hear some unusual primate singing at the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. It’s located in Khao Phra Thaeo National Park which includes Tong Sae and Bang Phe waterfalls. If you really insist on getting off the beaten track, there are some interesting stretches of mangrove coastline all along the east coast here.
Phuket Town itself has some history attached to it, a legacy of its importance as a trading centre when Phuket was strategically important. There is a definite Chinese influence among the traditional shop houses and some grand Sino-Portuguese architecture on Thalang road. Just outside is the Phuket Orchid Garden and Thai Village, which offers a wonderful Thai cultural experience. If you have free time, you may want to visit the Phuket Shell Museum and Sea Gypsy Village, both near Rawai Beach to the south of the town.
Although Phuket isn’t gifted with quite the same religious cultural inheritance as older cities in Thailand, there is an impressive and distinct chedi at Wat Chalong, near Phuket Town. On your way in from the airport, you might also notice the Heroines Monument, dedicated to two sisters who saved the island by warning against marauding Burmese. More on self-drive tours of Phuket.
Daytrips from Phuket
Some of the best sights that a Phuket holiday has to offer aren’t found on the island at all, but are just a daytrip away and are highly recommended. The most popular is a visit to the famous Phi Phi islands, where the movie The Beach was filmed. The remarkable karst cliffs, paradise-like beaches and aqua-coloured waters all leave a lasting impression of what tropical paradise should be like. A day tour takes in several of the islands, including Phi Phi Don, which is now more pleasant since the 2004 tsunami destroyed much of the over-development.
Krabi’s Ao Nang resort area and Railay Beach, which is isolated from the mainland by karst cliffs, is another eye-candy location that can be reached as a daytrip from Phuket. If you travel here by car, you can take time to visit the pretty Than Bokkarani National Park with its glades of cascading pools. Farther afield is the lovely Khao Sok National Park with its bizarre rock formations.
Another ‘must-see’ is Pha Nga Bay, an incredible theatre of karst pillars and islands. It too took a starring role in the Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, and all tours make an obligatory stop on James Bond Island. In addition to sea kayaking through caves, lunch is enjoyed at the Moslem Sea Gypsy village of Koh Phan Yee, which is built on stilts above mud flats and water. Also in the bay is the remarkable Hong Island, with its hidden lagoon that can only be reached through a tunnel at low tide.
Scuba divers like to take daytrips or live-aboard excursions to the pristine Similan Islands, which are west of Phuket. The reefs here are among the best in the area, although visitor number are now being limited to prevent coral bleaching. Several other smaller islands closer to Phuket offer the prospect of a private beach for the day and can be reached by chartering a long-tailed boat. More on day trips from Phuket