So much of Phuket, logically, is about the sand and sea and visitors will spend much of their time on the beaches and in the ocean. But there is much more to this island, which retains significant areas of wilderness. For starters, there are temples to rival any in Thailand and a supremely spicy nightlife.
1. Get beachside
The necklace of beaches along Phuket’s west coast is as beautiful and varied as any stretch of sand in Asia. Patong, Kamala, Karon and Kata are busy and lined with umbrellas and loungers, while Surin, Mai Khao, Nai Harn and Laem Singh are more sedate and peaceful. Rent a car to explore their beauty at leisure, dropping in and dropping out as you soak up their charms.
2. Sundown at Promthep Cape
Is sunset viewed from Phromthep Cape on Phuket’s southern tip among the world’s most beautiful? Many say so, and it’s hard to argue as the sun disappears over a silver sea sprinkled with mysterious islands and pleasure boats sail back and forth.
3. Day trips to Phang Nga & Phi Phi
While Phuket’s beaches are lovely, Phang Nga Bay and Phi Phi offer the spectacular setting of limestone islands erupting from the ocean. Visit ‘James Bond Island’, which featured in The Man With the Golden Gun or Phi Phi’s Maya Bay, the centrepiece of The Beach. Day trips are easily organised from your resort.
4. Exploring Phuket Town
The town’s unique heritage – a mix of Thai, Chinese and Portuguese – is best expressed in its delightful architecture. There are traditional shophouses, private homes and historic mansions, many of them beautifully restored and treasured. This is a place for a relaxed, aimless walking tour through the compact Old Town.
5. National parks
Despite its development, especially along its western shores, Phuket retains a substantial amount of untouched rainforest and wilderness. The best-known national park is Khao Phra Thaew, home to two lovely waterfalls, Bang Pae and Ton Sae, as well as walking trails and wildlife. At Sirinath National Park you can enjoy pristine beaches as well as a mangrove environment.
6. Cooking lessons
Thai cuisine is one of the world’s most distinctive and flavoursome, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn some of its secrets. Many hotels offer lessons led by senior chefs, but the best-known schools are the Blue Elephant Cooking School, based at Phuket Town’s Phra Pitak Chinpracha mansion, and at the renowned Boathouse at Kata Beach. Best part is that you get to eat what you create.
7. Big Buddha
The Big Buddha is what it says – a whitewashed 45m-tall giant covered in Burmese marble sitting on the spine of the islands between Chalong and Kata. It is so large and so striking that it can be seen from much of Phuket, but its site also offers a fabulous panorama of the southern area of the islands, with views over Phuket Town, Kata, Karon and Chalong Bay. Remember to dress conservatively.
8. Wat Chalong
Phuket’s biggest and most beautiful Buddhist temple is about 8km south of Phuket Town. Its two most impressive structures are the 60m-tall chedi, or stupa, which can be climbed to three different levels and contains a fragment of bone of the Buddha, and the central temple, which Thais traditionally visit to make merit. In sybaritic Phuket, this is a place of calm and contemplation.
9. Rang Hill
On an island with more than its share of spectacular viewpoints, Rang Hill is a standout. Rising above Phuket Town, it offers views over the town, the south and east coasts and even some offshore islands. The height means you will often enjoy invigorating breezes. It is also superb at night when Phuket Town is lit up.
10. Patong nightlife
Soi Bangla, which runs between Patong beach and Rat-U-Thit Road, is the epicentre of nightlife. While some is not for the faint-hearted, the main drag offers harmless voyeuristic entertainment. There are scores of open-air beer bars and a scattering of go-go clubs, and halfway along, preening ladyboys teasing and dancing on a podium stage.