PHUKET IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Thailand’s biggest and most popular holiday island Phuket offers something for everyone. There is enough to do and explore to keep you entertained for several holidays.
WHY NOT: Phuket is extremely popular: you have to share the island with seven million other holidaymakers a year.
LUXURY: In its exquisite resorts and world-class restaurants Phuket offers some of Thailand’s ultimate luxury experiences.
FAMILIES: Phuket is great for families, since the island has a full range of activities to keep the kids entertained, and most hotels have great swimming pools. Read more: Phuket for Families.
RETIREES: To reach this paradise island and enjoy its fabulous beaches and great hotels you don’t need to take a backbreaking boat ride. Phuket is easy to reach by plane.
SHOPPING: Phuket is one of Thailand’s best destinations for those who want to combine a beach holiday to serious shopping.
PARTIES: Patong Beach may be Phuket’s party central, but to be honest, the best nightlife is to be found in Phuket Town (don’t tell anyone, it’s still a secret).
CULTURE: Phuket may be mistakenly called a tourist trap, but in truth it is Thailand’s best beach destination to experience local culture. The island is big enough to have local people actually live in it, which is not often the case in smaller islands. Culture lovers can explore Phuket Town, Thailand’s best-preserved historical town center.
FOODIES: Phuket has a great range of restaurants to satisfy all tastes. Phuket shines especially in the international cuisine.
Phuket is Thailand’s largest and most popular holiday island. The main reason for Phuket’s fame as a holiday paradise is the island’s amazing beaches: they are white, long and wide, and the sea gets beautiful turquoise shade. And there are many of those wonderful beaches; on a two-week vacation you can go to a new beach every single day.
But Phuket is not just about beaches. It is a full holiday experience. Phuket has big shopping centers and world-class restaurants. There are plenty of things to see and do from island hopping to spa pampering, and visiting Phuket’s historical Old Town.
Phuket’s popularity has its downside too. Millions of tourists visit Phuket annually, and as a result some call Phuket a tourist trap. That might be the case, if you only visit Patong Beach, Phuket’s busiest tourism center. But Patong is just a small part of Phuket. The island has also very peaceful beaches, such as Bang Tao and Nai Harn.
If you make the effort, and give Phuket a chance, you will find Phuket to be one of Thailand’s most fascinating and diverse beach destinations.
Read more: 5 Reasons to Travel to Phuket
Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, 50 kilometers long and 20 kilometers wide. Distances in-between can be surprisingly long – and taxi rides overpriced. Therefore it is best to choose well where to stay in Phuket, depending on what you want from your holiday.
The island’s capital Phuket Town is on the eastern side of the island. At first sight it might look like any other modern Thai city full of ugly concrete buildings, but don’t let the first impression fool you, as in its core Phuket Town hides an atmospheric old town.
Phuket Old Town is the best place to meet locals and explore Phuket’s original Chinese influenced culture. It is a nice place for a day-trip, but it also makes an interesting base to stay for independent travelers. The accommodation and food in Phuket Town is dirt cheap compared to the beaches, and Phuket Town is well connected to the beaches by public transportation.
Talking about beaches, Phuket has more than a dozen of them, each more gorgeous than other. The most stunning beaches are on the island’s western coast even if the east coast has some resorts too.
There are busy beaches in the west coast such as Patong, Kata, Karon and Surin, and quieter beaches like Nairharn, Kamala and Bang Tao. There is even a deserted beach Mai Khao, which has only a handful of resorts on its length of 10 kilometers.
Interesting area worth a visit is Rawai Beach on the southern tip of the island. Rawai is known for its delicious local seafood stalls. From Rawai you can also take longtail-boats to nearby small uninhabited islands.
Ao Chalong is a laid-back harbor village on the eastern side of the island, not that far from Phuket town. Most of the diving centers have their headquarters in Ao Chalong. Even for non-divers Ao Chalong is worth a visit for its Buddhist temple, Wat Chalong, the island’s finest and most important shrine.
Phuket has a dozen beaches, which all differ in atmosphere. To choose the right beach for you read our guide: How to Choose Between Phuket’s Beaches?
Top Things to Do in Phuket
You won’t get bored in Phuket as the island has an abundance of things to do. You can sail, fish, do zip-lining, enjoy water parks, visit temples, relax in spas, marvel ladyboy cabaret and explore Phuket’s atmospheric Old Town.
Phuket is also a good base for some of Thailand’s best day-trips. You should at least visit the paradise-like Ko Racha Yai island and the Phang-Na Bay, famed for its fantastic looking limestone islands. Another popular day-trip takes to the beautiful Ko Phi Phi Islands, but to be honest, to really enjoy Ko Phi Phi you should stay there a couple of nights at least.
When choosing a hotel in Phuket, the most important decision to make is to choose a beach where you want to stay. Phuket’s beaches vary greatly in atmosphere.
The busiest beach is Patong Beach, which is best suited for those looking for great restaurants and lively nightlife. Check out discounts in Patong Beach hotels.
Kata Beach has a lot of great restaurants and hotels too but the nightlife is much more tuned down compared to Patong.
Great beaches for families are the quieter Karon, Kamala and Bang Tao Beaches. Even quieter is the beautiful Naiharn Beach. Read more about family travel in Phuket.
Phuket has some of the most luxurious hotels in Thailand. Read more about them in luxury travel in Thailand.
Gourmands should stay in Phuket’s most popular beaches like Patong, Kata and Karon, where there’s an abundance of great restaurants from Thai food to all possible world cuisines.
In contrast the remote and secluded beaches like Bang Tao have more limited variety of restaurants, but you won’t go hungry in them either.
Phuket’s nightlife hub is Patong Beach and especially its Bangla Road, which is lined with bars, clubs and gogo-bars.
For more local nightlife head to Phuket’s Old Town, where nightlife is like from an another planet compared to Patong. Expect bohemian bars, friendly locals and some artsy live bands – and not a single girlie-bar in sight.
In recent years Phuket’s beach club scene has finally gotten some wind under its wings. Check out what’s happening on Diamond and Catch beach clubs on Surin Beach, and Xana on Bang Tao Beach.
Shopping in Phuket
Phuket’s best shopping mall is Central Festival, which is located close to Phuket Town a long taxi ride away from the beaches.
Patong Beach has a shopping mall too, the JungCeylon, which has mostly brands selling beach and sports wear and cosmetics. It has also a lot of restaurants and a cinema showing movies in their original language.
A popular place for shopping is Phuket’s Weekend Market, which takes place close to Phuket Town on Saturday and Sunday evenings. There are many kinds of stuff on sale, mostly cheap clothes, but also some strange second-hand goods. In addition, a lot of inexpensive Thai food.
Transportation in Phuket
Phuket has as a “taxi mafia”, which has kept the prices high and prevented any public transportation between the beaches. To go from one beach to another you have to rely either on taxis or rent a car or a scooter. Taxi transfers between beaches start from 400 baht up. Patong and other beaches have also motorcycle taxis, which charge 40 baht for short rides.
Cheap local buses operate only between Phuket Town, Ao Chalong and the beaches. That means you can take a bus from Phuket Town to any of the beaches and back, but you cannot catch a bus from one beach to another.
If you intend to move around a lot, you might want to rent a car – it is a lot safer than riding a motorcycle. Cars can be rented from the airport and the beach resorts.
If you rent a scooter, choose a rental shop away from the Patong Beach Road. Rental shops on the beach road have been reported to do scams in which they try to charge a big compensation under various pretexts when you return the bike.
Best Time to Travel to Phuket
Weather in Phuket follows Thailand’s main weather pattern. Dry season lasts from November to around end of May. Rainy season lasts from June to around middle of October, September being the rainiest month. During the rainy season it usually rains heavily an hour or two on most days, the rest of the day being sunny. So the rainy season shouldn’t stop you from traveling to Phuket. And for a bonus you’ll get great discounts on Phuket’s hotels during the rainy season.
A word of warning: during rainy season waves get high, and the sea has treacherous currents. Be careful: every year people get drowned in Phuket.
Phuket’s most fascinating festival, Phuket Vegetarian Festival, takes place in October. Despite its name the festival if far from a hippie organic salad eating fiesta: during the festival devotees of a Chinese Goddess get into trance and impale theirs skin with all kind of sharp and mean looking objects such as swords, barbeque sticks and screwdrivers.
Read more: Thailand’s Weather and Climate
How to Get to Phuket?
Flying is the best way to get to Phuket, since a bus ride from Bangkok to Phuket takes up to 14 hours, and Phuket is not connected by a railway. The bus station is in Phuket Town, from where you can take a local bus to the beaches.
There are plenty of flights between Phuket and Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Ko Samui, Bali, Singapore and Hong Kong.
How to Get from Phuket Airport to Phuket’s Beaches?
From the Phuket airport, there are several options to get to the beaches and Phuket Town:
- Taxi from the airport to the beaches costs between 400–1000 bahts. Unless you can find a metered-taxi you have to haggle for the price.
- Minivans (about 200 baht/person) run from the airport to the beaches and Phuket’s pier, if you are heading to the islands. Minivans leave when full, and take you directly to your hotel. At worst, the drive can take maddeningly long as the minivan orbits between different beaches and hotels. If you are heading to the Ratchada pier get a boat to Ko Phi Phi or other islands, you should reserve at least one-hour travel time.
- A 90 baht bus runs to Phuket Town, from where you can change to inexpensive local buses to reach the beaches.
- Phuket Airport Bus Express drives from the airport to Patong Beach (130 baht), but it only operates once in an hour (timetable here).
Move on from Phuket
Phuket is the main gateway to Thailand’s Andaman coast. Ferries run to several close-by islands such as Ko Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Ko Racha Yai and Ko Yao Noi (some of the ferry schedules can be found here).
There are also several buses a day to Krabi, to the Southern Thailand and to Thailand’s east coast.
Good to Know
Phuket has several world-class hospitals. Phuket Bangkok Hospital close to Phuket Town is considered to be the best on the island. It is part of a big Thai hospital chain.