What are the best things to see and do in Phuket?

Melanie Nayer

You’re going to find yourself pulled in many different directions during your trip to Phuket — beaches, snorkeling, day trips, city tours — so to help ensure you hit the highlights, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend putting these things to see and do in Phuket at the top of your list:
 
1. Big Buddha. The 45-meter high Big Buddha is one of the newest sights to dot the Phuket landscape — and one of its most revered treasures. You’ll be able to see it at its lofty locale in the Nakkerd Hills from many southern points on the island, but the scenic drive up through rural central Phuket is almost as rewarding as the unbelievable views you’ll enjoy from the site itself.

2. Old Phuket Town. Head to this walkable section of bustling Phuket Town for a (temporary) break from the beach amid Sino-colonial architecture, maze-like markets and an abundance of cheerful Thai cafés. Bring your camera — this is one of the most photo-worthy parts of the city.

3. Island hopping. Escape the sometimes overwhelming crowds on Phuket by booking a private tour through your hotel of the many idyllic islands located within a short speedboat ride of the coast. Enjoy snorkeling, picnicking and taking a dip in impossibly clear turquoise waters.

4. Snorkeling in Phi Phi Islands. Speaking of snorkeling, Ko Phi Phi’s shallow waters and stunning coral gardens make it one of the best places near Phuket to get up close and personal with the area’s colorful underwater sea life. Public and private tours are available daily and can be booked through your hotel.

5. Phuket Island & City Tour. One of the best ways to see the many sides of Phuket is with a planned city and island tour. This five-hour itinerary includes a cruise down the west coast along popular Patong, Karon, Kata and Rawai beaches, as well as stops at Phuket Town, Wang Thalang Lapidary gem factory, Mookda Herbal Center and a Buddhist temple. Be sure to inform the tour company of any specific sites you want to see ahead of time.

  • On September 9, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the best things to see and do in Phuket?

    You’re going to find yourself pulled in many different directions during your trip to Phuket — beaches, snorkeling, day trips, city tours — so to help ensure you hit the highlights, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend putting these things to see and do in Phuket at the top of your list:
     
    1. Big Buddha. The 45-meter high Big Buddha is one of the newest sights to dot the Phuket landscape — and one of its most revered treasures. You’ll be able to see it at its lofty locale in the Nakkerd Hills from many southern points on the island, but the scenic drive up through rural central Phuket is almost as rewarding as the unbelievable views you’ll enjoy from the site itself.

    2. Old Phuket Town. Head to this walkable section of bustling Phuket Town for a (temporary) break from the beach amid Sino-colonial architecture, maze-like markets and an abundance of cheerful Thai cafés. Bring your camera — this is one of the most photo-worthy parts of the city.

    3. Island hopping. Escape the sometimes overwhelming crowds on Phuket by booking a private tour through your hotel of the many idyllic islands located within a short speedboat ride of the coast. Enjoy snorkeling, picnicking and taking a dip in impossibly clear turquoise waters.

    4. Snorkeling in Phi Phi Islands. Speaking of snorkeling, Ko Phi Phi’s shallow waters and stunning coral gardens make it one of the best places near Phuket to get up close and personal with the area’s colorful underwater sea life. Public and private tours are available daily and can be booked through your hotel.

    5. Phuket Island & City Tour. One of the best ways to see the many sides of Phuket is with a planned city and island tour. This five-hour itinerary includes a cruise down the west coast along popular Patong, Karon, Kata and Rawai beaches, as well as stops at Phuket Town, Wang Thalang Lapidary gem factory, Mookda Herbal Center and a Buddhist temple. Be sure to inform the tour company of any specific sites you want to see ahead of time.
  • On September 9, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best nightlife in Phuket?

    The nightlife in some areas of Phuket is likely quite unlike anything you see back home. There are plenty of bars, clubs and open-air restaurants lining the well-known beach towns on the island’s western coast, with Bangla Road in Patong Beach particularly popular with locals and tourists alike. You’ll be in the center of all the chaotic action here, with tourist-friendly bars and restaurants directly shouldering more seedy establishments.
     
    For a less adventurous nightlife experience, our Forbes Travel Guide editors think the Phuket Simon Cabaret show on Patong Beach is a lot of fun. One of the biggest “ladyboy” cabaret performances in the area, Phuket Simon Cabaret features fabulous costumes and music. It's endless entertainment.
     
    Of course, for a more low-key evening you can always simply stop by your hotel bar or visit another one nearby, since all resorts here have wine bars, cigar bars or beach bars that are open to the public.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the travel tips you need to know about Phuket?

    Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and a favored destination for both traveling couples and families seeking some beachy rest and relaxation. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have four basic travel tips to help ensure your visit goes smoothly:
     
    1. The currency in Thailand is the Thai baht. While you can change your money ahead of time at the airport, ATMs dispensing baht are widely available — just be sure to check if your bank charges any international withdrawal fees, and be sure to inform your bank and credit card providers that you’ll be traveling in Thailand. Most resorts accept credit cards, as do some restaurants, shops and bars, but some only accept cash.

    2. Request a transfer from the airport to the hotel to avoid any confusion when you arrive. There will be plenty of harmless “gypsy drivers” offering you rides from the airport, but to skip the hassle simply have a representative from your resort pick you up — he or she will likely be waving a sign with your name on it near the main exit.

    3. US citizens are granted a free 30-day visa on arrival in Thailand, but you will need a passport that is valid for at least six months past your date of entry into the country. If you’re staying longer than 30 days you will need a visa, which can be arranged with your local consulate.

    4. Most of the hotel staff will speak English, but once you venture further out and into Phuket’s more rural areas you won’t find as many English-speaking residents, though most road, store and restaurant signs will have English. If it’s your first trip to Thailand and you’re uncomfortable with the language barrier — remember, smiling, pantomiming and patience can go a long way — consider hiring a tour guide if you plan to head out for a day of sightseeing, particularly if you’re going to do some shopping since negotiating the price for many goods is common.
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  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best thing to bring home from Phuket?

    The best thing to bring home from Phuket and pretty much anywhere in Thailand is silk — and you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to get it. Old Phuket Town is a good first stop. Here you’ll find the streets packed with shops offering various types of silk either by the yard or woven into scarves, shirts, pants, lingerie and more.
     
    For a more luxurious shopping experience, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend heading straight to a tailor for a professionally made-to-measure suit, jacket, evening dress or shirt. You’ll first choose your cloth, with options typically including cashmere, wool, cotton and silk, then work with the tailor to create your desired style. We suggest making your appointment early in your visit so you’ll have plenty of time for fittings and alterations.
     
    One of the nice things about these shops is that you can make repeat orders whenever you’d like and have it shipped back home, as long as your measurements don’t change, of course. Tailor shops are typically found in the main resort areas, and some are even located in the resorts — ask the staff at your hotel for recommendations.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best food experience in Phuket?

    The spicier the food the better in Phuket, where even eating the salads can make you feel like steam is shooting from your ears. Those with a low spice tolerance will be happy to know, however, that our Forbes Travel Guide recommend a few food experiences here that aren’t necessarily spicy at all.
     
    First, the local market in Old Phuket Town is a great place to sample local specialties such as chicken satay and fried fruit. It’s all prepared on the spot and is often served in plastic bags sealed with rubber bands, which is handy for walking and eating without making a mess.
     
    Coconut milk is a staple in Phuket and, indeed, in much of Thailand and Southeast Asia at large, so you’ll definitely want to sip some from a freshly hacked-open coconut.
     
    Finally, make sure to try a plate of pad thai. One of our favorite places to get it at is Takieng, the Thai restaurant at Renaissance Phuket Resort & Spa that serves it omelet-style. The only bad thing is that the pad thai back home will never taste the same again.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What is the best way to see Phuket in one day?

    If you’re only passing through Phuket on a whirlwind trip around Thailand, or simply want to see as much of the island as possible in one day so you can dedicate the rest of your stay to lounging on the beach, our Forbes Travel Guide editors think organized public or private tours are the best way to cover a lot of ground in a short time.

    One recommended option is the Phuket Island & City Tour, a standard tour provided through a local company that works directly with the island’s hotels and resorts on Phuket. They’ll pick you up at your hotel early in the morning — around 8 a.m. — then whisk you away for about five hours of fast and furious sightseeing, including a cruise past the island’s popular beaches on the western coast and a stop at the picturesque Kata-Karon Viewpoint. You’ll also drive through Phuket Town, stop at gem and cashew factories, and visit Phuket’s most-famous Buddhist monastery, among other things. You can also work with the tour company to ensure there’s enough time to see the Big Buddha and to stop for snacks and shopping.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in Phuket?

    You might have a hard time ordering takeout from your local Thai restaurant back home after dining at some of the best places to eat in Phuket, an island where you’ll have no trouble finding restaurants that serve authentic Thai cuisine in all its flavorful glory. Many small, local spots won’t have much in the way of décor, but they more than make up for it in the food — don’t be discouraged by plastic chairs and toilet paper for napkins.
     
    The many cafés and markets in Phuket Town are great places for sampling lots of local specialties, but our Forbes Travel Guide editors have two other favorites worth seeking out. Mor Mudong Restaurant, located among the mangroves just past Phuket Zoo, is an off-the-beaten-track gem specializing in whole steamed fish and super-spicy Thai cuisine (there are milder dishes on the menu as well). Mee Ton Poh, a family-run restaurant on Phuket Road near The Metropole Hotel, Phuket, is another recommended spot that’s famous for its Hokkien-style fried noodles as well as its spicy satays.
     
    If you don’t feel like venturing out or are traveling with kids who are picky eaters, most resorts on Phuket have at least one and often several restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisine, including Western classics.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in Phuket?

    Phuket offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from rustic seaside bungalows to secluded luxury resorts on private beaches. These are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ five favorite places to stay on this popular Thai island:
     
    1. Amanpuri. If you seek peace and tranquility in Thailand, then Amanpuri is your mecca. Aman Resorts' flagship property — whose name translates to “place of peace” — sits on the west coast of Phuket against the Andaman Sea. While you're here, enjoy three different dining options — The Terrace, The Restaurant and the Beach Club — serving meals year round. The resort's fine dining restaurant, Naoki, turns out French kaiseki fare from November to April. The spa is adorned with only six Thai-style private pavilions, making it a truly secluded escape. Other amenities include a gallery that sells local and Asian jewelry, antiques and artifacts; a fresh-water swimming pool; gym; and six tennis courts. 
     
    2. Dusit Thani. Surrounded by tropical gardens in the resort development of Bang Toa Bay, Dusit Thani Laguna Phuket is one of the island's newer luxury retreats. The Thai-style building has 226 guest rooms and 28 private pool villas, all featuring landscaped views of the resort's private gardens. There are six restaurants here, a spa and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the resort. Because Dusit Thani is part of the Laguna Phuket complex, you have access to any of the hotels and their facilities, including various fitness centers, childcare centers, restaurants, bars and the 18-hole Laguna Phuket golf course. 
     
    3. Banyan Tree Phuket. The Banyan Tree is one of Phuket's most prized possessions. The resort opened in 1995 as a retreat for those looking for privacy in the island. There are six restaurants on property, as well as a private in-villa dining option with meals prepared exclusively for you. Coupled with its top spa concepts, Banyan Tree Phuket combines the best of Thailand's culture with the modern luxuries travelers seek.
     
    4. JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa. A massive luxury resort with 265 guest rooms and suites, 11 restaurants and bars and three pools — including one just for kids — JW Marriott Phuket Resort & Spa is a great option for families with children. The views of the ocean are spectacular, accommodations are decked out with polished wood flooring and oversized soaking tubs and a variety of activities such as elephant treks and safaris can be arranged by the concierge.
     
    5. Phulay Bay, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. Located about 90 minutes from Phuket International Airport on Krabi, Phulay Bay is ideal for those who want to visit Phuket, but not stay there. This luxury resort is consistently rated one of the most romantic hotels in Southeast Asia, thanks in large part to its magnificent villas on the water complete with private plunge pools, gardens and a personal butler.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    Where is the best shopping in Phuket?

    Tourist-friendly Phuket has an abundance of shopping opportunities, but our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel some of the best shopping is within Old Phuket Town, where you’ll get great prices on original Thai handicrafts such as hand-carved elephants, bronze statues and unique ceramics. You’ll also find a number of boutiques selling scarves, shirts, pants and tapestries made from Thailand’s famous silk.
     
    A visit to the Phuket Weekend Market, located just outside Phuket Town, is quite an experience. Here you can browse stalls overflowing with souvenirs, secondhand goods, pirated films, local foods and even live animals. While we certainly don’t advocate purchasing anything questionable (or illegal), we do think it’s worth checking out.
     
    If you’re looking for something unique — and stylish — to take home, consider visiting one of the tailors in Phuket Town to get a well-priced, custom suit or dress made from cashmere, silk or cotton. Most of the tailor shops are found in the main resort areas and some are even located in hotels — feel free to ask your hotel for recommendations and help setting up an appointment.
  • On July 16, 2012
    Melanie Nayer answered the question: Melanie Nayer

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Phuket?

    Though Phuket is a popular pick for honeymooners and couples seeking a romantic getaway, Thailand’s largest island is well suited to family vacations, too — especially given the relative low costs of traveling here. If you’re bringing the kids along with you, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend making time for these five sites and activities:  
     
    1. Elephant Rides. This is one trek your kids will never forget. After meeting your elephants and learning about their history, you’ll hop on an elephant’s back and enjoy a ride through the jungle — and get spectacular views of the island from the elephant camp’s hilltop location.

    2. Phuket Aquarium. Kids will love ogling razorfish, eels, crabs and other exotic sea life at the Phuket Aquarium, which houses more than 30 tanks populated by freshwater and saltwater creatures.

    3. Big Buddha. Standing — well, actually sitting — 45 meters high at the top of the Nakkered Hills, Phuket’s Big Buddha has become one of the most iconic attractions on the island. Around the base you’ll see Buddhas for every day of the week, along with their story and meaning — find the one that represents the day your child was born for an impromptu educational lesson on Buddhist beliefs.

    4. Splash Jungle Water Park. What kid doesn’t love a water park? Located on Mai Khao Beach, the Splash Jungle Water Park has everything from a lazy river to a giant wave pool and endless water slides and activities.

    5. Jungle Safari. You’ll be gone for the entire day, but a visit to Khao Sok National Park is well worth your time. During a safari here you can canoe down a peaceful river surrounded by lush jungle vegetation as you keep your eyes and ears peeled for birds, monkeys and other wildlife. Ask your hotel for help booking this increasingly popular day trip.