With white sands lining its coast and a neon-lit nightlife, Phuket certainly lives up to its reputation as a boozy, beachy holiday spot. But as Thailand’s largest island with 543 square kilometres to explore, Phuket has plenty to offer travellers hoping to delve into its culture, food scene and lesser-known places. Here’s a guide to help you hone in on the must-see highlights if you have only one week to spend in Phuket.
Day 1: Check out a west-coast beach
Phuket’s west coast is lined with a dozen large beaches and several small sandy bays — choosing a beach then is a matter of deciding what you want to do on it and how many people you wish to share it with.
Patong beach is infamously hectic, while Kamala, Kata, Karon and Nai Harn beaches are busy but more family-friendly and low key. The further north you go, the emptier the beaches. Find broad, near-empty stretches of sand from the northern end of Bang Tao to Naithon, Nai Yang and Mai Khao beaches. Smaller beaches like Ao Sane or Banana beach are ideal for a snorkel and sunbathe session with a more secluded feel.
At the larger beaches, find surf, SUP and boogie boards for rent or hire a longtail boat for a coastline cruise (avoid the jet-skis). In the evening look out for big trays of freshly caught fish displayed on ice at the open-air restaurants lining the streets for a Thai seafood feast.
Day 2: Drive Phuket’s scenic coastal roads
If you’re brave enough to drive here then a cruise along Phuket’s west-coast roads will lead you to some of the island’s best views and beaches. Try the Travelfish suggested drive tour or grab a map and explore. If driving seems daunting, find a friendly taxi driver to take you around for the day.
Day 3: Explore the east coast
Phuket’s more rustic side is revealed along its east coast. Just a few minutes’ drive across a bridge from Phuket Town lies Ko Siray, a small island that’s home to the fishing port and Phuket’s largest sea gypsy village, the hilltop Wat Siray and some tasty Thai beachside restaurants. For a more snazzy lunch with a view stop by the Westin Siray Bay.
In Cape Panwa, visit the Phuket Aquarium followed by a walk along the nearby promenade. Splurge for a meal with awe-inspiring views at Sri Panwa resort’s hilltop Baba Poolclub or at one of Phuket’s prettiest hidden beaches at the Cape Panwa Hotel. Stop by the market at Baan Borrae fishing pier, rent a kayak at Ao Yon or drive to one of Phuket's many viewpoints. To close the day, sip cold drinks while watching the sun set over Chalong Bay at one of the bars on Khao Khad beach.
Day 4: Phuket Town culture and cuisine immersion
Put on some comfy, cool walking shoes to wander the streets of Phuket Town and its colourful Sino-Portuguese mansions and shophouses. Fuel up at a cheap and tasty dim sum, roti or Hokkien noodle shop, or go for a classier meal with a step-back-in-time feel at Dibuk Restaurant or China Inn.
Bang a gong at a Chinese shrine or learn more about Phuket’s past at Thai Hua Museum or Baan Chinpracha mansion. Find a free map at the Old Town information office on Thalang road or at the Art & Culture magazine office on Soi Romannee, or book a guided heritage tour for a more in-depth look into Phuket’s culture and history. Find fantastic views and fiery curries up on Rang Hill at Phuket View Restaurant or Tungkha Cafe, or if in town on a Sunday spend the late afternoon and sunset hours grazing for tasty local snacks and meals, plus clothing and handicrafts, at the Lard Yai Sunday Street Market.
Day 5: Get active or try something new
Get up off your beach-bound bottom and learn a new skill. Take a PADI scuba diving course, learn to sail, try a Thai cooking class or Muay Thai kickboxing session. Check out the surfing, standup paddle or kite surfing scene or sharpen your board-riding skills at a cable wakeboarding park. For a more jungly adventure consider Bang Pae waterfall for a mini-hike and visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project.
Day 6: Cruise the islands
A visit to Phuket is not complete till you’ve explored its surrounding waters aboard a boat. To the east is Phang Nga Bay and some truly spectacular islands. Splash out and charter a yacht or hire a more budget-friendly longtail boat, or join a sea kayak trip and paddle into the karst ‘hong’ caves. From Bang Rong pier catch a speedboat to Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai, while from Ao Por pier find a longtail boatman to take you to Ko Naka Yai.
To the south, hire a speedboat or longtail from Chalong or Rawai out to Ko Raya (Racha) or Coral island, popular spots for snorkelling. Though Ko Phi Phi and the Similan islands are best visited on overnight trips, you could arrange a day dive or snorkelling trip to these islands from Phuket. (The Similans are closed from mid-May through mid-October.)
Day 7: Sacred sights, spas and sunsets
Wrap up your week with a more relaxed and reflective day by visiting the Big Buddha statue with wide views across south Phuket and Wat Chalong, Phuket’s largest Buddhist temple. Follow that up with a massage and pampering session at one of the island’s many spas, then dinner and cocktails at sunset at someplace special like Joe’s Downstairs in Kalim, Vanilla Sky bar at Cape Sienna resort in Kamala beach or Mom Tri’s Kitchen at Kata beach. Or for the more budget conscious: a beach massage followed by an icy beer on the sands as the sun goes down.
Tip: Travel to anywhere in Phuket rarely takes more than an hour by car, so location choice is more about your budget than ease of getting around. If you’re staying at a beach and not planning to hire a motorbike, transport costs will take a large bite out your budget since there are no buses linking the beaches and taxis are expensive. Phuket’s cheap songthaew buses to the beaches all start and finish in Phuket Town and it has the cheapest accommodation options, so it’s the best place to stay for cost-conscious travellers.
If you want walking distance to the beach and still reasonable prices, go to Kata, Karon or Patong – the three most popular beaches where hotel price competition is fiercest. These three beaches also have a good range of three- to five-star choices for those wanting some added comforts, or check out Bangtao, Surin, Nai Yang or Mai Khao beaches, where accommodation is mostly at the higher end.
If you visit Phuket during a wet spell, fear not, there are plenty of rainy-day activities here, too.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
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