A short list of options
When you’ve finished sunbathing and splashing about on the beaches of Phuket, you’ll likely want to shower off the sand and see what else the island has to offer after dark. A lot of what’s on offer is sleaze — though officials would deny this — but here’s a selection of some of the better, family-friendly stuff on offer.
The glitzy spectacle of Phuket Simon Cabaret is performed entirely by ladyboys, or katoey. Patong has a fairly high ladyboy population — even by Thai standards — due in part to the large number of medical practitioners here offering gender reassignment surgery.
Running for just over an hour, the flamboyant show features singing, dancing and costumes even Elton John would consider keeping in the closet. Despite what you may perhaps think, the performances are not especially blue, so you shouldn’t expect to have any uncomfortable conversations with the kids if they tag along. Homage is paid to the likes of everyone from Chicago to Lady Gaga, with the English singing and MC’ing lip synched all the way. The result is frequently hilarious, and the show on the whole does well to not take itself too seriously.
One thing they do take very seriously is people trying to take photos and videos inside the theatre, with ushers’ eyes constantly scanning the audience for any kind of recording device. Photo ops with the cast are available outside after the performance, but be forewarned tips of 100 baht or more are expected.
It’s a very flashy and entertaining way to spend the evening, at a fairly reasonable price. The difference in price between VIP and standard seats is negligible, so it’s worth stumping up the extra few baht to sit in the front rows. Shop around before buying tickets since many agents offer discounted rates.
Note also there’s no intermission, and you can’t take photos or bring food and drinks inside. A small bottle of water is provided, but you might want to make sure you’ve eaten to avoid any mid-show tummy grumbles.
“You see Muay Thai, you see Thailand!” … or so say the squawk boxes affixed to the little trucks that drive all over Patong promoting it day and night. While there may be a bit more to the Land of Smiles than two people beating the hell out of each other, Thai boxing is certainly part of the national psyche and worth seeing at least once during your visit.
Of two boxing stadiums in Patong, Bangla is the newer and more accessible venue. Situated at the back of Jungceylon shopping mall, you can’t miss it: just look for the giant plaster boxing figures menacing the street. Though the looped tape recordings broadcast from the stadium talk it up incessantly, promising a “Big Fight!” with “The champ of the champs!”, the reality is there’s a “Big Fight” at Bangla Boxing Stadium almost every other night.
Children, women and men square off against each other and yes, the fights are all real. On a typical night you’ll see 10 fights starting with pint-sized punching 10-year-olds and working up all the way through fighters in their teens, 20s and 30s. Gambling is permitted inside muay Thai stadiums, so flag down the guy waving cash in the air if you’re keen for a punt.
Beer and snacks are available inside, but you can easily smuggle in outside supplies in a backpack. Since the night’s battles go on for three hours in total, starting at 21:00 and wrapping up around midnight, you’ll want to have adequate sustenance to keep you going. If you just want to catch the highlights, we’d advise showing up at about the 22:30 mark since the whole thing can be pretty exhausting to sit through from start to finish — even if you’re not personally in the ring. The whole shebang climaxes with the title fight commencing about 23:15, so make sure you’re still energised enough to enjoy it.
Premium seats are available if you like to be up close to the action. Rest assured you can still see everything clearly from the standard seats also, where you can also stay clear of any wayward drops of sweat and blood.
Shopping in Phuket is often an entertaining spectacle, especially after the sun goes down. Every resort and urban area of Phuket has a night market and streets lined with shops selling everything you’ve never known you needed till now. Patong, Kata, Karon and Kamala beaches all have shopping plazas and streets selling souvenirs and beachwear, as well as night markets that cater to local shoppers.
Phuket Town has the liveliest and largest markets, with Thalang Road transformed into a walking street every Sunday for the Lard Yai Street Market. Here’s where you’ll find some of the best local food, as well as local crafts and clothing, with the rows of Sino-Portuguese buildings adding a splash of colour to the scene. If the street fare isn’t enough, pop into one of the roti shops or cafes along the street for a proper sit-down meal. A popular spot for families.
On the fringe of Phuket Town is the island’s largest weekend market, known as the Chaofa night market or Talad Tai Rot. Lively and chaotic, it’s a great example of a bustling Thai market worth visiting if you can’t make it up to the famed markets of Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Food and fashion items are the main sellers here, but you could spend hours browsing the bewildering array of things for sale. Looking for a bejewelled Hello Kitty mobile phone cover, a branded T-shirt of dubious origin or a jackfruit the size of a boulder? It’s all here, every weekend. Found across the road from Wat Naka, about 1km south of Central Festival mall.
Note: A previous version of this article included the Phuket FantaSea show, which we have removed. By all accounts this is an excellent, professional production but we’ve become reluctant to recommend any place with animal performers. There are no reports of elephants at FantaSea being mistreated, but there is a growing consensus among travellers and travel experts alike that animal shows are an undesirable, potentially harmful form of entertainment.
Phuket Simon Cabaret
Show runs 18:00, 19:45 and 21:30 every night.
Price: Regular 700 baht; VIP 800 baht. Children (under 130 cm) 500/600 baht respectively.
T: (076) 342 114-6
F: (076) 340 437
Bangla Boxing Stadium
Friday, Sunday and Wednesday night: 21:00-00:00
Price: Regular 1,700 baht, VIP 2,500 baht. Children (0-10 years) 850/1,000 baht respectively.
T: (089) 726 1112; (086) 954 2999
Lard Yai Street Market
Every Sunday from 16:00
Thalang Road, Phuket Town
Talad Tai Rot market
Every Saturday and Sunday from 16:00
Wirat Hongyok Road, Vichit district
Lana Willocks is a freelance writer from Canada based in Phuket. Her love affair with Thailand began on a university exchange programme in Bangkok, then she returned to Phuket on the auspicious date of 9-9-1999 and never left.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Phuket