It’s your first time to Phuket. You’re confused. You’ve got more tour brochures in your hotel room than you know what to do with and time is running out. What to do? Where to go? What to see?
Obviously, you’re going to have to plan your itinerary around a time frame, so here are four options – a three-day, five-day and a seven-day stay and longer.
Three Days in Phuket
Day one - Discover Phuket
Drive from Phromthep Cape to Surin
One of the best ways to see Phuket’s West Coast is to tour it in a rented car. This gives you the option of stopping exactly where and when you want and for you to stay exactly as long as you wish at differing locations.
We strongly suggest that you follow Phuket’s West Coast route as this is by far the most beautiful stretch of beaches in the region (Phuket’s East Coast comprises largely of mud flats and mangrove swamps), starting at the south end of the island at Phromthep Cape and exploring up to Surin Beach. Park at the huge car park at Phromthep and go up the steps to the viewpoint. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been here before as this view adorns millions of postcards, posters, T-shirts and TV company logos. (A note to TV travel show producers: there’s more to Phuket than corny shots of Phromthep Cape, you know)
Heading north, after a one-kilometre dip and rise in the road, you’ll come to another smaller viewpoint. This commands a breathtaking view of beautiful Nai Harn Beach. No doubt you’ll feel a bit like Don Quixote as you’ll be standing in front several huge white windmills. FYI this is one of Thailand’s windiest spots and these lofty machines generate power for the area’s electrical needs. Down below, beachside development at Nai Harn is minimal due to the fact that the local Buddhist temple owns most of the land so you might want to take a quiet stroll along this lovely 800-metre beach.
On the road again, through Nai Harn Village, hang a left turn and follow the sign up the hill towards Kata Beach. At the top of the hill you’ll come across yet another viewpoint. The view from here will also seem strangely familiar as it one of Phuket’s most well-recognisable outlooks. Here, you can gaze north and take in the triple vista of Kata, Karon and Patong beaches. Warning: If you can see over the lip of the hill down to Kata Noi Beach you’ve leaned over too far and are now in grave danger of killing yourself. Get back behind the railings. Now! There are elephant camps on this hill so keep your eyes peeled for their calling cards. They could cause a nasty skid…
And so on down into Kata with its beautiful beachside palms. This area, dotted with boutique hotels, restaurants and bars, is good for shopping (along the main drag, Patak Rd.), surfing and snorkelling (you can rent a board or a mask and fins on the southern part of the beach). Then it’s barely a short hop over the incline separating Kata from Karon Beach – home to the softest, most powdery sand on the island. Karon’s a long banana-shaped beach with a sharp drop-off into the Andaman Sea. The easterly leading main street is more oriented to night-time partying than shopping.
There are a series of hills to negotiate before arriving in Patong Beach – Phuket’s Party Central. If you are thinking of stopping a while in Patong for a look around perhaps it is best to go along with the northerly flowing one-way system along the Beach Rd. and pass Bangla Rd. on your right before parking on the left-hand-side then walking back into the action. The reason for this is that many car and bike rental setups monopolise the left-hand-side parking spaces on the Beach Rd. itself. Soi Bangla is closed off as a pedestrian zone from six o’clock onwards but is worth checking out – along with its surrounding streets – during the day as shopping here can be adventurous, fun, intense and fruitful. Patong’s night life is legendary and doesn’t need to be described here so maybe you should resist temptation and head on north to Kamala Beach.
Kamala Beach is quite a few attractions rolled into one. First off, there’s the village itself, with its many mid-range restaurants, quaint bistros and beer bars. Then there’s the beachfront and parallel inland road which features cheap Muslim eateries. At the northern end stands the huge FantaSea show complex. This place is huge – it’s on 140 acres of land and the main dining hall can seat 4,000 – yes, 4,000 hungry diners. That’s a lot of fried rice when you think about it.
Over the headland is Surin Beach where there are any number of posh dining establishments and watering holes as well as a couple of top-of-the-range hotels. At the beach car park there are food vendors, a few bamboo seafood restaurants and plenty of concrete and ceramic tables and chairs where you can relax and watch the tide ebb or flow before heading back to your hotel. Like Karon, Surin has a steep drop-off into the depths of the Andaman Sea so if you swim here you should be careful.
- Make sure you inspect your rental car thoroughly before driving off. If there are dents or scratches, point them out
- Take extra care when negotiating blind bends and at junctions: Not a lot of caution is used by drivers in Thailand
- Keep to the left!
- 'Tank up at the earliest opportunity and remember that gas stations are not open at night. If you are in serious need you can buy gas in used whisky bottles sold by the roadside
- Beware of ‘undertaking’ – a rather apt term used here to describe motorcycles overtaking on the inside lane
- A Thai driver who flashes you at a junction means he is coming through rather than saying ‘please, you go first’ as in the West
Phuket Island Tour
If you do not like to drive try the Phuket Island and City Tour. This tour will take you to many interesting locations on the island such as Wat Chalong, the island’s biggest Buddhist ‘wat’ or temple; a walking tour of Phuket’s Old Town and some of the island’s most luscious viewpoints and much more.
- Tour Available: Phuket Island & City Tour
Day Two - Phi Phi or Phang nga?
Discover some of the marvellous islands surrounding Phuket. There are many options – here are just a few you can choose from for your Day Two activities.
Phi Phi Islands by Speedboat
Go island hopping amongst some of the most beautiful islands in the world. Visit the location where The Beach was filmed, snorkel in some of the clearest waters in the world. Knock yourself out with Mother Nature’s beauty. Go on; you deserve it. (Book Phi Phi by Speedboat Daytrip...)
Phang Nga Bay by Speedboat
Some of the most fascinating scenery in the world is just minutes away by speedboat. Why waste hours on a boring slow tour bus when you can zoom off to this wondrous location, taking in James Bond Island, dining at a floating Muslim village and of course marvelling at those incredible karst formations.
Phang Nga Cruise on a Chinese Junk
Not in a hurry? Prefer taking it easy? Then this is the cruise for you. Take in Phang Nga Bay at your leisure aboard a motorised Chinese junk. Loll on deck cushions in the shade of giant sails and watch the world slip by. Visit James Bond Island and a Sea Gypsy village. Dine on board. Forget all your worries and allow yourself to be pampered. (Book the Phang Nga Cruise on June Bahtra...)
Discover Phang Nga Bay close up. Travel aboard a ‘mother ship’ and launch out in a sea kayak paddled by an experienced and informative guide. You will find it hard to believe your eyes when you glimpse the amount of exotic wildlife in the interior lagoons of some of the islands in Phang Nga Bay. (Read about the different Sea Kayaking programmes available...)
Day Three - Shopping and Showtime
Fill your boots at one of Phuket’s shopping centres. Name brands are a fraction of the cost back home and the copies are very good indeed. Just remember to keep all your receipts: the good news is that you can claim back your VAT (7%) at the airport when you leave if you produce receipts and your purchased articles.
Just outside Phuket City lies Central Festival – a tasteful shopping mall with everything you could possibly want in one location. You can lunch at one of the restaurants or fill up on popcorn as you catch a movie at one of the seven available movie theatres at the multiplex upstairs which also has a First Class Cinema where you get your own reclining armchair and blanket to snuggle up in.
In Patong, check out Jungceylon on Rat-U-Thit Rd. Watch the (free) Dancing Musical Fountain Show (at 13:00, 15:00, 19:00, 21:00 and 23:00). And if that ain’t enough there’s also a life-size Chinese junk with a hydraulic catwalk for fashion shows. There’s a five-screen multiplex for movie buffs, restaurants and bars and oh… I almost forgot… lots of shopping.
It’s Showtime! Phuket FantaSea show
FantaSea is BIG. Located on 140 acres of land at Kamala, 9kms north of Patong, this show is a must-see for visitors to Phuket. You can dine at the gargantuan buffet, shop in the Shopping Village, watch traditional Thai handicrafts being made, snack at the fast food outlet, check out a ‘street show’ and – if you’re not too exhausted by then – watch the show.
Loosely based on a fantasy on Thai culture, the show features humour, tear-jerking love scenes, magic tricks, a menagerie that would put the Bronx Zoo to shame and wonderful lighting effects. Showtime is at 21:00 everyday except Tuesdays and Thursdays.
- Tour Available: Phuket Fantasea Show
Located just to the south of Patong, Simon Cabaret has been vamping, mincing and lip-syncing its way into people’s hearts since 1991. The transvestite-and-gender-reassigned cast does an impressive job and most have been at it for a good few years, making the cast interchangeable (no pun intended). There are two shows daily – at 19:30 and 21:30. Simon Cabaret is two shows in one: the awestruck male faces in the audience are as much of a spectacle as what is happening on stage. It’s all visually very confusing for the unprepared so let’s make this clear in case you’re tempted to take a fancy to the lead singer or one of the dancers: these are men dressed as women.
No cameras allowed but you are encouraged to take photos with the performers outside for a ‘small fee’.
- Tour Available: Simon Cabaret
Five Days in Phuket
Follow our suggestions for days one to three.
Day Four - Nature Day
Discover Phuket’s local wildlife (outside of a Patong disco, that is) with a half-day Safari tour. Siam Safari lay a fascinating ‘4-in-1 Half-Day Tour’ which includes a trip by four-wheel jeep through Chalong’s ‘highlands’ to the company’s elephant camp.
Here, you can watch macaque monkeys pick coconuts; you can pose for the camera astride a water buffalo as well as have it pull you around in a traditional wooden cart.
You will learn the multiple uses of coconuts in Thailand and observe a rubber tree being tapped in order to make latex. Later, you will get to meet some elephants as well as their mahouts, watch the younger elephants in training and feed them bananas then get to ride an adult elephant. (Book 4-in-1 Safari Half Day Tour...) (see Photos)
If elephants are too slow for you why not try an ATV (All-Terrain-Vehicle)?
Follow a guide through rubber plantations and unspoiled countryside all the while learning about the environment.
The groups are small and emphasis is on safety with a comprehensive training session.
- Tour Available: ATV Tours
Day Five - Indulge and Cultive Yourself
Scrub up, rub down
Try out a spa and have a relaxing massage. This is an unforgettable and healthy experience and you’re in good hands when you’re in Thai hands.
The Asian approach to massage and health treatments is as spiritual as it is physical, therefore a great deal of effort goes into making sure that you benefit from the experience in both ways.
Treatments vary, from honey scrubs to salt scrubs, from Swedish to Thai massages, from cold baths to sweltering saunas – all resulting in a fitter, more energetic you. (Check the Spa offers...)
Phuket’s Old Town; a Tin Heritage
Discover Phuket’s Old Town. Back in the days of Phuket’s tin boom, the Old Town was home to many influential Chinese families. Some of their homes and shophouses have been lovingly restored and most are still lived in.
The area around Dibuk, Thalang and Krabi roads is replete with history and several new and eclectic businesses have set here so expect to see the unexpected. It is best to explore on foot and after the day has lost some of its heat.
Seven Days in Phuket
Follow our suggestions for days one to five.
Day Six - Discover Krabi
Go to Krabi by Speedboat
Get rid of those cobwebs and speed across the waves to Krabi Province. Krabi has long been favoured by movie directors to shoot their films there because of its natural and outstanding beauty.
There are caves, grottoes and beautiful beaches to be discovered along Krabi’s rugged and beautiful coastline.
- Tour Available: Krabi by Speedboat
Day Seven - Phuket Waterfalls and View Points
Your Point of View
Rent a car and visit Phuket’s waterfalls and viewpoints: Bang Pae Waterfall, Tonsai Waterfall, Kathu Waterfall, Panwa Viewpoint, Kata Viewpoint and Rang Hill Viewpoint. Obviously, the rainy season (May-October) is better for Phuket’s waterfalls but Phuket’s viewpoints are spectacular all year round.
More than Seven Days on Phuket - Jumbos, golf and islands
Elephant Hills Safari
If you’re a nature lover, try a three-day-two-night Elephant Safari in Khao Sok National Park. Combine an African Safari with Thai hospitality and what do you get? Adventure in paradise, that’s what.
Sleep over in roomy purpose-made tents, discover plants and animals you’ve never seen before and trek through lush jungle. One particularly fascinating facet of this tour is that you will learn how elephants communicate with each other. A jumbo feast indeed.
Fore! Phuket Golf
If you’re a golfer, Phuket boasts five international quality courses with one more close by in Phang Nga Province. And if you’re looking for diversity in a relatively small area then Phuket is unbeatable. Anthropologist or not, you will find no missing links on this island.
Phi Phi at leisure
How about a two-night-three-day stopover on one of the world’s most beautiful islands? Only people seeking sun, relaxation, good food and company need apply.