Phuket or Krabi – which is better? Both of these superb southern Thailand destinations are common features on bucket lists, and for good reason.
Phuket is a well-established name in the travel industry and is widely regarded as one of the top places to visit in Thailand, if not the whole of Southeast Asia. Krabi may be a relative newcomer to the travel scene, but has rapidly grown in popularity, to the point where it is strong contender to Phuket’s title as the destination of choice in the south of Thailand. If you are finding yourself torn when it comes to deciding which of these two beautiful places you want to spend your next Thailand holiday in, we’re here to help. We’ve taken 10 key aspects of the beach holiday experience and put Phuket and Krabi head-to-head in a direct comparison to see which comes out on top.
Phuket has over 30 beaches to choose from, most of them boasting soft white sand and clear blue seas – the typical tropical island idyll. With a pretty good road network, most of them are very easy to get to and have good facilities nearby.
If you include all of the small islands which make up Krabi Province, then it also has quite an extensive selection of beaches, though many are rather trickier to get to, often needing at least a short boat trip. The advantage of this is that the beaches mostly retain their beautiful natural look, with fewer buildings, less traffic and fewer peddlers to disrupt your relaxation.
Phuket has more hotels than Krabi generally, but a lot of those on offer are on the top end of the scale, with three-, four- and five-star properties in plentiful supply. Among that list are some really outstanding properties, with breathtaking views, amazing facilities and exceptional service, among other perks.
With its many islands and its less developed mainland, Krabi is the perfect place for a proper getaway. There is a good selection of hotels which are not just far from the madding crowd, but far from any kind of crowd at all. If you’re looking for absolute peace and isolation, you’re more likely to find it in Krabi.
With a classy and sophisticated atmosphere and a longer time in the limelight of the tourism industry, Phuket offers an excellent choice of high-quality fine-dining establishments, even around some of the more remote beaches. Whether it’s exquisite Royal Thai cuisine or top-notch offerings from around the world, you are spoilt for choice when looking for somewhere special to eat in Phuket.
What Krabi lacks in sophistication, it makes up for with its natural assets – a stunning setting. Unlike in Phuket, it’s quite easy to find toes-in-the-sand beachfront venues in Krabi, which are every bit as romantic as Phuket’s fine-dining offerings, but are more rustic and relaxed.
4. Cultural Attractions
Phuket has quite a long and fascinating history from long before it became a tourism hotspot. This history is there to be seen in its beautiful temples and attractions, as well as the colourful streets of Phuket Old Town and the even more colourful festivals and celebrations which are unique to Phuket, such as the Vegetarian Festival.
Most of the top attractions in Krabi are natural wonders, which the province has an abundance of. From the Emerald Pool to the beautiful caves in the extensive national parks and even the outstanding coastline, Phuket has nothing like the same standard of natural attractions.
There’s a good number of high points along Phuket’s length from which you can enjoy excellent views of the surroundings, with other fantastic viewpoints offering sweeting panoramas along the coast for enjoying the abundance of sandy beaches from. In Phuket, the scenery is grand and spectacular.
There are only a few viewpoints in all of Krabi Province which provide a high perch from which to enjoy the stunning scenery. Instead, most of the sights tend to be right down at water level, whether you’re in a canoe on the rivers through the virgin jungle of the national parks, or in a long-tail boat on an island-hopping cruise. In Krabi, the scenery is close-up and rugged.
Phuket has quite a diverse nightlife, with different areas each hosting different atmospheres. Party Central, however, is undoubtedly Patong, with the 500-metre-long Bangla Road as its beating heart. Within a very short distance of each other, you will find several high-quality nightclubs, as well as countless beer bars, go-go bars and lounges.
With strict enforcement of rules on beach usage, Phuket now has next to no beach bars or clubs. There are several which are near the beach, or just behind it, but next to none where you can enjoy a relaxing time with your feet in the sand. Krabi, by contrast, takes full advantage of the beach, with many easy-going party venues where you can enjoy your drinks right by the lapping waves.
7. Sports and Activities
There is an impressive number of fun activities available in Phuket, most of them from fully supervised and professionally run activity centres. This includes ziplining at places like Flying Hanuman, cable water skiing at Anthem Wake Park or Muay Thai training at one of the dozens of gyms. There are also plenty of first-rate scuba diving centres, several go-karting circuits, golf courses, flow riders and more.
As is often the case, Krabi’s greatest asset is its untamed natural surroundings. While it lacks the activity centres of Phuket, it still has plenty of things to do, particularly to those of an adventurous inclination. While those who like to explore can enjoy island-hopping, jungle-trekking and kayaking, those who like it extreme can take on rock climbing in Krabi, which is said to be the best in Thailand.
Phuket’s sophistication as a destination is nowhere more evident than in its shopping opportunities. The island has a number of big shopping malls, offering big-name brands, as well as a number of small boutiques selling stylish designer fashions. It’s maybe not a shopaholic’s paradise like Bangkok, but you could quite easily devote a whole day to retail therapy without seeing everything available.
Phuket’s development as an international destination has, to a certain extent, cost it its individual local charm. Krabi still has that in spades and local wares and handicrafts are much easier to find in its small shops and markets. There may not be as many outlets, but you are more likely to find something special and unique.
9. Lifestyle and People
Phuket: More Cosmopolitan
If you haven’t guessed by now, Phuket is quite a cosmopolitan destination. Sure, you can enjoy it on a shoestring budget but, between its high-end hotels, several yachting marinas, shopping malls, fine dining restaurants and classy clubs, it certainly attracts a sophisticated crowd. Even Phuket Old Town – built in the height of a tin mining boom – has an air of class to it.
Krabi: More Backpackers
Unlike Phuket, Krabi never had an industrial boom. As a result, it has remained pretty much as it was – a local, rural community. It has a much more “Thai” feel to it than Phuket does, and attracts the backpacker crowd with its good selection of budget accommodation, laidback nightlife and easy-going atmosphere.
10. Value for Money
Price-wise, Phuket and Krabi are generally pretty even. Sure, there are certain things which will cost you more in one place than another, and Krabi will maybe have more choice at the lower end of the price scale while Phuket offers more at the upper end of it, but food, drinks, accommodation, transport and attractions are all effectively equal in cost.
Ultimately, which is the better destination between Phuket and Krabi boils down to the sort of traveller you are and the sort of holiday you are hoping to enjoy. It would be difficult to categorically say that one place is better than the other. It would be more accurate to say that Phuket is better if you want a sophisticated holiday in a convenient and well-developed destination. If you want a great deal of choice which is easily accessible, Phuket is for you.
By contrast, Krabi is better if you want to relax or play in a charmingly natural setting. It’s comparatively undeveloped state favours those who want to get away from any concerns, in a world not over-complicated by the trappings of modern society. However, the rugged rural setting means that you can still enjoy Krabi if total relaxation is not your cup of tea, and you instead want activity and excitement. Between them, they offer a wide variety of experiences and, being fairly close to each other, there’s no reason why you can’t visit both places.