This island paradise in Thailand will surprise you with its hidden delights. The varied geography of Phuket allows for beautiful scenery and a wide range of activities. Forested hills, mangroves, and beaches can be freely explored, so there's always a quiet corner to discover away from the tourist centers.
The beaches on the northwest coast are mostly deserted, with deep water and often wild waves. Further down the west coast lie the most popular beach resorts. Bang Tao and Kamala offer a quiet atmosphere with small bars, shops, and restaurants. A little further south is Patong, the busiest resort town on the island. As you head toward the south coast, Karon, Kata, and Rawai have a lively, small town feel; relaxing but still with plenty to do. The east coast offers authentic cuisine in seaside restaurants and stunning mangrove scenery.
From laid-back reggae bars to exquisite dining venues, Phuket has nightlife options to suit everyone. Balmy nights in bustling Patong offer shopping, dining, drinking, and entertainment. In the more quiet areas you'll get to know your friendly bar workers well and enjoy the cozy vibe.
A more reflective atmosphere can be discovered in the many Buddhist temples around the island. Visitors are welcome to wander the grounds and ornate buildings that often house sacred Buddha statues. Special events and festivals held throughout the year offer a glimpse into local culture.
There's a beach to suit everyone in Phuket. From busy beaches with fun water sports to serene idylls, perfect for relaxing in peace.
Try small roadside restaurants for authentic Thai food at low prices. At the other end of the spectrum, high-end restaurants, such as Joe's Downstairs in Patong, offer elegant dining with fantastic views over the sea.
The hilly regions of Phuket are wonderful for hiking and many have picturesque waterfalls. Bang Pae Waterfall in Thalang is a short walk from the Gibbon Rehabilitation Center.
From the bars of Bangla Road to the tongue-in-cheek Simon Cabaret, late-night shopping to a glass of wine in the hotel bar - there are options for an evening out to suit every sensibility.
There are temples in most areas. The largest is Wat Chalong, which can be visited by everyone. Intricately built, often adorned with dragon designs or statues, and decorated with colorful, shimmering tiles, temples are a wonderful sight to behold.
Weather-wise the best time to visit Phuket is between November and April - this is generally the dry season. The Christmas and New Year period is the busiest time of year. May to October is monsoon - or rainy - season, with the heaviest rain between July and September.
Phuket International Airport (HKT) is located at the northern end of the island, and most hotels are in the center (20 miles away) and south (up to 30 miles away). Taxi is the best option for traveling from the airport, and prices range from ฿500 to over ฿1,000, depending on the destination.
Trains do not run to Phuket. The nearest station is over three hours away in Surat Thani. However, transfer tickets are available to travel the remaining distance by bus. Ticket prices from Bangkok are approximately ฿1,000 for second class and ฿1,600 for first class.
There are two roads from Bangkok and Koh Samui that head towards Phuket, and a short bridge links the island to the mainland. For long journeys, taxis can be booked; the price must be agreed upon in advance.
Bus is a great option for traveling long-distance on a budget. There is a good network of public buses from Bangkok and there are private buses from many companies, such as Sri Trang Tour. There are various classes of bus available, some will stop at several locations while others will only stop at Phuket Town. There is an airport bus, which only travels to a few stops around the island.
When deciding where to stay in Phuket you should consider the kind of vacation you would like. Do you enjoy being in the heart of all the action, just minutes from everything you need? Or do you prefer peace and quiet with the option to travel to see the sights? Patong has global hotel chains, such as Marriott, Holiday Inn and Novotel, as well as independent Thai hotels of all grades. There are private villa rentals available everywhere that offer a home away from home and optional extras, such as hot tubs and personal chefs. Luxury villas in Phuket include Villa Padma and Villa Paradiso, while standard villas include Villa Sea View and Villa Emere.
Southwest Coast - this is the most popular region, with Patong, Kata, and Karon offering various beaches, shopping, dining, and nightlife choices. Patong is busy all year round, while Kata and Karon are more relaxed.
Phuket Town - the capital of the island, filled with busy streets, temples, and small stores. It's popular with backpackers due to the lower prices and reduced number of tourists than other areas.
Northwest Coast - high-end hotels and villas with deserted beaches and exclusive shopping venues abound here, as do peaceful and luxurious resorts surrounded by nature, with forested hill backdrops and extensive rubber tree plantations.
Local buses run throughout Phuket, blue or pink in color, sometimes with open sides and made from wood. They have a few set routes but there is not great coverage. The slow-moving buses, often referred to as Baht buses, can be flagged down and stopped anywhere along the route. Fares are usually around ฿30.
There are a huge amount of taxis and tuk-tuks (small, bustling open vans) in Phuket. Prices start from around ฿300 and must be agreed on before getting in.
Major car rental companies are located at the airport and smaller, local companies are found in most tourist areas, including Nina's Cars and Pure Car Rent. Prices start from around ฿1,500 per day. This is a cost-effective method if you are traveling around the island often. However, driving can be precarious due to the large amount of motorbikes and irregular enforcement of road rules. Parking spaces are mostly on the side of the road, in short supply, but usually free of charge.
Patong is the shopping capital with a large mall, Jungceylon, and hundreds of small stores and market stalls. Prices can be negotiated at stalls, but check out the mall prices first to avoid being overcharged. The weekend night market in Phuket Town has the best bargains for clothes and gifts. Shopping prices in Phuket range from ฿100 for knick-knacks into the thousands for genuine designer gear.
Supermarkets include Big C, Tesco Lotus, Tops, and Villa Market, and prices are equivalent to the US. There are also smaller grocery stores that stock all the essentials, and in most areas there is an abundance of 7/11 stores for snacks and drinks. Local markets are held either daily or weekly and sell the freshest produce at lower prices, around ฿20-50.
For Thai food, it is generally best to eat where the locals do, for the most authentic flavors and varied menus; head to small restaurants inland from the west coast beaches and seafood restaurants along the east coast to dine on sumptuous local fare. In standard hotels and tourist-focused restaurants, the flavors tend to be toned down to appeal to as many visitors as possible. In high-end hotels and the main beach resorts, there are excellent eateries serving global cuisine from Indian to Italian and everything in between. La Gritta at Amari Phuket and Mom Tri's Kitchen at Villa Royale are among the most popular. Prices vary widely from ฿30 to over ฿3,000.