e always wanted to go to Thailand but to be fair, Phuket wasn’t one of the destinations that we had in mind as a first experience of this country. To the contrary, we had heard how Phuket had become a last-minute-tourist hot spot and was known for dodgy party streets where you can find only crazy adult shows.
That’s probably why we were positively surprised to find Phuket to be a very beautiful island with amazing Buddhist temples, lively night markets, a colorful old town, nice beaches and if you like, fantastic resorts.
Hi! Nice to meet you, we are Marina and Ben. We live in Berlin and travel the world full-time 🚀
Phuket is a pretty big island in the south of Thailand that you can easily reach both by plane or by car/bus from Bangkok. We stayed at the southern tip of the island and it took 90 minutes by car to arrive from the airport, which is in the north. So, if you want to get around a bit, it’s actually very nice to have a car, though a scooter will also work. Distances are a bit far though and traffic sometimes crazy.
Once you’ve made your way to the southern part of the island, you will most likely have already seen this huge statue sitting on top of a hill, shining in its white glory and smiling down on everyone.
The Big Buddha is actually massive: a whooping 45m of marble is very impressive when you’re standing in front of it. We liked this spot so much, we even went here twice. The first time, we got up early to arrive for sunset and it was definitely worth the short night. The sky was lit up with the most beautiful colors and there were hardly any tourists around, which made the whole experience very calming. So if you want to level up your zen, we advice you to come early.
And another advice: pay attention to the dress code. During our first visit, we were not prepared and Marina had to cover her legs with a blanket. Women shouldn’t show any knees or shoulders, the rules for men are less strict but tank tops are also frowned upon. This is true for any Buddhist temple by the way!
Besides the fantastic view over Phuket, there are quite a lot of details to explore throughout the temple area surrounding the statue itself. Also, you can support the ongoing development and care of the place by donating some money, for which you’ll get a small marble plate that you can sign and that will be used for the statue.
Last but not least, if you want to impress your friends, this is the actual name of the statue: Phra Phutta Ming Mongkol Akenakiri. It’s even a bit complicated for the Thais who also just refer to it as the Big Buddha by now ;)
There are quite a lot of beaches around Phuket, and most likely you’ll want to pick the ones that are close to your accommodation. Since we were situated in the south, we can recommend two locations that were in our area:
First, the Nat Hai Narn beach was very nice. Perfect sand, not too crowded (do note that we visited during mid/low season though), and a good selection of restaurants nearby. There is a neat view point nearby from where you can enjoy a panoramic sunset. Don’t waste any time going to the Rawai beach on the eastern side of the southern island tip, it’s mostly feels like a harbor as all the long tail boats that take people to the nearby islands are parked here.
Second, Kata Beach is great. It’s lined with palm trees, close to a lively street with restaurants and bars and there are some fun activities you can book at the beach.
Our best beach experience on Phuket was actually on close by island, and if you’re up for a full day beach trip, continue reading.
Phuket is surrounded by many smaller islands, and you’ll find a lot of tourism offices selling island tours. Some tours go to far places like Phi Phi where you should probably stay over night, and others offer perfect day trip destinations. We went for the latter and actually looked for our own boat at Rawai beach because we were a group of five people. Talking to some captains, we figured that the island “Ko He”, better known as Coral Island, would be nice. The cool thing about hiring your own boat: you’ll get it for the full day and can decide the timing. The cost: 2.000 BHT (ca. 60€).
Coral Island is not far from the southern tip of Phuket and the boat ride only took 30 min. The main beach is called Banana Beach and it’s fantastic. You’ll get clear blue water, soft white sand, delicious restaurants, comfortable beach chairs (100 BHT per person), clean facilities and you can rent snorkeling gear or even transparent canoes. And as a cherry on top, we saw a bird that was similar to a Toucan but not quite. Message if you know what kind of species this actually is!
The snorkeling is pretty nice as there are a lot of colorful fish to see. And even if without the gear, you’ll already see a lot of fish swim around your legs in the shallow waters, it’s pretty cool!
This place is like a small paradise, even though we were joined by a huge group of Chinese visitors around noon. Just get another fresh coconut, kick back in your beach chair and enjoy the view of adults with floaties to help them swim ;) And don't worry, after around 2pm, the crowds left again and we could really enjoy the beach until sunset.
The old town of Phuket took us by surprise, it’s an absolutely lovely area to simply stroll around in. The streets are filled with hipster cafes, cute designer shops, delicious yet very affordable restaurants and most notably, colorful mansions from colonial times. These Sino-Portuguese style shop houses come in all sorts of colors and give the city a very unique personality.
On every other corner, you can even discover some contemporary mural paintings and street art. All in all, we didn’t expect to find such a cool, laid back and artsy scene here.
On Sundays, the streets of the old town turn into a night market and only pedestrians are allowed in. We unfortunately didn’t get the chance to come here during that time but we were told it’s one of the best night markets in Phuket.
We liked Phuket Old Town so much that we returned three times to explore more, go for dinner or find some souvenirs. Highly recommended!
Wat Chalong is close to Phuket Town, so you could easily come here before/after your trip to old town. Wat Chalong was our first Buddhist temple we had visited and we were blown away. It’s actually not just one building but a bigger area filled with several buildings.
The temple buildings are built and designed with such meticulous care and detail, we could spend hours looking at every corner, finding yet another sparkling ornament. The walls and statues are rich with colors, gold and paintings and the architecture itself is very complex. Really fascinating.
We visited this temple in the morning before the heat became too intense. While we were walking around calmly and taking in all the beauty, we suddenly had to jump in shock as a loud BANG and various explosions disturbed the silence. We looked around and saw that a few monks were lighting up firecrackers in a clay oven. We laughed and later learned that apparently every morning around 8am, this is what they do to scare evil away.
Even though if you don't know much about the Buddhist culture, the monks are open to let you participate in their ceremonies. For instance, there were statues in one temple that people put small pieces of gold foil on.
If you have a car and a bit of time, you should consider driving up north of Phuket and into the area of Phang Nga. The national park is breathtaking: it has a unique geography where a river delta opens up into the ocean and hundreds of lime stone rock islands emerge from the ground.
You can enjoy this area both from different viewpoints or by getting a long tail boat and explore the bay area directly:
There are various viewpoints that are mostly accessible by car:
The best thing you can do in Phang Nga is to get on a long tail boat and visit the many islands directly. Depending on where you are staying on Phuket, you could possible go on this adventure for a day trip. But since we wanted to catch an early boat tour, we arrived the night before and stayed at a pretty cool hotel with a super view and an unbeatable price. It's called the Phang Nga Viewpoint Hotel and even though we slept on what was probably the toughest mattress of our lives, it was a great stay.
Via our hotel, we arranged a private boat tour for 1800 BHT (53€). You can fit at least 6 people on that long tail boat, but since we left 6am in the morning, we didn’t find any other early bird that wanted to join us. The good thing about having a private tour though was that our captain tailored the route completely to our liking. Thereby, we arrived at the famous James Bond island before any other tourist group and we could spend some time boating around sensational islands that otherwise might not have been part of a standard tour.
Even though it's become a hotspot, we really enjoyed James Bond Island. It's pretty stunning to see this massive rock balancing its weight in the ocean in person. The island received its name after the 007 movie “The Golden Gun” was published and an iconic scene was filmed here. If you’re into photography and want to get a good photo without a lot of others on the picture, you need to come early to this spot.
Our captain took us to a few more highlights in this area. One was a muslim fisher village on Panyee Island. It's fascinating to see how humans settle even on these unlikely locations and build their home. The whole village is built on stilts, but that didn't hinder them also creating a floating football field. It's definitely the field with the best view!
Last but not least, we drove past impressive rock walls and one of them even had prehistoric paintings on the wall. According to our captain, these paintings were around 2500 years old!
When you’re in Thailand, make sure to visit one of the many night markets. It’s fantastic that they are open at night when temperatures are bearable and you can take your time to explore some local food specialties or shop some souvenirs. If you’re the kind of person with adventurous taste buds, you sure will find something you haven’t tried yet, like fried scorpions or some crocodile filet.
On Phuket, there are a few night markets that stand out:
If you don’t feel like traveling too far to one of the better known night markets, don’t worry and just go to the one that is close to your accommodation. You’ll still have a lot of fun.
Alright, if you’re visiting Phuket, you will most likely have heard of Bangla Road and Patong Beach. Depending on what you’re after, this may exactly be the right spot for you to have a fun night out. But even if you’re not after seeing girls pop out various objects from their bodies, Banga Road could be worth a visit, simply for the sakes of curiosity and seeing a place that’s most likely very unlike the places you usually hang out at. For us, it’s not a reason to visit Phuket at all, but why not check it out if you’re there anyway.
Phuket island is quite large, so you’ll have a lot of options which might be quite overwhelming. During the majority of our time on Phuket, we stayed close to Nai Harn Beach in a really nice private villa. The area is lovely, yet also very calm in terms of nightlife.
If you’re looking for a nice resort, we can recommend the Vijitt Resort where we stayed a few nights as well. What we liked especially about this place is that everyone stays in a luxurious villa and you don’t even feel like you’re staying at a hotel. Even the standard villas are super high end and in terms of value for money, it’s one of the best deals we’ve seen. If you have the budget, you could also get one of the premium villas that have a private pool. But even if you don’t, the public pool is also fantastic and you’ll have a view directly over the ocean.
A third area that we can recommend is Kata Beach. It’s one of the coolest areas with great restaurants, a lot of things to do close by and a fantastic beach. Here are few hotels that looked very nice:
Now, we haven’t stayed at all the other locations on Phuket, but luckily, there is a pretty nice overview of all the beach areas where you could stay that we found pretty helpful when choosing the location: http://www.phuket.com/hotels/where-to-stay.htm
It’s very simple: Phuket can be reached directly via plane from most international airports. From within Thailand, you could also take a bus from Bangkok. Our flight from Berlin costed around 700€ per person, but you could get cheaper prices if you book a bit more in advance or are willing to endure longer stays at connecting airports.
This is the main season in Phuket and most of the tourists try to come during that time. That’s because it’s actually the coolest period (23-30°C) and there’s not a lot of rain. If you want to optimize for best weather, this is the time to come.
This is not the main season anymore and prices for hotels drop, sometimes quite drastically. We were in Phuket in April and sometimes benefited from a 80% discount at great 5 star hotels. The downside: it is really really hot. It sometimes was so hot that we went out to explore sights before 10 am and stayed at the pool the rest of the day. A highlight in April is the Songkran Festival where people sprinkle each other with water cannons for a few days to celebrate the Thai New Year.
This is the Monsoon season with super high humidity and prices for hotels drop even further. Also, there are quite a few tourists around. If you don’t mind the higher odds of rain, this could be the time to save money and enjoy the peaceful uncrowded times.
Here are a few things that we initially didn't think about when we went to the Philippines. You don't need to do the same mistake, just stock up before: