Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do on Phuket Island
Phuket is Thailand's largest island, and arguably the most famous. Blue waters, sandy beaches, great food, and diving are all part of the attraction. Arriving from all over the world, travelers flock to Phuket for relaxation and adventure, and the island rates as one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. Part of the draw is that Phuket has an exceptional climate. The monsoon arrives here earlier than on the other side of the gulf, with rain only once or twice a day during the rainy period.
See also: Where to Stay on Phuket Island
1 Patong Beach
Phuket's longest beach was also once its most beautiful, until development and tourism turned it into a bustling hub of activity rather than a retreat from the world. Still, Patong is great for people watching, and part of the fun of Thailand is that (in addition to being a land of smiles) it is one of contrasts. You may not be able to find a quiet spot to read and contemplate life on Patong, but you'll find lots of shopping and activity to keep you entertained.
2 Phuket Town
Phuket Town lies on the southeastern coast of the island on a picturesque bay. The architecture reflects the influence of Chinese immigrants and a Portuguese aesthetic, and provides a nice contrast to the more traditional Thai styles seen elsewhere. This island city bustles with activity thanks to a boom of hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, and other attractions that have sprung up in the decades since Patong Beach was opened to development in 1980.
3 Rawai Village
Venture out to this small village to glimpse the lifestyle of the Moken, a tribe of "sea gypsies". They have roots in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and have remained staunchly committed to their own beliefs and customs. Some live by the sea and others choose a semi-nomadic life on land. Any attempts by the Thai government to integrate them have failed. The men of the village work mostly as fishermen and sometimes also as guides for sea trips.
Rawai itself has a small fishing harbor and a beach covered with coconut palms and swamp oaks. Boats can be rented here to sail to offshore islands. The beaches of Nai Harn (with the Phuket Yacht Club Hotel), Kata Noi, Kata, Karon, Karon Noi and, finally, the main beach, Patong Beach, lie south of Rawai Beach (Hat Rawai) and further north along the west coast.
4 Four Branch Coconut Palm
While on your way to Rawai, keep an eye out for this botanical rarity - a four-branch coconut palm. The tree is more than 60 years old; after the first 20 years the trunk split in two, and after another 20 years two branches grew in turn out of the two trunks.
5 Phuket Aquarium
This is a particularly fun option if you're traveling with kids, as they can see Phuket's marine wildlife firsthand, even if they can't go diving to find it. Among the creatures on display are exotic species of fish, sea turtles, crabs, and starfish. You can also tour the Marine Biology Research Centre when you book in advance.
Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm daily
Admission: (Locals) Adults 50 baht, children 20 baht; (Visitors) Adult 100 baht, children 50 baht; free for children less than 108 cm tall
Address: 51 Moo 8 Sakdidet Rd, A Muang, Phuket
6 Khao Phra Thaeo Game Reserve
If you're looking for wildlife above the water, visit the Khao Phra Thaeo Game Reserve on the northeastern part of the island. Here you'll find buffalo, wild boar, elephants and monkeys, as well as many species of tropical birds. You can trek through the rainforest, or relax at the Ton Sai or Bang Pae waterfalls.
Hours: 8am-5pm daily
7 Hat Nai Yang National Park
Why go here when you can enjoy all the wonders of the game reserve? Located on the northwestern end of Phuket, this park is special because it is where sea turtles come ashore at night to lay their eggs. And witnessing this rare moment would cap off a rewarding day spent in Phuket's diverse ecosystems.
Many people come to Thailand with the specific intention of obtaining their scuba diving certification. Koh Tao is the preferred place to get their training, but Phuket offers many options for PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) courses. Some will take you to Koh Phi Phi, another famous island, and other equally beautiful locations. Costs for PADI certification courses tend to be lower in Thailand than in other countries, so visitors can take advantage of the low rates while doing some once-in-a-lifetime underwater sightseeing.
If you do opt to do some diving once you've earned your certification, consider checking out Similan Islands National Park. Comprised of eleven uninhabited islands, this small chain tends to attract diving enthusiasts. Tour operators and diving schools offer excursions to these paradise-like islands, with no extra planning on your part. Those wishing to go there independently should travel 104 km north of Phuket to Thap Lamu and take a ferry from there. Boats sail daily from Patong Beach on Phuket to Koh Similan (journey time about 8 hours by regular boat or 3.5 hours as part of a tour operator day trip). Some accommodation is available on the main island.
9 Editor's Pick Snorkeling
Perhaps you don't have the time (or the nerve) for proper diving lessons. Snorkeling provides a nice and easy alternative, especially in Thailand where the clear waters make for excellent conditions. Many boat tours include snorkeling stops around the islands, and you'll spot no end of gorgeously colored fish, sea urchins, and other fascinating creatures.
10 Island Boat Tour
You may be tempted to lounge on the beach for your entire stay (and really, who would blame you?). But if you're willing to exert just a little effort during your island getaway, sign up for an island tour to discover the delights surrounding Phuket. Particular mention must be made of Maphrao, Nakha Yai and Nakha Noi (on the east coast, with pearl culture at the latter) as well as Koh Bond, Koh Kaeo, Raja Noi and Raja Yai (off the southern tip), and finally little Poo Island on the west coast off Hat Kata.
Boats depart from Po Bay for a day excursion to Phangnga with the famous "James Bond Rocks". You can also easily reach Koh Phi Phi (and the famous Maya Bay beach from the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach"), but you'll want to leave yourself more than an afternoon to explore that one.
11 Three Beaches View
This aptly named vantage point gives visitors a lovely view of three of Phuket's most beautiful beaches. When viewed from above, the beaches do seem to resemble the number three. You can reach the viewpoint by traveling along the branch road in front of Kata Noi Beach in a southwesterly direction toward the southern tip of the island.
12 Wat Phra Thong at Thalang
This temple is steeped in local lore, and houses a half statue of Buddha that was broken during a Burmese invasion. Legend has it that a boy was minding a water buffalo, which he tethered to a piece of metal protruding from the ground using a hemp rope. Suddenly the boy died, but appeared to his father in a dream and told him about the piece of metal. The father began to dig and came upon a statue of Buddha cast in pure gold. The Buddha could not, however, be completely excavated and so a temple was built on the site in 1785.
When the Burmese conquered Thalang, a second attempt was made to dig up the statue at which point it broke in two. One half disappeared, but the other still stands in the temple today. The gables and windows of the temple buildings exhibit rich carvings.
Because of its size and popularity, Phuket is fairly easy to reach. Phuket International Airport is the second largest in the country and serves international and domestic routes. If you're already in the country, you can take a bus from Bangkok, an option particularly popular with backpackers and budget travelers. Air travel is relatively inexpensive and flights are short, but buses are considerably cheaper and tickets can easily be purchased within a day or two of when you want to travel.
Where to Stay on Phuket Island for Sightseeing
If you're visiting Phuket Island for the first time and want to stay in the heart of the action, popular Patong Beach is a great location, near the buzz of Bangla Road with its shops, restaurants, and lively entertainment venues. If you prefer a more peaceful location but with easy access to all the attractions, the beaches north of Patong are the best place to stay. Here are some highly-rated hotels in these locations:
- Luxury Hotels: About 43 minutes' drive north of Patong Beach, the serene Trisara Phuket is the ultimate Thai tropical escape, with temple-style villas fronting an idyllic, palm-studded stretch of beach. A little closer to Patong Beach (20 minutes by car), and only a three-minute walk to beautiful Surin Beach, The Chava Resort is great for families. Its spacious apartments come with fully equipped kitchens and private plunge pools. A more affordable luxury option is the sprawling Amari Phuket, on a lush hillside near Patong Beach, with well-appointed villas and gorgeous ocean views.
- Mid-Range Hotels: About 20 minutes by road from the hubbub of Patong, but a short stroll from a beautiful beach and restaurants, Pen Villa Hotel offers excellent value for money, with well-maintained rooms and welcoming staff. If you like the amenities of a big resort, the beachfront Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort, a 30-minute drive north of Patong Beach, includes access to day spas, an 18-hole golf course, and signing privileges at more than 30 restaurants in the surrounding Laguna Destination Resort. Closer to the busy tourist strip, the contemporary BYD Lofts Boutique Hotel and Serviced Apartments, with a rooftop pool, has suites for longer stays and lies within walking distance of Patong Beach and Bangla Road.
- Budget Hotels: Steps away from Bangla Road, near Patong Beach, Summer Breeze Inn Hotel is a home away from home, while Tatum Mansion with large, clean rooms, is another popular budget option, only a two-minute stroll from Patong Beach. With a rooftop pool, Patong Princess Hotel offers great value. Its spacious air-conditioned rooms lie about a five-minute walk from Patong Beach.
Tips and Tactics:
- Phuket is a beautiful place to visit, but the fact that it's a tourist destination makes it ripe for scams. When renting vehicles such as motorbikes or jet skis, be sure to document what state it's in by taking photos before riding off. Some rental companies will try to get more money when you return by pointing out small scratches and marks and accusing you of crashing or damaging the vehicle. They'll demand payment and threaten to call the police if you don't. Having photos for comparison can help you get out of a shake-down, and caution vendors against trying to rip you off.
- If you're looking for lots of action, shopping, and to meet an abundance of fellow travelers, by all means spend your vacation on Patong Beach. But if it's quiet and solitude you crave, consider checking out one of the less-popular beaches. Phuket draws many tourists at all times of the year, so you'll have to work a little harder here than on some of the smaller islands to carve out a place that's all your own. The Tourism Authority of Thailand recommends heading to the northern beaches for a bit of tranquility, as the southern ones tend to be the most crowded.
- Sharpen your bargaining skills before arrival. This advice applies anywhere in Thailand, but come prepared to negotiate on costs for everything from buying souvenirs to renting motorbikes and hiring a boat for the day. If you're pleasant but persistent, you can usually get a discount on services such as private tours, especially if you manage to round up a group willing to go in on it together.
- Take care in the water. You will almost certainly never see a lifeguard watching Thailand's beaches, so you should take extra precautions when going for a swim. It's easy to get distracted when snorkeling or splashing around with friends, but do watch how far out your swimming and use common sense about swimming at night or when few people are around, as it's unlikely trained professionals will be on hand in case of emergency.